Tag Archive | "Outreach"

Putting Guest Post Outreach Theories to the Test [With Some Real World Data]

Posted by jamesagate

Following the positive response to my last post here on SEOmoz, I wanted to bring you all some data right from a few of our real-world campaigns.

As a business, we systemise a great deal and monitor a lot of processes so it made sense for me to put use to some of this data and try to prove/disprove any commonly held theories about outreach.

The following is based on a sample of 400 guest posts that we placed for clients over a three month period (November-January). Make of the data what you will, it isn’t conclusive but I feel it does go some way to providing some good starting points for you to explore in your own outreach campaigns – as with most things, the best strategy is for you to test it out for yourself in the industry/industries that you work in.

Theory #1 – Being a woman will get you more links

Speak to nearly anyone that has been building links for a while and they will have at least come across the theory that approaching a prospective link partner looking for a guest post is more likely to be successful if you are a woman. I would think this stems from the widely held belief (rightly or wrongly) that women are more trustworthy and well-meaning than men.

I wanted to investigate this theory in a little more depth. Quite by accident, of the 400 posts, it was roughly a 50/50 split with a woman conducting the outreach 52% of the time.

  • 790 potential sites were contacted
  • 411 by a woman
  • 379 by a man

Battle of the sexes – who performed better?

  • 437 positive responses received (remember there is a small attrition rate which has to be accounted for within the guest posting process where the link partner either doesn’t accept the content or doesn’t deliver on his/her end of the bargain).
  • 263 positive responses received by a woman.
  • 174 positive responses received by a man.

You might argue that this difference in performance between the genders could be attributed to a number of things:

  • Some are better at outreach than others – whilst this might be true, all receive the same training however, and any slight differences should be averaged out by this fact.
  • Consultants have different methods – similarly, some consultants may have slightly different methods although in reality we have systemised our process and continue to innovate as a team sharing best practices so again any impact is likely to be negated.
  • Consultants were contacting different websites – again, a very real possibility that the difference in performance is attributable to the ‘leads’ each consultant received. We do have different consultants who work and specialise in different industries so this could be a potential reason.

To really put this theory to the test though, we had one of our female consultants get in touch with five potential link partners who had either declined the offer of a guest post or requested payment for a guest post from one of our male outreach consultants.

When a female consultant made contact, they managed to reduce the price of the paid placement (we didn’t pay for it anyway) and we got a positive response from two of them. To clarify, that was pitching exactly the same website and roughly the same content as before.

That’s a pretty interesting find, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Theory #2 – Job title matters

Depending on whether the client has a preference, we usually approach the link partner as either an agency employee or an individual/freelancer.

Some clients like us to contact link partners as if we were employees of their company, others prefer we don’t disclose agency connections which on the face of it may stir some ethical debate however in these situations we merely act as the facilitator between our freelance content team and the host blog and since we strive to create win-win-win situations I have no problem with operating in this way.

In all honesty – each of these has its advantages and disadvantages (whilst contacting as an agency employee might invoke more requests for payment, it does make the option of continuing the relationship and benefiting your other clients much more practical) but let’s look at this from a pure success rate basis.

  • 790 potential sites were contacted
  • 297 were contacted as a freelancer
  • 373 were contacted as an agency employee
  • 120 were contacted as an in-house

In cases where the partner was approached by a freelancer, a positive response was received 189 times. In cases where the partner was approached by an in-house employee, a positive response was received 78 times and finally in cases where the partner was approached by an agency employee, we received positive responses 170 times.

The results surprised me because, one would think, that an email from someone directly working for an organisation that is going to benefit from the guest post would result in more declines or at least more requests for some form of payment. Clearly though trust is an important factor when it comes to largely unsolicited (albeit well researched and properly pitched) offers of guest posts.

Theory #3 – Timing is important

I was really excited to pull together the data for this one because I was confident that timing really mattered, especially when it comes to the initial introductory email.

Whilst we don’t actively record the precise time an email is sent, we do keep a note of the time of day i.e. Morning, Afternoon or Evening for the recipient. We’re UK based so running campaigns for our overseas clients requires rigorous planning and execution if we are to get the timing right.

In this case, I found no conclusion that could be drawn from this data. This is because when you average the response rate out across industries and countries (as I did in this case) it is only logical that no correlation will be easily identifiable because no two prospects are the same; different industries, different time zones and so on.

This doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of timing though:

  • Recording when your prospect is at their most responsive is helpful for keeping the process moving especially if they become a little wayward right before the agreed publish date.
  • Observing patterns in specific niches and putting this to work for you, for example, I have identified a responsiveness pattern across some of the sports blogs we work with (most, not all, but the majority respond late evening in their time) which could well be attributed to the fact they are hobby bloggers with full-time jobs and a family who sneak a bit of ‘blog time’ once their wife and children have gone to bed.

Theory #4 – Personalisation is worth it (or is it?)

We wanted to guarantee a quality standard with our outreach processes, which is we have approved templates that are then tailored to each prospect.

In certain situations where we feel it will be beneficial, we will write emails completely from scratch.

We don’t send out any generic emails which for the purposes of this exercise is a real shame because we can’t properly compare the difference in response rate when you send out a stock email and when you send out a personalised or even bespoke email.

We make a note of whether the email sent was tailored or entirely bespoke and the results align with what you might expect…

Completely bespoke emails generate a higher response rate although the caveat to this is of course that to custom write every email just isn’t possible if you want a campaign to be of a certain scale.

If you contacted 10 partners with a tailored email then you would get fewer positive responses but similarly, try sending 100 completely from scratch emails. You need a lot of people and that costs money which then impacts on the ROI of a campaign.

The trade-off and what I believe to be the happy medium is a solid template that is tailored to each recipient. Be flexible with your templates too and allow them to evolve as you see certain elements working better than others. Innovate then scale by applying across your campaigns.

Theory #5 – The style of outreach email has an impact

As I discussed above, we have a number of base templates for our consultants to customise, we have one version which are very conversion focused and another which is more soft-conversion – both variations are useful just in different industries.

I recently covered what goes into our high-conversion outreach emails and whilst I still don’t wish to reveal the exact format of our templates I will say the following:

  • Template A – very proactive wording that encourages moving to the next step, selecting one of the articles rather than asking whether they’ll accept a guest post.
  • Template B – much softer wording that works well in industries where guest posting is less prevalent and where the prospect needs their hand holding on the process a bit more.

As you will note, the more proactive template A is more effective in terms of generating a response. However, given that these styles are effective in different industries, so both templates will continue to have a place in our work. That being said, I found it useful and really interesting to compare their performance side by side.

Theory #6 – Persistence pays off

I believe in creating win-win-win situations when it comes to guest posting and because we go further to research and evaluate prospective websites, I see no issue in following up with the potential link partner three times before writing them off as unresponsive.

If you categorise the responses received in relation to the number of times contacted, it becomes evident that persistence really does pay off.

You will note from the chart below that around 30% of positive responses received agreed on the second or third email.

Had we not been persistent we would have needed to find, research and contact additional link partners which would have greatly increased our workload.

Persistence is one thing but relentless pestering is another. Follow up on leads, but be polite and for the benefit of all of us in the industry know when you should be taking no for an answer.

What’s the perfect combination?

Is it best to be an in-house female link builder pitching content in the evening three times? No, not always.

Different strokes for different folks. To summarise, it’s important to test out what works best in your industry.

Remember that this is a relatively small internal data sample so it is by no means perfect as there are always multiple factors in play at any one given time but despite this, I do feel it is valid enough to make it useful. Hopefully it acts as a starting point to develop your own study or to shape your initial guest post outreach strategy.

I’d be keen to hear from anyone running guest posting campaigns to learn about their methods and the kinds of response rate they generate.

James Agate is the founder of the content and outreach agency Skyrocket SEO. They offer a guest posting service that’s aimed at agencies and website owners looking for a semi-scalable, high-quality way to proactively earn links.

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A Linkbuilder’s Gmail Productivity Setup (with Outreach Emails from 4 Industry Linkbuilders)

Posted by dohertyjf

Because linkbuilding is hard, we all look for ways to make the process less painful and our outreach more effective. I constantly struggled with how to make my job more effective when working in-house, and since coming to Distilled I have had to become even more of a productivity ninja in order to keep up with the fast pace of an agency.

The goal of today's post is to teach you some ninja ways that will markedly increase the speed of sending linkbuilding emails, as well as help you provide context to them with the goal of increasing your response rate.

A quick note: These tips I am showing today apply to people who use Gmail as their email provider. There are probably similar tools available for other programs like Outlook. So take the principles applied here, suit them to your needs, and then share the knowledge!

Gmail Tools and Tips

Let's look at some Gmail tools, tips, and tricks that can improve your productivity.

Gmail Shortcuts

Gmail shortcuts are a linkbuilder or email productivity ninja's best friend. Once enabled in Labs, you have a whole wealth of shortcuts to use so that you never have to touch your mouse, unless you need to edit text or do something like inserting a canned response (see below). You'll find that shortcuts tend to eliminate many superfluous steps, and when used in combination with the other tools mentioned, you can drastically speed up your email processing time.

The most important shortcuts are, in my opinion:

  • C – compose a new message
  • E – archive a message
  • G then I – return to inbox from a message
  • R – reply to a message
  • A – reply all to a message
  • F – forward the message
  • J – when in your inbox, move to the next message
  • K – when in your inbox, move to the previous message
  • X – when in your inbox, mark an email. Most useful when processing out emails that don't require any attention (such as daily emails).

You should think about shortcuts as "recipes" of sorts. Use them in combination, like Tab+Enter for sending, J+X+E for archiving messages in your inbox, or R+message+tab+enter for responding to a message. String them together, and you'll be more awesome.

For a complete list of Gmail shortcuts, go here

Pro tip: Combine this with Send and Archive (mentioned below) to take your processing to the next level.

Canned Responses

Canned responses are something that our New York Sales Exec Ron Garrett recently introduced me to. Another Labs tool, it allows you to save email templates to use so that you are not constantly copying and pasting from one source to another, risking making a mistake.

As you can see in the image below, it installs a "Canned Responses" button right under the Subject field. This is where you can save drafts of canned responses for quick access.

Here is how a canned email might look if I was sending an email to Tom Critchlow:

Pro tip: Highlight the text to change in yellow so that you make sure to insert all relevant information.

Also, make sure you check out some example linkbuilding emails from some industry experts at the bottom of this post.


Rapportive is a Gmail plugin that I've been hyping recently, because it's so freakin awesome. The idea is simple, but the outcome is powerful.

After you download it from Rapportive.com and install into Gmail, the box will appear on the right side of your screen when you go to compose a new email. The Rapportive feature that makes it so powerful for linkbuilding and connecting with others is the social features.

You can see many different ways for you to connect with, or build rapport with (see what I did there?), your email contact. You can even connect with them, such as sending a LinkedIn invitation, directly from within Rapportive.


Check out all the options I get when I go to email Ross:

Pro tip: Use Rapportive to help you find contact emails. If you are not sure of the combination of their company's email (john.doherty, john-doherty, jdoherty, dohertyj, for example), try different combinations. When you hit the right one, their information will appear :-)


Boomerang is a Gmail plugin that I found via Napoleon Suarez. After you install, a little "Boomerang" icon will appear in your Gmail screen and a Send Later button will appear on every email you go to send. When expanded, it looks like this:

The really powerful features of Boomerang are:

  • Send emails at a designated time (ie you write an email at 2am on Saturday night. Set it to send at 9am on Monday so it doesn't look like you are working at 2am on Saturday night)
  • Send an email back to the top of your inbox at a later point in the day (I do this with emails that I want to respond to at a designated email time later in the day).
  • Send the message back to you if you don't hear back within a set amount of time (great for recontacting people you emailed about links).

I'd love to hear other ways you find to use Boomerang as well!

FYI – Boomerang is also available for Outlook! Also, you receive a certain number of Boomerangs per month, and then it moves to a paid service. If I was doing more link outreach, I definitely think the paid service would be worth the money, but at this point I have never hit my max.

Undo Send

Another awesome Labs tool that is handy to have around is Undo Send. What it does is allow you a time buffer (I believe 5 seconds) to recall an email before it sends.

Once you send the email, you will be returned to your email but this little box will show up:

Pro tip: To avoid sending an email early, even with this tool, don't put the recipient's name in the To: field until you're done. After you've completed your email, use the Shift+tab combination twice to return to the To: field. Insert the email, tab three times, and Send and Archive.

Send and Archive

The final Gmail productivity ninja tip I have for you is the Send and Archive Labs tool. Once installed, a Send and Archive button appears on your Compose screen. If you're an InboxZero nut (like most of Distilled), then you're already excited by this.

Here's a screenshot of the button:

Now, when you have finished composing an email and you are ready to send it, simply Tab from your message and press Enter.

Boom! Email sent and the message is now out of your inbox. You've just eliminated the step of archiving the message after the fact. Go and do something awesome.

Pro tip: Just install and use it. Nothing more to be said.

Linkbuilding Email Templates from Industry Linkbuilders

I emailed some friends to ask for some examples of actual link request emails that they have sent to prospective link partners. The following are those examples. Please note that these are drafts, and emails should always be as customized as possible to the recipient.

Broken Linkbuilding

Ross Hudgens is the SEO Manager at Full Beaker, a lead-gen focused SEO company outside Seattle. Ross responded to my email with this gem of a broken link email that he sends to people when asking to be included on their list, but wants to provide them value by helping them out with some links broken on their site. Here's the email:

Hello NAME, I was browsing through your site/links as a NICHE SPECIFIC DESCRIPTION myself, and they're great. ONE/TWO SENTENCES TAILORED TO SAID WEBSITE.

I'm contacting you specifically because I was looking through your links and I noticed a few broken ones – specifically to BROKEN LINK1, BROKENLINK2. Other than that you've got a great list!

I have two more suggestions for sites that were extremely helpful to me as a NICHE SPECIFIC DESCRIPTION might make good additions to your list – GREATRESOURCE and MYWEBSITE. GREATRESOURCE is a comprehenshive and entertaining resource and MYWEBSITE has some great tips for NICHESPECIFIC DETAIL. Just a thought.

Anyways, just wanted to let you know and say thanks – have a great new year!



Notice how he has put information to change in CAPS so as not to forget to change a field. Boom!

Guest Posting

This email comes from Distilled SEO Geoff Kenyon, who works in our Seattle office. Geoff has been killing it for his clients for a while now, so I asked him for an example of what he sends to people. He came back with this example of a templated email sent to people for guest posts.


I saw that you're the THEIR POSITION over at THEIR COMPANY and I wanted to get in touch. I've seen guest contributions before on the TOPIC blog and wanted to know if you were open to any more guest contributions. I am looking to write about something related to NICHE and thought that the topics I had in mind may go well on the TOPIC blog.

I was thinking about the following subjects:

  • IDEA 1
  • IDEA 2
  • IDEA 3

What do you think about these? If you're interested, I am happy to get something written up and sent over to you – or if you have another topic you'd like to see covered, I am more than happy to write on that.



Note: Do not mass email a ton of people your content ideas, but customize them per person. Also, don't mass email. Send emails one at a time. It doesn't scale easily, but it's more effective. Also, don't send emails like this to high-level contacts. Those MUST be totally personalized.


This next example comes from Paul May over at Buzzstream, which is a linkbuilding CRM tool that we use and love at Distilled. Paul sent me this example of an email they sent out during their most recent launch. I think it's a great mix of professional and personal with a lot of detail.

I especially love the "Pick your poison ;) " part!

Hi ,

Don't know if you remember me, but I've commented on a number of your blog posts and we've written a couple of posts on the (YOUR COMPANY) blog that continued discussions you'd started (I think the TOPIC post was the most recent one). I wanted to reach out to you about YOUR COMPANY, the PR/SEO startup I co-founded.

We're now preparing to launch (DATE) and I wanted to see if we could setup a time to brief you on it. QUICK BACKGROUND ABOUT YOUR COMPANY. WHY YOUR COMPANY IS GREAT.

Here’s the gist. You can:


Launch is happening DATE. We’d love to find some time to show the thing to you. Are you comfortable with an embargo until TIME a.m. ET on DAY, DATE (i.e. late Monday night PT)? If so, here are some suggested times…pick your poison ;)


Thanks in advance.

Regards, NAME

Push Content

This final example comes from Mike Essex at Koozai in the UK. Mike shared this example email that he sends to people when they are pushing out content that they have created, to help generate a buzz. In Mike's own words: "The first method I use is to find content that we have, which could be relevant to other websites and then I get in touch with them to ask them to link or continue to debate the issue. This works well as it gives them a reason to link, and an opportunity to add new content to their websites." Here's the example:



The guide can be found at LINK and I’d love if you could share this with your readers and help make them aware of THE POINT OF THE RESOURCE, and how they can help. If you need any further information please let me know.


Exchange for a link (but not a link exchange)

This next email comes from Allie Brown at SEER Interactive. Linkbuilding used to be all about link exchanges. I give you a link, you give me a link, everyone's happy. Those days are over, so we either have to create content for people to link to, or you offer someone something in return (but not a link). That's what I like about this email from Allie.


My name is Allie and I work with [Client] online marketing team.

First, I have to thank you for repeatedly featuring [Client] on [your blog name]. The [client] team truly loves it when their customers share their favorite looks with others on their personal blogs.

Secondly, I wanted to see if you would be interested in linking to [Client] the next time you feature one of their products. I noticed that you often mention us in your "XYZ" posts and I want to propose an idea that I think we could both benefit from.

In exchange for linking to [Client], we'd like to post a Tweet about your blog sometime within the next week. As you may know, we have over x followers, so the opportunity for exposure is pretty grand. You'd also be helping our team out by sending your readers directly to our site when they see a product they like.

Let me know if you're interested in this idea, and hopefully we can find some way to work together!

Thanks again for all your support and Happy New Year!

Incentivized Reviews for Ecommerce

This email template comes from Abbott Shea, also from SEER. This email proposes some free product in exchange for someone leaving a review. It provides a lot of detail and adds value to the recipient.

Subject: Merrrrrrry Christmas! Wait, too early….?


Hi [Name],

My name is Abbott, and I work with [client] web promotions team. I came across [blog name] and wanted to see if you were interested in working with us. Our site, [client] has over 48,000 custom [product] designs across 113 categories. We were inspired by [something about their site], and seeing as how you love the holidays just as much as we do we'd like to provide you with 5 free Christmas cards for a product review on [URL].

You can either design these cards yourself with your own photos and text or select one from our already pre-designed cards – regardless we'll be crediting you with free shipping. Please let me know if you are interested in this idea or if you have any suggestions of how we can collaborate on something else. I look forward to hearing from you!

Take care,


I hope this post has been helpful to you! I'd love to hear any more email productivity tips that you have, especially for people using Outlook as that has not been talked about much in this post.

Also, don't forget that Distilled is running our annual linkbuilding conference called Linklove in London and Boston in March and April. Don't miss it!


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Scalable Link Outreach with Gmail and Boomerang

Sometimes it’s the little things in life….Boomerang for Gmail (and Outlook) is an incredibly useful, lightweight, powerful link outreach app.

Link building has a special place in the SEO industry. Beyond being one of the harder skill-sets to master and acquire, link building is likely the most important element of an SEO campaign.

Link building can also be the most difficult job to:

  • Scale internally and externally
  • Train someone to do efficiently
  • Outsource
  • Hire someone for

How to hire link builders and how to train them are certainly worthy of their own (upcoming) blog posts but this post is going to sing the praises of a Gmail and Outlook plugin that is essential for my link building workflow.

Boomerang for Gmail (and Outlook)

Outside of the really cool name this plugin makes my workflow much more streamlined and efficient.

I don’t use Outlook so I’ll be focusing on the Gmail plug-in here. The Outlook plugin has most of the functionality of the Gmail edition (minus the Send On options) and you can check out the Outlook version here.

The key benefits to using Boomerang (referencing the Gmail app going forward) are:

  • Schedule emails to be sent at a later date/time
  • Set reminders on emails so they pop back up at a specified time
  • Set email reminders from your smartphone

Send Emails Later

You can install Boomerang for Gmail here. You can use this for Gmail and Google apps and you’ll need to use Firefox or Chrome.

You’ll manage Boomerang in two places; you can get to it in your Gmail toolbar:

From here you can access your scheduled messages to make any changes and access various help and how-to’s.

The other area where you access Boomerang is in the email dialogue box. When you go to compose a new message or click to reply to one you’ll see the Boomerang button and see all the options available for sending the message:

If you click on anything other than the specific time option at the bottom, the message is scheduled straight away.

If you need to access your Boomerang-ed messages, just go back to the top Gmail toolbar, click Boomerang, and click access Scheduled messages.

The other cool option when composing a new message is listed right below the subject line. From here you can have Boomerang return the message to your Inbox if no one replies or even if they do (marked as unread, starred, etc; these options can be changed in the “access scheduled messages” option on the top Gmail/Boomerang toolbar option):

You have the exact same option when replying to messages as well.

This is incredibly useful for a variety of link building actions such as:

  • Tracking the effectiveness of email pitches
  • Scheduling a bunch of pitches to line up with various promotions and outreach campaigns, in one shot
  • Using in conjunction with Gmail’s canned responses for scalable link outreach and management
  • Never forget about a link prospect
  • Make Gmail a self-contained link outreach system for staff members
  • Avoid awkward time zone issues on email deliveries if you have staff outside your targeted market’s location

Email Reminders

While the Send On features are the most useful for link outreach, the Reminder functions can be useful as well.

Boomerang has Gmail-like functionality in the way it auto-offers a solution. Here you can see I’ve got a Staples coupon that expires on January 16th. Boomerang is asking me if I’d like to return this to my inbox on that date:

Outside of that functionality you can click the Boomerang reminder icon in the toolbar to get the reminder options available to you:

So rather than setting something in your calendar or in your task management application, you can use Boomerang to re-populate the email when needed.

You can add a condition to this and say that you only want to be reminded of the message at the selected time “IF” no one responds, simply by checking that option above. Otherwise, it will come back whether someone responds or not.

You can also use your iPhone, Blackberry, or Android to set up a message for yourself to arrive in your inbox at a certain time with their mobile option.

Privacy Concerns

Letting an app access your data on mail.google.com shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here is what they say about privacy:

Why does Boomerang for Gmail need access to my email account?

Like most other Gmail plugins, we need access to the full email data to be able to move and send messages. In our queries, we only store the headers of the message (subject, sender, time) so that we can uniquely ID the message you want to schedule. We don’t store any message text.
Does it mean you have my Gmail password?

No, we don’t have access to your Gmail password. You are authorizing through Google’s official OpenID system.

Sign Up for Boomerang

You can get a full-featured pro account trial for free, for 30 days here. I am anxious for them to release the open/click tracking for even deeper link outreach analysis.

If you are looking for a more enterprise level solution, with team-wide tracking and monitoring, please check out our reviews of Buzzstream and Raven Tools.

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Throw Away Your Form Letters (or Five Principles to Better Outreach Link Building)

Posted by iPullRank

Throwaway Your Form Letters (or 5 Principles to Better Outreach Link Building)

I’m sitting on an air mattress in my new unfurnished Brooklyn apartment listening to the sounds of the city out of the window after a long day of client meetings. At one point I was thinking "Man I wish I bought that ugly sofa from Ikea so I’d have something to sit on" and next thing I knew I was considering the Tao of Outreach Link Building.

I know, I know. Outreach link building is hard. It takes time. You send 1000 emails and end up with seven links but I believe that’s largely because most search marketers approach link building the wrong way. In fact I’m going to declare right now that link building should be the easiest and most fun part of SEO.

Yep, I said it but wait, let me finish before you head to the comments to tell me why I’m wrong.

First, let me say that I love where we are moving with link building as a community especially with the stuff the King of Link Building, Justin Briggs, has been giving us lately. In fact what I have to offer for your consideration is very much an expansion on Dan Deceuster’s new perspective on link building.

There is often a lot of talk about who to target and how to find them but there isn’t much about how you get their attention, sustain it, close the deal and maintain the relationship. With the exception of what Justin spoke about in his Link building webinar, most recommendations revolve around building form letters and tailoring them a little more depending on the target.

The following are 5 principles that I have identified and streamlined to improve my link building success rate from about 20% to around 80%

In my experience, this is the least effective method to engage in outreach link building. The following are five principles that I have identified and streamlined to improve my link building success rate from about 20% to around 80%.

Talk to People Like People

Talk to People Like People (Throw Out Your Form Letters)

Search Marketers tend to think of link building as obtaining a link from a website. Truly link building is speaking to a person and convincing them to take a real world action that is beneficial to you. Link building is cast as a very impersonal process where we use the various methods to identify link targets, write a form letter and fire away expecting that the return on these outreach emails will be so low that it doesn’t make sense to spend time on them.

Honestly, even just reading that back makes me think of how counterintuitive the process is.

Everyone reading this post has been subject to some sort of Email, Twitter, Myspace, Facebook spam. Hell, even Barack Obama and his friends have been spamming me for five years now (ok I opted-in but wasn’t my vote enough – stop spamming me!). Think for a second, how do you react to spam? You erase it or ignore it of course. Even as an owner of various sites people often contact me asking me for links or offering me SEO services and such – with form letters that never get opened. Here’s one I received since I started writing this post:

A spam email example

Certainly not a link building request but I imagine it’s not far off from how many Search Marketers are writing their link request form letters.

If this is up for debate I challenge you to go on a dating site like Match.com and copy and paste the same form letter to 50 women. I guarantee a low rate of response and the girls that do respond aren’t going to be the ones you wish responded.

People can usually sense a form letter immediately. Dare I say it? No, I’ll let my homey Link from Legend of Zelda tell you.

Context is King

I myself had failed many times using the same approach to link building (not with women, of course). Then one day I realized that the link building strategies I was taught are counterintuitive to everything I’ve learned as someone who has had to network across various fields whether it be my Search career, in music as a performer and booking agent or as a generally (somewhat) social person. Be warned, my approach requires a genuine interest in people. Here goes:

  • Opening– Linkbuilders are typically very heavy handed and send an email that basically says "hey I have this site will you link to me because of x,y,z?" The only thing that I attempt to accomplish with my first email is an engaged response. I never bring up the idea of wanting something from this person until later in the email or tweet thread; the same way I wouldn’t walk up to a girl and say "you’re hot, let’s have sex because I’m cute, I drive a luxury car and I have an apartment in a cool part of Brooklyn!" I keep my opening correspondence short, engaging and contextual to something that person has tweeted about or written on their site/blog.

Quite simply people love to know their work has been enjoyed, viewed, absorbed so actually take the time to read it and strike up a conversation about something you truly find interesting. As marketers we are taught to optimize one message that appeals to many people; there is simply no place for that in effective outreach link building.

In the following example I’m building links for the official Transformers 3 movie site (not that this would ever happen because those sites are always powered by Paid Media).

The Old Way of Link Building:

Link Fails at Outreach Link Building

Subject: Transformersmovie.com Link Request


I am contacting you to request a link to Transformersmovie.com from your site. We have trailers, downloads, exclusive video and a gallery. Visitors can also find information on movie times and buy tickets online.

I see that your blog talks about Transformers and I think visitors of your site will find this content very useful.

Please link to http://www.transformersmovie.com using the anchor text "Transformers" or use the following code: <A href=”http://www.transformersmovie.com”>Transformers</a>.

Please contact me if you have any questions.

Thank you for your time and careful consideration.

Transformers Web Team

While I don’t doubt that some Link Builders have some very spiffy form letters much better than this, most of the time they still come across just as sterile as the above.

The New Way of Relationship Building:

Link's Great Opener

Subject: Power Rangers, Are You Serious?!

Hey Zelda,

I just read your awesome post where you compared Voltron and Power Rangers to Optimus Prime and crew. Not sure if I agree that the Power Rangers could have taken out Megatron in the first film. I mean honestly, they had trouble with giant bears on their own show!

Truthfully, I think Voltron would make short work of all of them. Speaking of Voltron have you ever seen this hilarious live action spoof? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtwX0nuqPO0

Anyway I’m curious to know what you think of the new Transformers film. Give me a shout when you get a chance!


Link of Hyrule
Transformers Web Outreach Team

Option two is clearly stronger and was even more fun to write. Creating context allows me to hit more touch points to elicit a response. Also the engagement is all about opinion and sharing thus framing the conversation as just that – a conversation rather than a link request.

  • Sustaining – Sustaining is all about keeping the conversation going, building a rapport with this person and offering something of value. Most people will be tempted to jump the gun at this stage and just ask for the link right when the person responds. This is not the way to go because then your original correspondence appears to be a thinly-veiled link request, which it of course is but that is the mindset we are trying to eliminate.

In this stage it is good to have some content to share that this person may be interested in. It could be related to the site you’re trying to get a link for or it could not, the important point is that you demonstrate that you are worthwhile resource of some sort whether it be for entertainment or educational purposes. Not only does this build trust but establishes context. This phase can continue as long as it takes for you to actually develop a relationship. In fact let’s just rename link building "relationship building."

Continuing with our robot cartoon blogger example:

Link Sustains

Hey Link,

LOL Link, that video was hilarious and thanks for reading my post but there is noooo way that Voltron could take out the combined power of the MegaZord!! I’m not even sure Voltron could take out the GoBots!

I haven’t actually seen the film yet. Do you actually work on the Transformers site?


Princess Zelda

Zelda thinks Link is worth talking to


Princess Zelda,

The GoBots? Zelda, you’re killing me! The GoBots were a cheap rip off of the Transformers they should not be typed in the same email as Voltron! I bet you preferred Silverhawks over Thundercats too, didn’t you? HA!

Anyway, yep I sure do work with the Transformers web team. Do you have any interest in seeing the film?


Link of Hyrule
Transformers Web Outreach Team

Link is about to Close!

Hey Link,

LOL, you just keep making me laugh. Silverhawks?! I didn’t think anyone remembered that cartoon. It was pure redux of Thundercats just as bird people!

I definitely do want to see the new Transformers film! Can you hook a princess up?


Princess Zelda

Notice how the suggestion of value causes the link target to become further engaged and it sets up the link request as a natural progression in this case in exchange for tickets.


  • Closing – The key thing in this phase is to only pull the trigger on asking for a link after context and value are established. The link request then becomes an aside to the correspondence rather than the entire correspondence.

At the end of our sustain phase Zelda, our Robot Cartoon Blogger, has taken the bait realizing that the link builder potentially has something of value to her and then puts the link builder in a position to close the link deal. The nature of the conversation puts Zelda in a position where she is comfortable enough to make the request so when the link builder requests the link it is natural for him to ask for something in return.

Link Makes a Friend and Closes a Link

Princess Zelda,

Hmmm…well I don’t make it a habit to do this, but since you have such good taste in cartoons….

Sure, I can get you two tickets to see the film in your local theater, but in return can you write a review or write another one of your great articles and link back to our site?

If that works just shoot me your closest theater and I will send you a Fandango confirmation code for your tickets.

Also are you on Twitter? I’d love to keep up with the stuff you are posting on your blog!


Link of Hyrule
Transformers Web Outreach Team

Just like that, we’ve just built a link just from talking about your favorite cartoons. The challenge and the fun is in finding something that interests both of you and using that information to build a relationship. The less you have to offer in the form of incentives the more sustaining and rapport building you will need to do in order to build the link. Do not think that this method only works with incentives. Value can be established in many ways when building a relationship.

A caveat that I should offer here is that it is painfully obvious when this approach does not work because people will not reciprocate the engagement. It might result in a simple "thanks for reading" response in which case you can decide whether you want to do more research to identify a different touch point and try again or to just move on to someone else. As you begin to adopt this process I’d say plow through but soon you will be able to spot a lost cause.

Standout In the Inbox

Standout in the Inbox

How do you feel about spam? Probably the same way you feel about telemarketers. When people can tell by their caller ID that a telemarketer is calling they don’t pick up the phone. By that same token if they can tell an email is spam, they avoid it.

Never send an email with "Link Request" or something to that effect in the subject; they are doomed to never get opened. You want to take an indirect approach because you don’t want the link target to decide before ever seeing what you had to say; this is the Trojan Horse of link building. Trojan Horse in the classic sense not a virus.

Let’s go back to the email I mentioned earlier in this post. Here’s my inbox on that day:

My Inbox


Notice that this email was the only one out of all the other spam that was opened. It was clear exactly what every other email was however there is some mystery as to what the "let’s work together" email was about. It appeared natural and it stood out to me because it looked like someone requesting some sort of collaboration. It has a real name and the subject was in lower case. It resembles the emails I receive from people that want to send me beats or hire me to guest appear on their albums.

Obama tricks me into clicking his emails pretty often too. I don’t always look at who the emails are from when I get them but most of my friends use short email subjects (like the following) that cause me to click through:

Obama inbox


Even when I do look at the Sender name it might be a quick glimpse to make sure it’s a person and not a company or something.com. It was my assumption that other people reacted this way when I started to apply these principles and therefore the improvement in response rate is the only thing in the way of science I have to show for this.

However what I can show you is an example of a subject fail straight from the inbox of my fellow Philly to Brooklyn SEO transplant John Doherty:

1-800 Contacts Form Letter Fail

1-800 Contacts clearly runs some sort of CRM software for these types of emails and either someone was asleep at the wheel or they input the fields the wrong way. This could easily happen to you in a program like Link Assistant. Don’t be that person. However judging by the format of the sender and subject fields it is highly unlikely that these emails will have an open rate worth talking about.

I’m sure there are more comprehensive studies on email optimization but to summarize:

Tips for Standing Out in the Inbox:

  • Keep Subjects Short
  • Keep Subjects Natural
  • Do Not Use "Link Request"
  • Send Emails as a Person (Not as a company or a "web team")
  • Include a Natural Salutation (The first line will appear next to the subject)

Do Your Research

Do Your Research

I don’t want to encourage you to stalk your targets so…study your targets. Bloggers and webmasters are certainly not the most private people in the world and therefore have shared their thoughts, favorite music, films, travel plans and other endless minutia about themselves online for years – use it to develop your context for the initial email.

User data drives models of people for targeting our broad messaging, it only makes sense to use user data to create context for our specific messaging.

Don’t get caught up in the whole romantic comedy "OMG I manipulated you but it turns out I really love you and I wish I could take it all back" aspect of this. Think of it as a way to increase your odds of relating to someone the same way that a girl in WuTang shirt would make me ask if she was at the Raekwon concert in Prospect Park last weekend (Shout out to John Doherty, Tom Critchlow, Rob Oursey and his wife!). Again, Context is King.

Choose something that relates back to the content that the person had written about on their own site. The subject should be something that you can relate to, offer insight on and speak at length. So if I’m doing link building as illustrated in the example I might check Zelda’s Facebook, Twitter, and Last.Fm and I might weave a conversation about how Voltron was actually created after Power Rangers contrary to popular belief and the stance of her blog post. Then I might end the email with something to the effect of "wouldn’t Radiohead be a great choice for the Voltron soundtrack?" Now we have a conversation that is still in context if only tangentially to the topic at hand.

Researching your targets turns link building into a video game – with a strategy guide.Offer Value

Offer Value

We tend to think of link building in terms of "what can this site offer me?" rather than "what is it about my site that will be interesting or useful to this webmaster or blogger?" or "what of value can I introduce this person to?"

Depending on where you are contacting them from part of offering value can be just in the fact that you have reached out to this person. It’s important that if you are working for a client with some sort of reputation in the space that you are building links for that you obtain an email alias on their domain. For example if you are doing link building for SEOmoz then you should have an SEOmoz email address. So if you are following up with a blogger who has written a review about SEOmoz’s software offering then they feel as though their voice has been heard by the company. Make sure your signature is reflective of their company’s location so they recognize they are speaking with a real person and not something automated.

In a lot of cases you may not be link building for someone reputable so it’s important that you share something of value with this person. Perhaps you have a link to some content important to the niche that hasn’t been seen by too many people – share it with your link target. Maybe an awesome video has just floated around your office and you are actively going back and forth over email — toss it in there. Maybe you just have an interesting story that you can share with this person or anything. Failing all that it’s very important to have any client provided incentives.

The bottom line is approaching link building the same way as when you meet one of your friend’s friends and your efforts will be more effective.

Maintain the Rapport

Maintain the Rapport

No one likes to be used. Therefore it is important to maintain an active rapport with your new friends otherwise if you only contact them when you need a new link they will be less inclined to help you out. Twitter is the perfect place to maintain this rapport. Follow your newfound friends and encourage them to follow you and be sure to retweet their links and engage with them from time to time so you are in constant contact. What the both of you tweet continues to generate context so even if you faked your way this far (which you won’t if you have a genuine interest in people) you can easily start the process again based on their latest tweets.


Is this scalable? Well, it depends how much information you need to sift through to find a hook for the person you’re reaching out to. Once you go through this process enough times it takes little more than the time it takes to uncover a buried email address. However outreach link building isn’t the place you need to be looking for scalability to begin with.

The benefits of this approach are two-fold. 1. Your link building becomes more effective and while you may not reach out to as many people, you will convert a lot more of the people that you do. 2. You are building a rapport with many people that you can then activate in Social Media as it becomes more of a ranking factor.

Link building is viewed as an arduous task that no one really wants to engage in and it really shouldn’t be. Link building is really an opportunity to make friends throughout the web and Social Media. Perform your link building as a marksman rather than a drive by shooter and you will see better results.

Context is King. Link Building is dead. Long live Relationship Building.

Also you’ll be happy to know that I now have a bed, a desk, a chair and a dresser. Definitely give me a shout if you’re ever in Brooklyn!

Oh yes…almost forgot the infographic. Go easy on me, it’s my first one!

Link's Tools of the Trade Infographic by iPullRank

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