How We Beat The New York Times And Other Top Publications To The Punch-- Getting A Ton Of Links And Organic Traffic In The Process


I’ve never said I’ve done anything better than the New York Times before. And probably will never say it again (I love you NYT!).

Even now, it’s a bit of a hyperbole- but I was certainly faster.

Zippia published our Coronavirus Unemployment Calculator, that breaks down the CARES ACT on unemployment benefits on April 3rd. 19 days before the Times and other publications tackled the subject.

This piece went on to get 200+ links from high domains sites (like Cornell, FastCompany, and The Chronicle), rank organically within days, and ultimately drive over 100,000 organic sessions.

Below I break down the steps we used to jump on breaking news at exactly the right time and produce a useful piece of content readers and Google loved.

The Steps

Finding The Right Story At The Right Time

Every industry and niche has breaking news and new information that emerges.

Whether it is personal finances, baking, parenthood, entertainment, there are new exciting stories coming out.

But, by the time everyone is talking about it and journalists have written about it, you’re too late. To be a leader, and to get the nice results we did, you need to be one of the first on the scene.

Ways To Find Breaking News First
  • Google Trends
  • Subscribe to Google News Notifications
  • Trending new stories on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media that makes sense for your niche
  • Follow influencers and voices in your niche– Their tweets, newsletters, and posts can quickly alert you to emerging areas of interest.

The CARES ACT was passed on a Friday, March 29th. It made major changes to unemployment policies. The most abrupt change? A new $600 weekly benefit, regardless of income. This meant until July 31st, workers could now make more on unemployment than they did by working. It also meant that all existing unemployment calculators were now inaccurate.

It took a little over two days to draft the article, create the assets, and read every state’s unemployment policies, giving us a publish date of April 3rd.

You can see from below on Google Trends, our article was written exactly as interest surged. If this curve had been on the downward trend, that is a clear sign we missed the boat.

We were also the first article on the scene to cover in depth the changes on a state-by-state basis. Which is lucky for us, because some of these articles released later in the month were pretty darn good:

In a world where these articles are published prior to ours, the unemployment calculator is probably not worth writing and certainly wouldn’t have performed as well.

If you’re a journalist looking for a quote, or learning new information, would you rather use the New York Times or us?

Exactly. Timing is everything.

Determining Your Audience

If the content is solid but no one but you actually reads it, is it actually good?

From my humble marketing perspective, nope. Good content has a clear audience, the larger the better.

For the unemployment calculator, prior to writing it we identified three different audiences and several different hooks to pitch.

Covid/Unemployment Resources Pages

This one was fairly clean cut– We had created a novel resource (more on that in the next section) that was useful to the people they wanted to help. Bonus, resource pages are great linkers.

As a sanity check, we could see these resource pages had linked to other helpful content, like the link below that broke down information for each state:

If your audience has never linked to or written about something similar to your piece, it’s unlikely that you will change that.

State/Local Media

With unemployment surging, understandably journalists wanted to write about 1. How their communities would be affected when it came to benefits, 2. How their state compared nationally?

National News/Big Media

For national news and big media, we had a slightly different hook– Many people were speculating that low earners would now make more from unemployment. After parsing income, we discovered the tipping point where all workers making below that number received more on unemployment than their typical paycheck. It was pretty high. No other outlet had determined these numbers, so we knew this was our ticket into big media sites.

“Am I Actually Creating Something Good?”

This is the hardest question– Am I capable of creating a quality piece of topic around this topic?

As a reformed clickbaiter extraordinaire, I can attest every topic, no matter how silly or snackable, needs to be good to succeed. Even silly Facebook articles need to be entertaining to do well.

By virtue of being qualitative and not quantitative, this is the most difficult question to answer.

Here are the questions we tackle before putting starting piece:
  1. Is it unique?
  2. Has anyone done something like this before? How similar? For us, we lucked out with the CARES ACT making all existing unemployment calculators and guides incorrect. Ideally, you are the obvious first, but if your answer to #2 is yes, this one can be overruled.
  3. Am I saying something new or novel?
  4. If you are significantly improving the existing version(s) by adding features, providing new information, or answering questions no one else is, piece is still worth doing.
  5. Would I show this to my mom? My friends?
  6. You don’t have to show a piece to your mom for it to be good content. However, the content should be of high enough quality that you’re proud to have done it. Meh content might produce some results, but they won’t get you hundreds of links from top domains.

A good way to make sure your content is high-quality is by basing your content around unique assets.

Here are some examples of the assets we used in our unemployment calculator that can be applied to your content:

  • Calculators
  • We painfully scraped through over 50 states’ unemployment websites to learn their policies and created a simple (but useful) calculator to tell people how much in unemployment they will receive.

    We were more interested in links and creating a valuable resource than traffic, so we included an embed feature.

  • Maps
  • People love maps. It is a great way to breakdown information across states and show geographical information.

  • Charts
  • Charts are by far the simplest asset to create– and can be made in google sheets or with other free online tools.

    The chart we used in our unemployment article isn’t complicated, but it does display a lot of useful information. The cool part? When someone grabs that chart, they link right back to Zippia.

    Unemploymnet duration before and after the stimulus by state.
  • Curating of content
  • While our curation of unemployment sites is behind the scenes and isn’t displayed on the page (although we could have easily had a chart with each state’s weekly max benefit, or the website for each unemployment website), it is still a great strategy when creating content.

    There is value in putting together information that no one else has.

    Great examples of this can be seen in recipe roundups. What is cooler than one chicken dinner? 80+ Lightning-Fast Weeknight Chicken Dinners To Add To Your Rotation

    Promote. Promote. Promote.

    This is where is that pre-determined audience from point 3 comes in.

    Publishing a piece of content first is great, but if you don’t share the news, there is a good chance you’ll still miss the boat.

    As soon as you hit publish, you need to be drafting emails to influencers. If it is high quality and new information, they’ll do the work from there.

    Not sure who the influencers and main websites are? Feedspot’s handy lists aren’t a bad place to start looking.

    Longterm, you will want to establish relationships key individuals in your niche, but a friendly cold outreach with the right content will work in the short term.

    The Cool Results

    Zippia published our breakdown of the CARES ACT on unemployment benefits on April 3rd. It was 19 days before the Times and other top publishers covered the same topic.

    And, in those 19 days, a lot of cool things happened. Our article had was linked to by high Domain Authority sites such as Cornell, FastCompany, and The Chronicle.

    In fact, our unemployment calculator has racked up over 200 links, so far:

    It has also driven a decent amount of organic traffic. Over 100,000 sessions.

    The best part of those sessions? This article ranked for top search terms over more established, higher Domain Authority sites within days of being published.

    Our primary keyword, “Unemployment calculator” is fairly tricky to rank for, but we nabbed the number 6 spot our first week.

    These rankings will last a lot longer than the news that spawned our article.

    One mistake made? Not using a more versatile slug. While some of the content will become outdated July 31st and need to be updated and people will lose interest in the stimulus benefits, “unemployment calculator” will have long-term interest.

    Now, Go Forth And Get Links

    Overall, our unemployment calculator took two and a half days to research and produce and had phenomenal results. The reason for its success?

    We created a genuinely useful resource, addressing questions that no one else had. For one brief, beautiful fleeting moment, we were the only unemployment calculator that combined state payouts with the $600/weekly stipend.

    This works in every vertical. What is changing in your industry? How can you capitalize on breaking news for your website?

    The answer may be tax code, or travel restrictions, or Harry Styles new haircut but the fundamental steps creating a rock solid piece of content are the same as our unemployment calculator.

    While you’re waiting for breaking news, you can prepare yourself by setting up google news alert, following key influencers in your industry, and developing those key relationships we discuss in the ‘promotion’ section.

    Kathy Morris
    Kathy Morris