Monthly Archives: February 2018

Link Outreach Approach & Example Emails

There are a lot of different ideas about what kind of tone to set in your outreach emails. I’ve developed a strategy that works well for me, but it’s certainly not the only way to compose an outreach email.

To begin with, however, there are a few rules of outreach emails that are absolutely essential. Breaking any of these is almost guaranteeing that you won’t get a mention or a link, and may well give the blogger a bad impression of your site, making it unlikely you’ll get a link from your future efforts either.

  • Keep it short: the hardest part of outreach emails is keeping them short and to the point, while still trying to be compelling. In general you want no more than 3 paragraphs, and only one of those should be of any significant length. I’d suggest a word count of no higher than 100 words and preferably less. A big wall of text is rarely read, no matter how awesome the content you’re sharing is.
  • Don’t screw up their info: It may be better to use the bloggers name and the site name, and it may not make a big difference. But what will certainly hurt you is if you call them by the wrong name, or call their site by a different name, or leave something like NAME HERE in the email. That is a sure sign that you are mass emailing off of a template. Personally, I often use templates that I personalize, but I make sure the template is written in a way that if I forget to insert the blog name, it still reads well.
  • Don’t attach anything: Unsolicited attachments are almost always viruses or malware. So if you send an unsolicited email to someone with an attachment, they are going to be far, far more likely to think that you are a spammer trying to infect their machine. You can include a link to graphics or files that you want to share, but don’t attach them to the email.
  • Make it timely: If you launch an awesome piece of content, be sure that you reach out to all of your prospect that day or the next. I’ve screwed this up, spreading my contacts out over a week, and almost none of the later ones linked to the content. I got a reply from one saying, “Yeah, I saw this making the rounds earlier in the week.” Bloggers don’t want to look like they’re posting about old news, so time your content launch for a time when you have room on your calendar to do your outreach.

Aside from these rules, the rest is a matter of testing different approaches and find what works best for you.

My Approach:

My personal style is to be very humble and honest, and to avoid insincere flattery. I introduce myself and my site and point out that I made something they might be interested in for their site. Then I will say one or two specific things about the content that I hope will catch their attention. I also usually apologize for emailing them out of the blue and interrupting their day.

I absolutely do not try to talk about how amazing my site is or the content is — I’m not bragging, but shyly sharing something I’m proud of.

I also make it a firm rule never to even say the word “link.” I might ask them to share the content with their readers, but I’m far more likely to say it’s something I thought they might be interested in, or be interested in for their site. SEO spam is rampant in email inboxes today, and you don’t want to sound anything like that spam.

I always try to close the email with something friendly like an offer to help, and another little piece of humble.

I’ve spent a lot of my life with my email address on various high-profile sites, and as a result I get a lot of spam. I’m used to all the slimy fake-sounding spam emails that make the rounds, and I suspect this is why I go for the honest and humble approach.

Here’s a sample outreach email I used for a piece of content on AwesomeDice.com. I had nearly a 30% conversion rate with this (helped by the fact that the content was actually pretty awesome in the eyes of the target audience):

Hey, this is Brian with Awesome Dice. We just finished running an analysis of over 10,000 dice rolls to determine whether gaming dice really roll randomly, and if precision dice are really better than standard ones. I was hoping you’d consider giving this a shout-out on the site!

The rolling analysis can be found here: http://www.awesomedice.com/blog/353/d20-dice-randomness-test-chessex-vs-gamescience/

Thanks for your consideration, and if there’s ever anything I can do for you, please drop me a line!

Brian

Awesome Dice
www.awesomedice.com

Most of my outreach emails these days are some variation on this template. Notice the effort to be humble, pointing out key interesting things about the content, and the extra friendliness at the end.

Here is a generic outreach template that I used when I launched Awesome Dice. For this I specifically targeted blogs on my list that I thought were likely to just give a blogroll link, based on the tone of their blog and whether they talked a lot about dice. If you’re going to just straight-up beg for links with no link bait, this is the approach that I like best. Note that it is short and filled with humble – and I actually gathered a good 20 links off of this alone!

Hey, this is Brian with AwesomeDice.com, and I’m emailing you out of the blue (and sorry about that) to ask if you’d consider giving us a shout-out on your site, or perhaps adding our blog (www.awesomedice.com/blog/) to your blogroll. As you can probably imagine, we’re big gamers and we sell dice, as well as blog about all things RPGs.

Thanks for your consideration, and sorry again for bugging you out of the blue. If there’s ever anything I can do for you, please drop me a line!

Brian

Awesome Dice
www.awesomedice.com

Other Approaches:

Again, my way isn’t the only way. Many sites will recommend that you say something about a recent article they wrote on their blog, as a way of proving that you’ve actually read their site, such as:

Hi, I loved the article you wrote the other day about dressing cats up as lobsters and using them for deep sea fishing bait. I recently wrote an article about using cats as bear bait that I thought you’d like. My article can be found at www.domain.com/meow-roar-this-is-so-wrong.html

If you like it maybe you could share it on your site?

The goal of this approach is to distance yourself from spam bots, and to imply that you read their site. Of course, if you don’t actually read their blog this is a bit disingenuous, and a lot of spam emails now try to make the same approach in an automated way. What’s worse, lots of non-automated spam from crappy SEOs uses this approach now too, so it’s starting to look formulaic.

On the other hand, many people still swear by it

Another common bit of advice is to tell the blogger why it would be good for them to feature your content, or to link to you. I am completely against this tactic: other than the fact that it’s usually lies, this kind of hard sell will automatically make a bunch of sites hate you and your site, and I cannot imagine it really converts that well. But the danger is that even if it does convert, the guys who don’t bite are going to be far less likely to link to any of your future efforts — they may well mark your email as spam to ensure they never even see future emails from you.

The Super Hard (and Authentic) Approach

The final most hard-core personalization approach suggests that you never even email someone until you already have established a relationship with them. When you see a blog you want to get a link from, you first follow them on social media. Make a couple meaningful comments on their posts. Retweet them and reply to their tweets with comments that propel the conversation. Try to get into conversations with the blogger. After doing this for a while (months), when you finally introduce yourself in your outreach email, there is already an existing relationship and the email doesn’t seem like spam at all.

If done carefully and well, I can totally see this approach having an awesome conversion rate. But it’s also a massive time investment. Honestly I have more profitable ways to spend my time and prefer to stick to the cold emails.

Don’t get me wrong, if there’s a blog that I really do like and read, I will go out of my way to try to form a relationship with the blogger. But I don’t have the attitude to go be friends with everyone in the community. If you do, or know someone who does, this approach is great for you, providing you have the time to invest in advance of publishing your link worthy content.

Ultimately you’re going to be sending a lot of these out, so choose an approach and tone that you’re comfortable with and that reflects well on your brand.

Leveraging Your Blog: Blogroll Requests

Having a regularly updated blog on your site with a decent history of posts can be valuable in link outreach. A lot of the best link acquisition tactics are based around producing content that other sites want to link to, and a blog gives you a logical place to publish all that content.

But more than that, all those small and medium sites you sifted through in your prospecting that had blogrolls might well add you to their blogroll as well. This gives you the advantage of a sitewide link — a link that is usually on every page of their site — which maximizes the PageRank that flows to your site. (Some sitewide links can look spammy, but blogroll links are good links, and a standard within the blogging community).

 

Asking for a Blogroll Link

The best way to ask for a blogroll link is in an email promoting another piece of content you created and published on your blog. So if you put together an interactive map showing the preferred dog breeds in each major city in the US, you could email dog bloggers (there are more than you’d think) and tell them about your neat map, then also ask for a blogroll link if they think it would be a good fit.

It’s worth noting that before you ask for a blogroll link, you should first ensure that you’re blog has a decent amount of good quality content (a minimum of 12 good articles). No one is going to put up a blogroll link to a blog with only a few posts.

Link Outreach: Building Your Prospect List

Just about everything beyond the low hanging fruit is going to involve outreach in some way. You will have to get in contact with bloggers or journalists that are relevant to your site and promote your site, or more specifically, the awesome content on your site.

This is the hard part of SEO. It’s very manual and time consuming (and for good reason — as we’ve seen everything you can successfully automate gets penalized eventually). This is what professional link building companies do, and if you truly want to succeed in organic search, it’s what you need to do as well.

Finding Your Linkerati

The very first step here is to build a contact list of your prospects. In any given industry, there are a collection of sites and blogs that make up the vast majority of links that any site in the industry gets. We call these the linkerati.

You need to go on a search for bloggers who blog about a topic relevant to your site. This doesn’t have to be a 100% perfect fit, but it does have to be pretty close. For example, when I was starting my site AwesomeDice.com I didn’t go looking for sites that blogged about dice — there weren’t any of those other than competitors. Instead I looked for sites that blogged about tabletop gaming and Dungeons and Dragons. These are the sites that all my dice customers were going to read, so those are the sites that would be relevant.

Determining what your linkerati is going to be can be difficult, especially for B2B type businesses. In some cases, there is literally no blog community of any size around an industry (this is pretty rare, but common in the industrial industries). In that case you might need to think about what kind of content you can create that can cross over into another community.

For example, I once worked with a CNC machine shop. The owner did a lot of work on off-road 4×4 trucks, and was involved in the community. So we leveraged that connection and suggested he produce content about modding trucks for these races. The content was relevant because it was all services that his machine shop offered, but it crossed over into a linkerati community completely unrelated to machining.

I had another client that actually manufactured CNC machines. I leveraged my geeky background & connections and suggested they create a time-lapse video of a CNC machine machining a stainless steel block into a Darth Vader helmet. That’s a video that I know would have mass appeal to the geek crowd and get shared all over, and again is relevant to their products. (I left the agency before the video was made, so I don’t know if they followed through).

The point here is that you can usually find a way to access a blog community for just about any site. Consider what products or services or information the site offers and who would use that information and what they would use it for. Both of those questions can lead to relevant blog communities.

Finding Sites

Once you know the kind of sites that you’re after, you then need to start finding the sites. There are some paid tools that help with this, but you can get pretty far along just using Google. My preferred paid tool for this is GroupHigh, which saves you a lot of time, but will also cost you nearly $1,000 per month. You can get nearly all of the info manually, spending more time instead of more money. There are three main ways to track down prospects:

  1. Use a Google search, or a Google Blog Search (which should only return blog results, and can be found at www.google.com/blogsearch). Search for your topic and comb through the results looking for good sites. You can use advanced search operators to narrow things. For example, if you’re looking for knitting blogs you might search for “blog intitle:knitting” — that searches for the word “blog” and only returns results where the word “knitting” is in the title of the page. You can also look for the word knitting in the actual URL with “inurl: knitting” Expect to go through hundreds of results at this stage. You want to build a comprehensive contact list here. The best results are small to medium blogs — giant sites are much harder to contact and get exposure from, but you should certainly include them on your list as well.
  2. When you find those small and medium blogs in your Google search, look for blogrolls — the list of recommended sites that often lives on the sidebar of blogs. This will generally include links to many other closely related sites (and some not related ones). Add all those related sites to your list as well.
  3. Use a backlink discovery tool like Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO (we talk about these in Tools & Analysis on page xxx) to find the sites that link to the small and medium blogs you’ve found (this usually isn’t very useful for very large sites). The sites linking to these blogs are very often also related sites that are a part of the linkerati for that industry. Be aware there will be plenty of junk links in there too – remember you’re only looking for quality blogs and sites, not directories or press release/article spinning sites.

As you look at the sites, first evaluate it: is the site spammy? Does it look like it was written by a computer program or is it filled with ads or just look untrustworthy? You don’t want to pursue links from obviously spammy sites. Also check out the date of the most recent post, at the top of the homepage — if the blog hasn’t been updated in months, chances are that the blogger has stopped updating the site and this isn’t a good prospect. Some people evaluate blogs based on the PageRank of the home page, or the Domain Authority as measured by various companies. I do not recommend this: you want to get links from every site that isn’t spammy, regardless of the PageRank.

A site is a good prospect if it is relevant to the topic, seems like it’s decent quality (not spammy) and has been updated within the past month.

Finding Contact Info

With each good site that you find, record in your spreadsheet the name of the site, the URL of the site, the name of the site author if you can find it, and the contact info for the site. For smaller blogs contact info can sometimes be hard to find.

After going through this process for a lot of sites, one thing I’ve learned is that it’s not worth going to extreme measures to find contact info (like looking up the whois) — if a site owner makes it really hard to find their email address, odds are they aren’t going to respond to you contacting them anyway.

Here are the simple steps I go through to find the contact info:

  • Look in the main navigation for a link to a Contact page or an About page. Look through those pages for a contact email or a contact form
  • Hit Control-F and do a search for the words “contact,” “about,” and “email” on the home page and the about page. Be aware that “email” often gets lots of false positives from sites that advertise signing up for email subscriptions, or sharing posts via email
  • Search for “Profile” — this is a common area to find contact info for blogs hosted by blogspot.
  • Failing those, look for social media links. If a blogger gives their Twitter account, you can always contact her that way

In a perfect world you really want an email address, but any kind of contact method works, even social media.

There are some tools out there to help you find contact info for a site: I’ve never used any of them, mostly because I generally haven’t had much luck pitching sites who make their contact info hard to find in the first place.

Learn While Building Your List

While you’re going through this process, you can also be learning about your potential audience. Keep an eye out for recurring themes that you see discussed on the blogs: you may be able to make use of that in future content you create.

Also keep an eye out for very authoritative blogs: blogs that get very large numbers of comments on all their posts, and those sites that it seems like everyone is linking to, that are on every blogroll. These are major influencers, and if you’re going to be marketing within this community, these are the guys that you want to know about. Bookmark those sites and make a point to read their blogs regularly. Follow them on social media. Try to interact with them in comments and in social media — these are guys who can give you great insight into the community in which you’ll be marketing, and who you want to be able to leverage to get great exposure. They can provide not only links, but high quality traffic and brand awareness. So start building that relationship now, so when you want something it will be more than a random email out of the blue.

The process of building a prospect list like this is long, slow, and painful. This is the biggest grind of SEO research, but it’s also absolutely vital. You don’t want to skip steps or take shortcuts here, because you’ll be leveraging this list over and over during your authority building.

If you have a new site or are entering a new community, you probably don’t want to offload this work to someone else (tempting though it is). The process of finding all these sites also gives you a pretty good overview of the blog community you’re going to be leveraging. If you are not already very well versed in the community, the discovery process will help you understand how to produce content that is capable of attracting links.

I like to break this process down into small bite-sized chunks. I will do research for one hour a day, every day, until I’ve exhausted my options. I just find that I cannot sit down for eight hours at a stretch building a prospect list.

Do whatever works for you to build the most comprehensive list possible of every active blog in your target community. These are your linkerati, the sites whose links you need to be able to rank at the top of Google.