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How Much Are Newspapers Writing About Covid?

It might not feel like it, but coverage of coronavirus in the UK is reducing and has been reducing for over a month. With less than a quarter of all stories now being COVID focussed (down from a high of nearly 40%), journalists are desperate for positive, feel-good news. We took a look at what that means for outreach in exceptional times.

Our data

At the start of March, we heard from a lot of companies concerned that there was no room for brands in newspapers clamouring to cover the coronavirus.  We were asked, frequently, whether it made sense to just stop outreaching entirely rather than trying to cut through the noise.

For the last 9 or so months, we’ve had a project underway where we’ve been scraping the major newspapers around the world. This data, now including over a million articles, provides us with unique insight into quite what’s being written about.

We decided to mine the data to see how many articles are being written about COVID. For this exercise, we defined an article as being about COVID if it mentioned ‘COVID’, ‘coronavirus’, ‘pandemic’, ‘furlough’, ‘quarantine’ or ‘lockdown’ in its title. This was to avoid including any articles that mentioned coronavirus but weren’t about coronavirus. We also limited this particular analysis to UK newspapers; I’m sure there’s a great piece of analysis to be done on how much coronavirus is being discussed in different countries, but that’s for another post.

What we found

Coronavirus in the news


Coronavirus stories were a very small part of the media landscape early this year. It wasn’t until 25th February that COVID stories made up more than 5% of the news cycle. It would take 3 days for this figure to double and less than two weeks more for it to double again to just over 20%. Just after the lockdown was implemented, on the 24th March, coverage of coronavirus in the UK peaked, with 39% of all articles being COVID focussed. That has been dropping, relatively consistently, ever since. Last Thursday, as the nation prepared itself for a long weekend and VE day celebrations, coronavirus stories dipped to just 17%; the lowest it had been since early March.

Whilst 39% is undoubtedly a lot – thousands of articles each week on a single subject – it’s probably much less than you’d think if I’d asked you to guess. As you’ll have found out if you’re currently outreaching though, whilst coronavirus stole the frontpages and the headlines the newspaper industry has still been pushing out stories. Even at its highest, the majority of stories were not about coronavirus – and we’re now far from that peak.

Journalists’ stories follow public interest. This has never been more true than with coronavirus. If we look at UK Google trends data, we see both search volume and articles practically in lock-step with each other; articles following the previous couple of days search-demand:

coronavirus in the news vs search demand


At Verve, we use LinkScore to value the links that we build in a way that’s consistent, objective and takes into account a whole plethora of key factors (relevance, site authority, no-follow status, whether it’s syndicated etc), which allows us to easily compare our outreach output year on year. When we did, we saw a picture that mirrors the above up until this last month:

YoY LinkScore

Considering that, since February, we’ve had some client’s on hold and some of the team is furloughed, May’s data represents more than a return to the previous form. Even with the reduction in coronavirus stories, there’s more going on. So, you might wonder, why are we seeing such results recently?


What’s Working?

1. Keeping a positive mental attitude

Lisa’s talked previously about how a lot of outreach success can be attributed to attitude and grit. Finding yourself unexpectedly working from home, with strict government measures imposed and every newspaper headline seemingly dedicated to coronavirus can knock your confidence. Here are a few ways to keep it high:

(a) Share your wins

As a result, sharing wins (something we were already doing) became even more important. We have a Slack channel, we call Linkbell, dedicated to new links as they go live:

linkbellWe also share, across a couple of other channels, TV, radio and print coverage:

tv coverage


(b) Realise there’s now less competition

According to ONS figures, 27% of the UK workforce has now been furloughed. If we assume that the figures as roughly equal for the PR and SEO sectors, this would have a substantial effect on the level of competition when emailing journalists…so we decided to look at two different metrics to estimate the effect of furloughing on these industries:

1. Back at the end of April, PR Week reported that 35% of PR firms reported having furlough around a quarter of their team, with a further 25% having furloughed some, but less than 25% of their team. If we assume an even distribution on that 25%, we can estimate that, in total, around 12% of the PR workforce in the UK is currently furloughed.

2. We investigated this by looking at the number of press releases that had been published on PRNewswire this year. Now, we know that news wires are decidedly old-hat, but that was as true in January as it is now, so any change in the last few months can be considered meaningful.


If we assume that the rate of press releases being published would have continued at the rate it was at in late February, press releases are down 21%.

Based on these two measures, journalists should currently be receiving 12%-21% fewer pitches; that’s less noise to cut through and that makes it ‘easier’ to achieve coverage.

Take the time to also Google the brand names of your competitors. It’s possible they chose to pause their link building and, if they did, know that each link you build is either extending your lead or working towards catching them up.


(c) Stay connected

One of the things a lot of us love about SEO is the community so, now, more than ever, it’s important to be a part of it. I find value in the BigSEO Slack group and can often be found lurking in the outREACH Community Slack. Meanwhile, there are virtual conferences galore; not least SMX Next and outREACH Online.


2. Positive news

Lots has been written on this, not least by Verve’s own Sean, but when the news turns bleak people seek out the uplifting and irreverent. That’s partly why we’ve seen stories about:

  1. A pensioner pacing his garden – and raising £33 million in doing so.
  2. Chance the Rapper handing out an award to a rapping teacher.
  3. The balcony concerts in Italy

Those didn’t just sneak under the radar; journalists have been actively calling out for positive news:





3. Sector by Sector Results

It’s no surprise to say that if you are in a position to talk authoritatively about coronavirus then there’s a lot of link opportunities. There are more subtle opportunities though. That’s because several industries just don’t have much going on because of social distancing. Film, sport and travel journalists, for example, have all had the big events that typically punctuate their calendars either cancelled or paired down. Whilst this also means that some campaigns, and headlines, just don’t make sense at the moment (e.g. cheap holiday deals in travel) a great headline could do better than ever.

There are also opportunities to craft content and campaigns around areas that people are searching for more of because of being stuck at home including:

Topic YoY Change
Working from home +614%
Online lessons +378%
Virtual tour +342%
Cocktail recipes +321%
Pogo stick +209%
Classic movies +208%
Baking +190%
Adoption +138%
DIY +87%


We’ve seen this in action with a few different movie-themed campaigns, but we’re also seeing gains on nostalgic content (as ‘classic movies’ implies). You can read about one of those campaigns here.

In Summary

Consumer behaviour is changing, and journalists are changing their coverage with it. With articles on coronavirus reducing every day and many companies yet to return their marketing teams from furlough, we’re now seeing over-sized returns from link building again. If you can put together a headline that touches people and creates discussion you’ll find high relevancy, high authority links follow.

Campaign Spotlight – Movie Mortality

We may all be working from home because of the coronavirus outbreak, but our spirits at Verve Search are still high. We recently celebrated the success of our second consecutive viral campaign, weeks after the success of Insta Wealth. It was a tough act to follow, but Movie Mortality for Buzz Bingo managed over 200 links AND caught the attention of one of the campaign’s stars.

Screenshot (15)-min

Some actors have a reputation for their frequent on-screen deaths. Sean Bean for example is renowned by his fan-base for being killed in many of his movies. However, we wanted to add to the debate by finding out which actors die the most in their movies, and which most likely to be killed in a movie role.

We have had success with movie campaigns in the past. Director’s Cut, On Location and Remake My Day all proved popular with journalists. We know that the topic has potential for lots of coverage if we have a strong methodology and eye-catching headlines.

Movie Mortality was created with a simple methodology that journalists can easily explain, and a database with all the answers. We started with a seed list of 1,500 of the world’s top actors, taken from the most popular actors on IMDb. The total count of their on-screen deaths was found using Cinemorgue , a fan-created database with over 7,000 movie fatalities.

We cross-referenced each actor’s deaths with their total filmography to determine the actors with the greatest likelihood of dying on-screen. To find out which years saw the most movie deaths, we found the top 50 highest-grossing films for every year between 1980 and 2018 using IMDb, and then each film on the list was searched on Cinemorgue to determine the death count.

The design of the splash page and the campaign’s look-and-feel were inspired by the iconic movie poster for ‘Pulp Fiction’. The style embodies the spirit of carnage that plagues the unfortunate actors featured in the campaign. We included a gender breakdown of movie deaths, a top 10 overall list, a top 10 ‘most likely to die’ list, and a chart featuring the deadliest years in film.

Our initial outreach focused on Kit Harrington’s 62.5% chance of death in films. The headline provided some interesting opportunities for coverage, especially as Harrington’s character Jon Snow was killed and resurrected in ‘Game of Thrones’. Metro were the first to link speculating on Harrington’s next film role in Marvel’s ‘The Eternals’.

Screenshot (17)

This angle alone would have made Movie Mortality a hit campaign. However, it became viral thanks to the mortality of Hollywood stalwart Danny Trejo, who was killed in 65 of his roles. Stuart Heritage of the Guardian, who initially covered the Kit Harrington angle, wrote up second article explaining why Trejo dies in so many movies, and how he beat out Christopher Lee as Hollywood’s most-killed actor.

Screenshot (20)

Other sites, including the Independent, covered the story as a Top 10 list, but it still produced enticing headlines for readers.

Screenshot (22)

Movie Mortality proved to be a hugely successful outreach campaign, with 211 links and a total of 10,581 Link Score (Verve’s own tool using a combination of metrics to measure the value of links). We got coverage from a range of top-tier sites including GQ, Fox News, Guardian, Lad Bible, MSN, Huffington Post, Observer, Daily Express, Metro and Yahoo.


In addition, the campaign findings were referenced in 159 pieces of additional unlinked coverage. The campaign has also been covered several times in print including features in the US edition of The Guardian (twice) as well as featuring in TV and Radio. Articles mentioning our campaign were shared 161,850 times from some relevant high-profile social media accounts, including Danny Trejo himself!


Following the success of a campaign like Insta Wealth was a challenge, but Movie Mortality proved to be a worthy successor thanks to an effective concept idea with a large database behind it, eye-catching headlines and a veteran actor who was more than happy to be named Hollywood’s most-killed actor.

Campaign Spotlight – Insta Wealth

Everyone in digital PR wants to work on a ‘viral’ campaign , content that doesn’t just generate links, but also high-profile TV, radio, print and social media coverage. We want these campaigns to create a story that resonates and gets people talking, with a headline that readers would immediately click through to read. If your campaign can achieve this while talking about some of the most recognisable faces on the planet, then it has every chance of being successful.

This is what we were able to achieve with our best-performing creative campaign to date , Insta Wealth.

Screenshot 2020-02-07 at 11.59.50-min

Insta Wealth, created for Buzz Bingo, looks at which celebrities and influencers make the most money from sponsored posts on Instagram. Brands realise the social media reach of high-profile accounts with tens of millions of followers and will pay 6-figure sums to have their product featured.

By looking at influencer activity on Instagram we felt positive that we would create something that would produce lots of interesting angles, appealing to a wide range of journalists including lifestyle, celebrity and sports. Instagram rich lists are often widely covered by the press, but analysing sponsored posts enabled us to add something new to the discussion.

To find out how much money each person has earned from their account from these posts, we used Hopper HQ’s Instagram Rich List database, which estimates a ‘cost per post’ figure. For example, Kylie Jenner can earn $1.2m per post to her 139 million followers.

We multiplied the ‘cost per post’ figure by the quantity of sponsored posts appearing on their account. To find out which Instagram user has the most ‘valuable’ followers, we divided their cost per post by their number of followers.

We then categorised each celebrity and influencer to see where they rank compared to their peers. For example, we found that Kendall Jenner makes 4x more from sponsored posts than her sister Kylie.

Screenshot 2020-02-07 at 15.29.18

Our research gave us quite a surprising top story , Cristiano Ronaldo is Instagram’s highest earner, bringing in $47.8m from his sponsored posts. This in itself is a strong headline for outreach, but it becomes even more newsworthy when we found this to be higher than his yearly salary at Juventus ($31m).  This stat gave us a headline that we knew journalists would want to cover. You can see below how it was received by Business Insider:

Screenshot 2020-02-07 at 14.32.45

We were also able to frame the story as a comparison between Ronaldo and his Barcelona rival Lionel Messi. Though Messi is second on our list with $23m earned from Instagram, we were able to say that Ronaldo earned twice as much from his sponsored posts. The Sun ran with this headline:

Screenshot 2020-02-07 at 15.56.10

The majority of Insta Wealth’s coverage came from variations of the Ronaldo story. However, many publications also covered the secondary angle focusing on the Jenner sisters. Metro’s entertainment section ran with the $16m figure in their headline:

Screenshot 2020-02-07 at 16.05.41

The volume of newsworthy headlines in Insta Wealth gave it the potential to generate hundreds of links, and to date, it has 582 pieces of linked coverage with a total of 22,158 Link Score (Verve’s own tool using a combination of metrics to measure the value of links).

This coverage came from some of the biggest publications in the world, including: Yahoo, GQ, Daily Mail, MSN, Express, New York Post, The Sun, Fox Business, Russia Today, Business Insider, The Mirror, Talk Sport, Gazzetta and Aftonbladet.

Picture 2

In addition to this, the research was also referenced in 978 pieces of additional unlinked coverage and has been shared 293,780 times from some relevant high-profile social media accounts. It has also been covered 34 times in print including features in the Daily Star, Irish Times and The Sunday Times (Australia) as well as featuring in TV and Radio including Le Figaro.

Insta Wealth is truly a viral campaign, having received coverage in 91 different countries (we even made a map!)

Picture 1

The success in this campaign comes from its simplicity. It is a new approach to a widely covered topic, using a straight-forward methodology from a credible secondary source. It was able to generate lots of interesting headlines for our outreach team to sell to journalists, with the knowledge that editors are constantly looking for stories around fame and social media.

Insta Wealth did it all. It gave journalists great headlines, and readers something to share. It added a new dimension to the decade-old Ronaldo v Messi debate, a new dimension to the Jenner-Kardashian sibling rivalry and most importantly for us, delivered a campaign which performed six times above our client target.

Campaign Spotlight – A Contact Lens Company Visual Content

My latest campaign spotlight focuses on three similar campaigns we produced for a contact lens company, all of which have been consistently covered by national and international lifestyle journalists.

These campaigns are Moving Perspectives, The Stroop Effect and Photographic Memory. I will discuss each campaign in turn, explaining the thought process behind their creation, and how their execution led to consistent coverage from top-tier publications.

The Stroop Effect was the first to launch in May this year. It is a colour perception game based on the Stroop test , a psychological phenomenon where the brain struggles to read the word of a colour when formatted with a different colour, for example Red written in green.

Based on this, we devised a test which measures how quickly you can identify five matching colours (e.g. Red, Pink, Green) against ten mismatching colours (e.g. Red, Pink, Green). We then tested the game on a survey with 2000 UK adults to give us various headlines about how well the nation performed.

To date, The Stroop Effect has been picked up 28 times with a total of 2,068 Link Score (Verve’s own tool using a combination of metrics to measure the value of links). The test also has over 100,000 views, thanks to features in the Mirror, Daily Mail, Mental Floss and Business Insider.

In July, we launched Photographic Memory, a game which tests the audience’s ability to spot details in ten images. They are given seven seconds to look at an image, then respond to a question about a detail in the photo.

We wanted to create a campaign which tests whether the user has a visual memory, as well as producing something with strong visuals that journalists could embed in an article. To add further credibility for journalists, we tested the game on 2000 UK adults to see how they performed.  Just 1.2% of the respondents were able to get a perfect 10/10 score.

So far, Photographic Memory has 21 links from high authority news sites. It performed especially well with the UK tabloids, with the Sun, Daily Mail, Mirror, and Metro all covering the campaign within a few days of each other.

Our most recent campaign for a contact lens company launched on the 23rd August and has been the most successful of the three mentioned in this blog. Moving Perspectives takes optical illusions to a new level by showcasing seven mind-bending optical illusions made into moving GIF images.

We previously had success with In Perspective, a similar optical illusions piece with 11 illustrations of illusions which show the user how it tricks the brain into seeing something different. With Moving Perspectives, we explored this concept further by using dynamic illusions, which move to reveal how it works.

So far, Moving Perspectives has 41 links with a total of 2,103 Link Score. Again, this campaign proved popular with the UK tabloids including the Sun, Mirror and Daily Star all covering it. The campaign also received international coverage in Russia and Japan.

All three campaigns benefitted from quality designs which maximised the visual appeal of the campaigns and made them fun to interact with. The journalists we contacted appreciated the strong aesthetics in the three campaigns.

They also benefited from being embeddable on an article so readers can view them without having to leave the page. Moving Perspectives worked well in particular as the white background matched seamlessly with the page of an article.

As a result, the execution of these three campaigns has made it possible for us to build consistent links by appealing to lifestyle and pop-science journalists with similar content themes but a fresh idea which continues to attract coverage each time.