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11 essential tools for link building

11 essential tools for link building Kent Lewis

With a background in PR, I've always integrated the power of persuasion via third parties into my SEO strategies. In this article, I'll outline 11 essential tools for link development via PR strategies and tactics. I encourage you to evaluate these tools for your own PR and SEO efforts.

The news room

The foundational tool in your SEO and PR toolset is a news room -- a dedicated resource for the media and analyst community. Typically consisting of FAQs, backgrounders, press releases, event calendars, awards and recognition, and links to coverage, the online news room is a one-stop shop for the press, yet it also provides value to prospects, customers, partners, and peers.

The 3.0 news room might include "socialized" elements including a dedicated PR-focused blog, social profiles, and even rich media content like webinars, images, audio, and video. Don't forget to enable your news room with social share buttons for all relevant content, since social signals are a key factor in rankings (and certainly improve viral shareability). Over time, it's also advantageous to develop a library of blog posts, articles, presentations, and even books that validate your commitment and industry credentials.

Google News sitemap

If you have a background in SEO, you're intimately familiar with an XML sitemap. You might not be aware that there is a News sitemap option as well. This is good news for PR professionals who are comfortable creating content for a news room (SEO pros can see the previous page for details). If you're a PR pro, you just need to know that an XML News sitemap allows Google to more effectively locate, index, prioritize, and rank content available in your news room.

To create a News sitemap, simply visit your Google Webmaster Tools account and follow the basic steps to create and post the sitemap to your website. Once properly configured, the News sitemap should increase visibility of the content you've already created as well as all future news room content.


If you're a social media wonk, you may be familiar with the SEOmoz Followerwonk tool. PR pros are often compensated based on their ability to "influence the influencers" like the press. When I first started out in PR in the mid '90s, we used print and CD-ROM based tools like Media Map and Bacon's to identify appropriate editorial contacts at target publications. Nowadays, social media has infiltrated the media sphere, and with it, tools have followed to help PR pros identify "new media" influencers, whether they be traditional (print), digital (online), or social media (bloggers).

Followerwonk provides a simple interface that allows you to identify and sort influencers as well as compare them against each other. The tool also allows you to analyze and track followers over time, including trending gains or losses of fans and followers. Additional capabilities include searching of Twitter bios for keywords and sorting followers by location and how they follow. For SEO pros, this tool can help identify influencers and segments for your content marketing strategy, whether they are traditional print-based editors, bloggers, or social media mavens with a large following relevant to your target audience. If you have an SEOmoz Pro account, you'll benefit from a full version of Followerwonk. If not, a free trial is available.


With a bevy of social influence measurement tools available, it's often difficult to discern which one or two to focus on as a reliable and consistent data source. I've always been a fan of Portland-based Twitalyzer, but the data has historically been Twitter-centric. Other tools are more robust and even complex, but data paralysis is a very real problem with many of the options available.

As such, I recommend keeping it simple, and nobody does that better (arguably to a fault) than Klout. Like a high-tech mattress, Klout offers a single "sleep number" you can easily track and compare. The tool provides a dashboard that includes score trending and the ability to compare multiple profiles. Klout offers a secondary data point to triangulate influencers across multiple social media platforms (albeit aggregated), which can be helpful, as each tool pulls from different data sources and scores the data differently to create a "score." PR and SEO pros alike will find this tool helpful in identifying influencers across the social graph to target for content marketing, link development, and PR-related initiatives. If you're looking for a third data point for triangulation, try Twitalyzer, as it's a "checkbook to Klout's FICO score."

Google Alerts

If you're not already taking advantage of the free Google Alerts tool, you must be living in a spider cave. Regardless, it only takes a few minutes to set up a Google Alert based on a target keyword or phrase of your choosing. After setup, you will receive timely email updates whenever there is a match in Google's database. I set up Alerts for my name, company, clients, prospects, competitors, and industry terms. The Alerts can provide timely insights into emerging trends for PR and content marketing programs, and it is a free and easy way to identify mentions of your brand, including reviews and coverage. This tool is best used to augment more robust research and tracking tools, but it is extremely reliable and easy to manage.


So far, we've focused on the influencer as a person, but there are tools that help identify credible and influential websites. PR pros will appreciate the ability to quickly assess the validity of obscure niche industry websites, publications, and blogs. The Compete tool aggregates and measures website traffic, which can be used for trending and comparative insights. For PR pros, this tool is not only helpful in identifying new media targets, but also in evaluating the relative "reach" of syndicated articles and coverage on a specific website. Keep in mind that low-traffic sites might lack sufficient data, but that doesn't mean they should be ignored. Cross-reference inbound links (see the tool on the next page) and mentions in the social graph for better triangulation and insights.

The SEOmoz Fresh Web Explorer

I'm a big fan of SEOmoz, as it provides a suite of powerful tools for SEO pros. A newer service available to Pro accounts is the Fresh Web Explorer. The platform was recently acquired and added to the SEOmoz toolset, offering SEO and PR professionals the ability to "research and compare mentions and links to your domain using the power of the Freshscape index. Analyze mentions of your brand, your competitors' brands, and industry topics, and discover the latest relevant content being published on the web."

Fresh Web Explorer compares mentions of your brand (or keywords) against actual inbound links and offers great insights into competitors and content strategies via trending analysis. For more information on the new tool, read a blog post by co-creator Matthew Brown.

Google Authorship

One of the most compelling updates to the Google ranking algorithm is the addition of Authorship. Also known as Author Rank, Google rewards content creators based on the quality and quantity of their contributions.

Start by creating a Google+ account, which is essential for personal and corporate SEO. Link your account to blogs and articles you've authored. Be sure to upload a photo and byline as well. Once set up, Authorship offers insights into the visibility of your content. PR pros should incorporate this strategy for high-profile clients and executives. Over time, your Google+ profile will build equity and improve your rankings and credibility.

Google Analytics

You can't manage what you can't measure. As such, it is critical to understand the impact of your PR efforts on your overall search visibility. The most affordable way to accomplish this goal is to create a free Google Analytics account. Once an account is set up, simply incorporate the code and tags provided by Google into all appropriate pages of your website. With minimal configuration, Google will provide insights into top ranking pages on your website, including PR-related content from the news room.

Analytics will also inform you of top referring websites and pages, which often include press coverage or social media mentions. Adjust report settings to identify trends over time and set up custom reports for PR-related content. For bonus points, create conversion funnels for PR-specific activities (leads originating from news room content, media inquiries, etc.). In a recent development, Google has dramatically improved real-time data for events and segments, which is ideal for PR-based initiatives. The savviest of PR pros can develop content and stories based on insights gained from closely monitoring website activity, including popular pages and referring search terms.


I'm a big believer in syndicating articles to target publications and blogs. Being published on third-party websites provides validation that increases credibility and visibility. It also provides PR pros with the greatest single impact in terms of link building: third-party links from popular websites. If you write the article, be sure to embed relevant links back to your website or business and link it to your Google+ account.

Measurement becomes critical in evaluating the impact of syndicated articles, and the LinkTally tool is a great resource. LinkTally provides a summary of the number of times specific content has been shared across social platforms including Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It helps provide insights on relative reach of any giving article (or page), which can be used to validate PR and SEO efforts as well help identify popular and trending topics for future content marketing and PR efforts. Where Compete or other tools might fall short in providing absolute traffic for specific pages or articles, this simple tool offers a relative impression number for comparison purposes. Note: The numbers provided by LinkTally appear to be the same as many bars available in popular social sharing plugins.

Social Mention

Social media marketers typically rely on social monitoring tools like Radian6 or BuzzMetrics to understand what people are saying about their brand. These platforms can be cost-prohibitive, but there are free or low-cost alternatives. Social Mention offers a free solution to listening and includes more than just results for a given search phrase. The platform provides sentiment, strength, passion, and reach metrics that can be particularly powerful when evaluating evolving trends for content marketing and PR activities. You can set up regular updates via the website or email for given search terms, similar to Google Alerts. The platform is perhaps most powerful for identifying and validating new content ideas based on keyword research. Tracking the four key metrics mentioned earlier (sentiment, strength, passion, and reach) over time is also helpful to measure the impact of PR-related messaging campaigns.

By properly using the tools mentioned in this article, you can expect to generate a much greater return on investment for your SEO and PR efforts. Whether you have a PR or search background, it's never too late to leverage the benefits of both disciplines, and these 11 tools will give you an edge over your competition.

Editor's note: This article is based a recent presentation by Kent Lewis at SMX West in San Jose on the topic of leveraging public relations tools for search engine optimization.

Kent Lewis is president and founder of Anvil Media, a search engine marketing agency based in Portland, Ore.

On Twitter? Follow Lewis at @kentjlewis. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"3d stainless human social network and leadership as concept" image via Shutterstock.

With a background in integrated marketing, Lewis left a public relations agency in 1996 to start his career in search engine marketing. Since then, he’s helped grow businesses by connecting his clients with their constituents via the...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Matthew Brown

2013, April 29

Really appreciate the shout-out to Fresh Web Explorer. Thanks Kent! We're doing a lot of work to make it even faster and surface all the important mentions and links to your brand or site.

I love the product, but I don't deserve credit as co-creator. We had engineers and product folks working on FWE long before I joined SEOmoz. They deserve all the kudos!

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2013, April 22

The Fresh Web Explorer is a really great tool because it does a lot of the heavy lifting for you. I also really like their "Just Discovered" feature in OpenSiteExplorer because it helps you find natural links you might have otherwise missed. It's a good way to keep track of who is linking to you.