People have different ideas about link building. Some say manually building links is against Google’s guidelines and should be avoided. Some have their fancy link building techniques and email templates that they guarantee will get you a large number of links in a short time. And some just believe you should pay your way through and buy link placements on websites that make money by selling these.
Although I totally agree with the idea of producing link-worthy content (linkable assets) and sharing them with people, I believe that today’s blogging sphere is more competitive to be handled only by link-worthy content. Especially when you have a rather new website. You need to do link building for sure. However, I don’t believe outreach techniques or templates could guarantee success here. As someone who’s been involved in link building one way or another over the past couple years, I have some ideas.
Most people expect link building to pay off in a rather short time frame. They churn out blog posts and turn to link building to grow traffic to their posts fast, so they need links at scale. To do so, they do mass targeting. They scrape a huge list of websites to target using a number of tools and then use a general message (a template they found on a website) to request a link placement. They typically ask people to replace a link in their website with their new, apparently more comprehensive, blog post.
There are some problems with this approach to link building:
1- Everybody in their niche is using the same SEO tools so they’re probably targeting the same keywords and scraping the same list of websites to reach out to.
2- Everybody in their niche is using the same template they found on a famous website so they’re sending the same message and probably asking for the same link placement.
3- Most importantly, they need to scale fast so their focus is on reaching out to as many people as possible. This inevitably leaves no room for personalization.
Response rates for this kind of link building are low. Years of receiving these templates with the same requests everyday have made people disinterested. They won’t even bother to give you a no.
On the other hand, if you manage to tame your uncontrolled scaling urges and see link building a long-term growth strategy, you’ll be able to build some of the most influential business relationships in your career. Content marketing in general is extremely dependent on good relationships.
Set the bar high for the quality of the content you produce. In the context of team management, this translates to having a dedicated team of content writers alongside your outreach coordinators equipped with the right content marketing and task management tools. Brad Smith, the CEO of Wordable, explains this from experience:
78% of companies have up to three people in their content marketing team: content specialist or writer, social media manager, and SEO specialist.
That kinda bears out in real life based on our experience, but you’ll probably need more based on (1) more writers for more content pieces per day/week/month, (2) more project managers to wrangle more crazy writers, and (3) more content specialists for additional content types, like design, video, etc.
Creating great content also demands a good understanding of your audience. Here are some tips to get to know your audience better:
Obviously, you need links from relevant domains so you need to reach out to websites that write about your topics. Although it might work sometimes (as in when you’re targeting keywords they’re not interested in), it’s a good idea to avoid reaching out to your competitors. So if you’re an internet marketing agency, it doesn’t make any sense to reach out to other marketing agencies.
There might be some websites that have targeted a few keywords like you. As long as you’re not asking them to add links to your overlapping content, it’s a good idea to reach out to them.
To find these websites you can search some of your industry-specific keywords on Google or social media platforms and find websites that have written about them.
One other tactic is checking out some of the websites that accept guest posts in your niche and find their guest authors. These authors are typically associated with a website you can reach out to. The bonus point here is that because these websites are guest posting to build links, they’re probably interested in forming a link building relationship as well. And the guest author is probably the person you should reach out to.
The next question is what person to reach out to from a website?
If you’re reaching out to a personal website, you could easily find who the person in charge is. Just check out the contact page or the about us page. If you’re reaching out to a company website, chances are you should reach out to their SEO manager or the content marketing manager -- anyone in charge of increasing the blog’s traffic. Check out their about us page and see if you can find different roles there. If not, you can take a look at their LinkedIn page. I recently found out that these roles are mostly found out by looking for author bylines at the end of each blog post. Bylines typically explain the role of the author in that company as well. So you can probably find the content marketing manager or SEO manager of their blog
The next thing you should do is find a person’s email address. When sending link building campaigns it becomes equally important for you to land your email in the primary tab or else your efforts get wasted. This is how you can find a person’s email address:
If you know who you want to reach out to, the first thing you should do is do some guesswork. In your Gmail account, open the “New Message” window by clicking on “Compose”. Then in the “To” section write an email address. Then hold the cursor on the address and see if the email is associated with an image. Here’s what my Yahoo! address looks like:
Here are some email formats you can try:
If you can't find an email address this way, you can use some tools to find and verify email addresses. Hunter is a company specialized in this.
Most link builders these days are neglecting one important factor for building relationships. They ask for a link placement without offering something in return. Truth is very few people care about your newer and more comprehensive version of a post they’ve already mentioned in their blog. So if this is the only thing you’re offering them, it’s not compelling enough to make them act on your request.
This email I received a while ago is particularly interesting to me:
Assuming that this is a genuine link building effort and not a phishing email, the fact that they don’t show me the actual link which is redirected to the explicit content is off-putting. Although I believe this is not the right strategy, I would have used their replacement (as an act of appreciation) because I don’t want to link to explicit content.
Link building email outreach is by nature “cold”. When people receive these emails from you, they typically spend some time researching who you are and whether you could be trusted. Now if you ask them to give you an email right off the bat without offering them something in return, they would probably neglect you.
Unless you can prove yourself trustworthy and offer them value in return, your outreach is not going to be a success.
What to offer?
Some websites ask for payment in return for a link placement or guest post. If the domain is what you’re looking for and you have the budget for it, it’s a good idea to pay them. But in most cases, these domains are intended for link building and are spammy. Here are some offers you can use in your link building outreach.
Guest posts are the free content you offer to websites. You pitch them an interesting topic and if they like it, they’ll schedule it. Guest posting is the most popular way of building links. A few things you need to consider before pitching ideas to editors:
1- They’re publishing your content only because they think it offers value to their readers so do your best.
2- Spend some time on their blog and get familiar with their content. Knowing what topics they cover, the language and tone they use, the number of internal and external links they use in their content, etc. could help you send them a suitable guest post.
3- I know a bunch of bloggers who promote their guest posts after they’re published (they even pay for ads to increase page views). This way they make sure that editors see results from the posts they write. This might be a good strategy.
4- Check out Aaron Orendorf’s guide on guest posting before you send any guest posts.
5- Hunter has compiled a directory of practical cold email templates for any purpose. Make sure to check out their guest posting section.
If you have a Saas product, it’s a good idea to offer your product to bloggers in your niche and ask them to write reviews. These bloggers are always on the hunt for new useful tools and software to introduce to their readers. Building relationships with these bloggers could have long-term link building potential for you because if they love your product they will promote it in their guest posts as well.
I know some Saas companies that offer (a version of) their products to bloggers and ask for link placements or guest posts in return. Seems a valid offer to me if their software is useful.
Digital marketers know the value of link building and if you offer them a partnership of some sort, they will probably accept it. A partnership could be in the form of using one another’s content in your future guest posts or adding link placements on a particular website.
This is an email I got a long time ago asking for a link placement on my website. It’s actually a good email but the problem is its offer was not enticing enough for me.
He offered me to share my posts on their social media in return for a link placement -- not a good offer for me because I probably wouldn’t get any traffic from it. Here’s how I would rewrite their email and offer a more compelling incentive:
My search for valuable content headline topics lead me to your site’s post here: [URL]
Very impressive — congrats! I was thinking of including your post (with a do-follow link) in one of the future guest posts. I’ve written for [the publications I’ve been featured on]. I’m sure it adds a ton of value to my guest post and my audience will love it.
In return, do you think you can do me a favor? Recently we published a post about [topic] and I think it adds a lot of value to your audience as well if you include it in your post. Check it out here: [URL]. Alternatively, I can prepare a guest post for you- you have my writing samples above.
Let me know what you think.
[name] [LinkedIn/Twitter] [website]
Quality link building is one of the top challenges a company faces. Oftentimes people consider link building a short-term strategy that could drive traffic to their new pages in a short time. This might be the reason for some of the biggest (yet so popular) mistakes in cold emailing and, as a side effect, the ridiculously low response rate. In this article I explained some ways to make link building outreach your long-term growth strategy and build relationships with the right people in your niche.
Mostafa Dastras is a writer at The Digital Project Manager, a leading digital project management resource hub and community run by the indie digital publishing team at Black & White Zebra. His work has appeared on some top publications such as HubSpot, WordStream, SmartInsights, LeadPages, Sendinblue and MarketingProfs. Visit his blog, LiveaBusinessLife or reach out via social to connect with him.