If you’ve ever put significant time and effort into improving your search visibility and generally trying to build up your brand (whether business or personal), you should have some inkling of the great importance of backlinks. Not only does a strong backlink lead more people to visit your site, but it also makes Google more likely to view your site as worth serving as a search result.
This piece isn’t going to focus on why backlinks matter, though, because that’s already been covered in this excellent introduction to backlinks. Instead, we’re going to take a closer look at the tricky matter of winning valuable backlinks through outreach.
Marketing outreach is the simple (but extremely difficult) process of getting in touch with individuals or organizations that might be willing to work with you for mutual benefit. If you can offer someone a resource that they simply must link to, that’s ideal, but that isn’t typical. Most of the time you need to negotiate a viable arrangement.
So how do you do this? To help you get more out of your content production and promotional efforts, let’s take a look at some core tips for winning more backlinks through outreach.
Perhaps the biggest failure in most outreach campaigns is the misuse of outreach automation. There’s a huge amount of value in high-level scaling — value that’s mathematically obvious, since the more people you reach out to, the more chances you’ll have to find some interest — but it has to be done carefully. When you take it too far, you drive people away.
The key is personalization. When the average person checks their email inbox, they know that most of the emails there weren’t written for them in particular, yet some will feel more impersonal because they’ll contain nothing indicating familiarity with them or their situation. If they’re going to receive an automated email, it should at least be a smart automated email.
For instance, suppose that you sent out a template-driven outreach email saying “I love your blog, and thought maybe you’d like to talk about this article I wrote,” but the recipient didn't really have a “blog” — they had a commentary section on their site, but they didn’t call it a blog and made a point of noting that on their site. That email would make it clear that you hadn’t actually read their content, so why should they engage with you at all?
You don’t need to talk about someone’s hobbies or personal activities (that sort of detail is likely to come across as creepy and presumptuous, anyway). Just ensure that the information in your outreach emails is accurate, and that alone will go a long way.
Chris Voss, CEO of The Black Swan Group (a company that provides negotiation training), made a fantastic point while appearing on SEO expert Stephan Spencer’s “Get Yourself Optimized” podcast: “Whatever communication arena you’re in, whether it’s relationships, counseling or therapy, it doesn’t matter. The overriding desire to be understood is baked into every human brain. It unlocks collaboration in a way like nothing else does.”
You obviously can’t understand someone you’ve barely spoken to, so no one can expect you to know what someone wants from the outset — but the longer your email chain (or social media chat, potentially) goes on, the better you should understand the person you’re talking to, and the more you should cater to that in what you say. Being understood will make anyone more agreeable: people will feel that you’re on similar wavelengths.
Much of the time, this is linguistic. For instance, there are many people who welcome the use of emojis in formal exchanges, but plenty who frown upon it and prefer to keep things traditionally professional (even to the point of wheeling out “Dear Sir/Madam”). If you see that you’re dealing with someone who enjoys emojis, throw some in when appropriate. If they seem old-fashioned, adopt a more detached tone. Give them reasons to like you.
While the long sale is often worthwhile in digital marketing, something like getting a backlink on a website isn’t suited to a drawn-out process. Even small blogs get a lot of outreach emails, and if your conversation doesn’t reach a useful conclusion fairly promptly, the person you’re talking to may decide that it isn’t worth continuing. After all, time is valuable.
Consequently, you want to avoid extended sequences of being met with objections and having to overcome them, and the best way to do this is to deal with them before they arrive. Empathy is critical: Place yourself in the other person’s position, and imagine what might get in the way of getting the content posted and the link placed.
Might they be worried about linking to something questionable? Convince them right away that it’s a trustworthy piece on a decent domain. Could they feel that your content wouldn’t add anything to their site? Offer a breakdown of what you’re going to cover so they can assess it. Cover their objections before they have a chance to think of them, and they’ll be much more likely to give you a simple go-ahead without needing an elaborate negotiation.
One tactic that’s highly effective at avoiding objections is building on unlinked brand mentions. More often than not, when a brand is brought up naturally in content written by someone who doesn’t give much thought to SEO (something that goes for a lot of bloggers), no link will be provided. If you reach out to someone who’s mentioned something you’re building backlinks for, you can thank them for the mention, then ask if they can add in a link. If they think the brand is worth mentioning, they clearly see value in it, making a link entirely justified.
As noted earlier, marketing outreach is about mutual benefit, so you’re not going to get very far if you’re proposing arrangements that are only worthwhile for you. Your content alone might well be good enough to seal the deal, but if it isn’t (and the opportunity is worth it) then you’ll need to be ready with an incentive of some kind.
What that incentive should be will depend on what the person you’re negotiating with is likely to want. Again, deploy empathy to figure out what’s worth their time. Is your domain very valuable, or your audience relevant to their interests? Perhaps they’re looking for a piece of content to fill a pressing gap in their SEO profile, and you could write that content for them.
If you can’t come up with a good incentive, though, don’t offer any at all. Don’t bother suggesting any type of reciprocal linking — it’s contrived, and Google frowns upon it. Just remember that you are asking them for something, and if they want something more in return, well, that’s a completely reasonable thing to expect.
Now that we’ve looked at these central ideas for improving your outreach negotiations, why not start working them into your strategy? It won’t be easy, but you don’t need to turn things around overnight. Keep working at it, and you’ll soon start to see steady improvements in your outreach performance.
Since it’s such a huge commitment, though, it would be entirely understandable if you didn’t envision having the time, dedication or resources to do so. If you want to win backlinks efficiently, an expert agency such as Kuno can help. Get in touch to see how your backlink profile could be transformed today.
Kayleigh Alexandra is a writer and campaign designer for MicroStartups, a website focused on charities and microbusinesses. After years working in the sustainability, marketing and creative industries, Kayleigh now loves to help other people to grow a business. Visit her blog or follow her on Twitter @getmicrostarted for the latest startup and entrepreneur-based news, tips and advice.