10 ways to build an excellent media list to secure quality coverage – for free

Posted on 08/07/2020 by Team Hallam

Link building is one of the holy grails of SEO, and Digital PR can not only help increase your rankings, but also improve your chances of brand awareness. But, when it comes to outreaching your content if you’ve got limited resources, where do you start?

Some will type in a specific sector and ‘news’ into Google, and outreach to those on the first two pages of the SERPs, while others will have a preferred list of top publications they already advertise and have a relationship with.

But media lists, when done right, can open your content up to a wealth of different media opportunities, help you to grow your brand and build those crucial links to your website. They definitely don’t get enough praise – you’re not going to get the results you want if you don’t spend time researching the right websites to host your content.

So, what process should you follow?

1. Create a place to be organised

Since you’re doing this for free, you don’t want a million tabs open at once. Create a Google Sheet with all the relevant information you need, including, but not limited to:

  • Name of contact or journalist
  • Name of publication
  • Relevant articles they have published before
  • Other details
  • When you will outreach

This will help to ensure that you don’t miss anyone out. At the start, I recommend throwing in every relevant article or journalist into this, and then refining your list later down the line. It’s better to go back and remove than go back and wish you had more.

2. Define the audiences you’re targeting

No matter what content you’re outreaching, you need journalists to want to publish it. And what does every journalist need? A good headline! If there’s no story or engaging title, they won’t publish it. To put it simply, you need to be able to get across the full gist of what your story is about in the headline.

But, be mindful that different publications write differently. Tabloids, for instance, may use capitals and exclamation marks, whereas trade publications will want to lead with the facts.

Write down between five and seven different audiences which might be interested in your content. For instance, if your content was around High Street closures, you might write down:

  • Retail
  • National
  • Business
  • Finance
  • Technology (digital revolution)
  • Fashion

 using google to define audiences

If you struggle to think of more than one audience that might be interested, your content may be too niche or you’re not allowing yourself to think outside the box. Write the topic into Google, for instance, ‘High Street Crisis’, and see what kinds of news outlets are reporting on it. This will give you a good idea:

The search results show fashion, business, locals, and nationals, which we expected. But, we can also see that a farming publication is writing about it, too! Add this to your list as you may be able to have an angle on it and reach a wider audience.

3. Draft various headlines

In your Excel document, create a separate tab and input all of your audiences in there. Next to that, think of ideas for headlines for each different target audience. For instance, it might look something like this.

(Please note that these statistics are completely made up for the purpose of this example!)

drafting headlines using spreadsheetThis may take you an hour or so to do and requires research into the types of publications that target these specific audiences, along with the articles they publish and how they write.

Once you’ve drafted your various headlines, copy them all into Google, Bing, or your search engine of choice. You’ll likely find thousands of articles on the matter from previous news, so take these links and copy them into a spreadsheet. I find it easier at this point to also copy in the author of the article and include it in the spreadsheet for ease of reference later, but feel free to do this at a later stage. It’s also a good idea to include their email address in this list for easy contacting if it’s easily accessible on the website.

Top Tip: If you download the free Google Chrome plug Hunter.io, you can find email addresses from many news sites, without having to dig deep and find their contact details.

Type these seven headlines into the search engine, and add the links from the first couple of pages from the search results into your Excel document. Also head to the news section where more relevant articles will also show.

Create seven different tabs for different audiences when pasting in your articles and outlets if you like, or just make a note next to them. Whichever is easiest for you.

4. Search your community

Here’s where you’ll need your stealth skills. The best way to see what your audiences are reading is by seeing what they share, and social media can be your best friend when researching for media lists.

I recommend pasting the keywords of your headline into Twitter and looking at the ‘Top’ tweets, often news sites get included into there, as you can see below:

'high street crisis' Twitter search Similarly, search your keywords on LinkedIn, the B2B platform where people constantly share knowledge, often from blogs and news articles. For instance, here we’ve searched high street crisis and immediately found this piece of coverage in Retail Gazette, another one we can add to our media list.

 'high street crisis' LinkedIn SearchIf you’re looking for something more consumer-focused, search on Facebook and filter the search results by ‘posts.’ This will bring up the most popular posts using Facebook’s algorithm and will give you loads more inspiration. We can use these examples below for our ‘fashion’ audience. Note that my use of wording is less formal here, using terms such as ‘fave’.

'Uk's fave fashion store' Facebook search


5. Dig deeper into the search results

You want a high-response rate when you outreach, and you’ll only be able to do this by making sure you’ve found as many high quality, relevant websites as possible.

After you’ve pasted the headlines into Google, cut back and search for just your keyword, plus the target audience. This will bring up a whole heap of different websites that you may not have thought about before. It’s up to you how far you dig, but I usually go up to page 10 of Google at most.

High Street + Fashion
High Street + Business
High Street + Agriculture

And so on.

You’ll see the vast difference we get when we search for these different audiences – way more than if we’d just searched for the key phrase on it’s own.

When we search for high street + fashion, we get the online version of glossy mags:

high street + fashion google search results page.
But, when we replace fashion with business, we get a completely different set of websites:

high street + business google search results page.

6. Use the greatest free tool in the world

I’ve already spoken about one free Google extension, Hunter, but Google is home to a number of other free extensions which are super handy. SimilarWeb is one of those, and my personal favourite which I will love until the day I die (or retire.)  It can be used for lots of things, including traffic rank and monthly visits of a webpage, but it’s also super useful for media list building. When you download it and click on the icon when you’re on a relevant website, it will bring up a list of similar websites. For instance, if I’m on Good Housekeeping and click on the icon, it brings up a number of relevant other media I could contact.

SimilarWeb used on goodhouskeeping website

7. Sleep on it

Never create your media list on the same day that you are outreaching. For one, it takes so long that you’ll be outreaching at the end of the day, which is never a good idea.
Come back to your media list the next day, and bring up your content. Do a bit more digging into the media – would they actually be likely to cover this? Have they ever published anything similar or anything on this topic before? Is there coverage too niche? For reference, I once had a piece on the High Street and pitched it to a publication only for them to tell me they only report on convenience stores specifically.
Use this as a time to remove any press you don’t think are relevant. This is important, as journalists don’t like being bugged with irrelevant information, which can be detrimental to your relationship with them in the future when you DO have relevant info.

8. Get finding those contact details!

Now you’ve identified the key publications which are relevant to you. But, you don’t have all the information to get in touch with them just yet – namely their email addresses.
At Hallam, we use a media database service, however, sometimes I do have to morph into my Sherlock Holmes alter ego and use my detective skills to find journalist’s details.

Here are my top tips:

  1. Search their bio on their website, and the contact us page. Try as hard as you can to send your email to the person who wrote the previous article. Often their email may be on their bio page, or on the contact us page. Hold off emailing the ‘editorial@insertbrandhere.com’ unless there are no other options.
  2. Use Hunter! Honestly, it’s so useful.
  3. Search Twitter. Find them on Twitter and check their bio. If not, search their username with the keywords ‘email’ or ‘@’ as sometimes they’ll have sent it to others.
  4. Email the ‘contact us’ email. Sometimes it just has to be done.

9. What if I don’t know who wrote the article?

That happens quite often, and sometimes it’s impossible to find out who wrote the previous article so you might just need to contact the generic ‘news’ email address. But, if we use our detective skills again and copy the link to the article into Twitter, you can usually find the person who first shared it, and they’ll often work for the publication that published it. Put two and two together – and that’s your person! And in the email, you don’t have to say you know they wrote it, but chances are they’ll be more interested in your piece as it’s relevant to them.

10. And you’re done! Or are you?

You have the most thoroughly researched, free media list there is, and you’re ready to start outreach. But the work doesn’t stop there. It’s important to update your list regularly, as the media will change. Follow your key journalists on Twitter, as they’ll often announce when they move on. Read industry news so when you see something relevant, you can add it to your media list.

In the Digital PR world, content always gets the gold star and the headlines, while media lists are rarely shouted about. Harry Potter couldn’t beat Voldermort without Hermoine, Leicester City and Vardy couldn’t have had a party without the loveable Ranieri, and you can’t have a successful campaign without a media list, the backbone of any solid campaign.


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