The term influence gets thrown around a lot. These days, anyone with a phone, a laptop and access to the Internet can develop a loyal following. Savvy brands have discovered that these influential people can not only use their clout to sell things, but also to gain invaluable search engine authority through link building. We know that link building is an important component of a well-rounded SEO strategy, but where on earth do you begin? This guide is designed to get you up and running with one of the industries most strategic link building tactics: manual outreach.
This Blog in 43 Words or Less
- Link building is a key component of a sustainable SEO mix
- Highlight 4 easy steps to kicking off manual outreach SEO
- Outline the 5 most important factors to consider when vetting the publications
4 Steps to Kick-Starting Outreach Link Building
1. Create an alias personality using a branded domain email 2. Try testing out different personas to see what sticks – keep in mind who your target audience is and who they want to do business with 3. Always include an email signature 4. Test your email before sending it out – purchase a dedicated UP if you find your mail often lands in the junk
5 Steps to Vetting Backlinks
1. Sort by the number of backlinks. 2. Eliminate any that do not match with that at least 1 of the top 3 or 4 categories 3. Eliminate any that have less than 50% branded anchor texts 4. Identify rates for sponsored posts 5. Compare the Trust Flow ranking against the cost to rank the list in order of importance
How to Get Started
This form of link building involves a reasonable time investment, so it’s important to develop a solid strategy if it’s going to be worthwhile. We have developed guidelines for you to jumpstart your link building efforts and start populating insights that will help refine the approach going forward.
Create an alias persona
Are you an agency or brand side? If you are completing this exercise on behalf of a brand, you will need an email with the correct domain name. This will ensure you establish the right level of credibility from the start. If you are already brand side… as you were.
Test Different Personas
Similar to testing creatives and headlines, test different personas you think will resonate best with the target audience. Think about who you are speaking to and who they would feel most comfortable engaging in a dialogue with. For example, a fashion blogger might be more inclined to reply to a female than a male. Gender stereotypes aside, you’ll never know until you test.
Include an email signature
Looking authentic is the key to successful outreach. Always ensure that you include an email signature for each persona you create. The goal is to establish an element of trust, and real people have real signatures.
Test Your Email
The dreaded spam folder. We all know about it, but we don’t always know what triggers it. Before sending outreach, always test your email to ensure it doesn’t land in no-man’s land. Test the two main providers, Live & Gmail, to cover most of the bases. If the emails end up in spam on one or both providers, often it can be your host’s IP being flagged in the past that sets off the filters. Might be time to look at buying a dedicated IP for email purposes before getting started, or talk to your hosting provider about other solutions.
How to Find the Opportunities
There is a world of content producers and distributors out there, in every niche you can imagine. So how do you find the ones most relevant to your brand or your client’s brand without falling down the dreaded Google rabbit hole?
No, I’m not talking about your sister’s annoying boyfriend. Dorks (or Advanced Search Query Operators) are Google’s somewhat secret advanced search parameters that you can use to filter through all of the noise. They allow you to identify a specific footprint you’ve defined for your search. Take a travel company, for example. By using a dork to look for bloggers who have previously done sponsored content, it is possible to hone in on accounts that will be more likely to respond and/or accept. A higher acceptance rate = higher return on time investment. In this case, the dork would be: “sponsor” travel blog. Similar to Adwords, Google considers “” to be an exact match term. By including parentheses around the mandatory search terms, Google will only show you search terms that match exactly what you’re looking for. Pro Tip: Dig deep in the search results. Bloggers may have a great deal of clout with their audience, but they aren’t always on top of their SEO game.
How to Vet Them
There are millions of bloggers out there, and outreach could quickly become a full-time job if you don’t prioritize. This is where some marketers might pay attention to the wrong metrics. How many followers do they have? How much engagement are they getting on their posts? These metrics have “value” but not for the purpose of link building. So which metrics should you pay attention to?
Is It Worth It?
The name of the game for this exercise. After all, the intent behind outreach is to build backlinks of your very own, right? The publication in question may have few backlinks or many backlinks, but it runs much deeper than that. Using Majestic, a tool we use every single day, we can identify the volume of backlinks they have coming to their website but also, the topical relevancy of the backlinks. If a website has 100 backlinks, but the topical relevance does not align with the subject matter of your brand or client’s brand, they are not as valuable as a website with 50 backlinks that does.
Main Topical Trust Flow (TTF)
Majestic has pioneered a list of website categories that assign a numerical value to each topical understanding of a given website. This is used to quickly get an understanding of what a website is about without having to do much digging. This aligns perfectly with the pursuit of link building, to ensure that outreach is aligned topically before going any further. We like to ensure that at least one of the top 3 or 4 categories are in your niche. A Good travel blog link profile with travel specific TTF A not so strong travel blog link profile
Moz defines anchor text as the visible characters and words that hyperlinks display when linking to another document or location on the web. It is used by search engines and users to provide contextual information about the content of the link’s destination. How does this play into how we evaluate a potential backlink?
The rule of thumb is to target websites that have at least 50% branded anchor texts.
Why? If the anchor focus is entirely keyword focused, the algorithm will be less likely to consider it as natural thus lowering their credibility in the SERP. An example of poor anchor text – some generic anchors but no brand and too many target high-volume keywords.
Find their Rates
Now comes the fun part for all your type-A people out there. Put the remaining websites into a spreadsheet or a table. Use a blank column for pricing – this will be the final piece of the puzzle. You will often find the most seasoned publications list out their pricing on a dedicated page. This is the best case scenario. If they have not listed their pricing, search for their contact information on the site. At times this task is not without challenge. Try using a [site:] search with either “@” or keywords like “contact” to find contact us pages. Going further, if the site has “advertise” or “sponsor me” pages, your odds of receiving a positive response just increased 10x. Lastly, you can try a whois lookup – sometimes the admin or contact email is publicly available. All you have to do is dig!
Weigh the Options using Trust Flow
From here, place the Trust Flow value of the root domain as the main metric for a final sort against anticipated cost. This value is based on the quality of the link profile and you need to use your own judgement to rank them based on priority. Your table should look something a little like this:
If you are unable to find a price listed on the website, send an email and wait for a response back. In this case, waiting is the name of the game. Use common sense and a little numerical analysis to analyze your results. Weigh TF score against the cost to produce a logical ranking.
How to Attain Them
Now that you’ve hand selected who you would like to work with, it’s time for the fun part.
Similarly to in-person conversations, emotional intelligence plays a big part in how the communication will play out. What is it they want, and how can you defer to their emotional side to solidify a mutually beneficial agreement?
This strategy walks a fine line between manipulative and just plain genius. Spend some time writing a roundup post that features X number of “insert niche here” bloggers. In our travel example, we could write a Top 10 Travel Bloggers in Canada spotlight that features 10 of the bloggers on our wish list. Upon completion of the post, we will reach out to each of them and inform them of the piece. No need to request that they share, they will do it without being asked to. Boom, link.
This is the best case scenario for some brands. Free product in exchange for open and honest reviews of it on their blog. This comes with an element of risk if the product is not of high quality or often receives mixed reviews. After all, we are asking for their honest opinion!
This is probably one of the most popular methodologies for link building, but also requires a great deal of strategy to ensure a solid ROI. There are two types of guest posts – written by the guest or written by the publication but appear to be written by the guest. This will vary publication to publication and essentially how much control they want to have over the content on their site. Regardless of the author, it is important to approach each publication with an idea of what you want the content to be about. Always get the topic approved before writing. Check to see if they have any guidelines built into their site. If not, reach out and inquire before suggesting any topics.
Before pursuing this form of link building, there are two important elements to consider.
What types of content can you produce that aligns with your company goals? This is the most crucial piece – how can you create content that is engaging and interesting but still leads towards a specific goal? For example, a company that sells art supplies could write a piece about rainy day crafts for children or the importance of hobbies for mental health. Each piece is written for an entirely different audience segment, yet both drive the same goal – the sale of art supplies. Does the content fit with the target publication? There is no sense in approaching a publication if your content doesn’t align with the target publication’s content. You wouldn’t approach a mommy blog with alcohol content the same way you wouldn’t walk up to a child and offer them a drink.
How to Optimize
This only applies to links you are paying for. You wouldn’t complain that there isn’t enough icing on a pastry you were given for free, would you? Allow goodwill to be just that.
Try to land two different links on the publication – branded homepage link and a link to your target SEO page, or the “money page” as I like to call it. This is essentially the page you are trying to get ranked.
Perform a little routine SEO spot check on the page. Check for standard alt tags, headings and on-page SEO best practices. If it feels like you may be asking for too much, present this as an opportunity to educate the publication of SEO best practices. Everybody wins!
This is rare, but it is important to do your due-diligence nonetheless. Verify that the page has been indexed by searching with the following query – site: www.example.com/guestpost If you find that it has not been indexed, index it! If the site is a client or big legit affiliate money site and is in Webmaster Tools (basically not blackhat or spam site with any reason to not use WMT/Analytics, then fetch with webmaster tools/search console and it should index shortly. You can use an indexer too, but this is more of a greyish area of SEO. Try using a tool like light speed indexer! The last option here is to build links (spam and/or legit) to the URL and wait for Google to ‘naturally’ crawl it.
Despite being perceived as the most volatile form of digital marketing, SEO is still the best long-term brand strategy. In order to be successful, brands must take the time to demonstrate to search engines exactly who they are and what they’re about using content and strategic digital collaborations. Search engines get smarter all the time, and providing tangible context to a brand is a necessity. Use this guide to start building out your brand’s network and start getting ‘dem linkz.