Building backlinks isn’t just for SEOs. If you want your content to rank in search engines, you need to build backlinks to it.
The trick, of course, is to identify the writers and editors who could create those backlinks, and then reach out in a way that earns you the links.
In this article, we’ll talk about who these people are, how to reach out to them, and tips for getting a positive response.
Who Are “Backlinkers”?
Backlinkers are content producers who typically share researched facts, graphs, quotations, and other authoritative tidbits in their content. When they make a comment that could be perceived as opinion, they share a proof element to back up their claims.
Backlinkers may be industry leaders, bloggers, or authors. Most often they share this content in blog posts, linking back to their source as a form of attribution. But they also create backlinks in other pieces of content, including ebooks, content upgrades, or slide decks.
There’s an Art to Building Backlinks
To begin, your content needs to be share-worthy and quotable. Then, when reaching out to backlinkers, keep it simple: reach out to them an email.
But beware. First, finding their email address is rarely easy. And second, it’s tempting to resort to email templates to facilitate the process, which is a big mistake.
Many SEO and outreach courses provide templates for their students to use when communicating with backlinkers. On the front end, that seems like an efficient way to integrate this tactic, but on the backend, from the perspective of a thought leader who receives those emails, templates are an authority-breaker.
Here’s what I mean by that.
Over the years, I’ve received tens to hundreds of the exact same email. The details may change, but the format and phrasing are identical. The first of these emails may have gotten past my spam meter, but it didn’t take long for me to see the pattern and dismiss them as junk.
This is my opinion, and you may disagree with me, but using templates brands you as a beginner, not as someone who creates top-quality content that I should consider backlinking to.
The outreach emails I respond to are unique. They typically come from someone I have relationship with already, and if not, they are obviously written directly to me—not 100 generic recipients.
I can give you a few tips for crafting these emails, but you must follow the format loosely, then adjust the words to suit each specific situation.
The Structure of an Outreach Email
Remember, there are no rules. I’m giving you a framework to get you started, but don’t hesitate to adjust, tweak, or overhaul it to suit your needs.
Here’s the basic structure of this type of email:
- Greeting or introduction
- The reason for your email
- An intriguing statement, an offer to make things easier, or an offer to return the favor (NOT money!)
- If needed, credibility
Keep your email short and simple. And make it easy and beneficial for your recipient to comply with your request.
Asking for a Backlink
Asking for a backlink is inherently a selfish transaction, which is why so many templated outreach emails get ignored. To succeed, you need to communicate the value to your recipient if they comply.
Here’s an example that was sent to me. Though I don’t know the sender, her request was easy to implement and added value to my page. In other words, it was obvious that she took time to make sure the link did more than give her a backlink—it improved my page as well.
Hey Kathryn, I was reading your post Marketing Resources: Useful Links for Content Marketers - and I noticed you have linked to [one of our competitors] as a tool you recommend in the article. The link can be found in the middle of the post just below "Twitter analytics". Here's a screenshot of that: [link to screenshot] Our tool, [product name], is similar to [competitor name] and I was wondering if you could add us to your post as an additional alternative. The main difference between our tool and [the competitor] is that ours is not just a prospecting software but also an outreach CRM. We can provide the necessary content to add to your post, and we'll also promote this across our socials. How does that sound? No worries, if this isn’t something you can do Anyway how are things on your end and what are you working on at the moment? Perhaps we can help with something you are working on and maybe collaborate a bit. Let me know! Thanks for reading my email and have a nice day! Cheers,
Again, I don’t know the person who sent this to me, but I appreciated the friendly tone of the email. Notice that the greeting, or friendly exchange, comes at the end of the email. That makes it feel less like a template, which usually has the greeting at the beginning.
She also makes it easy for me to evaluate her request. She tells me where on my page to find the competitor link. And she doesn’t ask me to replace that link—simply to add hers as well. That struck me as less self-serving and probably influenced me favorably.
Finally, adding a useful resource to this page does make the page more valuable, and the product she asked me to add is reputable. In short, I didn’t mind the request and I added the link to my page.
Asking for Your Link to Replace an Existing Backlink
Here’s an email I received recently. To give you some background, this came from an acquaintance who is a marketing director and a writer. While I haven’t met her in person yet, she has written articles for me and is a member of one of the Slack groups I participate in.
Hey Kathryn, How are you? Hope all is well! Quick question: I came across this article you wrote: [domain/infographics-ultimate-guide/]. I noticed you link to [a well-known blog] on the term: "The Do’s and Don’ts of Infographic Design". Would you be willing to update that link with an in depth guide on Infographic Design my team put together? The URL is [domain/infographic-design/]. It's a bit more informative than the [well-known blog] article, and much more recent with plenty of examples too! I understand you might not be able to update the post, but if I CCd [the new editor] on a separate email, do you think you would be able to change it? If there is anything I can do to help you in return, maybe even provide you with a promo code for your readers to save on [our product]? Just let me know! Looking forward to hearing back from you!
Notice how this loosely follows the structure I outlined above. It opens with a short greeting; we’re friends, so I appreciate that. On the other hand, if I didn’t know her, I might prefer an introduction: who she is and where she works.
The subheading, “Quick question,” signals the reason for the email, which is detailed in the next three paragraphs. Notice that she acknowledges I might not be able to comply with her request but offers to help in any way she can. Here, she mentions the new editor of the blog, confirming she knows why I may not be able to help her.
And finally, she offers to return the favor by giving me a discount link for my email subscribers. Her product would be a good fit for my audience, so that’s worth considering. Be careful about offering rewards, though. This woman is a friend, so her offer comes off as kind. I’ve had people offer monetary rewards, which is a big turn-off for me. Friends don’t pay one another for favors, and links should never be “for sale” on your blog.
In this case, no credibility is needed here because I already know her, but she does make a friendly sign-off.
This type of request is often very successful. The key is to treat your recipient as a real, live, flesh-and-blood person. Which, being translated, means you should write a personal email, not use a template.
Whenever possible use details that communicate you know who your recipient is, what their blog is about, or what impressive things they’ve done. Make your email about them, and don’t put any conditions on your request. Following these guidelines, you should be able to secure at least a few backlinks to your resources.
What Not to Do
I just received an email that is a good example of what you need to avoid.
My name is Allison and I work at [brand I’ve never heard of], the go-to media collaboration tool for the entire content lifecycle. I noticed that you recently wrote about presenting video here: http://domain/remark-presentation-tool/. I found your piece to be very interesting! We created a well-written and extensive piece with tips for presenting media reels that really complements your piece: http://herdomain/tips-showing-client-media-reel/. It’s already received thousands of views since it was published. I really think that you and your readers would enjoy it. Would you be interested in sharing our post with your audience? We’d really appreciate it! If not, just let me know and I won’t follow up. Thanks!
Already, you’re probably seeing the template behind the emails I receive. All of them follow a similar pattern, including the ones I responded favorably to. But this one, in addition to being a template does several things wrong.
First, she says she found an article I recently wrote to be very interesting. Cool. Except I’ve never written for that website. Out of curiosity, I clicked through to see the article. Maybe it mentions me and she got confused.
But the article was a three-paragraph post by the owner of that blog—who isn’t me. It promoted a markdown software. And it had nothing to do with presenting media reels. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong again.
Allison goes on to insist that her piece complements mine and that it would be valuable to my audience. But saying your piece is valuable doesn’t make it so. Saying it’s appropriate for someone’s audience doesn’t make it true. And by now, I’m irritated at the mere suggestion because she obviously doesn’t know how to read—much less know me or my audience.
Templates are irritating enough. Getting details wrong makes this outreach attempt a complete waste of my time.
Building Backlinks the Right Way
Here are the rules for outreach:
- Don’t use templates.
- Research your recipients and learn as much about them as you can. Then get the facts and details right!
- Be friendly and respectful.
- If you ask for something, present it as a value-add.
- If you ask for something difficult or time consuming, offer to help in any way you can.
- If you’re able, offer to return the favor (be specific about how).
- Keep your email short and to the point.
And keep in mind, outreach isn’t a once-and-done task. Ideally, you want to build relationships that extend your network over time. Which is why it’s imperative that you do it right.
Feel free to reach out to people. But add as much value as you ask in return. That’s how you’ll get the favorable response you’re looking for.
This article is adapted from Kathryn Aragon’s book, The Business Blog Handbook. If you write, edit, or produce content for business blogs, this book is a must-read. Get your copy on Amazon.
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