The Realist’s Guide to Link Building Outreach

Outreach is harder than creating content.

Many people don’t realize how much work goes into successfully building just one relevant link.

When I speak with prospective clients, I find many have good resources and good content, but are unable to get any links.

That’s, partially, because good content doesn’t automatically get links and, partially because people treat outreach as an afterthought.

You don’t have to be a PR rockstar to get results from your link building outreach, but you do have to treat it as a separate skill set if you want to have success.

Whether you’re promoting a big piece of content or your website’s a great resource, none of that matters if people are ignoring your emails. And it matters even less if you’re emailing the wrong people.

Be willing to forget what you know, unlearn everything, and focus on becoming good at outreach.

And even when you become an outreach superstar, your success rate may not be where you want it to be.

I speak with other professional link builders all the time, and we all have one thing in common– none of us have a 100% response rate from the people we send outreach emails.

Realistically, you may send out 20 emails and get four links when you’re at the top of your game.

Even more realistically, you may only get one link from those 20 emails.

Outreach takes practice, experience, and a willingness to set aside your pride and learn from your mistakes. It also takes a commitment to not beating yourself up over unanswered emails. No one is perfect, and you can’t expect a high success rate from the get-go.

Since we’re focusing on the realistic side of link building outreach, and not the mega-guru-ninja-rockstar side of outreach (that doesn’t exist), I’ve broken down real outreach into several categories and have included additional resources in each section:

  1. The Basics
  2. Finding Balance
  3. People Skills
  4. Being Helpful
  5. Learn from the Best
  6. Templates
  7. Tracking
  8. Success Rate
  9. Final Thoughts

Let’s get started.

(If you have any additional resources you’d like me to add to this guide, feel free to send them my way)

The Basics

You’ve probably done research on link building outreach. You wanted to know more, so you landed on this post.

Just in case, here are basics I find many link builders forget:

  • Have an email address— a domain email address for your company or website is best.
  • Keep your message clear and concise; ask for a link.
  • Always address the blogger or webmaster by name.
  • Personalize your outreach, at least somewhat and remember you’re talking to a real person,
  • Never spam or harass anyone– no one owes you anything, not even a link.
  • Don’t try to manipulate or trick webmasters.
  • Track every piece of outreach you send.
  • Be persistent and don’t give up.
  • Try to build a mutually beneficial relationship with everyone you send outreach — you’ll be able to help one another in the future.

Additional reading:

Finding Balance

If you don’t find a balance for your outreach, you’ll drive yourself crazy.

Everyone communicates differently, and everyone has a different amount of time and/or money they can devote to each part of the link building process.

Find a system that works for you.

You’ll have to decide between:

  • Sending out fewer emails, but making them highly-customized, personal, and human,
  • Sending out more emails from a template, but making them much less personalized.

Customization takes a toll, but shooting out as many emails as you can in an hour takes a toll, too.

I recommend finding a balance between the two.

Remember there’s a human being on the other end of every email you send.

But, also remember that bloggers and webmasters don’t have time to read a super long email, especially when they don’t know you.

If your emails look like copy/pasted spam, you won’t get many responses, even if you send out hundreds.

If you spend 15-30 minutes on each email you send out, that time adds up quickly, and you may not get too many responses either.

Find your balance when you can. See what gets you the best response rate and test it constantly. Find a system that works for you, because it probably won’t be the same system that works for me.

Think of it like health and fitness– if there was one obvious solution for a fit, healthy body, we’d all be looking like classical Greek statues. But everyone has to find their own health routine.

The same is true for link building. If there was one magic system, no one would ever need to hire a professional link builder.

It’s different for everyone.

Additional reading:

People Skills

Several months ago, I wrote an article called ‘4 Skills You Need to Be a More Effective Link Builder.’

The first skill I mentioned was interpersonal communication. If you can get along with almost anyone, and you’re willing to find common ground with people, you’ll be good at outreach, once you commit to learning.

Here’s what I wrote:

“If you are working for an agency or doing freelance work, you will be building links for markets and industries that you don’t care about. You have to find real, common ground with other people, beyond the fact that you want a link and they can supply one.”

Get to know your target site’s webmaster or the blogger you want a link from. Try to figure out what makes them tick.

According to research, emails with personalized subject lines are much more likely to be opened.

Give them something to be interested in and make communicating with you a pleasant experience.

I recommend you read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People if you haven’t. It’s a great read (very educational, but entertaining, too– trust me), and by clicking this link, you can save a trip to the bookstore. Though you should buy it if you like it as much as I do.

Connect with your outreach targets. Tell them why you chose their site or their blog. Tell them what sets them apart from the dozens of other sites you prospected.

Then, think about sales. In your outreach emails, you’re selling the value of your content, your resource, or whatever you want a link to.

Explain why it’s worth their while, without being pushy or stepping over the line.

Last, keep your emails short. Be friendly, but don’t write an overwhelming amount of text. Again, you must practice this to become an expert and find a balance.

Additional reading:

Being Helpful

I’ll keep this section short, as I already wrote on it at length. I’ll link to that post at the end of this section.

Basically, your best bet to get a response from almost everyone you email is this– help them with something, before you even ask for a link.

You can help them find broken links on their site, provide images, help them with their on-site SEO, share some of their content on your social media profiles, or just help them out.

When you give something first, bloggers and webmasters are much more likely to give you something in return.

It takes extra time, but it’s worth it. If you’ve found the perfect target site and need a response, lend a helping hand before you ask for a favor.

Additional reading:

Learn From the Best

To live a happy and productive life, you’re never done learning.

You can always get better at everything you do, including link building outreach.

There are dozens of great link building outreach guides on the web, and most will tell you to aim for the stars.

We’re being a little more realistic here. But when you get stuck in an outreach rut and get discouraged, I urge you to set aside time and do some reading.

When you learn from other successful link builders, you’ll feel refreshed, and you’ll be able to absorb some of their tactics into what you do, refine your process further, and experience a better success rate.

So, look at some outreach emails that get responses. You’ll see how the pros write their outreach, and then you can re-focus on your own emails.

Additional reading:

Templates

Once you send more outreach emails, you’ll probably want to use a template.

But wait… didn’t I just tell you to personalize your emails?

Yes. But it helps to have a template to start. You can take the time to personalize your template, and of course, you must start from scratch with some emails.

But always have a few basic templates to fall back on.

Using a template doesn’t mean rapid fire copy and paste spam sessions. It just means you remember to say everything you need to say in a clear, concise manner.

I’m sure you’ve sent out an email, only to realize you left out something important, right?

Realizing you forgot something is a terrible feeling.

Using a template will help you remember everything you need to cover, and it will save time.

Always test and refine your templates and remember you’re talking to a real person. Everyone is different, so treat your outreach accordingly. The same copied email will only get you so far.

Let every blogger and webmaster know why you like their website and let them see you put some thought into your email.

Additional reading:

I also have a PDF of 20 proven subject line templates you can download here, but it will cost you an email address.

Tracking

You need to track every piece of outreach you send out.

If you don’t keep on top of it, you’ll feel overwhelmed, you won’t remember who you last spoke with or when it’s time to follow up.

Worse yet, you could make the mistake of sending the same initial email to the same person twice. You’ll be embarrassed, and you can write that person off– you’ll never get a link from them if they think they weren’t worth remembering.

I don’t enjoy feeling embarrassed and losing potential relationships, so I recommend starting with a simple Google sheet. It’s free and easy.

Be sure to include:

  • Date of contact
  • The target website
  • The webmaster or blogger’s contact Info
  • Action Taken (email, phone call, filling out a web form, a social media message, etc.)
  • Linking Page (if you successfully build a link)

You can also include Domain Authority, PageRank, how long a site has been active, and other metrics in your sheet to help you prioritize.

I made a handy tracking sheet for you here, and you can copy it and customize it to your liking.

I divided it into four parts:

  • Live Links – links you’ve successfully built
  • In Communication – when you’re still conversing with a webmaster, but have yet to build a link
  • Attempting to Reach – when you’ve yet to get a response
  • Research – sites you’ve found, but haven’t yet contacted

Tracking is crucial and is often overlooked by link builders when they’re just starting.

After you’ve developed a working system and are ready to scale up your outreach efforts, you may consider using one of these outreach platforms:

Success Rate

You’ll also need to track your success rate.

Success can be measured in many ways.

If you spend 20 hours one week on outreach and get one link, your success rate is not very good.

If you send 20 emails in an hour and get a link out of it, that’s an excellent success rate.

Again, it’s about balance.

Here’s what will help boost your success rate:

  • Send an email, instead of filling out a contact form.
  • If it makes sense, call someone on the phone, instead of emailing.
  • Get to know your target webmaster or blogger on social media before you approach them for a link when time permits.
  • Help bloggers and webmasters before you ask for a link.
  • Personalize your emails, but keep them short and to the point.
  • When something works, learn from that success and make it a part of your outreach system.
  • When something isn’t working, swallow your pride and try something different.

Realistically, you won’t be having a ton of success right out of the gate. There are still times when I feel like I’m struggling with outreach, and I’ve been doing this for years.

You can’t force someone to respond to your email or link to your website.

You can only express your value, make human connections, and keep at it.

If you’re spending too much time on outreach and you’re not getting results, mix it up and try something different. Don’t repeatedly bang your head against the wall.

And don’t give up. Try to increase your success rate, but realize there is no magic spell for outreach response. Dozens of factors go into every link you build, and it’s complicated when everything’s said and done.

Just keep pushing ahead and keep learning.

And find a way to measure your success, whether it’s the number of responses you get or the number of links you build. When you see your numbers go up month after month, you’ll know you’re getting better.

Additional reading:

Final Thoughts

Link building outreach will never be easy.

It takes the mind of a salesperson, the intuition of a therapist, the friendliness of a neighbor, the determination of a prizefighter, and the shrewdness of a business owner.

It also really helps if you like people. Because outreach is all about being good with people.

Realistically, you won’t get good at outreach overnight. You’ll have to keep testing and refining, and you’ll never stop experimenting.

If you keep powering through and pushing forward, you’ll find the right balance for your link building outreach, and the links will start coming in.

David Farkas

David is the Founder & CEO of The Upper Ranks. He is passionate about Link Building and helping his clients achieve online success.

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  1. This is one of my favorite blogs and as someone who’s been an SEO for a number of years, I find your unique style and info to be really helpful to me. Keep it up and may god bless you.

    Regards
    Harsh

  2. I’m totally with you and each point is written extremely clearly which describes everything about a great blogger. You are a brilliant man.

    Regards

    Anubhav

  3. Great info! I plan to link back to this in a future post for our clients because it’s just that helpful. (I’ll let you know when it goes live.) Thanks, too, for the additional reading suggestions. You’re like your own little Wikipedia, aren’t you. 🙂

  4. Link outreach is where I started focusing on more and more this year for our SEO. I never liked link outreach before because the time and energy required was a turn off for me, but I’m finding that it’s really about having a streamlined a system in place. You included a few things I didn’t know before so thanks for sharing David!

    • Outreach is from the harder link building tasks, so developing a sound system is definitely the way to go. It probably won’t be perfect in the beginning but as long as you have a foundation you can always improve it over time.

      Best of luck!

  5. This is most deep rich article on link building outreach, I like how you broke it down into what a realist would do if they had to do this on a regular basis. The corresponding articles are very helpful. You just made a new fan!

  6. Hey David,

    Great article and thanks for the mention of my “Link Building: Quality Vs Quantity – When Less Is Definitely More” – it’s most certainly been proven more lately following the trial of some of the old school directories on my own site 😉

    Have a great week ahead!

    Cheers,

    Joe

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