Link Building Outreach: 5 Steps To Maximize The Value Of Every Opportunity

Extensive backlink prospecting and qualification, even with automated research processes and crawlers, can take days. Creating highly-linkable content can take even longer. Because of this significant investment, we often recommend conducting your organic link building outreach in a way that maximizes conversion rates, grows relationships with both linkers and link decliners, and ensures that any future link building campaigns are faster, easier and more effective.

Here’s how in five steps:

  1. Identify link prospects suitable for outreach
  2. Gather information and tools for link building outreach
  3. Craft effective link building outreach emails
  4. Manage the 4 possible responses: Accepts, Declines, Counters and Ignores
  5. Add value to future outreach efforts: 17 trackable data points

Step 1. Identify link prospects suitable for outreach

We assume at this point that you’ve already prospected and qualified a list of link opportunities for your site. Not every link prospect on that list will be suitable for such extensive link building outreach as described below. Directories, for example, are one type of link opportunity that typically don’t require specialized outreach or negotiation. Here are six examples of link opportunities that require more finesse.

Requesting resource additions to previously-published lists and roundups

Finding lists and roundups related to your subject matter can be as simple as adding the word “list” or “roundup” to your link prospecting queries. If you’re building links to a new Twitter-related app, you should have no problem finding previously published lists written by folks who may add your site. If you’ve written some highly-linkable content, we hope you paid attention to the content already mentioned on lists and roundups pages. Now, when you reach out to these prospects you have a much higher likelihood of earning a link.

Suggesting new, alternative page for now-dead links

Using a broken-link finding tool you may be lucky enough to discover a formerly valuable page of content that was widely linked, but has since gone dead, out of date or now contains only affiliate links. If this formerly useful page contained relevant content that your target market would find useful, it makes sense to research, rewrite and reach out to folks who linked to similar content.

Requesting that company mentions become live links

If your company or organization is written about frequently, then consider making a link request to sites that mention you favorably but don’t link. Majestic SEO data can help you to identify the pages on which your site or company is mentioned, but not currently linked to.

Inclusion in actively curated resource aggregations

In the days before the Yahoo directory (and long before Google) individuals curated lists of links (such as library resource pages) that helped users find their way into deeper knowledge of a hobby, industry or practice. Some of these folks remain, still actively curating and aggregating the best information in their space, and typically all from one page. If your industry is blessed with such curators, then it’s worthwhile seeking links for high quality, highly-linkable content.

Seeking mention in upcoming industry coverage/story roundups

If the media (bloggers, industry news sites, etc) in your market consistently point to new resources, then outreach can prove highly-valuable. Look especially for bloggers who create roundups of latest news and resources.

Identify upcoming information needs

While conducting outreach, especially linkable-content outreach to industry media, it’s wise to ask them about any upcoming info needs they may have. This runs the gamut from potential data needs for analytical verticals, expert input/executive access for news sites, to guest posts for high-traffic, high-trust, highly-relevant blogs. If you haven’t yet created highly-linkable content, this approach can help you begin building great links if you have sought-after expertise in your organization.

Step 2. Gather information and tools for link building outreach

Preparation is key to an efficient outreach campaign. Though the level of outreach customization we recommend makes automation impossible, there are many bits and pieces of information you can gather that will help you streamline your process.

The link building outreach worksheet

A link building outreach worksheet (you can download one here to use as a template) is the second-most valuable outcome of a link building campaign, placed just after the links themselves. By capturing appropriate and relevant data, you can make all your future efforts more effective. This worksheet should include the following items:

  • Qualified link prospects suitable for high-touch outreach – Add your link prospects to column one in the Link Building Outreach Worksheet (linked above).
  • Title + URL(s) you’re building links to – Having these handy, all in one place, means you don’t have to scramble for them when you’re crafting your outreach pieces. It might occur to you that a given prospect may be interested in more than one piece of content. Keep them in one place for the duration of a campaign for easy reference.
  • List of potential link offers - Can you offer highly-linkable content? Data? White papers? Expert access? Free tools? Offers in this article refer to anything you’re trying to exchange for links. Some offers, such as data or access to executive insight may not involve your current URLs. Some offers may not involve URLs that your client/boss initially requested you build links to. Brainstorm as many offers as possible before you begin outreach so that you can be flexible and even spontaneous while writing your outreach.
  • A range of ideal keywords for anchor text – Know your ideal anchor text keywords and use them when describing your offers. Request that people use them, but only if you’ve developed rapport that makes the request appropriate. In unpaid, organic link building asking for specific keyword anchor text can be like adding a favor on top of a favor. Sometimes you just have to be happy with what you get. That said, it’s worth knowing and using your anchor text in your outreach. In those rare, high-control situations, use anchor text that aligns both with the content on the page and the page on your site you’re linking to. If you sell electronics and you’re requesting a link on a page about iPods, link to your iPod page with iPod in the link text.
  • Descriptive snippets of the core value/benefit of URLs – Go into the outreach phase with a bulleted list of the core value/benefit of your offers. This is not for you to copy and paste, but rather to guide and inspire you when writing your individual outreach emails. This enables you to better align your requests with the values you perceive in the folks you’re writing to.
  • Contact info and qualifications for internal experts – If you’re a go-getter, well positioned in your company and/or have gotten proper authority, then having contact info for your organization’s internal experts and executives can make outreach for links much more fruitful. Make sure all the names are spelled correctly and that you do indeed have the correct contact information.
  • Working knowledge of company history and key founders – Sometimes a basic knowledge of company history and its key founders can help you to craft stronger outreach emails. This might be something you recognize you need after a couple hours of outreach. Have it handy and be ready to work it into your outreach to better demonstrate your organization’s authority and link-worthiness. For example, knowing that your organization’s CEO founded and still chairs a notable industry association could be compelling information to include in your outreach.
  • Preparedness to identify needs not expressed in your current range of link offers – You can’t really stockpile this, but remember that link building combines equal parts prep work, perspiration and perspicacity. Preparing for sudden insights can be as simple as the “notes” column in your outreach worksheet. Sometimes it can mean adding a long-shot request in the form of short P.S. such as “hey would you guys be open to a guest post?” There’s something about being in the thick of an outreach campaign that opens the creative mind to other possibilities and potential opportunities. Make sure you watch for and capture any patterns or trends as you revisit and act on your link opportunities.

Step 3. Crafting link building outreach emails

Your email brings all the pieces together, preferably with a dose of value proposition, customization and spontaneous observation. There are several “moving parts” in email outreach such as the email address you send from, subject line and opening line of the email. Tracking and optimizing these parts can lead to higher link acquisition rates.

Link outreach subject lines

Email marketing has studied the science of subject lines since the beginning of the tactic. In link building outreach, first pay attention to email subject lines that compulsively make you open them. Then think about conveying the core benefit of your link offer in the subject. Further, consider whether or not it makes sense to carefully include your anchor text to pre-seed the potential linker’s thinking. For example, while conducting outreach in a media space with lots of blogs and numerous weekly resource roundups, we included variations on “Great Roundup Material.” But only to bloggers who actually published roundups, as demonstrated by site: searches or just a quick ctrl+f of the home page. We also recommend tracking subject lines in case you can discern a lift in eventual conversions when using certain words or offers. For a bit more about subject lines, check out Subject Line Best Practices and Crafting a Must-Read Email Subject Line.

Using customized opening lines

Sincere compliments. Relevant, insightful observations. Sincere gratitude for the work they put into their site. New ideas. Tech-error discoveries. Shared personal experiences. Questions. There are many paths to a powerful opening line for your link building outreach email. To keep things focused, I typically lean on observations that relate to the core value of the URL I’m requesting links to. If seeking links to a resource piece on saving money, I’d admire the money-saving prowess exhibited by other content pieces on the site, then transition to the request based on shared value. For deeper perspective on opening lines, go and read Opening The Sale.

Demonstrating value

What benefit will adding your link bring to their visitors? This is the key question that any publisher will ask. First and foremost, think about conveying your URL’s value in terms of saving time or saving money; illustrate how your URL does either or both. Other benefits can include having early information, becoming more thorough and resource-inclusive, so visitors have a better sense of all their options, and providing a novel or extreme experience worthy of a brief break from work. Values to your link publisher might include the perception of affiliation, building the perception of “connections,” and your potential for distribution and linking reciprocation if it makes sense. Bear in mind that there is much to leverage in any link building outreach campaign.

Our link building outreach roundup below contains several links to resources on the actual outreach email. We highly recommend you read them all.

Step 4. Managing the 4 possible responses

We’ve identified four primary outcomes for any link request: accepts, declines, counters and ignores. The value in identifying these outcomes upfront is that you can prepare for them.

Accepts offer ways to grow the relationship

We hope that you view a link as just the beginning of a relationship. Here are some ideas on growing link relationships from initial accepts. Please add any others you have found effective to the comment section below.

  • Send a thank you for linking email
  • Ask about any content/information needs
  • Ask about any what distribution help they may need
  • Request an interview with their resident expert
  • Request a review
  • Offer them a subscription to your newsletter, blog feed or twitter account
  • Subscribe to their newsletter, blog feed and/or twitter account
  • A simple: How do you think my/our knowledge could help?

Declines: ways to grow beyond the “No”

A no, that is, an emailed response in which someone rejects your request, is fairly rare. They’re valuable though because they show that someone actually considered your request and then further offered you the consideration to respond. Your job now is to learn how to grow this no into a future yes in a way that doesn’t irk your rejector. We suggest:

  • Keep a gracious, scientifically curious mindset
  • Identify their objection
  • Learn what content they WOULD link to, but keep questions short and sweet
  • Gently seek a commitment: “So if I/we do XYZ, you would link to it if/when we add it to our site?”

If you can learn what content they would link to, congratulations – now you have a content idea for your next blog post!

Counters are rare, but be prepared

Counters, in which your link prospects state what they require in order for you to earn a link from them, are even more rare than a “no.” However, they do happen. Cash and reciprocal links are fairly common counters. Be prepared with other offers such as coupons, discount codes for their readers, products for review, etc, and be ready to approach your client or boss to negotiate for this particular link if it’s worth it.

Ignores: know when to say when

An ignore can mean many different things. Maybe your subject line isn’t as effective as it could be. Maybe your prospect is on vacation. Maybe you pitched your URL ineffectively. For whatever reason, you got no response. When following up with an ignore, we always make sure to write a new comment or observation in the opening. In some cases, we mention who else has linked or tweeted the URL as a way to indicate that others found it valuable. If it’s an especially juicy link, then sometimes we may look for other contact info on the site. Tread lightly, though: if they’re deliberately ignoring you, you may be spamming them!

Step 5. Add value to future outreach efforts: 17 trackable data points

Second to the links you earn from outreach, the data you gather and retain delivers you the most recurring value in any link building campaign. Track relentlessly, especially on large-scale outreach projects, and you’ll find that each successive outreach campaign you conduct will be that much easier. We’ve identified 17 trackable data points and include these in our Link Building Outreach Worksheet. There are more, but these should help get you started.

  1. Targeted Hostname/Link Page
  2. Contact’s Name
  3. Email Address
  4. Date of 1st Contact
  5. Date of Follow Up
  6. Link Placed? Y/N
  7. URL of Placed Link
  8. Date Link Placed
  9. Linked URL
  10. Anchor Text Used
  11. Site Type
  12. Email Subject Line
  13. Opening Line
  14. Offer Made
  15. Growing the Relationship
  16. Twitter Address
  17. Notes

Bonus tips for advanced link outreach

For those of you who made it this far, why not take your link building outreach a little further? Here are some additional tools and resources to check out before embarking on your next outreach campaign.

Relationship management applications

There are a number of emerging link building relationship management tools emerging. Here are all the companies (to our knowledge) in this exciting space. We have not yet extensively tested any of them in our link building outreach, despite our enthusiasm.

15 more link building outreach articles

We consider the following articles and resources to be required reading. There are enough situational tips and nuanced suggestions in the links below to inform link request pros and newbies alike.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column

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About The Author: is co-founder of Ontolo, a link building agency and co-author of Link-Building-Guide.com, which leads motivated readers through the methods and processes of large-scale, crawler-based link research, link acquisition and linker-targeted content strategy.

Connect with the author via: Email



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  • Julie Joyce

    Very nice post sir. In particular, I like the breakdown of how to deal with the less-than-a-yes responses that you get when trying to get links.

  • http://ontlo.com/blog Garrett French

    Thanks Julie! That breakdown came from Ben Wills’ work to get us thinking about link outreach like sales… It’s been an effective way to help move prospects through a pipeline!

    I like the ring of less-than-a-yes also :)

    Thanks for stopping by!
    G

  • http://metaspring.com MetaSprign

    As an active/new SEOer, I’m very disheartened by any response other than, “Sure thanks for the link”. Your post was very helpful and motivation to never give up on the pitch…especially if you have good content (which I believe I do).

  • http://www.thuk.c.o.uk Splinter09

    The success of crafting good link building outreach emails lays in the opening lines and the subject title. Get those two right and prospects will open your email otherwise your email will go straight to the trash or might even get trapped in the spam box.

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Many of the more impactful contacts are using protective methods to minimize email inflow. This can be as simple as an online contact form which dumps all comments into a general bin, or a drop-down-by-name version that funnels it to a specific person. Regardless, the result is that the request never even reaches the true EDM (editorial decision maker). Link curators, aka true EDMs tend to stay hidden nowadays. I’m a link builder, but I’m also a curator/EDM myself for another site, and I’d never give out my email on-site because of the spam. People can find me, but only those truly willing to look hard, click around, follow instructions, and that means they are likely doing so on behalf of linkworthy content. I’m reminded of when the web was a nicer place and the Yahoo Pick of the Week Team actually posted their names and email addresses :)

    Today I get the best response from an email/ phone call combo approach.

    Outstanding column Garrett!

  • http://ontlo.com/blog Garrett French

    @MetaSprign rejections are tough, but they get easier… especially when the yeses start coming in ;)

    @Splinter09 I’d love to hear any more insight you have on great subject and opening lines for link requests, especially if you’ve tracked data and know percentages of email opens and actual link conversions!

    @Eric Interesting idea to make the hunt for contact info part of your filtering process – I know I’ve had some tough hunts in my time! I really enjoy getting on the phone too – there’s something nice about hearing the voice and having a direct conversation that does so much more for relationship building :) Thanks for reading Eric, and thanks for your comment.

  • http://ontlo.com/blog Garrett French

    Good SEO: How to Request Links From Picky Sites
    http://www.seomoz.org/blog/good-seo-how-to-request-links-from-picky-sites

    good stuff from Michael Martinez that I missed when writing this article.

 

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