Link building happens in the inbox. The Strategist may develop the spark of inspiration, but the real magic happens between the subject line and the signature of that outreach email.
This isn’t to downplay the other phases of link building; all your ducks have to be in a row first. But in many industries, if you’re going to get a link, it’s because of an email.
This article profiles The Outreacher, outlining the qualities and characteristics that make him or her a winner in the inbox.
While the content creator needs to know the audience valued by the linker, the outreacher needs to know the linker.
The Outreacher’s first and foremost responsibility is clarifying content benefit to that person. What does the recipient gain from the item you’re pitching?
“Content benefit” (to the audience) is pretty much the only value you can offer to links and resource page curators. But for bloggers and press, the “pitchable benefits” open up a little. With these recipients, you can pitch concepts, stories or offers of value, such as a product to review or story exclusivity.
And for other sites that accept sponsorships or advertising — including nonprofits or events — you’re offering other benefits, such as cross promotion, social proof, and even support if you can attend the event (which you should be doing). But sometimes, even financial support offers can be ignored if the outreacher has not built enough trust.
The Outreacher is used to the public; she doesn’t mind going out on a limb and greasing the social wheels.
Recently, a woman came to my front door selling vacuum cleaners. She remarked on immediately observable details to build quick rapport. I was holding my two-year-old, and she jokingly referred to him as our “security guard,” then asked when she could bring some vacuums over. I didn’t buy, but I did try to hire her — she had that spark that makes for an excellent outreacher.
It may be humor, tact or stellar listening skills, but a good Outreacher should have a sense for how to engage strangers in conversation, virtual or otherwise.
This “social savvy” may sound like a soft skill, but when it’s present, it’s a boon to the entire link-building team. And when it’s absent, you’ll pay in missed link opportunity.
I think the term, “relationship building,” is overused; it’s just a fancy way of saying “trust building.”
Of course, it’s the best case scenario if your favorite coffee buddy is a New York Times journalist or the webmaster of a high domain authority .edu resource page. But there are ways Outreachers build trust into their email conversations without adding addresses to anyone’s holiday card list:
Humans trust humans who have been vetted by other humans they trust. So, what can you tout?
Yes, we call linkers, and/or we give them a phone number where they can call us. We’ve mentioned this tactic in previous articles, as it’s a useful way to prospect for content ideas. (“Hey, what needs exist in your market?”) But offering a phone conversation in an outreach email is a great way to reassure the reader that you’re human.
SEOs and link builders are the nerds of marketing world. Who doesn’t like a good pivot table to organize? But the Outreacher, more than anyone else on the link-building team, needs a feeling-oriented personality streak.
Some may call this “relationship building.” I call it “being a human.” Call it what you want, just don’t treat potential linkers like a vending machine.
Email outreach is not about finding the optimal tactic and abusing it to death. — it’s about constant trial and error and trial again.
Testing Templates & “Best Practices”
Even after publishing a blog post and webinar on the importance of experimentation in email outreach, we’ve received emails saying, “Nice webinar, but where’s the template?”
Here’s the hitch:
There is no perfect template. And even if there were, it would be so quickly overused that its effectiveness would be dulled within a few months.
Unfortunately, in this industry, Outreachers have been trained to copy and paste formats from expert blogs instead of finding out what works for their campaigns and audiences.
In Section V of this post, we’ll provide a checklist of some items that an Outreacher may want to consider during template development, but beyond that, we highly encourage A/B testing your own ideas.
How to A/B Test Email Outreach:
One Major Rule: Make sure to test only one variable at a time. Try testing:
Just getting emails sent is a win, but it’s not the end. If you’ve done your job well, you will have created a new task: inbox monitoring.
Respondents may have questions the Outreacher has to relay through other team members or the client. They may have complaints and never want to hear from @yourdomain.com again. They may want you to know that email@example.com left five months ago, so please contact their replacement, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Outreacher manages all of these conversations — and leads them to the link — with the grace, efficiency and panache of a vacuum cleaner saleswoman.
An Outreacher knows when a “maybe” or confusion can transform into a “yes.” We do not condone badgering or repeatedly contacting people who don’t want an email, of course. But there are times when an email lands in the wrong inbox and could use a resend to another person within the same organization, or when a polite “no” from a former campaign can be rekindled into a “yes” for a more relevant content benefit.
Again, this is where experimentation expertise comes in.
The Outreacher is the only member of the link-building team with access to the success rate of the others’ work. He or she has the responsibility to respond to contacts with respect and also constructively relay issues to other team members. This is another area in which the Outreacher will be called upon to develop those spreadsheet skills.
When people ask us for example templates, we facepalm — not because we’re stingy about operations, but because email templates are so dependent upon the asset, the asset benefit and to whom it’s being pitched. It’s like asking a stranger to write a love letter for your spouse.
That said, we can offer our checklist. Below are some of the items the Outreacher considers as she builds out her request email:
The tactic being used helps us determine what information we need to gather.
For example, if I’m doing guest blogging, I don’t need a URL ahead of time that we’re building links to. What I’m doing instead is saying, “Hey blogger, you did a great job on this piece: xyz.com/blogpost. I’m trying to reach an audience with great content. I’ve gotten 1,000 shares before on a guest post, and I always share from my Twitter handle (@Twitterhandle).”
If I’m reaching out to a linker, then I’m going to need to make sure my template copy corresponds with the content creator’s finished piece. If I’m reaching out to a journalist, I need to double-check for previous related press mentions and so on.
Sometimes it makes sense to reach out as a member of the client’s team, but an Outreacher running that type of campaign had better make sure they’re very well acquainted with the brand’s outreach style.
At other times, an Outreacher will contact as a member of his own agency. Even so, he still needs to establish guidelines with the client. Can the client be mentioned in the email? Does the client need to look over pitches before they’re sent? What about email responses?
Communicate clearly and frequently beforehand to prevent fires later. (See checklist items G and H.)
The subjects lines can vary, but they should always:
It’s crucial to ensure that the email delivers on the subject line. Misleading emails violate trust.
How can we make this content pitch into an interesting story?
Your linker is busy — make it easy for him or her to skim the email and digest the benefit of saying “yes” to you. (Try doing this in the subject line, if the benefit is enticing enough.)
You can also test leading with the benefit versus placing it right before or after a link. Which works best for a particular group of linkers?
The Link Strategist will almost always want to be notified of outreach progress. In addition, the person in charge of delivering the content benefit should be given a draft of the email outreach template(s) for editing.
If the benefit is content, get the content creator to look over the pitch. If the benefit is a PR push, get the PR manager’s thoughts on your outreach.
In essence, you want input from someone who cares about what you’re pitching the most.
Holy penguin. We’ve reached the end of our Link Building Team series. For those of you who are just joining in, we covered four other members of an ideal enterprise link-building team over the past few months:
Not every link-building team will have the resources to break itself into five unique individuals, but whether you have multiple roles at one desk or a handful of employees for an individual role, I hope these articles give you an overview of the mindset for and approach to each aspect of link building.
Now go. Get out there, and make the internet a better-informed, slightly more gracious place than you found it.
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