Manual link building’s 7 worst outreach offenses


I get incredibly annoyed when I receive an email offering SEO services, especially when the sender notes that he or she has looked at my site, checked my rankings and can tell me why I’m doing so poorly in Google. If you’re an SEO, I’m sure you get tons of these emails, too.

While I know that it’s just automated spam, I’m still offended. This type of email clogs up inboxes and likely prevents legitimate outreach requests from being read. Since our main method of developing links involves email outreach, this poses a serious problem for us.

I’m not trying to slam automation at all here, either. It definitely has its place, and in many cases, it can be used very well. But this is a perfect example of automation at its worst. Just slap in some email addresses and spam us all. Send us enough spam in one day, and we’ll delete anything that doesn’t come from someone we know.

My number one rule for my link team is this: check the target site. If human eyes aren’t on that site and on it for enough time to verify that they’re a worthy candidate to reach out to, we have no business contacting them.

That takes time, though. It takes effort, and it takes human labor. To me, it’s worth it — and it’s why our response rate and conversion rates are much higher than they were when we used to cast a wide net and deal with what we pulled in.

Outreach is tough work, and I see so many poor examples of it, so let’s take a look at what I consider to be the 7 worst outreach offenses.

1. Reaching out to people who do what you do

I covered this in my opening, but let me harp on it some more. When you contact someone who does what you do, and you expect something from them, you’re just making yourself look sloppy in every possible way.

As an SEO, my first thought is that you are using automation and don’t have the brains to check your list. A non-SEO might just be really annoyed. Regardless, we’ll all think poorly of you — and even if you contact us with something legitimate in the future, we won’t be open to it.

John SEO

2. Reaching out to people who have the content you’re peddling

I accidentally did this recently when I was rushing to help out with a new campaign. I was doing outreach for a client who had a DIY article about something, and I approached a blogger who had a lot of DIY articles. I didn’t see a big section about my particular interest, and I found a great page where I thought my client’s piece would be a nice addition.

Unfortunately, I got back this response:

“Not sure why you think we’d link to this considering we have a very similar article on our site already, so no thanks.”

If I had taken the time to do more internal searches on the site using the main keywords for my client’s piece, I would have caught this and not bothered them. This amounted to wasted time for both me and the webmaster, and it had the added benefit of making me feel extra idiotic, since I had violated my number one rule!

I took this experience as a good reminder that no one is above making mistakes, but even now, I’m kicking myself for it.

3. Using the wrong name

While I’m not a fan of being addressed as Webmaster or Sir (seriously, that happens more times than I can count), it’s even worse when someone addresses me by the wrong name. I’m even okay with a misspelling; I am not okay with being addressed as Kelvin. I’m not a fan of Mr. Joyce, or just Joyce, either. I occasionally get emails addressed to Jay, but he’s our CEO, so I just grin and bear that. I will never get over Kelvin, though!

There are a lot of sites where it’s almost impossible to figure out the name of the webmaster. Sometimes they just use a moniker, or maybe there are 10 major writers and you aren’t sure which one will get your email. That is understandable, and most likely, “Webmaster” or something similar won’t be a giant offense there because they have to know it’s tricky to get a name.

What isn’t okay is sending an email to a webmaster called Laura Daniels and forgetting to change the name so you’re saying “Hi Isabelle!!” instead.

Just as I was writing this very paragraph, I received the following email in the screen shot below. Note that it represents everything bad about an outreach email. The [FNAME] bit is always a nice fail.

famous bloggers

You know where emails like this go? In the trash.

4. Assuming the person getting your email has no power

This one really gets under my skin. I once got an email saying “ask your boss if he’ll send you to x meetup!” which was really annoying because I am the boss, and anyone checking my site could see that I own the company. I’ve also seen emailed surveys with no selection to choose that you are indeed the boss and the end of the line. Highly bothersome stuff.

There are cases when you really and truly do not know who you need to speak to, though. I ran into this recently myself when doing some outreach work for a scholarship. I found numerous contacts listed for the financial aid office, but it was unclear which person I needed to contact.

However, instead of assuming I had the wrong person automatically, I wrote the emails as if I did and then briefly apologized if I did have the wrong person and asked if my email could be forwarded to the correct individual. As far as I can tell, that didn’t offend anyone.

5. Email is too long or too short, with no clear expectations

We’ve experimented with all types of emails for outreach. You read all sorts of advice about how to get your email read, and some of it involves making that personal connection.

While I agree with that, I think it’s very obvious when that is disingenuous. I get emails asking for me to participate in a group interview, and it takes me five minutes to read the emails.

I also get some that are so short they’re practically rude. It’s hard to find middle ground here. I’ve recently responded to an email where I asked, “What exactly are you asking me to do?,” and that was after reading the email three times. No one has time for that sort of thing.


Your subject line is critical here, so make sure you aren’t being vague or trying to catch their attention with loads of emojis. Even when I’m emailing my team about how I have to run out for a bit, I try and get their attention with a subject as simple as “out for a bit!” Then, in the body, I tell them for how long. I used to say way too much in cases like that (and probably still do), as I always feel like I owe everyone an explanation, but honestly, all they care about is that I will be unavailable for the next hour. They don’t care that I have a doctor’s appointment or need to run to the bank.

When you’re going to ask a webmaster for something, use a clear subject line (like “interested in your feedback for my latest article on x site”) and don’t write eight paragraphs in the body. Don’t send a ton of images or attachments or throw in five URLs for them, either. Keep it simple and to the point.

6. Trying to get a link on a dead site

A very well-known and respected brand keeps emailing me about getting a link on a local news site that I run that has not been updated in close to a year.

Not only did they email me once, they’ve now emailed me three times and at every single address listed on the site. It really has made me lose respect for the brand. Why aren’t they paying attention?

7. Hammering the same person with outreach, over and over

I appreciate a follow-up. I do not appreciate being sent the same email every few days for weeks on end, with various changes to it such as “maybe you missed this email the last 10 times?”

I must have told some sales guy 50 times that I do not need the service that he offers, but in addition to trying to change my mind (“Have you considered how not offering our video conferencing package to your clients is costing you money?”), he also emails me again, with another initial outreach email, like he’s never talked to me before. I feel like all this guy does is try to figure out ways to sell me his video conferencing system and that he won’t rest until one of us dies.

I’ll tell you something. If I ever am in need of a system like that, I’ll go with anyone but his company.

I’ll also add that you should consider not emailing the same person with every single new piece of content that you put out. Just because I’ve helped you out once doesn’t mean I want to help you out every single day.

If this is how you work, consider separating that one big email list into five or so smaller ones, and rotate the lists each time you have something new. Otherwise, you’re just becoming annoying and I’ll eventually start ignoring you.

To summarize:

  1. Don’t bother people who do what you do.
  2. Don’t bother people who have the same content you’re offering.
  3. Get the right name.
  4. Don’t think the person you’re emailing has to ask her boss for permission to do whatever you want.
  5. Keep it short and to the point. Give the recipient a clear idea of what you want.
  6. Don’t email dead sites!
  7. Don’t bug people.

Remember how many emails you get, and delete, every single day. I can’t leave my computer for 15 minutes with getting 10 emails! If you want to get through the clog and get that email opened, you need to up your game, because it’s only getting muddier.

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