A key component of link building that the SEO industry swears on is email outreach. Even while it appears to be quite simple on the surface, there are a number of less visible obstacles that could stand in your way.
I published a piece titled “I Just Deleted Your Outreach Email Without Reading” back in 2016. I don’t feel sorry, either.
Everyone adored it.
I was so frustrated with the poor outreach templates that I had to write that post. I felt bad for the individuals who were sending and receiving them. So I went ahead and gave some logical suggestions on how to make your outreach emails appear more legitimate and less like SPAM.
My post undoubtedly assisted many people in enhancing their outreach emails and obtaining high-quality connections to their material. I must say, though, that after reading it again five years later, some really important suggestions are absent.
You’re about to find out why if you’ve tried to get links with “excellent” outreach emails but it didn’t work.
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Link outreach experiment with a 17% success rate
I recently went out to get some editorial links for my favorite keyword research resource. I hired a company to search the prospects and create a project in Pitchbox so that I could save some time. Then, in order to personalize each email, I individually reviewed each prospect and made a few tiny adjustments to the outreach template.
These were the results:
~200 link prospects manually reviewed
111 emails sent (with a 41% response rate)
19 links acquired
14 offered a “deal”
3 said “no”
My outreach campaign results in Pitchbox
A link acquisition rate of 10% or above is seen as a respectable outcome (when you don’t buy for links), much alone 17%, according to feedback from my SEO pals.
And I am aware of your thoughts. My success was solely due to the Ahrefs name being associated with me.
True. But to be honest with you, I was actually hoping for a 20%+ success rate because:
I had a high-quality resource to pitch (it was based on data research and first-hand experience)
I had the Ahrefs brand and reputation helping me out
I had a list of carefully selected link prospects, and I manually reviewed each of them
I had a well-written outreach template (this one is subjective, though)
I added a fair bit of personalization to each email
Given all that, why would people NOT give me a link?
Well, here’s why:
Lesson 1. People won’t read your “quality content”
John Mueller, Google’s Search Advocate, stated in a recent Office Hours hangout that one strategy to get links that is also Google-friendly is to “[produce] content that you know would draw links” and “[reach] out to other sites” to let them know about it.
It seems simple enough, right?
The article I proposed is actually one of my best works of content ever. On the /r/BigSEO subreddit, I shared a TL;DR version, and it received nearly 80 upvotes and a silver award (which I made sure to mention in my outreach email for the sake of social proof).
This post certainly draws links, too! It has acquired “following” connections from 15 trustworthy DR50+ websites with 1,000+ monthly search visitors just in the past 30 days (no email outreach was used):
I had a good example of “interesting content that I know would draw links,” to put it another way (as described by John). How much did it contribute to my ability to find links to it, then?
I can only determine that by counting the praises I got in response to my outreach emails. And I’m sorry, I just got a little bit.
I received the unusual praise that none of the people I reached out to had read the piece I was proposing. Before responding to my email, I’m very sure they merely gave it a cursory glance.
I am not able to blame them. Would YOU take a break from what you were doing to read a 6,000+ word piece that a complete stranger presented to you in an email in exchange for a link?
Not from me.
So how did I gain links if none of these individuals really read my article?
Because of the high caliber of my content, I was able to craft an effective pitch and convince the other party that they would be linking to a reliable source without having to read it first. No one wants to connect to useless content, right?
So what makes your content great?
Wrong answers: length, details, images, etc.
Right answers: unique ideas, new research, experiments, the amount of work that went into it, etc.
You will quickly learn, though, that most people don’t care about your content, even if you have a pitch that is quite captivating. Maybe they’re too busy, maybe they’ve lost interest in the subject, maybe they don’t think a random individual can generate something interesting.
Let’s examine this last one in more detail.
Lesson 2. Your brand and reputation are a MASSIVE help
While I received very little praise for the story I proposed, I did receive a lot of praise for Ahrefs’ efforts and the caliber of the content we publish:
The majority of our links came from our fans in this manner.
Even without working on a “compelling pitch,” I was able to convince these people that my essay was fantastic and worthy of a connection. They had already viewed our work and adored it. They thus believed that the item I proposed would be equally as good.
In other words, rather than the content of the post itself, our strong brand and reputation seemed to have more of an impact on people’s decisions to link to my piece.
But what exactly is a “strong brand” if not a steady stream of engaging content? Our blog and YouTube channel have featured excellent content from the Ahrefs content team for many years. We were able to gradually spread the idea that “Ahrefs’ material Equals quality content” to tens of millions of people, which is now undeniably to our benefit.
Therefore, if you produce truly excellent content and people disregard your outreach emails, keep producing fantastic material and spreading the word to more people. Bricks were being laid every hour, but Rome wasn’t constructed in a day.
However, no matter how well-known and popular your business becomes, there will always be those who are unaware of you or who simply don’t care.
Here is how to handle them:
Lesson 3. People need a good incentive to take action
I therefore had a top-notch piece of content and a strong brand to support me. That, however, wasn’t quite enough for many individuals to provide me with a link.
I completely get where these people are coming from, too. I’m cold emailing them and asking them to amend their piece as if it were lacking anything without a reference to my post. This can occasionally come off as mildly offensive due to the rarity of such situation.
No matter how hard I attempt to mask it under my well chosen justifications, my link outreach email is really just a favor request. And when was the last time you helped out a complete stranger whose email you received? Let me venture a guess. Never?
It seems entirely natural to me that you must give before you can receive. There is just one issue: Google will penalize you if you offer anything in exchange for a link because link schemes are illegal.
What then do you do with these responses?
There isn’t, in my opinion, a method to persuade these people to give you a free editorial connection. They’ve made it apparent that they desire a trade-off, such as cash or a reciprocal connection.
Link buying is never a smart move. If someone was willing to accept payment in exchange for a connection, they most likely would link to anything as long as they were getting paid. Such actions leave a recognizable trail that Google will eventually recognize and penalize for “link selling” at some point.
All of the websites that the website connects to will then be marked as suspect for purchasing links and will receive warnings. If you have too many of these warning signs, search engines will punish your website for buying links.
So wait before you celebrate if you bought a few links and your Google rankings improved. Google might not penalize you for it for a few months (or until they release a new link spam update).
Actually, “link exchanges” aren’t all that horrible. A few years ago, when we looked at the prevalence of reciprocal connections, we found that 73.6% of the domains in our sample size of 140,592 had these ties.
Furthermore, there was at least a 15% overlap between the sites that linked to them and those that linked to them on 27.4% of the websites.
In other words, links between websites are rather widespread. Therefore, Google is unlikely to classify a valid link exchange between two worthwhile resources as suspicious.
Promiscuous link exchanges with unrelated, low-quality websites might get you into problems since they produce unattractive, shoehorned links that are useless to your readers.
In conclusion, it’s always wiser to play it safe and ignore those that want to do business with you. However, exchanging links with someone who offers you a top-notch resource that precisely complements your material shouldn’t harm your website.
Lesson 4. To get more high-quality links, you’ll need more high-quality link prospects
There are two main methods SEOs use to find link prospects:
Look up pages that have linked to similar content by competitors
Look up pages that have mentioned relevant keywords
Typically, the former is a little more difficult than the latter.
Your prospects of convincing someone to switch their link to your page are quite slim if they are currently connecting to one of your competitors. Though it’s still challenging to pull off, it frequently works better to try to persuade them to include your content alongside that of your competition (especially if yours offers a fresh viewpoint).
Searching for pages that mention something that is thoroughly discussed on your page is a far more successful tactic.
You mentioned X in your post, and I have a great page about it.
is a lot greater justification than to reach out.
The page you link to in your post is inferior to one I have regarding X.
And Ahrefs’ Content Explorer is the best tool for finding these pages.
For instance, the phrase “mechanical keyboard” is mentioned in approximately 180 000 pages in its database.
Unfortunately, 80% or more of these pages are trash and originate from sites that aren’t worth pitching because of the nature of the internet. To reduce your list of prospects to the very finest ones, you must use some filters.
Here are the settings you can start from:
Domain Rating: 30-90
Website traffic: 500+
One page per domain – Checked
Exclude homepages – Checked
Exclude subdomains – Checked
Live & Broken – Only live
Filter explicit results – On
Our prospect list is reduced by these filters from 180K+ pages to just 2,268 of the finest. If you’re manually sending outreach emails as opposed to automating the process, that’s still a lot, but you can always fiddle with the filters to find the ideal number of prospects.
9,482 pages were returned when I used these filters on my target keyword, “keyword research.” And even if I only allow posts from the previous year, I still receive close to 5K link prospects.
But as I previously stated, the firm had only gathered 200 link prospects for me. Why is that?
The reason for the low quantity was that their main strategy for finding link opportunities involved searching Google and scraping the top 100 results. But soon after I learned about Content Explorer’s capabilities, the agency staff informed me that this tool is now a part of their regular link prospecting procedure.
That’s not all, though. Additionally, you can set up email notifications to notify you whenever Ahrefs discovers new content containing your target term.
Although there are currently less filtering options available than in Content Explorer, this alert is still quite helpful for automatically identifying new link prospects.
Lesson 5. Your outreach template is only as good as your content
I kept attempting to come up with some irresistible logic or primal-reptilian-brain triggers that I could utilize to make my emails more appealing as I sent those 111 emails and read my outreach template numerous times.
I didn’t have any conceptions.
It’s possible that I’m not intelligent enough, or that such things don’t exist.
Either way, I have a theory that most of your link prospects already exist in one of the following three states before you even reach out to them:
State 1: They’re happy to review your pitch and consider linking to you
State 2: They want a “deal” no matter what
State 3: They will ignore you (bad timing, generally unresponsive, etc.)
And no matter what you write in your email, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to alter your prospect’s initial circumstances.
Yes, in certain extremely rare circumstances, a charming personalized email may in fact win someone over and convince them to link to you without charge—even though they typically prefer to make a sale. However, that level of personalisation is quite time-consuming and does not scale well.
Therefore, there is no need to stress about crafting the ideal version of your outreach template. These minute changes that seem to improve things don’t really change that much. You’ll be OK if you just keep it succinct and to the point.
A poorly designed outreach template, on the other hand, can quickly turn someone from being available for a chat to utterly ignoring you. I’m referring to those annoying outreach templates that use the same tried-and-true structure: These kind of generic outreach emails are automatically routed to the SPAM bin. Therefore, the more you depart from that structure, the better. You should attempt to respond to one straightforward question in your template if you want to have the best probability of outreach success:
“What makes your piece of content unique and link-worthy?”
Furthermore, without compelling substance to begin with, it is impossible to provide a convincing response to this issue.
Therefore, the quality of the material you’re trying to pitch will ultimately determine how effective your outreach template is.
Link outreach is hard
Let’s briefly recap what I shared in this post:
People rarely care about the quality of your content unless you have a solid brand to back it up.
Even with a strong brand and a killer piece of content, many people will ask for a “deal.”
There are hundreds of thousands of potential link prospects at your fingertips, but the vast majority of them are just SPAM (which will waste lots of your time if you don’t filter it out).
There’s no magic template that will turn your outreach campaign around. Your email pitch is only as good as your content.
Let’s face it, getting free links through email outreach is very challenging. But that doesn’t imply you should give up in annoyance and decline to do it.
You should make an effort to produce more notable material, market it vigorously, establish your credibility, and connect with intriguing individuals in your sector. Your email outreach will become easier for you as you do that more frequently.