Link outreach in the age of mistrust

Most link outreach is garbage. In this article, I explain how to do it better.

Link outreach in the age of mistrust

Every week, I get about 1-2 outreach emails from some agency or freelancer pitching a guest article on my blog. How many of them have I accepted or even responded to? Zero! And I'm not alone.

Good vs. bad outreach

Let's look at an example. The goal is not to publicly shame anyone, so I masked the name of the person and agency. At the end of the day, I understand the game and that people in this field make a living.

A couple of things annoy me about this example and 99% of outreach emails I get. I’ve built and led several link building teams over my career. Explaining what’s wrong with this example is a manual for what good outreach hopefully at the same time, what good link building looks like.

First, the subject line. The sender clearly hasn’t looked at my site, otherwise, they would notice that I don’t have a single guest post or writer on it. So, the subject line doesn’t make me want to open the email in the first place because I know it’s irrelevant.

Second, what’s in it for me? Not to sound arrogant, but I don’t need “great topic ideas.” The more authoritative a site is, the better your offer has to be. You need to provide something that the site or the webmaster really needs. Ideas are cheap.

Third, even though the other mentions that they have been featured on Search Engine Watch, I don’t trust them because their title is outreach specialist. I know they want a link from me.

Fourth, had the author done their research, they would have pitched me a good topic right away. Why do I need to engage to hear about their ideas? Again, ideas come cheap.

Outreach is tough and backlinks still have a strong impact on organic rankings. I get that. But we live in a world of mistrust. Nobody is fooled by “great ideas for your blog” or the whole let-me-help-you-out-shebang anymore. Every mom blogger and their grandmother knows about the value of backlinks.

In Fake News, Blockchain, and E-A-T, I wrote about the Expert Graph and QDT (Query Deserves Trustworthiness) in the context of design and layout. However, guest posts by unqualified authors or links to irrelevant sites might be just as harmful for the perception of a site.

In the Panda Questions I reference ever so often, Google points out questions that can be answered with “no” if a site allows low-quality guest posts.

Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don't get as much attention or care?

This leads me to the logical follow-up question: how do you do it better?

Before we jump into tips for better link outreach, let me just say that there is a geographical component. Oldschool outreach as shown above might still work in some countries, but certainly not the US or Europe. I’ve seen conversion rates of (bad) cold outreach drop down to 0.5-1% over the years.

The best links come organically because you have a) a strong reputation and credibility, b) something valuable to say, or c) data that support something that goes against common belief. However, if you rely on guest posting for link building, you better bring it!

Look at the guest posting criteria of a site like Future, for example. They want only the best. Or take Andrew Chen, general partner at a16z and one of the founding fathers of Growth. He has guest posts on his site (example), but they’re written by experts, exclusive, and come with valuable insights. Think about the best article you could write for your own blog and then think about pitching that as a guest post. That’s the bar we’re talking about these days.

As I mention in The demise of amateur content, content is getting more expensive as the bar for high quality raises. So, if you want to land a guest post on a valuable site, create something that’s valuable and pitch that.

Don’t beat around the bush. When you reach out to a site, both parties know that you want to leverage the reach and the authority of that site. Save everyone time and get to the point (stay polite, though). If it’s a great piece of content, it’s hard to say no to. Even better, when it’s already written and the site owner can assess it on the spot.

The best pitches come from warm intros and relationships. Casting a wide network and building connections in industries goes a long way. Just like a strong reputation becomes more valuable for content creators, the value of a link builder is determined (in part) through their relationship network.

In conclusion, the best outreach is the one you don’t have to do. The second best outreach is a win-win for both sides.