How To Creatively & Effectively Build Links Using Public Data

Governments, non-profit and other organisations are under constant pressure to improve transparency and, as a result, are making vast amounts of data available to the public.

The range of data sets available is enormous, with 16 nations currently spear heading open data initiatives, and countless private organisations publishing data online – the US alone has published more than 400,000 data sets. This free data presents an opportunity for anyone with a creative mind to produce something of real interest and, in return, acquire quality inbound links to their website.

Furthermore, both the US and UK governments actively encourage their data to be used to create web based apps. These apps can be submitted to or and many are rewarded with an authoritative link.

This article will look at how you can use public data to produce something of value and how to attract links by marketing your creation effectively.

Sources Of Public Data

There are a number of organizations and institutions that offer free data including governments, universities and non-profits.

International data is available from both the IMF and the World Bank, each providing online portals containing thousands of free data sets. Country specific data can be found through a number of sites. Currently, the majority are US based, with the most extensive data sets found on websites including:,, American Fact Finder and

Recently, the UK Government has also created a website which provides a one-stop-shop for data from their various governmental departments, and more countries are poised to follow suit in the near future.

Tableau Public provides a comprehensive list of hundreds of free datasets which are updated monthly. In a fitting example of their business model, they have also compiled these data sources graphically, ranked by data quality, relevance, ease of download and compatibility with their excellent data visualisation software:

Public data catalogue

Data Catalogue from Tableau Public


Tip: The UK and other governments have “freedom of information” legislation. If you can’t find the specific data you are looking for within the sets made publicly available, you can make a written request for the information.

For example, why not use the Freedom of Information Act to ask the UK Government about their PPC spending and write an article or create an infographic around this? I guarantee links will flow if you do!

Ideas For Using Publicly Available Data

Most of the websites mentioned above present their data in a raw format which is usually of little value to the reader and almost impossible to gain insight from.

There is a huge opportunity here to unravel the raw data into visually striking information that is powerful, easily digested and succinct. It is also an opportunity to create something that will be shared and more importantly, create inbound links.

How to most effectively achieve this is dependent on your imagination and creativity, but some ideas could include:

  • Infographics
  • Dashboards
  • Maps
  • iphone Apps
  • Tools
  • Quizzes
  • Widgets
  • Zipcode/Post Code Based Locators
  • Charts – Bar/Pie/Line
  • Alerts
  • Comparison Calculators
  • Feeds
  • Mashups
  • Facebook Apps


The scope for using public data is huge, and the potential rewards are great. Below are a number of websites that have successfully used public data to create useful, eye-catching apps:

All of the above pages received links from their respective .gov websites. The ‘on time flight tool’ even received a link from

Your creation must look professional for maximum impact and viral potential. If you have an in-house team of designers and programmers you could request that they create something of similar quality to the examples above. Alternatively, you can use Elance or Odesk and outsource the creation of your idea.

Tip: Try to think of an idea that can be cross-marketed. For example, an interactive chart which highlights the tax on gas could be of interest to both car enthusiasts and tax related websites/publications.

Marketing Your Idea

Marketing is essential to maximise the exposure of your design. This does not have to be expensive or wildly creative, as a huge amount can be achieved with four simple, but effective, methods:

A.  On Page Coding

From an on-page perspective, you can ask your developer to embed a code beneath any charts, images or infographics that you create. This will allow other websites to feature the images with a link back to your site. See the example below:

On Page Coding for SEO

This HTML will allow other websites to link back to your site easily

Y can also include social widgets which make it easier for people to share, recommend and +1 your creation – increasing the chances of it going viral.

B.  Notify Data Sources

The owner of the dataset will usually be very interested in any tool created using their data. Contacting them and making them aware of your creation will often result in an inbound link just as both and link back to any apps on their sites.

Not only will this provide a high quality link but it could also create interest and traffic to your tool. Journalists and other publications researching similar data may learn about and investigate your creation through these links, potentially further increasing exposure and links from these third parties.

Using advance search queries in Google, you can find galleries and sites that specialise in featuring infographics and other interesting data. Tableau Software has a Gallery of links to websites that have used their software to visualise data and Killer Infographics allows you to submit infographics that you create.

Tip: If you are using an external company or contractor, ask them to feature your design on their website or within their portfolio. This is another easy way to gain backlinks.

C.  Issue a Press Release

A press release is a great way to let major newspapers and publications know about your creation and any significant research findings you have found from the data. If your press release is unique and contains interesting analysis, newspapers and online publications may use some, or all, of the article and link back to your site.

D.  Outreach To Related Blogs

In addition to the press, you can also contact blogs that have related themes to the data you used. For example, if you created an interactive map of property prices, you could contact real estate and finance blogs informing them of what you created and any key findings.

If your website does not receive many visitors, one piece of advice that Vince Blackham recommends is trading your viral content for a link. In allowing another, high traffic, site to publish your content, you will ensure much higher exposure, and in turn, create a greater flow of traffic and PageRank back towards your pages, providing exposure to your brand and content.

This may seem counter intuitive but this technique could gain more exposure for your content compared to featuring it yourself, helping your site in the long-term.

There is so much free data out there, it’s just a matter of using your imagination and creativity to identify ways it can be used and visualised. If you know of other free data sources or have created apps using public data, lets us know in the comments below – I’d love to hear about them.

Image used under ‘Fair Use’

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | How To | How To: Links | Intermediate | Link Week Column


About The Author: is the founder of Matching Donations, a website that allows your charitable donations to go twice as far. He also volunteers his time as the SEO strategist for the International Professors Project, a non-profit that encourages professors to volunteer for teaching opportunities abroad.

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  • Dave Lauretti

    Thanks David. I have to say this has been one of the most useful articles I’ve read in a long time. I’m not even really able to describe how impressed I am, but this has got to be one of the most freshest link-building tactics we’ve all read in a very long time. Thanks again.

  • Raphaël Corre

    Great idea to embed code in other websites in order to increase traffic. I’ve never thought about it.

  • Iliana Lola

    To be honest I have never thought about it before. It seems very difficult to implement, but I think it’s worth to try it. 

  • Koundeenya

    Thats so cool. Thanks David. I’ve just started my new blog. This can really help a lot to newbies like me :P


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