Dear SEOs,

Have a seat. It is time for a talk.

Look, I get it. Backlinks are still the currency of SEO. You can’t rank well if you don’t have good links to your website.

Millions (tens of? Hundreds of?) of words have been spilled onto the internet talking about link building. Hundreds (thousands?) of conference talks have been done talking about link building.

Shoot, my old colleague Paddy even literally wrote the book on link building. You should read it.

I’ve done my fair share of link building and outreach in the past. I didn’t love it, but I’m glad I got that experience and it helped shape me into who I became as an SEO professional.

These days I consider myself a lot more than just an SEO. I’m a marketing-focused entrepreneur leading a team of people at Credo.

I don’t do SEO for clients anymore. I do SEO for Credo though and for my other web properties. It’s worthwhile and beneficial and profitable.

But what I get, and you probably get to, is a LOT of “outreach” emails from “SEO experts” trying to sell you guest posting and other “link building services.”

Here’s my work inbox from the last week filtering for emails with “guest” in the Subject:

It’s kind of shocking how bad these are:

  1. Almost no personalization.
  2. Focused on them – “a perfect match for us”
  3. All focused on SEO metrics, not real customer/user metrics
  4. Mostly from Gmail accounts, not even a real business email. The one that was real is a simple landing page with text “Welcome to —–.com….”

I get multiples of these a day. I bet you do too. And you’d better believe your clients and your prospects are getting these.

It is time to stop it.

I know this blog post won’t change these spammers above, but I’m hopeful it might make you think a bit deeper about your “outreach” emails before you send them in the future.

Here are 7 things to think about before you send that next outreach email.

Have you done your research on if they accept guest posts/link inserts/whatever it is you are pitching?

Let’s start with the basics. You might be amazed at the number of emails I get asking to “post high quality content” on my site(s).

We do not accept guest posts on Credo and I do not accept them on my personal site. I did back in 2012/2013 or so, but not since then if I recall correctly. I’ve considered putting something about not accepting guest posts on a page somewhere, but would that do anything? I think not.

Now, I might be especially sensitive to this issue because I am a long time annoyingly white hat SEO, but are you seriously pitching me on buying links on my site?

Do your research before pitching.

Also a pro tip: if you have to say that your content is “high quality” then it almost definitely isn’t.

Is it adding value to the recipient?

Check out this line in the email in the above screenshot:

Hope you are having a great day! I have come across your site, and I strongly feel that your website is a perfect match for us.

Why do I, as the recipient, care that my site is a perfect match for you?

I don’t.

If you want me to link to your site, you need to tell me why I should link to your site.

After all, it’s not like if I accept your (bad) pitch that there will be no work required from me. I have to review the topic, wait for you to write it and send it to me to review, upload it or create you a user, promote it, and more.

That’s a lot of work. If you want me to do that work, you need to make a damn strong argument why.

Are you even pitching it to the right person?

Another basic thing to get right is making sure the person you’re pitching either owns the site in question or is actively posting there!

I used to write on TheNextWeb a bit around marketing and technology. In total I think I wrote 3-5 posts there in 2017/2018. I also used to write on the Moz blog, with my last post on their blog being 2.5 years ago in January 2018.

I still get guest post and topic pitches asking if it would be a good fit for TheNextWeb.com or Moz.com.

Let me be clear – I have not written on either of these sites since 2018 at the most recent. Yet I get pitches in June 2021 asking if their post or topic is “a fit for [my] site.”

Same goes for if the person owns multiple sites. I get people pitching me on my personal email for links on GetCredo.com, and on my Credo email pitching me guest posts on my personal site.

Have you done the work to deserve to be linked to?

A lot of the link building, outreach, and email marketing advice you read online likes to talk about personalization. By personalization, most people mean using their first name and website.

Here’s an example of that:

Wait. I actually can’t find one, because none of the “outreach” emails I’ve received over the last YEAR+ with “guest” in the subject have these most basic of basic things. There are some with my name, and some with a site (usually the wrong one), but none even do the basics.

Here’s the thing though – the best outreach doesn’t even look like it outreach. There’s no “reaching out” or “I’m bumping this up in your inbox.”

If you have something of value that I might like to see, send it to me. Ask me to take a look and if I like it, share. That’ll put it in my mind and then in the future when I’m writing a post I might think of it and reference it, because I saw it and shared it.

Do they link to competitors / can you find a place where they need help?

I get a lot of outreach emails that seem to be trying to follow Brian Dean’s Skyscraper method of building links, which he outlines as:

Step 1: Find link-worthy content

Step 2: Make something even better

Step 3: Reach out to the right people

Seems simple right?

You would think, but so many seem to miss step 2 and/or step 3.

It’s easy to find content with a lot of links. With a simple Semrush or similar subscription you can have access to literally BILLIONS of links on the internet. It’s easy to find the most well linked to content on the internet and created by your competitors.

But too many fail to make something meaningfully better, meaning better designed, better researched, etc.

And then they reach out with a simple “if you liked that you’ll like this too.” There’s nothing of value there other than me maybe enjoying it (?), and if anything it just feels like more work.

But what about this as a different option:

I saw you linked to PIECE written by PERSON I KNOW. That piece is amazing, but we took it and riffed on it with some unique data. Did you know that INTERESTING THING and INTERESTING THING?

Let me know what you think. If you think it’s worthy, we’d also love a mention in <link>this piece</link>. No pressure of course!

Which do you think most will respond to and will be most effective?

Sure, the second is a lot more work. It doesn’t “scale” for outreach. But if you can get 10 links with 20 emails instead of 5 links with 200 emails, does it need to?

I think you know the answer.

Are you proud to claim it?

Look at that screenshot that I shared above again:

The only one from a non-Gmail (or other) is the one I show you right there. I also know the person that this is from, and I know they speak English natively and wouldn’t write a subject line with a typo like that.

None of these are real people.

That is a problem.

When you’re doing outreach, think about if you’d be proud to do it using your real name with your real email address.

If not, then think twice about doing it.

If they ask you to stop, then stop

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve asked someone to stop emailing me, and they keep doing it. I eventually start sending their emails to spam when this happens.

There’s even one agency based out of India that spams me weekly and for a while there spammed Credo’s main inquiry/lead form at least a few times a week. I have asked them to stop many times and they don’t. I usually about once a month now go through, find all the IPs they submitted my forms from, and block them all at the IP level using one of our caching services.

Do not be like this agency. If someone asks you to stop bothering them, have the decency to be a human and stop bothering them.

Meta point: Quit cheapening the entire industry

Alright, so right there is 1,500 words of rant about link building and how to do it better. I hope it helps.

But before I let you go, here is my meta point.

I hate bad outreach like this because it cheapens the entire industry. Also, by doing bad outreach, you’re not only hurting others but you’re hurting yourself because you’re contributing to making outreach less effective and to setting expectations of people who don’t know any better that link building is easy and cheap and can be done by anyone anywhere.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Link building is hard, it is time intensive, and therefore it is expensive. Creating content or a business worthy of being linked to widely is incredibly hard and expensive.

And to do outreach well, it involves a seasoned operator. We all have to start somewhere, to be sure, but the best outreach I see doesn’t even look like outreach and is usually coming from someone very experienced.

By doing a shitty job of outreach like the examples I’ve talked about, you’re contributing to the commodification and cheapening of the SEO industry.

Guess what? The SEO industry has enough issues and challenges of its own getting buy-in at the executive level, so it doesn’t need your help creating more. We’re finally starting to get the budgets and buy-in that SEO has always deserved, and I’d appreciate if people would quit screwing it up and working against the greater good.

That’s it. That’s my rant. That’s my hope. Let’s all do better.

John