outreach strategy cartoon

In this article I’ve given a brief overview of seven rules that are essential for any self-respecting link builder to follow when creating an outreach strategy. These rules have enabled the Electric Dialogue team to be featured on sites such as Mashable, Search Engine Journal, the Guardian and the Huffington Post.

Quality over Quantity

The temptation to get weighed down with the pressure of hitting outreach targets is huge for a link builder. If you have a client who is getting a bit antsy then the temptation to outreach using generic emails via programmes like BuzzStream can overwhelm an otherwise good outreach strategy.

If this is the case then you have to be strong; hang on to your hard earned link building instincts for dear life. I cannot stress enough that there is absolutely, unequivocally, no point whatsoever in giving in to your client’s pressure on this issue. Your response rates will plummet and the positive replies you do get back will be from poor half-spammy sites that are desperate for any kind of content. In a time when the emphasis on quality is likely to become even more important (see our SEO Predictions for 2013 blog), compromising on quality in return for quantity will only end up hurting your link building strategy and therefore damaging your client’s SEO campaign.

My advice is to spend time looking around the site to make sure it is of a good quality. Then, pick out things you like, maybe comment on a few things and follow them on Twitter/like them on Facebook – these will come in handy later. I’d also recommend including a couple of links to relevant articles you’ve written elsewhere – obviously only if they’re good. A favourite tactic of mine is to look on their Twitter feed; if they have recently tweeted about their pet dog, maybe ask them how said canine is doing in your email. At worst they will think you’re a little creepy but at best you’re building a good relationship, which leads us nicely on to…

Build Relationships not Links

Not this old chestnut again! Yeah, sorry guys it may be the most rehashed SEO phrase on the web but it’s still a good’un.

Why is it a good’un? Well, because getting a link is the bare minimum you should ever be looking to get out of an outreach email. If you send a webmaster a personalised and well written outreach email, you will probably not only end up getting a link but you’ll have the opportunity to build a relationship with them.

Laying the foundations of a relationship is only the start though; it has to be nurtured. Perhaps make a note to check back with webmasters, bloggers and editors every month or two with a quick email. Point out a couple of broken links on their site (maybe even suggest a relevant piece of content on your site as an alternative), compliment them on a recent post and follow/interact with them on Twitter. As I’ll talk about a bit more in the next section, if you build a relationship instead of just links, you’ll find asking for a favour from that person in the future won’t be a problem.

I hate it when I read articles on sites like the SEOMoz blog where people have tried to turn link building into a science by attempting to prove things through graphs, mass outreach software and statistics. To those people I say two things: firstly, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics; secondly, link building, and by extension outreach, is not a science, it’s an art – you don’t build links with a computer, you build links with people. Look at it like this, would you rather have a one-off link on the NY Times website or would you rather have a relationship with the editor of the NY Times (she seems nice) that means you can take her out for lunch and talk about links to your heart’s content?

Look to the Future

It is very easy to disregard sites off hand that don’t appear to be ‘worthy’ of your great content. If it has a low domain authority and only a few inbound links it is unsurprising that most link builders head to the nearest exit. But before consigning that website to your own personal oblivion (at least for the time being) there is something you should consider, where is that site going?

Sure, it may not have much clout at the moment but is it on the way up? Obviously there is no definitive way to know for sure but I’d start with looking at the site’s style, its content and its social media presence. If it only launched a couple of weeks ago of course its DA will be low and it isn’t likely to have a huge amount of inbound links. Yet it may have thousands of followers on Twitter or a really unique idea/style that looks certain to take off. If this is the case I’d definitely include them in your outreach strategy; after all, your link will only increase in value over time and they aren’t likely to forget the person who provided them with great content when no one else would.

What’s in it for them?

Obviously the primary function of everyone’s outreach strategy is to get what they want out of it. Whether that’s links, mentions or whatever; it’s all right to know what you want but I’ve found that link builders are almost always guilty of being selfish. In my early days I was also a selfish link builder, I’d email site owners with what looked like some sort of ultimatum: here’s my content, now publish it.

That attitude is not going to get you anywhere; it is important to offer web owners some sort of incentive to encourage them to do what you’re asking. Payment is obviously a big no no so don’t do that. Instead, offer to share their work on your social media channels, write a series of articles for them or just offer whatever you feel they would benefit most from.

Remember that they are doing you a favour; you don’t give your friend an ultimatum when you want them to do something for you, do you?

Get Personal

Most web owners wake up to an inbox full of outreach emails every morning. How do they go about deciding which ones are worth replying to? To be honest I don’t actually know, but I think it is fairly safe to assume that emails from people who have actually been bothered to find out the name of the recipient will be higher up the list.

These days, due to the internet, finding people’s names and/or contact information isn’t particularly difficult. If you can’t find contact details anywhere actually on the site or through the WhoIs Info tool, then an old fashioned Google search might be the answer. Type in their name and what info you feel might be useful such as the website name or position. In the past I’ve had success with the search: “John Smith Name of Site”; more often than not you’ll be presented with a LinkedIn profile or other social media account which will enable you to get your outreach strategy under way.

If the worst comes to the worst and you really can’t find a name or social media profile then use the contact form or a generic email (you know the ones ‘admin@site.com’ etc). I’d address it with a “Hi Guys” or “Hi name of website team!” – as long as it’s relatively upbeat and doesn’t look spammy you should be fine. It may also be worth sticking a sentence in saying you weren’t sure who to contact because you couldn’t find an appropriate email address and would they be so kind as to pass this onto the relevant person.

Get Off the Beaten Track

Since guest posting became an essential part of link building the internet has become saturated with content written purely to gain links. This is also true of outreach, every site around the web with the words “contribute”, “submit”, “write for us” or “guest post” on it, has been inundated with outreach emails from SEO marketers for years.

This means we now have to get off the beaten track in order to find the best location for our content. Look for websites that don’t have a section for contributing because these are unlikely to have been as affected by link builders using search operators. Bear in mind though, that approaching sites that do not explicitly mention guest posting will probably require an even better outreach email than normal. Ronit Epstein wrote a great article which covered this over at 3 Door Digital which is well worth a read.

It better be worth it

I could write the best email in the world but if the article I want featured isn’t very good then what’s the point?

Well that’s precisely it, all the above points will prove absolutely worthless if what you’re offering isn’t very good. So don’t be scared to spend a lot of time creating and editing your content in order to make sure people are biting your hand off to get it on their site. There’s a school of thought that believes one or two exceptional pieces of content produced every couple of months – depending on the budget – is a worthwhile investment. It’s not as if we’re limited to infographics or lengthy guest posts anymore either; videos, eBooks, mini-sites and celebrity/expert interviews are all viable options.

If you’re guest posting, it is probably worthwhile to send your outreach in advance so you don’t end up spending hours tailoring your content for a site only for them not to be interested in the topic. However, with the really good pieces of contents that have had both time and money invested, like I’ve mentioned above, this shouldn’t be necessary because sites should be begging you to let them publish it.

Bonus Tip

This article has only scratched the surface of a key component of link building. But if you’ve found it useful, and would like a more comprehensive guide to link building as a whole then I highly recommend getting your hands on Paddy Moogan’s new, aptly named, book: ‘The Link Building Book‘. It’s a great all round guide for any level of link builder from a guy who has pretty much seen it all in SEO.