For most people, outreach is undoubtedly the hardest part of link building. Unfortunately, it’s also the most important part. Sure, there are virtuosos. Those who just seem to nail it from the beginning. Every email gets a reply and every reply is positive.
They’re not the norm.
The rest of us suffer rejection and unanswered emails until we learn the ropes. The problem is, though, not everyone is interested in learning the ropes.
Instead of crafting friendly messages, they want to cram as much template-based blunt force trauma into an hour of outreach as they can.
However, I have one link building outreach secret most link builders don’t even think about. It’s not 100% foolproof because humans aren’t 100% predictable, but it works.
Walking a Mile
Before we get to the secret, you need to understand why it’s important. Think of this as your version of Daniel-san waxing Mr. Miyagi’s car before he learned the secrets to karate.
Do you ever have days when you’re overwhelmed, and it just feels like everyone around you wants something from you?
Your friends, your family, your colleagues, your neighbors, strangers on the street– they all want a piece of you.
Remembering that, put yourself in the average webmaster’s shoes and then walk a mile.
People they don’t even know are asking them for favors multiple times a day.
Even a webmaster who runs a simple Blogspot site about marathon training will find tons of clumsy, non-personalized outreach emails in their inbox every day.
Some will ask her to post an article about life insurance. After all, with all the intense training, you should probably have life insurance, right?
Some will want a link to their product page, or they’ll ask her to embed a terrible infographic about infographics.
They don’t even get her name right, or they don’t use her name in the first place, even though it’s clearly listed in her ‘about me’ section.
So, she’s understandably already suspicious when you contact her.
No, she won’t help you move this weekend.
Now that you understand the webmaster mindset, are you ready to learn that killer secret to link building outreach?
Before I unleash the secret, we need to have a word about etiquette. You can’t use the secret without using proper etiquette.
Focus on the following with every email you send:
- Be Polite – Don’t make demands. Don’t be presumptuous. Don’t insult anyone. Think of yourself as a guest in their home.
- Be Professional – If you think it’s TMI, it’s TMI. Remember the last fun conversation you had with your boss, your grandmother or your child’s teacher? Have fun and be yourself, but carry yourself in that same way.
- Don’t Talk Down – People are smart. Webmasters are smart. Don’t talk down to them or condescend, even when you think you know more than they do.
- Don’t Beg or be Forceful – Just don’t do it. You can’t strong arm anyone over the internet. At least not until Apple releases the iPunch in 2018.
- Keep it Short – Say what you need to say and get out. Respect their time. Save your lengthy correspondence or love letters for someone else.
- Talk About Them – Don’t just talk about yourself. Find a popular post on their site and tell them why you liked it. Find one you like. Don’t lie.
- Don’t Be a Creep – This is self-explanatory. Don’t be a creep or a stalker.
- Accept Rejection Gracefully – You’re going to hear “no” sometimes. It is the webmaster’s right to reject you. It’s their site, after all. Accept it and move on.
Okay, you’re ready for that secret now.
The Secret: Help. Give.
Do something valuable for the webmaster, and do it before you ask for a link.
Because it’s human nature that when we receive something from someone, we feel compelled to give back and reciprocate something in return.
If you’ve read even a little bit about SEO, link building, or content marketing in the last two years, you’ve heard the term “relationship building” flung around a lot. Like you’re just supposed to magically make friends with the owner of an authority site. Networking and making friends are well and good, but helping someone out in a genuine way is one of the best ways to make those connections. And get your link.
Don’t offer help while you’re asking for a link or after you ask for a link. Find a legitimate way you can help that webmaster and do it before you ask for anything.
Does it take extra time? Sure.
However, when was the last time anyone scored a good, relevant, no-effort link? Link building is hard work. Period.
Also, remember that link building outreach is a process. Unless you already have a relationship with a webmaster, it’s not just a one-and-done email.
I love this quote from Sharon Flaherty, founder of BrandContent, from a post over at BuzzSumo. She has great perspective:
“The most important point to not lose sight of is that outreach is an on-going process. You shouldn’t design a campaign and then contact your influencers, bloggers or journalists to seed it just when you need them to. You wouldn’t ignore your personal contacts or friends all year until you needed them to help you with something and the same goes for influencer relations. If you know you have a campaign coming up that will involve targeting a certain niche of people, you should be building those relationships before the campaign is off the ground and while it is just an idea.”
So yeah, help people before you ask for anything.
Practical Applications for Link Building Outreach
Now you might ask “How do I help them, David?”
That’s a good question. The secret’s no good if you can’t apply it correctly.
I’ve put together a few suggestions. Every website is different, every business is different, and every industry is different– but this should give you a good starting point.
Broken Links and Site Issues – No one likes having a broken website. Finding broken links and site issues is one of the easiest ways you can help a webmaster. It’s not hard, either. You can use this Chrome Extension or run their site through a tool like URL Profiler. You can check for broken links, SEO errors, code errors or just anything that looks out of place. Not every site has errors, though, so sometimes you must move onto something more creative.
Logo or Banner Redesign – I got this one from Jon Cooper’s link building strategies post several years ago, and it works like a charm. If your target site is great, but needs to update their logo or even a banner, offer one up. If you’re a designer or have an in-house designer, go to town. If not, you can always try finding a designer on Fiverr.
“Let Me Know” – Many blog posts have a “let me know” or “if anyone knows” question in them. Essentially, the content creator couldn’t find an answer to their question and is looking for audience input. Offer them a good answer. You can always do a Google search for ‘(keyword) “let me know”’ or something similar if you can’t find any such opportunities from eyeballing a website.
Answer Questions – Similarly, many blog posts end with a question to the reader. This encourages comments. Answer the question through a comment, a tweet or even an email. If you answer in an email, it might spark a conversation.
Feedback and Conversation – Webmasters and bloggers are often creative people, and creative people love feedback on their work. Sometimes, they want that more than any code or broken link fix you could ever provide. If you have feedback, make sure it’s genuine and make sure it can lead into a conversation. Tell them why a certain piece of work is good and what it meant to you. Kind words are sometimes the best kind of help.
Social Shares – This one is easy. If you like something they wrote, share it on Twitter or Facebook. You’re helping them promote their content. It’s a great lead-in to a conversation, too. “Hey, (Webmaster), I just want to let you know that I enjoyed your blog post about (blog post title) and tweeted it out to my followers the other day. Keep up the great work”. Wait until they reply and then you can let them know about your resource or ask for their feedback.
Lend an Image – If you notice a target site has a severe lack of images, or uses bad stock photos, offer to give them a few of your own. If you take photos of your product, projects or service regularly, offer some images. If a blogger doesn’t have many images, offer them a few images from your own stock photo account or find great free stock photos for them. Try this list and this list of free stock photo sites.
Hacked Link Building – This one requires more work, but if you follow through, you’ll have a very grateful webmaster on your hand. Giuseppe Pastore wrote all about it here, but it entails finding sites inadvertently linking to hacked or spammy sites.
Add to a “How-To” Post – How-to posts are super popular, and for good reason. When prospecting for relevant links in your niche, you’ll naturally know something about the webmaster’s subject. If you can think of an item they left off of their how to or list post, write up an addition and send it over.
So, now you know the secret, and you know how to apply it. You’ll come up with your own ideas too, I’m sure.
Offer help before you ever ask for a link, and you’ll be “building relationships” just like those vague blog posts tell you to– quickly. Maintain those relationships after you’ve asked for a link, too. Don’t ignore people until you need something from them.
I’ve found great success in helping people. It’s usually really simple, and I’m not just blindly asking for something and not giving anything in return. Lending a helping hand turns suspicious webmasters into friends and colleagues.
If you want to be a great link builder, stay away from blunt force trauma and develop a great outreach strategy.