Finding Contact Information
Once you’ve identified websites that might be interested in sharing your content, search for contact details. Most websites will not give you the contact information of the person you want to speak with, so it may take some digging to turn up the information you’re looking for. If you cannot find the direct contact information for the owner, content manager, marketing manager, or someone else of power, use the information provided to you on the website to start making your introductions. Explain your reason for reaching out (link building) and ask whom you should speak to in order to discuss it further.
Crafting Your Message
First and foremost, remember that you are contacting humans. Be personable and friendly, and don’t be afraid to be honest about why you’re reaching out. Which brings us to our next point: be direct. The people you are reaching out to are likely very busy and don’t have time for beating around the bush. When you craft your message, be polite, but also, get straight to the point. Tell them (briefly):
- Why they should care about you;
- What action you’d like them to take; and
- What goals you’re trying to achieve.
As a blogger themselves, they understand the importance of link building, and if you’re genuine in your approach, they’ll have no trouble lending a hand.
Why They Should Care
When addressing the “why should we care about you?” question, keep their goals in mind. It’s not about you at this point—it’s about how you can help them. Remember your hooks from earlier? Use those.
- News Stories
- Funny Editorials
- Controversial Articles
- Compare / Contrast With the Competition
- Data Visualization
- Long-Form Detailed Content (i.e. white papers and eBooks)
For instance, let’s say the content you want to link to is a white paper, and the company you are reaching out to is a website development company that has recently put on a webinar on how to build and maintain a winning website. In that webinar, they briefly touched on earning links. However, this company doesn’t know too much about link building, nor do they offer link building services, yet they clearly understand the importance of it. Mention that you partner with website development firms to help their clients optimize their websites, and that you recently watched their webinar and noticed that they advocate link building too. Not only does this tell them about why they should care about you and your content, but also, it shows them that you took the time to watch their webinar rather than just send them a general email inquiry.
Tell Them What Action You’d Like Them to Take
Many outreach emails fail to actually inform the recipient of what action they’d like them to take, which can be highly confusing for them. After all, they just received a well-written and thoughtful email from a supposed up-and-coming thought leader, but with no CTA. That’s kind of like telling someone to “keep in touch” – there’s plenty of room for interpretation, and it makes the other person wonder, “do they really want me to keep in touch, or are they just saying that to be polite?” To avoid all that confusion, be direct.
While many SEOs try to refrain from using works like “link building” and “SEO” in their emails for fear of scaring away link targets, there are other ways (and words) you can use to appeal to the reader and convince them to take action. For instance, you could:
- Ask them to share your content on social media;
- Accept a guest post from you in which you link to an infographic, white paper, or other piece of content;
- Embed your content into one of their articles if it is an infographic, video, or widget; or
- Ask them to write an opinion piece on your content and then link to it.
While these are just a few examples, they demonstrate that there are ways to ask for links without directly asking for links. Just be aware that the more you ask of a blogger (for instance, if you ask them to write an opinion piece just to help you out), the more compelling and engaging your content must be.
One great thing about asking for links and having them reciprocate is that usually, they share your link in more than one place. For instance, if they link to your content via a blog article, chances are they will also link to it on social media. If you ask them to share an infographic, they may even make that the main content of their email newsletter. This can be especially helpful if the blogger has a lot of influence within his or her social communities.
If they like your content but just don’t have time to do anything with it, offer to write a guest post on their behalf, and then link to your content there. Typically, this is the kind of follow up you save for very strong link targets (they have a lot of influence, high PageRank, and are extremely relevant), as it will take extra time on your part.
Be Honest About Your Goals
You are reaching out to someone who, once upon a time, had to reach out for links too, so don’t try to hide the fact that you need links to boost your rankings. Be honest by informing them that you are a relatively new firm/business/blogger, but you believe you have some great insight and that you need help getting your content noticed. People have no problem with “newbies,” so long as their content is as good as they say it is.
Preparing Your Email
Preparing your email might honestly be the most stressful part of asking for links, as it happens to be the most important part. What you say in your email and how you say it can mean the difference between a yes and a no. Because of this, it is imperative that you take the time to personalize the message and make your case in as succinct as manner as possible. There are ways to do this without adding too much time to an already time-consuming process. Here are a few:
- Greet them by using their name
- Use a catchy subject line
- Be specific – mention something about their work, content on their website or any other unique bit of information you have on them
- Use a proper email signature – just your name will send a red flag
- Mention your location IF relevant (i.e. you are both from the same town)
Let’s talk a bit more about each of these in depth.
Using Their Name
While “use their name” may sound simple and straightforward, too many people fail to do this. Instead, they use phrases such as “Hi Blogger,” or “Dear Webmaster.” These types of greetings will get you nowhere, as they have been used time and again by mass spammers.
Finding the name of the person you’re looking to connect with shouldn’t take too much time. Some tips to get you started include:
- Check the About page
- Check the author name under the blog posts
- Check the social media About pages
- Use an email finding tool such as Rapportive or Xobni, which also helps to find additional information associated with an email address
If you absolutely cannot find a name, start the email off with something like, “Hi there.” This is a lot friendlier than “Dear Webmaster” or something similar.
What’s In a Subject Line?
Think about when you open your emails, or rather, which emails you open. Which subject lines grab your attention, and which make you automatically delete? Chances are, what make you delete an email without even opening it is what makes your link targets delete an email without opening it. When coming up with your subject line, think of it as your Title—make it catchy and relevant enough to make the recipient want to open it.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a bad subject line will be flagged as spam and sent to spam folders. Most people do not check their spam folders unless directed to do so, and when they do check it, they are typically looking for a certain item; your email is not that item. With that being said, here are a few tips to create an engaging and non-spammy email subject line:
- Keep it short and sweet
- Mention the recipient’s name or the name of their website
- Do not use all caps
- Mention something specific about the recipient’s website or business
- Avoid using words like “link,” “exchange,” or “request”
If you want to come off as truly genuine, mention something specific to the recipient’s business, website, or some other accomplishment. Doing so will show them that you have done your research and aren’t just contacting anyone who might “throw you a bone.” Also, it will appeal to their ego, making them more likely to want to help you. Finally, mentioning something specific gives you a great opportunity to Segway into your own content and why you believe it is relevant to them.
If you are unsure of what specific tidbit to mention, use these tips to find a topic:
- Look at their recent blog posts
- Look at their recent tweets / retweets / Facebook updates
- Look at the comments they’ve been receiving on their posts and updates
- Look to their About page for personal interests
- Look to their bio on their social media pages
- Check out their latest webinars
- Sign up for their email newsletter
Each of these sources can give you valuable insight into what they do and how they feel about certain topics, and can prove to be great topics of email conversation.
Use a Professional Email Signature
Whenever emailing for business purposes, you should always include a proper email signature, as not doing so sends a red flag to the recipient that you are just some amateur trying to piggyback off their success. You want to come across as someone who can help them, not someone who needs their help.
Your email signature should include the following information, in this order:
- Your full name
- Your job title
- The URL of the business you represent
- Your phone number (preferably your business number)
- Social media icons for work related accounts OR the URL
Executive Account Manager
This will confirm in the blogger’s mind that you are, in fact, a real person, and if they have any doubt, they can just click through to your website and social media accounts. Spammers typically don’t include a proper signature, for obvious reasons.
Mention Your Location
The opportunity to plug your location may not come often, but when it does, take advantage of it. If you notice that a lead target comes from the same town as you, is located in the same city, or even attended the same university, don’t be afraid to mention it! Location has the power to establish an instant connection, even when there wouldn’t otherwise have been one.
One way to work the local angle is the following:
As a Detroit native, I’m very interested in reviving the community by bringing small businesses back to the area. One way I do this is by providing business owners with the tools they need to succeed at online marketing. Having followed your blog for some time, I noticed that you, too, are from Detroit and that you offer website development services to organizations in the area. I was wondering if I could buy you a cup of coffee sometime to discuss how we might collaborate to make Detroit great again.”
As we mentioned, not everyone has this angle, so if you do, USE IT!
Here’s the deal: not everyone has time to read or respond to every single email that they receive, so even if you did catch their attention, and even if they did have every intention of responding to you, they may have gotten sidetracked by the hundreds of other tasks they have on their plate. You email may have gotten buried, in which case, you might never hear from them. That is why it is so important to follow up. Not only does this remind them of your existence, but also, it has the added bonus of confirming that you are not a robot.
In order to perform your follow ups properly, keep a spreadsheet of everyone you contacted and make note of those who responded and those who didn’t. You do not want to accidentally send an email to someone who has already responded, as that would be embarrassing and highly unprofessional looking. Once you send a follow up, make note of it on your spreadsheet so that you do not accidentally send another. While one follow up is okay, subsequent follow ups become pestering.
Tips for Following Up
When drafting a follow up email to a link prospect, draft it as you would a follow up email to a potential client or employer: keep it very short and to the point. Simply mention that you had reached out to them a week prior, and ask if they had a chance to give your previous email any thought. An example of a good follow up email is the following:
I just wanted to follow up on the email I sent last week regarding the beginner’s guide to link building. It would be great to get your feedback, if possible, and see if this is something you would be interested in sharing with your blog followers.
I look forward to hearing back from you.
Though chances are that your follow up email popped up in the same thread as your original email, you can include the original email for easy referral, if you wish.
As you can see, the follow up email is short, sweet, and polite, and doesn’t appear to be pushy at all. If you still do not get a response, chances are that they are not interested, and it’s time to move on. Again, sending additional emails will only serve to annoy them.
Dealing With Negative Responses
Though most people who are not interested will simply not reply, there are some that will. Don’t be discouraged by negative responses! In fact, take it as a positive sign that the sender respects you enough to reply at all, and as an opportunity to gain insight as to why they rejected your proposal. Below are some tips to keep in mind when dealing with negative responses:
While it can be tempting to just ignore the email, doing so can damage any future relationship you hope to have with them. Though they may not have liked the particular piece of content you sent over this time, there is still the chance that they may like your future content. A great way to keep your foot in the door is to email them back.
Ask for Feedback
Receiving a negative response is great as it means that a) they took the time to actually read your piece and b) they took the time to respond. Take advantage of the fact that they invested any time in you at all, and ask for their feedback. Ask them why they’re not interested in linking to your particular piece, and if there is anything that you can do to make the piece better (i.e. more valuable).
Sometimes the problem may not be with your piece at all, and the blogger simply doesn’t have time to write a piece that is relevant to yours. If that’s the case, offer to write a post for them.
Another approach you could take is to ask them what type of content is sorely needed in their industry. While your particular piece may not be relevant to them right now, if they enjoyed your writing, they may be game to let you create a piece that is relevant and then link to that.
The point is: if you take the time to incorporate their feedback, chances are they will be much more receptive when you send them the new post.
Some Outreach Pitfalls to Avoid
When reaching out, there are some common mistakes that you want to avoid. Those include:
Using Mass Email Software
It is perfectly acceptable to use mass emailing software when sending out an email newsletter that people opted into receiving. Plenty of companies do this, and we’re sure that you have been on the receiving end of those emails as well. However, whereas mass emailing software is great for those purposes, it can negatively impact any chances you have of obtaining a link by asking. And here’s why:
- It is extremely difficult to personalize a mass email (read: impossible);
- If you make just ONE mistake, every person you sent that email to will see it;
- You can get yourself blacklisted; and
- You may be breaking the law if you email people who have not opted in to your list.
Not to mention, mass emailing is a surefire way to jeopardize your own reputation with your company, as chances are, you hurt the reputation of the website you’re supposed to be representing.
Not Customizing Your Email Template
Just like how customizing your email signature can significantly up your “professionalism” impression, so can a customized email template. When contacting link targets, take the time to create a template that is appealing to the eye. This serves to further impress the recipient—much more so than a plain email template.
How Long Will it Take to Get Results?
When done right, link building can have a significant improvement on your search engine rankings. However, it takes time. For some people, it may only take a few months; for others, it can take up to a year. It all really depends on the quality of your content, how much content you publish on a weekly basis, who you reach out to, and how often you’re making an effort to reach out.
Outside of your own efforts, link building is also dependent upon the following factors:
- Your industry and how competitive it is as a whole;
- The keywords you’re targeting and how competitive they are;
- The activity of your competitors (are they busy building links as well?);
- The types of links you’re building; and
- The history and strength of your domain.
Each of these factors should be considered when setting goals for your campaign, as all parties should be made aware of the obstacles you face.
It is also important for you to clarify to whomever is in charge that link building does not work alone. In order to see an improvement in website rankings, link building needs to be done in conjunction with content marketing, website maintenance, and a host of other online activities. It’s the combination and perpetual drive towards a common goal that is likely to result in quicker and more sustainable results.