Outreach. Honestly, it’s become an SEO buzzword. Vendors talk about doing it, SEOs talk about getting it, business owners talk about needing it. “Experts” debate about manual vs. automated, and what constitutes either.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to a lot of time spent on messages that wind up in a spam folder somewhere.
So what is outreach really? What’s the best way to do it, and is the ROI worth the trouble? By the time you get to the end of the article, you’ll have all those answers and the know-how you need to get outreach done right.
What is Outreach, From a Link Building Perspective?
To naturally obtain a link from a site with tons of authority, you need to reach out to webmasters and inquire about their willingness to link to your site or accept a guest post.
So what’s with all the discussion? Well, as with many things in the SEO world, spammers made it tough, and competition got more fierce. Bots and black-hat SEOs found innovative ways to send mass messages to everyone they could, and niches filled up with legitimate SEOs sending the same types of messages. The result: outreach inquiries found a new enemy in spam filters.
So is outreach spammy or black-hat?
The short answer, no. There’s no form of outreach that, by itself, is going to get you penalized.
Is automated outreach spammy or black-hat?
The short answer, not really, and definitely not always. From a penalty standpoint, you still carry 0 risk for your SEO. From the broader “spam” perspective, it depends what you’re doing.
Manual vs. automated is a pretty broad definition. To an extent, some part of your outreach will likely be automated. There are some great tools for scraping contact emails, gathering a list of sites in your niche, or even sending bulk emails.
We would argue that in most cases, you’d be making a mistake to not utilize these kinds of tactics to save time. The problem is when you start sending garbage emails to anyone you can find, regardless of if the site is a good fit or if they offer what you are looking for in the first place.
This results in wasted time, wasted money, and you might get your email server flagged while you’re at it.
Good manual outreach, fundamentally, means taking the time to craft personalized messages, hand pick and vet your larger lists, and insert good judgment into your process.
Build a List the Right Way
With the above context in mind, don’t get hung up on how you’re building your list. DO consider who your target audience is, and more importantly, what your goals are.
If you want to build your DA, and 20 great links will do it, find the best way to build a larger list of relevant contacts and get in touch with them as easily as you can; it’s a numbers game. If you want one amazing feature you can highlight on your site that gets you massive amounts of traffic, go micro. Take the time to find 10 prospects you think you can reach and hyper-personalize your effort.
Make a simple spreadsheet and get to work. If you’re going the fully manual route, search for directories of sites that accept guest post content (you’ll find a lot on Google). These sites tend to be hungry for quality content, and you’ll often find detailed publisher requirements and contact forms with anti-spam measures to submit your inquiries.
Email Templates for Outreach
Frankly, there’s a million resources for this online already, and you’ve probably already found them if you’re reading this. Our suggestion: don’t overthink this.
Keep it short and sweet, and of course, friendly. Mostly though, focus on building a relationship. Let me say that again. Build a relationship. You’re probably not going to start golfing on Sundays with the Entrepreneur staff, but it doesn’t mean every correspondence should be primarily transactional.
Pitch an idea that adds value to them. Find out what you can do to make their lives easier and how you can do it repeatedly. Don’t “see if you’re interested in linking to my amazing site.” Do “ask if you’re interested in a fresh take on [TOPIC] that you don’t already have and that your readers would find valuable.”
At the end of the day, that’s going to give you higher success rates when you run an outreach campaign, and it’s going to unlock doors for you to work with them (and whomever they may refer to you) later on.
Follow up a couple of times over a week or two, and move on if you don’t hear back. I get a lot of these emails and trust me, I see the people who don’t stop, they bother me, and they never earn my business.
Sometimes you’ll get a lucky break and a friendly publisher will say “would love to help”, you’ll get your link, and all is right with the world.
More often, you’ll find yourself down a new rabbit hole that deals with fees, publisher and submission requirements, and logistics.
If you’re in direct contact with the publication or webmaster, you may receive guidelines for your content up front, or a note to edit your article that quotes these guidelines. You may be tempted to negotiate a bit, but we recommend you don’t.
This is a seller’s market, and there’s a low likelihood that your content is valuable enough to them that they’ll change their guidelines, or that your contact will take the time to go ask about making an exception with their leadership team.
If you’re working with a vendor or intermediary publisher, you may have more wiggle room. Intermediary publishers that aren’t an employed member of the editorial staff make money by placing content, and are more inclined to work for your business. You may find that if they can make exceptions (perhaps an extra link in an article or a commercial page), they will.
If you’re using a vendor or agency like us, it depends on how they’re running your campaign. For example, we work on an ongoing basis with the publications on our list and share all of the publisher guidelines up front. This means transparency for our customers and saves a lot of time, even if it means we can’t negotiate certain policies with you.
Costs, Fees, and Paid vs. Unpaid Links
This is a subject of heated debate in our field. How much should you expect in fees, and should you pay any fees at all?
Well, let’s all be clear about one thing. Google doesn’t like link black-hat link buying. This hasn’t changed, and probably won’t. Something important to pay attention to, though:
Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Specify that the links were purchased for advertising by doing one of the following actions:
-Adding a rel=”nofollow” or rel=”sponsored” attribute to the <a> tag
-Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file
First and foremost, this means that if you are buying a link, it doesn’t mean you get penalized for it. If the site selling the link is reputable, you can almost always assume they’re not trying to pull a fast one on Google; they have nothing to gain and everything to lose.
However, you are not necessarily buying a link every time you pay a fee. For example, if you’re working with an intermediary publisher, you may be covering their overhead (any broker fees they pay and their time). With an agency like ours, your content, reports, strategy, and outreach time is all covered in our cost, none of which are tied to a paid link.
Even further, some sites charge fees to guest posters that aren’t actually selling links. Even the most popular sites need guest contributors and promotional content. To manage this process, they need staff, they need internal guidelines; this means overhead they’re not directly recovering. As a result, they charge fees to host content that help them cover the cost of managing guest submissions, although they are not selling links. If a publisher is not transparent about this, there’s an easy way to tell.
Publisher A says “For $100, we’ll link to your site. I’ll let you know when it’s live.”
Publisher B says “Requirements for guest posts are….and we charge $X for live submissions.
The former is selling links wholesale, the latter is likely not. If you have trouble telling (there are a lot of mid-sized domains that look reputable but are generally PBNs with a nice design), look through their archives and talk to their staff.
Launch Your Outreach Campaign
This guide isn’t another step-by-step on how to scrub emails or “the perfect template that guarantees 50% success”. This is a comprehensive overview of how the outreach game is played by an agency that’s done it successfully, safely, and well for over 10 years.
Our hope is that this arms you with the trade secrets that aren’t talked about so you can be successful. If you feel like a partner will help you in this process, we’d love to be that partner.
We have a list of several hundred publishers that we successfully place our clients on to build authority and website traffic. We also have years of success running from-scratch outreach campaigns to find new sites in a wide variety of niches that will accept and host your content (of course, with that sought after backlink).
If you’d like to have all of that experience working in your favor, check out our Monthly Mix packages. The Monthly Mix bundles together premium guest posts and 9 other link building strategies to deliver a diverse set of powerful links every month. Perfect for sites looking for long-term, sustainable growth.