Link building is a cornerstone of any successful SEO strategy, and even in the wake of Google’s Penguin and Panda updates it remains one of the most powerful tools in the content marketer’s toolbox. But there is more to link building than simply creating great content, and waiting for your peers to find you and grace your website with that all-important link.
You need to be proactive.
That means reaching out to the online community, connecting with the rising stars and current influencers in your industry, and building the kind of lasting relationships that bring positive link dividends. In other words, ‘outreach’.
But outreach is one of the more challenging SEO jobs to perfect, and it takes time and diligence to get right. Seriously, it’s overwhelming and really difficult. Not to mention, most of your attempts will go unanswered.
That being said, successful outreach is not beyond the abilities of even the most inexperienced content strategist, and it takes a bit of knowledge (which I hope to provide) and some hard work (which only you can deliver).
What is Outreach?
First things first. Outreach for link building is not a trick, nor is it an easy to apply SEO tactic. Think of outreach as a good habit you want to adopt, and never want to break.
I was at a networking event not too long ago, and the group was asked to define outreach. Everyone, naturally, had their own take on just what outreach was and how to use it to gain momentum in the SERPs. Here’s my take:
Outreach is about building relationships with other bloggers and webmasters in your niche, particularly the top performers, in order to get your own content exposed to a wider audience.
Simple, right? At least, in theory, it is. In practice, outreach can be a bit more complicated. So let’s roll up our mental sleeves, and dive into outreach for link building.
Different Types of Outreach
Before we go any further, I should point out there are a number of different types of outreach. Email is by far the most popular, and we’ll talk more about that in a moment. But when email fails, there are alternate routes you can take to make contact and start some relationship building.
- Blog Commenting – Commenting on blog posts is a great way to get noticed. Bloggers and content creators routinely monitor their comments sections, and this creates an opportunity for you to engage with them to make them aware of your name and your brand. Blog commenting is particularly useful in addition to your email outreach. If you pique someone’s interest with a blog comment, they may be more likely to respond to your emails.
- Social Media – Social media can be a very effective form of outreach. Like blog commenting, it allows you to bypass your target’s cluttered in-box, and introduce yourself in a neutral venue. Making the first contact through social media, primarily using Twitter, will give your target the opportunity to check your profile and familiarize themselves with you and your product or website. Again, this is a good addition to email outreach, as it is a simple way to make contact, and introduce yourself before you reach out to your target via email.
- Snail Mail – It may sound old-fashioned, and even counterintuitive, but snail mail shouldn’t be dismissed when you are trying to reach out to an important contact. Remember, emails can end up in a spam folder, or can simply be ignored. Traditional mail, even today, carries a bit more cache and is likely to at least get a cursory look. Better yet, send it by FedEx and you are bound to get their attention and do something to stand out..such as a message in a bottle. Yes, a real glass bottle.
Whichever alternative outreach method you use, remember that you need to be polite, respectful, and knowledgeable about your topic. You are, in essence, wooing a contact. You don’t need to be a suck-up (which can often backfire), but you do want to make a good impression. Most importantly, you need to provide value to your new prospect!
Outreach Via Email
As email is by far the most popular, and effective, form of outreach we should deal with it separately. Now, it’s important to go into this process with your eyes wide open. You must accept the fact that you are going to be sending out hundreds of emails, and are only to get replies from a small fraction, maybe 5%.
Remember when I said outreach for link building was challenging? This is why. It takes time, and patience, and do not let yourself get discouraged. So, with that in mind, let’s look at some basic steps in an email outreach campaign.
Knowing who to contact can be difficult. Certainly, you can take a scatter-shot approach, and simply contact each individual blogger of all your favorite posts. It’s not a terrible approach, but it lacks focus and is unlikely to bring the results you desire.
One way to find potential link sites is to run a backlink check on the sites belonging to your major competitors. You can use Open Site Explorer for this. By looking at your competitor’s link profile, you will be able to find potential link sites in your niche industry.
You can use Screaming Frog for broken link building on sites in your niche. This is a great tactic, as you are not only offering something of value, you are helping to provide an easy fix for the target site.
Getting Your Prospect’s Contact Info
In most cases your target’s contact information will be posted on the website or is a quick find by diving through LinkedIn, Google+, or another social channel. You could also contract out this prospect gathering with a site such as Mechanical Turk from Amazon. You could also jump over to Whois On Godaddy and enter the website address.
Tracking Your Outreach Campaign
Before you start sending out emails, you need to have a way of tracking your successes and failures. This is important for a number of reasons, First, you need to know who you have, and have not yet, contacted. This is easy enough to accomplish with a simple Excel spreadsheet.
You will also want to keep a record of which emails were successful. Buzzstream is the standard for this process, but again, Excel is fine too. Keeping a good record is invaluable, and will help you fine-tune your outreach campaign as it progresses.
Finally, with your outreach plans in place, it’s time to make contact. First, it is important to understand that this will be an ongoing process, and to achieve maximum results you will want to work on your outreach campaign on a regular basis. Whether it’s every day, once a week, or once a month. Set a schedule, and keep to it. Now, for an email outreach campaign, many people rely on templates, which brings us nicely to our next topic.
Email Outreach Templates
Because email outreach by its very nature is labor-intensive, many SEOs like to use templates to make it easier to craft their contact emails. Your email template should include these basic features:
- Details of what you are offering to the link target
- Your unique proposal
- A call to action
- VALUE to the prospect
It is important to remember, however, that your template should not be set in stone. For your more important prospects, you will want to send a more personal and carefully crafted email. An email template should be reserved for your second string prospects, and even these should be tweaked as needed to make them more personal.
A basic link request email should address the webmaster personally, illustrate some knowledge of the site in question, and clearly articulate what you have to offer that will be of benefit to the webmaster and the website.
Simply asking for a backlink will not work. Explain that you recognize their authority in your niche industry, you enjoy their content, and you have similar content that they, and their clients, might find interesting and valuable.
Be sure to include a few links to other websites that have already linked to your content. If you have constructive suggestions for their website, state them clearly and fairly. Explain that a link would be welcome, but you understand that, being a premier site, they probably get link requests all the time.
Invite them to peruse your site, and ask them to comment or critique it, as they see fit. Tell them that if they like what they see, a link would be a welcome vote of confidence from someone you respect in the industry.
So, a basic email outreach template might look like this:
Subject: You'll enjoy this new way to [your proposition] Hello, [prospect's first name] [Include your proposal and value, your website's URL and links to other websites that have linked to your content.] Thank the blogger or prospect [using their name] for taking the time to read your email. Include your email address so they can contact you directly. Thanks! [Signature, including your full name, company, and your website]
When crafting your template, keep these 5 quick email tips in mind:
- No yelling – Your subject line should be inviting and not in caps. You don’t want to seem like your shouting at your link prospect.
- Use your creativity – You are trying to impress your link target with your website’s content, but if your email is clumsy or boring they are unlikely to check out your site. Take some time to craft an engaging email. Don’t be afraid of a bit of humor. That helps to take the curse off of a link request.
- Make it personal – Always use the webmaster’s name, and the name of their website, in the subject and body of your email. Otherwise, your email will look like all of the other spam that comes through their in-box.
- Use a real email address – Do NOT attempt outreach from a Gmail account.
- Have a good attitude – Be happy and grateful for the opportunity to reach them.
With your outreach template complete, it is time to move forward with your email campaign. Outreach for link building is a long, and never-ending, process. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun as well as rewarding.
Outreach is as varied as the people involved, and these essentials are only a rough guide meant to get you started. For an advanced version, check out this fantastic link building guide from Respona. Their guide goes way beyond outreach and touches on the many tactics of link building, even gray and black-hat techniques. It’s awesome.
If there is one underlying principle that can be applied to outreach for link building, it is to let your personality shine through. Be polite, and respectful, but leverage your own personality to make a great impression. An engaging email, blog comment, or forum post, is the first step to building a lasting relationship that will pay real dividends for both parties. And that’s the type of relationship all webmasters are trying to forge.
Do you have more suggestions or other ideas for outreach? Please leave a comment below to start a discussion, and thanks for reading!