Have a seat. It is time for a chat.
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.
Endless words have been spilled onto the internet talking about link building.
By this point, thousands of conferences have focused solely on this all-important strategy.
Shoot, my old colleague Paddy literally wrote the book on link building.
I’ve done spent over a decade link building and link outreach in the past.
I didn’t love it, but I’m glad I got that experience.
Without a doubt, it helped shape me into who I became as an SEO professional.
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Don’t Half-Ass Your Backlink Outreach
These days, I consider myself a lot more than just an SEO.
I’m a marketing-focused entrepreneur leading a team of people connectors here at Credo.
I don’t do SEO for clients anymore. I do SEO for Credo though and for my other digital businesses.
Why? Because it’s worthwhile, beneficial, and profitable – in terms of ROAS and ROI.
Poor Form On Backlink Outreach
But what I get, and you probably get to, is a lot of “outreach” emails from “SEO experts. The ones trying to sell you on 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 almost alarming how bad some of these are:
- Almost no personalization;
- Focused on them – “a perfect match for us”;
- All focused on SEO metrics, not real customer/user metrics;
- Mostly from Gmail accounts, not even a real business email.
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.
This blog post surely won’t change the spammer’s mind. Advice on that? Flag, filter, and unsubscribe to those.
What it aims to do, is help you think a bit deeper about your “outreach” emails before you send them in the future.
Here are seven things to think about before you send that next outreach email.
Research Your Potential Email Recipient
Let’s start with the basics.
You’d be amazed at the number of emails I get asking to “post high-quality content” on my site(s).
Credo very rarely accepts guest posts. 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 white hat SEO, but are you seriously pitching me on buying links on my site?
Do your research, before pitching. Remember, you only get one first impression.
One more pro tip: if you rely on buzzwords like “high-quality” then it almost definitely is not that.
Does The Backlink Add Value For 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?
Frankly, I do not.
If you want me to link to your site, you need to tell me why I should and how it benefits me, as the recipient.
After all, accepting backlink outreach or guest posting means additional work for the recipient.
You have to review the topic and then wait for the sender to write it. Then, review the content, 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 Pitching The Decision Maker?
Please, please make sure the person you’re pitching either owns the site in question or is a decision-maker.
Otherwise, you’re just wasting time all around and in every which way.
And yet, I still get guest post 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.
Somehow, I still get pitches in June 2021 asking if a post or topic is “a fit for [my] site.”
The 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.
This madness must cease, for the collective sanity of us all!
Be Honest, Do You Deserve To Get The Link?
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.
Pure laziness – and a colossal waste of time for the sad souls (or bots) who continue to send such emails.
But there’s a catch to outreach. The best outreach doesn’t even look the part.
There’s no “reaching out” or “I’m bumping this up in your inbox.”
If you have something of true value that I might like to see, send it over. Ask me to take a look and if I like it, share.
That’ll put it in my mind. 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.
Can You Identify A Weakness That Can Improve?
A lot of outreach emails try 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 steamroll right past numbers 2 and 3.
If you are going to reach out, especially if this is a cold outreach, use this model to curate your message.
Make sure you are solving a pain point or offering something to their benefit.
You need to stand out or get out of the way.
Why? The fact is that it’s easy to find content with a lot of links.
With a simple Semrush or similar subscription, you can have access to billions of links. It’s easy to find the most linked content and also the content created by your competitors.
But too many fail to make something meaningfully better. By better, I mean better designed, better researched.
And then to reach out with a simple “if you liked that you’ll like this too.”… not going to fly.
Try These Ideas For Backlink Outreach Instead
The team at Ahrefs is a bunch of marketing wizards who know what it takes to win at backlink outreach.
Here are their top suggestions:
Or, try this as a different option:
I saw you linked to a piece written by a 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 The Work?
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.
Long story short, none of these are real people.
That is a problem.
When you’re doing outreach, consider whether you’d be proud to put your actual name on the ask.
If not, then think twice before you hit send.
Follow The Stop Signs
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 outside the US that spams me weekly. For a while there, they were spamming Credo’s main lead form a few times a week.
I have asked them to stop many times and they don’t.
Now, at my wit’s end, I go through each month and find all the IPs they submitted my forms from.
Then, I have to 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, follow the signs and take the hint.
Bad Backlink Outreach Cheapens The Industry
But before I let you go, here is my somewhat emotionally-charged conclusion
Bad outreach just sucks. If for no other reason, it cheapens the entire industry.
By relying on poor outreach tactics, you’re not only hurting others but you’re hurting yourself.
You make outreach less effective and make it seem easy and cheap. Like it 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 widely is incredibly hard and expensive.
We all have to start somewhere, but the best outreach, as mentioned, doesn’t even look like outreach. Usually, it comes in a conversational tone from someone with years of experience honing this practice.
By doing a shitty job of outreach like the examples I’ve talked about, you’re simply commodification and cheapening the entire 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 it’d be great if people would quit screwing it up and working against the greater good.
My hope is that we can right the ship. Let’s all do better.