What is Blogger Outreach?
Blogger outreach is a trending buzzword that when done correctly can be an effective link building strategy. When done wrong, it can lead to a penalty. Take heed of these tips, strategies and warnings before starting a blogger outreach campaign.
Before embarking on a blogger outreach strategy it’s important to identify a specific purpose. For SEO campaigns, this is usually the acquisition of relevant and contextual (page or domain contextual) links. For online reputation management (ORM) campaigns, this is usually the suppression of a negative through rankings or link building.
The campaign purpose will drive the specifics so knowing what you want to accomplish is crucial.
Blogger Outreach Definition
3 Blogger Outreach Strategies
About half of the work my company does is alter ego (What is an Alter Ego?), and half is about the real person. It’s a conversation I have with each client and I help them decide the best course of action based on their employment, future employment, age and expectations.
How to Do Blogger Outreach
Blogger outreach can be as simple as sending an email. It can be as difficult as a multi-part campaign designed to attract the attention of your target, begin interacting, start a conversation, and eventually lead into your request for them.
When I started blogger outreach for myself about 8 years ago I simply emailed a few SEO and marketing bloggers I knew and asked if I could write a guest post. Almost all of them agreed because we already had a relationship. A few never responded so I would follow up on Twitter making sure they received my email. That is the easiest approach if you already have the relationships.
What I do now is more complicated. For each client I write personalized emails with a subject line intended to get them to open the email, and the body of the email is intended to quickly grab their attention. Most cold outreach emails (these are definitely “cold” as in we have had no previous contact and they’re not expecting my email) get trashed and never opened. You want to overcome this tendency to ignore an email by utilizing what you know about human behavior. I’ll dig into human behavior later in the guide.
Your email can be as simple as this.
Subject: Guest post from Brandon Hopkins?
Hey John, I hope all is well! I saw a Tweet last week that you had published an article about why cats are better than dogs. I loved your article and my mom (a cat lover) would certainly agree.
Being a dog lover, I wanted to write a rebuttal that I think your readers would like. How does this sound?
- 19 Reasons Dogs are Better than Cats
- My Dog does this; Your Cat NEVER will do it
- I Grew Up with 7 Cats, but I will Never Go Back, Here’s Why
If you think any of those posts sound like a fun, let me know and I’ll get it sent over to you for you to review.
Thanks again John! I love your blog!
Now please understand that I don’t really care for dogs or cats. I don’t want any confusion on that subject. I have kids and a wife that I love and chickens that are productive. The bottom line is that dogs and cats don’t lay eggs. Please don’t feel the need to write me an email extolling the virtues of a dog or cat. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
How to Scale Blogger Outreach
Reading that last section appeals to people getting started with blogger outreach. All you have to do is send an email! When I was writing all of my own guest posts it was manageable. I would write about 2-4 per month and that would only require an hour per month of emailing bloggers to find a couple interested websites. People already knew me from forums, other guest posts, Twitter, or by reading my site so it was an easy sell.
When I began to do blogger outreach for clients, you don’t have any leverage. You’re literally starting from scratch.
- Build the backstory. You need a legitimate website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and then industry specific sites.
This backstory is essentially the alter ego. It needs a picture (Pixabay.com is great for this) and complete profile. I always have one of my writers create the first biography that will be published on the website. All of the other writers reference that bio to maintain consistency.The website must look good. I hire a graphic designer to create a logo in multiple sizes so we can use it across each platform. The consistency helps sell the alter ego. I always use free WordPress themes on my sites, but make sure that my team knows they need to be customized with a sidebar and a couple seed posts.The social media accounts need followers and action. This is different for each platform, but having 5,000 Twitter followers and 25 Facebook likes looks strange. Make sure everything makes sense to a real person because a real person will decide whether or not they publish your article.
- Decide on direction. I would never use an alter ego client that is a electrical engineer or airplane mechanic for three reason. First, most of my writers wouldn’t be able to intelligently write on those subjects. Secondly, there aren’t very many airplane mechanic blogs and I want to be able to have a higher volume that just reaching out to 200 total websites on the subject. Third, an airplane mechanic can spot a writer who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If he thinks it’s fishy, he won’t publish your content. Choose your alter ego wisely and don’t be afraid to experiment until you find a good industry.
- Don’t send emails individually. If you’re sending less than 50 emails, just do it manually. If you want to send more, get some help. I don’t mean paying a guy $2 an hour to send your emails, there are services for that. My favorite is PitchBox. I’ve also used Hubspot for a client campaign and liked their interface. They are not comparable, but two that I have used recently. Last month I sent over 20,000 emails (2018 Update: We now send over 50,000 emails monthly!) through Pitchbox. You don’t want to try and do that manually!
- Hire some help. When I first started with blogger outreach I needed to understand the process so I could train new employees and make videos showing them each step of the process. Now when we onboard new employees, my most senior outreacher can show the new recruit a few videos and give them a quick overview on how things work. They will certainly have questions but they will still help alleviate the load.
- Test EVERYTHING. I literally mean everything. If there is a way to get a 1% increase in the amount of people who open my emails, I want to know. To that end, I literally test everything. This is much easier in Hubspot as they have A/B split testing built into their email system. It is still very limited, but better than Pitchbox who doesn’t offer any split testing.
All Outreach is an Exchange of Value
What do I get out of this deal? What’s in it for me? You’ve likely heard those questions before. Before committing to doing something for you, I need to know what you’re going to do for me. This is called an exchange of value. I will do ABC if you will do XYZ.
The simplest (and least successful in my experience) exchange is monetary. If you publish this post I will pay you $50. Many bloggers don’t like to admit (or recognize) they have a price. Most of the time, they amount you offer will not entice them to do anything.
Think about it this way, if you were a legitimate company, would you publish an article on your company blog for $50? I certainly wouldn’t. The last time I published content I was paid to publish was in 2008 and the company was buying 100 posts per month across my private blog network that was about 500 unique domains. I wouldn’t even answer emails for people asking for a single post. On my company sites there is almost no amount of money that I would take to publish a post. I say “almost” because everyone has a price!
The best way (also in my experience) to exchange value is through content. Content is the backbone of content marketing (who knew?). I start every email conversation with the amazing content that we will create to publish on the target site. I give specific examples of titles that can be published and this is good for at least a 25% response rate. Your emails won’t get responses if the value exchanged is of no actual value.
Your content must be excellent. Fiverr won’t cut it. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but excellent. There is a big difference. Most of my writers are on TextBroker. TextBroker takes a fee but it’s a fee I’m happy to pay because they manage the process, recruit the writers and it’s one less thing I have to think about.
Some bloggers have guidelines they ask you to follow. The rules are unimportant and completely arbitrary, but they want them to be followed. If you don’t, most of them will reject your article. It’s human nature, they worked hard to create these rules and see it as a sign of disrespect if you can’t follow them. Do what they ask and then tell them you tried to follow the guidelines and you’ll have a new best friend. You’ve shown them respect and they will do the same to you…once again, human nature.
Depending on the nature of the link that you’re requesting (ghost writing vs bio link) you might want to include authority links. Some people are still living in the dark ages where they believe linking out to other sites can hurt them. In that case you don’t want to link out, but most people are OK with outbound links as long as they’re relevant.
Always include at least one relevant image. This is a tough thing to do in some cases, but at least include one image that is OK to use according to the Creative Commons license. Send that along with your article, the link to the image and tell them what CC license it has. That way they’ll know if they can legally publish the image you’ve provided.
High Volume or High Quality?
My normal process is to identify targets, find the best person to email (along with their first name whenever possible) and then begin sending out the email sequence. I have a guy who goes through every website verifying the name and email of the best person. This is time consuming and becomes costly when you send more than 1000 emails.
Until a few months ago this was the process but I began testing to see if the budget was better spent on sending a higher volume of email but each with a less personalized approach. Rather than, “Hi Mark,” we might end up with, “Hi there,”. It is certainly less personal and looks more like spam, but would that be OK?
I recently tested this idea with an alter ego client. In total we sent out 889 emails and received a 25.5% response rate. This is much lower than I’ve seen in this same industry. By comparison, another client in the same industry has a 53% response rate, more than double when personalizing the emails.
That proves that personalization is important, but by sending out 889 emails I was able to triple the total number of emails sent, and still had more than enough opportunities to publish content. I saved money and was able to get the work done much quicker even though the emails were less personal.
What’s the answer to the question of quality or volume? The answer is yes. Yes you should personalize and yes you should work in high volume. Some campaigns will require a personal touch while others don’t require any personalization.
Can I Buy Outreached Guest Posts?
Yes, but not easily or affordably. I get about 5 emails every week from people with a list of “real blogger outreach” in which they claim to have contacted each of these websites and can now publish a post. This is a complete lie. 99% of “blogger outreach” is a lie! These lists are very similar and you can even find high profile sites like Forbes. Nobody reached out to Forbes asking for a guest post. Someone found an author and now everybody is reselling that guy until his account gets blocked.
I get about 5 emails every week from people with a list of “real blogger outreach” in which they claim to have contacted each of these websites and can now publish a post. This is a complete lie. 99% of “blogger outreach” is a lie.
The rest of the list is generally composed of low quality PBN sites. If you can’t spot a PBN you might think these are good links. They will cost anywhere from $5 to $100 per post. They are very low quality and are more likely to end in a penalty rather than a ranking increase.
For the last 10+ years I’ve proved to my clients that I know what is effective because I have tested everything possible. Naturally I have also bought many of these “outreach” posts which are nothing more than a PBN. I’ve also bought from every company I can find who sells “blogger outreach” type posts and packages. The most I have spent was about $500 per post and I have never once found a vendor who is actually doing outreach and securing posts based on that outreach.
These vendors are sometimes selling a decent product, but it’s not real blogger outreach.
What about it’s Hard to get Links in This Industry!
I certainly understand! In some industries it’s very difficult to find relevant sites and even more difficult to get them to publish a post. There are some industries that blogger outreach is not a viable solution. I’ve turned down a couple clients over the years who specifically wanted outreach but we were unable to figure out a way to do it.
Most of the time, however difficult it may be, blogger outreach is still possible. That’s where tangentially related keywords come in. I’ll give you an example of a campaign that was difficult.
My client was a debt settlement company. The debt settlement industry is very competitive and asking a competitor to link to you isn’t going to work. Rather than target those people we did two things.
- Target tangentially related keywords.
A tangentially related keyword is simply a keyword that is loosely connected but relevant enough that it makes sense. For example, rather than “debt settlement” we targeted companies offering other types of settlements. These included attorneys who settled estates, arbitrators who settled civil matters, and other similar (but non-competitive) people and keywords.
- Target related industries.
Since debt is a financial product, we targeted personal finance bloggers offering both free content as well as an offer to pay for placement. Personal finance bloggers often are willing to spend 3 hours clipping coupons to save 35 cents. Appealing to that frugality and desire for more income helped pave the way for a mutually profitable relationship.
Along with that, personal finance is an extremely easy industry to write for. Coming up with unique titles and articles is easy for any decent writer. We had an unlimited amount of great content to share.
- Ghost write for websites.
This technique is much more difficult and usually leads to less relevant links. The idea is that you’re giving the blogger free content. They can use it as their own and even keep their own byline. You’re adding relevant links inside the article, which includes one to your client.
- I don’t need a link.
The pitch is that you’re looking to build your personal brand and want to be well known as a blogger so you’re just looking to have the great content published so you can tell people you’ve blogged at their site. You would love a byline link, but they can remove it if they would like. The key is to embed a link to your client along with other contextually relevant and authoritative links. If your client link is one of the four links in the body of the article, and you’ve done it well, it will be hard to identify the natural from the unnatural.
9 Things to Learn from my Mistakes
- Female names work best. I have tested this extensively. When sending an email from “Stephanie” rather than “David” I will see over 10% more responses. I don’t care to speculate to the reason, but in my testing, it’s a fact. Therefore at least 90% of the emails we send are from a female name. Some of my campaigns have a response rate (not open rate, actual responses) above 60%. That means that over 60% of the emails we send elicit a reply.
- Think like a human. You’re a human, act like it! If you received an email with your subject line, would you open it? If not, test new subject lines. Would you reply to your email? Think about these things. What emails do you open, only to find out they’re spam? How did you know it was spam? All of these questions will lead you to answers. Answers come from thinking like a real human would think.
- Test headlines at Mechanical Turk if you’re unsure. I have done this a couple of times for blog post titles. Which title is the most likely to be clicked? Which title draws out an emotional response? For less than $5 you can get a lot of information about which of your titles people think is best. Keep in mind that most of these workers are not in the United States and English is not their first language.
- If English is not your first language, outsource. The best way to know if an email is spam is just to read it. If you can quickly spot spelling or grammatical errors, it is likely spam. Real companies hire real people who know how to read and write in English. Spammers are looking for a quick buck and don’t usually bother with spelling and grammar.
- You must reach out from the domain you want to build a link on. Bloggers immediately discard free hosted email accounts so use your alter ego or client domain to send from.
- Human behavior is a powerful ally. If you can elicit an emotional response to an email, you can guide the reader toward the path you want. This is why reading a novel can make you love or hate the characters even though they are fictional. My favorite emotions to exploit are ego and guilt.
- To target someone’s ego, you need to give a sincere compliment. I say sincere because anyone can see a fake compliment a mile away and will ignore you. To successfully start a conversation you need to pay a compliment that is more than, “Great blog!” Your compliment should be (on Twitter/Facebook is my favorite because it’s public) more akin to, “Your post about 11 ways to succeed at a new job is life changing! Do you think #7 about making friends applies if you’re the boss rather than an employee? Thanks again!” Wow! Can you imagine receiving that compliment? You would certainly respond and then the conversation is started.
- To target guilt is as simple as asking if you’ve offended them, but ask in a submissive way. For example, my final outreach email always employs this tactic, “Since you haven’t replied to my other emails, I thought I might have offended you and I’m sorry if I’ve offended you. That certainly wasn’t my intention. Please know this is the last email I will send you. If you would like to respond I would love that, but don’t feel like you need to, you won’t hear from me again otherwise.”