Among the many digital marketing tactics available, some will naturally be more popular than others. Disregarding the fads and the trends that pop up in every industry, those that manage to stay popular for years are the ones you should turn your attention (and resources) to.
And it seems that outreach never goes out of style. Outreach link building is often used as an umbrella term for all link building strategies that incorporate contacting bloggers and editors as a core part of their process.
In an effort to disentangle the nuances of that process, we have broken it down into its key elements, leaving you with a step-by-step guide on best outreach link building practices.
At the end of the article, you can find an example of one of our most successful outreach link building campaigns.
Let’s dive right in!
What is outreach link building?
Outreach link building describes a process of building links through email outreach. There are many different link building strategies out there and most of them involve some kind of email outreach.
Whether you are doing blogger outreach, asking people to link to your ultimate guide, offering someone a new link to replace a broken one, asking someone to republish your infographic, or trying to get featured in a certain directory or review site, outreach will have to be a part of your link building process.
All of those strategies have unique steps, so the workflow we will outline below is not something that can be applied to every strategy. The vast majority of marketers and businesses use guest posting as their main link building method, so our steps will focus on that.
That being said, we will try to generalize the process as much as possible so you can incorporate select steps in any of the outreach link building strategies you plan to use.
Steps of the outreach link building process
A successful outreach link building campaign will run along more or less these lines:
1) Research your target audience and publish link-worthy content
The more prepared you are for your campaign, the better chances of success it will have.
Start by getting to know your target audience. The better you understand their behavior, their pain points, and their decision-making process, the better you will be able to appeal to them.
You can gather your intel from various sources:
- niche forums and communities
- top industry blogs
- Quora and Reddit threads
- competitor content analysis
Once you know what your audience is looking for, audit your existing content and see how it holds up. Update, rewrite, and edit if what you find does not provide the right answers, emotions, or experiences. Produce new content if you need to (ideally, based on a content gap analysis).
The end goal of this phase is twofold:
- understanding what your target audience wants to read about
- ensuring you have quality, SEO optimized, link-worthy content on your blog you can link to
2) Create a list of topics you want to pitch
Disclaimer: If you are outreaching people about niche edits or asking them to republish your infographic, this is obviously something you can skip. However, this is a very important step in a classic guest posting process.
Writing about what your audience wants to read is crucial – otherwise, you might as well not write about anything at all. A good place to start your topic research are the platforms we’ve listed above.
You can pitch entire outlines or topic descriptions, which will make it easier for the editor or content manager to gauge what they can expect to receive and how your post will fit into their overarching content strategy.
Below you can see a snapshot of the topics we use in our outreach link building efforts (in this case, for guest posting).
Ideally, you want to be able to seamlessly connect the topics you are pitching with the content on your blog, so that you can link to it organically (as opposed to forcing in an irrelevant link).
3) Find relevant sites
Now that you are armed with your topics, you need to find websites that will be interested in publishing them. If you have specific requirements like DA 50+, clean backlink profile, 3k+ of monthly organic traffic, make sure you clearly define your desired SEO metrics so you can filter out sites that fall short of those requirements.
Here are a few ideas how to find relevant sites that might be interested in linking to you or publishing your content:
- Google the niche you are focusing on in your outreach, and compile a list of interesting opportunities. You can search for compilations of top blogs and influencers in your industry.
- You can also use Google’s advanced search operators: “intitle” and “inurl” are very handy, but make sure to check out the full list on the link above and see how you can put it to good use.
- Analyzing the backlinks of your competitors is also a great starting point. You can find plenty of websites you want to contact there. Also, if you are able to tell how they have managed to score their link, you will have a better idea on how to approach the site in question with your proposal.
- You can also use an outreach tool like Pitchbox or Buzzstream (more on them in a bit), which have built-in prospecting features for identifying relevant outreach opportunities. These are irreplaceable tools if you want to run outreach link building campaigns at scale.
4) Prepare your pitch
Writing the perfect guest post pitch is a matter of trial and error. However, here are the basics to get you started off right:
- Add a hook to your subject line: ask a question, mention the topic you want to write about, mention the editor’s name…
- Break the email down into sections: explain who you are, the reason you are reaching out, and what you can offer to the site you’re reaching out to. If this is a part of your guest posting efforts, provide examples of your previous writing and explain which topics you can cover.
- Personalize your email: this is super important! Address the editor by name, complement one of their recent articles, mention something personal, etc. Your goal is to sound like a real person, to make the email feel like more than just another mass email, and to distinguish yourself from the dozens of similar emails the editor has received already.
- If appropriate, add GIFs, emojis and other fun elements to the email to warm it up.
5) Find contact information
Sending your email to the right person is crucial. Finding that person might be a bit of a challenge though. There are several options for finding contact info for outreach link building like:
- checking their social pages
- reviewing about/contact us/write for us and similar website pages
- using a free email finder tool
- using an blogger outreach tool
- you can use an online email checker yourself.
Always try to contact an editor, a content marketer or a content manager. A lot of websites will leave a general contact on their website (like info@ and contact@). By going the extra mile, you will already be scoring brownie points.
Lastly, don’t add too many people from the same website to your contact list so you don’t get marked as a spammer. One or two if you’re sure about your contact, up to ~5 contacts if you are firing blindly.
6) Campaign and email management
Ideally, you want to use a tool that will help you manage your outreach campaign, as that will save you a lot of manual effort.
Whether you are using one or sending emails manually, there are a couple of general rules to follow:
- Schedule your emails so that they reach people while they are at work – between 9AM and 11AM is usually the best time for emails to go out
- Follow up on each unanswered email, as this will increase your chances of receiving a reply significantly. 1-3 follow up emails is often best, spaced out with 2-3 days in between.
- When you receive a negative reply, be polite and thank the sender for taking the time to get back to you.
- When you receive a positive reply, be as efficient as possible in agreeing to the details of the collaboration. The less emails you have to exchange, the better. Offer details on the topic you will be covering, ask all of your questions in one email, and adhere to the deadlines you have set.
- If you need to negotiate, be polite. If you need to offer something in exchange, for example a link back from your own blog, know what your bottom line is and don’t go below it. Some blogs only offer sponsored posts and ask for fees that are just not worth it. There are always other websites you can work with.
7) Content preparation and link insertions
If you care about your brand image and reputation, the content you send over should be something you’re proud of. The websites that will agree to publish rubbish are not the kinds of websites you want to be working with.
Before you start with any kind of outreach link building, be sure you understand what a good guest post should look like. It will not only help you create better posts, but also understand if the site you’re pitching to is publishing quality content.
If you are outsourcing your content writing, make sure the guidelines you prepare reflect the guidelines of the website itself. Moreover, the guidelines should be clear and leave no room for interpretation. Be especially clear on the links you want and don’t want inserted, the tone of voice you want to see used, the length of the article and the anchor text you want to use.
If you are doing large scale outreach link building that involves a lot of content creation, it pays to set up a content development process.
Once your link is live/your article is published, make sure you thank the editor for featuring you. If it is a guest post, consider promoting the article across your social media profiles and tagging the website in question.
Tools to streamline your outreach link building campaigns
In order to make your large scale outreach link building projects run more smoothly with less manual labor, we highly recommend using the following tools.
SEO tools can help you:
- determine if a website has a decent backlink portfolio
- check your competitor’s backlinks
- investigate if you are dealing with a PBN
- check metrics of the sites you plan to contact
- do many other SEO tasks that are not strictly related to outreach link building
Ahrefs is a great all-round option and our tool of choice. SEMRush is similar to Ahrefs in what it can offer, in terms of keyword data, competitor analysis features and identifying prospects based on different criteria. There are other tools like Alexa and Ubersuggest if you want to try something else.
If there is one indispensable tool for building links via outreach, this would be an outreach tool. It vastly reduces manual labor and streamlines your outreach process. The main benefits of blogger outreach tools are:
- the ability to set up personalized templates
- automate and manage large scale outreach
- prospecting options for finding link building opportunities
- built-in features for finding relevant email contacts
- track your conversation history across different campaigns and projects
- measure the success of your outreach emails
Pitchbox is a great option for sending bulk emails. It allows you to schedule them, automate your follow ups, find prospects and their email addresses and just makes outreach a lot easier. It also has a CRM that has been made specifically for link building outreach, so it is already tailored to your needs – featuring SEO metrics and link data.
Buzzstream is another popular outreach tool that works along similar lines. Email scheduling, bulk send and automated follow ups are a given, and you can also classify your prospects per project. You can import your own data, or let the tool help you find the best prospects for your link building purposes.
Ninja Outreach is a good option too, and it features all the same key options: email automation, template creation, follow-ups and email prospecting. It also lets you track your send, open and click stats, and you can sum up your results in a report if you need to break your campaigns down for a client or a manager.
Project management tools
You will also need to use a project management tool to stay on top of your outreach link building efforts, especially if you have a whole team that needs to be coordinated.
Here are some features to look out for and why:
- You want to have a combination of swimlanes and columns so you can track outreach through different months and phases.
- You want to be able to leave comments, create to-dos, track time and do other basic PM tasks.
- You want to be able to invite other people to the project and give them limited access (like clients and freelancers).
- It helps if the tool has integration with Slack or your preferred communication tool so you can track conversation and easily discuss issues without cramming up the comment section of a certain task.
For bigger outreach projects, the project management tool represents your base of operation, a centralized cloud-based repository of project data you need to successfully manage people and projects.
Example of a successful outreach link building campaign
One of our most successful outreach campaigns in terms of number and strength of the links we acquired was the promotion of our Content Marketing Statistics and Trends 2017 infographic.
The idea was simple. People like to cite statistics in their blog posts and they like nice visuals that go along with it.
We gathered info from different sources, like the Content Marketing Institute, that run and publish huge yearly surveys. Based on that, we made an awesome-looking infographic, published it on our blog, and started promoting it with outreach.
Here is one of many pitch templates we used:
The goal behind the outreach was:
- getting social shares from big social media accounts to gain some exposure
- building awareness about the infographic, to increase its chances of earning links organically
- getting backlinks from relevant sites in the niche by offering to write a custom intro in case they want to republish the infographic on their blog
Today, that post has over 150 backlinks, including many top tier sites:
Of course, not all of them were the direct result of the outreach. However, the exposure and the initial backlinks we got helped the content to rank well and start earning backlinks naturally.
Even though it is not as relevant anymore because the stats are from 2017, that infographic still attracts 70 or so organic visitors each month. While getting organic traffic is nice, the real value we got out of this outreach project was backlinks from top industry blogs and the authority that comes along with those backlinks.
If you follow the steps we have outlined above and use some of the tools we have featured, you can turn your outreach link building campaigns into productive endeavors with tangible results.
Before you start, make sure you have link-worthy content to link to and that you present a good value proposal in your pitch.
Bear in mind that cold outreach takes practice and that the first email you send will never be as good as the hundredth. Keep learning from your replies and continue optimizing your outreach process.
If all of this seems too complicated or tedious, consider outsourcing link building.