What are Editorial Backlinks? (And 8 Varieties Every PR & SEO Should Know)

Media outlets are increasingly giving backlinks to external websites of all sizes, even though the pace of growth may not be as fast as we might wish.

These editorial backlinks are not given lightly – to earn such valuable backlinks you need to create something worth linking to.

That’s where PR skills and SEO skills work together to create the pinnacle of Digital PR – earning ‘news coverage’ that includes an ‘editorial backlink’ pointing to your website.

Editorial Backlinks vs. PR Backlinks

These terms are interchangeable for the purposes of this article. For clarity, PR in our context refers to Public Relations, not to the rather outdated term, ‘PageRank’. And we take the view that PR Backlinks and Editorial Backlinks are the same thing – ‘backlinks that appear in media stories about your brand’.

Editorial backlinks are valuable for your brand, but they also bring benefits to the journalists and media sites that give them. These include:

  • They link to sources so that the reader can further explore for themselves
  • They bring authority to both the media outlet and to the journalist
  • They bring connectivity to the news and encourage readers to join in.

(Source: De Maeyer and Holton Why linking matters: A metajournalistic discourse analysis. 2015).

Even though those benefits are being recognized, there is still a reluctance to link out because management may feel external links drive people away from their site and they will lose readers as a result.

But management should recognize that not including backlinks in their stories means that the reader’s experience is diminished – and that too can damage rankings and reduce search traffic.

We started to research editorial backlinks about two years ago and have gathered well over 1000 examples. From this research, we identified multiple types of editorial backlinks and have classified them to help you understand why news sites give editorial backlinks. (at the end of this post, we describe how we identified each backlink type.)

So here are the 8 types of editorial backlinks we found:

1. Clean editorial backlinks
2. Nofollow editorial backlinks
3. Editorial mentions in the media
4. Image backlinks
5. Sponsored content
6. Internal backlinks
7. Affiliate backlinks
8. Automatic affiliate backlinks

1. Clean editorial backlinks

These are pure dofollow backlinks that bring clear SEO benefits. They are not burdened by affiliate codes, tracking codes or attributes – they’re just a plain, honest HTML backlink.
Technically speaking, there is no such thing as a dofollow link. Every backlink is a dofollow link unless it has been defined as otherwise with attributes in the page code such as ‘rel=”nofollow”, ‘rel=”sponsored” or ‘rel=”ugc” for user generated content.

Editorial backlinks are hard-earned and require at least three things:

  • a newsworthy story that is relevant to the journalist, delivered in the right way, at the right time – something that the journalist really wants to write about. This is likely to be PR driven.
  • something that is worth linking to – editorial coverage does not in any way guarantee a backlink. To increase your chances of getting a valuable backlink, you must have ‘something worth linking to’ – , a report, an app, a video or a piece of content that is so good, the journalist wants to share it with the audience. This is likely to be SEO driven.
  • a great targeted pitch to individual journalists – blasting multiple press releases to multiple journalists you do not know, doesn’t work. You’ve got to do your research in-depth and customize your pitches.

These three requirements are tough. And it’s why earning editorial backlinks from media sites requires public relations and SEO to work together to create the most attractive pitch possible.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, just by being there and responding quickly, one can gain good press coverage and editorial links.  Like this granny annexe company, whose site has been featured in three mainstream UK newspapers. How did they do it? I spoke with them, and it turns out it was simply down to the fact that they:

  • Rank for some decent terms in their niche.
  • Have plenty of high quality detail on their site.
  • Respond for comment quickly and reply efficiently whenever a journalist asks them for information.
  • Provide good quality, well thought-out quotes about garden annexes and their use that the journalist can lift and quote directly.

Note that for some large media, news stories may be fact checked after the journalist has written the story, and before it goes to the final step of being published. So it’s wise to be available by phone.

2. Nofollow editorial backlinks

The nofollow link was introduced by Google back in 2005 as a way of fighting blog spam. It was a way of saying that you had no relationship with the website to which you were linking. Nowadays (2022) however, Google regards a nofollow link as a ‘hint’, and the algorithm may – or may not – follow the link. It’s quite normal for a media site to use nofollow links when writing about businesses or websites. That might be an internal policy because they don’t want to ‘leak away’ any link juice.

Time was the nofollow link was treated with a little bit of disappointment, but that is no longer the case – nofollow links still bring considerable value:

  • Nofollow backlinks bring direct traffic to your site – and if that happens to be from The New York Times, the traffic you get will be considerable
  • Nofollow backlinks inspire secondary backlinks – another journalist or blogger reads about you and finds your story interesting enough to write about you as well – and give you a backlink in the process
  • They allow you to say on your site, ‘As featured in The New York Times (or whatever media covered you)’. That builds trust in your brand.

A journalist has written about you – and that can be the start of a beautiful relationship. They’ve written about you once, and as long as you were helpful and reliable, they’ll be happy to hear from you again. That means you can send them future news, you can pitch them something specifically for them – even offer them an exclusive. A press list of journalists who have written about you before is a valuable asset – look after it with care.

3. Editorial mentions in the media

Like nofollow, ‘just’ getting a mention can sometimes be met with disappointment. But if you’ve just got coverage on a respected media site, you’ve done well: and while a mention is not an actual backlink, it’s worth listing because it can have similar benefits to a backlink:

  • It can still inspire secondary links
  • You can still say, ‘As featured on…”
  • You can still build a relationship with a journalist
  • …and you’re also likely to see an increase in brand searches.

And can you turn a mention into a backlink by approaching the site? I don’t think that works with media sites – journalists don’t generally look back and alter stuff they have already published.

It’s much better to focus on the future and concentrate on what you can do next time to create something that is worth linking to.

4. Image backlinks

Not so common, but some journalists will link to an image, especially if it is creative or informative. That image may also have an editorial backlinks as a caption.

5. Sponsored content

Sponsored content is any content for which you pay to be published – a blog post, a sponsored link, an interview, a podcast, a video and so on. Because you pay – either by cash, free product or any other transaction of value – they’re considered as ads and must be flagged as such.

That means clearly stating that the content is sponsored on the page, or by embedding the attributes rel=”sponsored” OR rel=”nofollow’ in the code. Cyrus Shepard gives a comprehensive guide to this (and good graphic)on the Moz blog at https://moz.com/blog/nofollow-sponsored-ugc.

Here’s an example of sponsored content from Mashable.com that is clearly marked as ‘sponsored’.

Interestingly, the content is a sponsored article that includes backlinks to some good resources. As the backlinks to these resources appear in the content, it’s probable that those links would also be nofollow. For example, the Samsung AU post links to some great resources including, Rule of Thirds in Photography.

Unlike editorial content over which you can have influence but little control, sponsored content gives you both influence and control.
But use it wisely. To be successful, sponsored content, just like editorial content, needs to be of a high standard and attractive to the audience of the site you are sponsoring.

Some tips in using sponsored content:

  • Choose your sponsorship targets carefully
  • Be clear about who exactly you are targeting
  • Provide excellent content with a clear call to action
  • Set clear goals so you can measure outcomes.

6. Internal backlinks

Internal backlinks are probably the most common backlinks you’ll find in an editorial piece. These point internally to:

  • Other articles they’ve written on similar or related topics that give a bit of context
  • Their latest articles and breaking news
  • Articles that are most popular or most shared among their readers.
  • Their own subscription pages, events, training, books, etc.

At their best, these might be articles they have written about you in the past: or for a large corporation, to a profile page or share price.

7. Affiliate backlinks

Affiliate arrangements are increasingly a way for media sites to monetize their content, and provide a welcome source of additional revenue.
These are most popular on special holidays, for example, St. Valentines Day, Christmas, or vacation listings like hotels, restaurants and events.

So the media outlet will write a listicle that gives a short editorial on each of the top 10, or top 20 or whatever resource, and either charge for the listings, or apply an affiliate backlink.
These listicles are very popular with readers who can scan them at a bus-stop, on a train or before they go out for a night on the town

That means they’re useful for the readers, the media outlet, and of course, for the businesses that are featured.

8. Automatic affiliate backlinks

Media outlets both traditional and online, have a constant need to generate income from their content.

Subscriptions, advertising and sponsored content as we have seen above are becoming increasingly popular. We’ve also seen how affiliate income has also become popular.

However, running affiliate sales on media sites can be time-consuming to set up and manage. So what if someone comes along and says, ‘how would you like us to manage this for you and help you make money from all the affiliate links you have, all the backlinks that you already have without affiliate code, and all the backlinks that you publish in the future?’

That’s where affiliate networks like Skimlinks and Sourn (formally Vigilinks) come in. As Skimlinks say on their website,

“Commerce content enables editorial teams to build a sustainable stream of revenue. It already contributes to as much as a quarter of some publisher’s overall revenue, making it a sustainable source of revenue diversification”.

According to their website, Skimlinks work with over 60,000 publishers and say,

“After installing a piece of code on your website and AMP pages, Skimlinks will automatically turn all your commerce links into affiliate links so you can start earning commissions from over 48,500 merchants”.

The bad news for SEOs and link builders is that if there is an appropriate affiliate scheme for products mentioned, editorial backlinks on the media sites that sign up will be redirected, and therefore unlikely to be counted by Google.

However, the very real upside is that the affiliate links generated will bring you or your clients more direct business. Furthermore, earning editorial backlinks should become easier because of the revenue benefits they bring the publisher.

And such automated affiliate links will have the same additional benefits that no-follow links have, namely:

  • Nofollow backlinks bring direct traffic to your site – and if that happens to be from The New York Times, the traffic you get will be considerable
  • Nofollow backlinks inspire secondary backlinks – another journalist or blogger reads about you and finds your story interesting enough to write about you as well – and give you a backlink in the process
  • They allow you to say on your site, ‘As featured in The New York Times (or whatever media covered you)’. That builds trust in your brand.
  • A journalist has written about you – and that can be the start of a beautiful relationship.

Final words

Earning editorial backlinks is definitely becoming easier and is something clients are very likely to want in the future. If you don’t yet have a strategy for editorial backlinks, it is probably time to start thinking about working one out.