There has been quite a bit of buzz about link quality recently, especially regarding paid for links. The truth is, however, that it is very difficult to scientifcally measure the ‘quality’ of any one link.

A natural link profile for any site would include a range of different types of links (directories, blogs, forums etc.) and too much emphasis on one type of link, or the ‘perfect’ link profile, isn’t necessarily a good thing.

There is no doubt, however, that a healthy dose of truly authentic, contextual links can really do wonders for rankings and traffic. One such source of links is getting coverage in a newspaper or magazine’s website. Coverage in the online versions of these more traditional targets offer the double whammy that they are good for SEO but they are also read by ‘real’ people.

So why do search engines regard them so highly?

They are typically very relevant and targeted towards a specific industry or interest group and so it helps search engines identify which websites / organisations are most authoritative in a particular area, field or subject.

In addition, most content will be written by a third party such as a journalist, and so search engines understand that if that person has taken the trouble to research the company or organisation it must be valuable content. Although journalists wouldn’t always agree, from a search point of view, even a very neutral article or mention is the equivalent of third party endorsement.

So how to you go about getting these valuable ‘media’ links? In essence, you need to adopt some ‘old school’ PR thinking / methodology.

Journalists are bombarded by different sorts of information, so you need to target them with something that is genuinely interesting to them and to their audience – and easily digestible.

A lot of newspapers, magazines and trade publication’s website are news-based so that is the most obvious starting point. Long winded, self-congratulatory press releases will not be read but if they are kept to the point and are genuinely useful to the journalist then they still have their place.

Ask yourself what the real news value is – are you launching something new, have you got some new research, have you got a useful ‘top 10’ list, have you produced a report, are you lobbying for some changes?

Make sure your first paragraph includes the who, what, why, where, when. Don’t bore the journalist with too much background – assume they know something about their subject but it can be a good idea to offer an interview or a more detailed briefing.

For SEO purposes, you need to ensure that your release includes your keyword-rich links and although it might get stripped out, you might like to add in some Google URL tracking code on the links to help measure the results.

As a rule, there are very few truly ‘new’ stories so it is worth checking to see if your media targets have covered your type of story before. You could try offering an exclusive to one publication as a way of trying to secure coverage before sending it out widely elsewhere.

Not all companies have a huge amount of news stories to release (although most have more than they think) so another way to get on to these media websites is via features.

Some publications (particularly trade magazine) will publish a forward features lists which give broad themes for each issue. Nearer publication date you would need to ask for a synopsis to give you a better idea about whether you could contribute. Some magazine write the features themselves and like to interview spokespeople and others like whole articles to be submitted by companies or organisations (often known as ‘placed articles’.

The latter are usually generic, issues-based articles rather than about the company itself. As a rule of thumb, you’d need to contact a monthly trade publication around two months prior to publication date for features and a month to month and a half for weeklies.

National newspapers and consumer magazines also run features and they all have their own timelines. Don’t be afraid to ask the journalist when their deadlines are. On the whole you’ll need to have a strong opinion or controversial point of view about current hot topics to get in to these types of articles.

Product reviews are another great way to achieve coverage as a lot of publications publish product reviews.

Some journalists do a thorough review of the topic before they start writing and others will have been given a ridiculously tight deadline and just want to pull something together in record time. These types of articles are great for SEO because they always need to let the reader know how to get hold of the product,so they should include a direct link to your product page.

Where possible, offer the journalist a free sample of your product or at least a returnable trial so they can get a feel for it and really convey the benefits in their write up.

Another way to get in to a publication is via their regular slots or columns.  A lot of publications have a number of ‘set pieces’ which you can target. Depending on the publication these could include ‘CEO interview’, ‘A week in the life’, ‘Amusing stat of the week’, ‘Diary dates’ etc.

Pick up a few previous copies of the magazine and work out the types of information they require before you email the journalist offering something completely appropriate. You may not be able to promote products as easily in this type of column but it starts to build up a relationship with the journalist and you can start to communicate the style and personality of your company or organisation.

Although we are interested primarily in building links to help SEO, it is unfortunately true that some publications won’t include links in the published articles. There is very little you can do about this, as many publications will apply global policies, but you should not underestimate the fact that real people will be reading the article and they may well choose to search for you if they have seen you in editorial or seen a product review – which in turn does equate to more targeted traffic for your website.

There is a general correlation that the more useful the link, for SEO, the harder it is to achieve. So if you don’t get overnight results then keep plugging away with good ideas to a variety of media targets and you’ll start to make progress.

And don’t pigeon hole the information you draft for the media, make it work hard. Rewrite it for your blog, issue it broadly using an online distribution company (link to article), convert it to an article and use on article directory sites (link to article), share it with your customers on an email, Facebook or Twitter.