Link-Building Outreach Strategies That Actually Work: A Case Study
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You’ve written the most amazing blog post ever. You hit publish. You wait.
And all that traffic you were hoping for doesn’t come.
Tons of experts (and people holding themselves out as experts) tell you that publishing articles is a surefire way to get some good SEO and build traffic. But, without more, that post may never get traffic or backlinks. It turns out, publishing and then just hoping the article gets found doesn’t work so well. Especially if your blog doesn’t already have high domain authority.
Writing a blog post is only half the battle. Promoting it is the other half.
As Billy Madison said, “You got a responsibility. If your dog is lost, you don’t look for an hour and call it quits. You get your ass out there and you find that f*cking dog.”
People who write content don’t necessarily love the promotion and outreach part because it can be time-consuming and labor intensive to figure out what to do (aside from actually executing on it), and they are not sure if their efforts will pay off. And, to be fair, it’s a bit tedious.
But, promotion is how you get people to actually read and link to the post you’ve spent so much time on.
Well, we ran a bit of an experiment.
We did two things.
First, we compiled a list of blog content outreach strategies to build backlinks.
We wrote this list based on a bunch of other articles we’d come across on the Internet. We picked the highlights from some popular SEO and marketing blogs like Backlinko, QuickSprout, and Hubpsot.
Generalizing for a moment: the problem with articles like those though, is, you have no idea if their recommended methods could be effective at all for you.
There’s one blog I like in particular, Backlinko by Brian Dean. It has tons of great advice, with case studies and examples. He pioneered the Skyscraper technique of link-building outreach.
He also posts articles about link-building outreach strategies like “17 Ways to Improve Your SEO in 2019,” showing case studies of how he ranks his blog posts. But, can techniques like these listed help your blog? As of today, his site already has a domain authority of 62 and a massive audience. Anything that his blog does, without any effort, is guaranteed to do better than a blog that, say, has a domain authority of 19.
Hey, our website has a domain authority of 19…
So, as for the second part of this two-part experiment: We tried out these link-building outreach strategies ourselves, and reported our results here.
For our test case, we wrote another article – Website Creation Questionnaire – and did outreach for it with the promotion methods we mention below.
Alongside each promotion method that we discuss below in this blog post, we’re reporting back on our results.
Here’s what this post is going to cover:
- What’s Outreach All About?
- Tools for Outreach
- Outreach Steps
- Outreach Management
- Outreach Techniques
- Link Roundup Outreach
- Skyscraper Technique Outreach
- Mention Outreach
- Related Blog Outreach
- Email Templates for Outreach
- Results and Next Steps
If you are already familiar with some link-building outreach tactics, you may be looking at this list and thinking, “Wait! You forgot about (insert: broken link building, resource pages, link reclamation, etc.)!”
You got me. While this post covers several popular link-building outreach tactics, it doesn’t cover all of them (here’s a great post that covers some other link-building strategies). We may add them and update this post in the future if you are interested, though.
This post is very thorough. So, in case you want to be able to take a copy of this guide to-go, we made it into a downloadable PDF as well. You can grab yours here:
Download our full PDF guide on link-building outreach strategies so you can refer to this later in your own link-building campaigns
What is Link-Building Outreach All About?
Before we dive into the methods we used, let’s talk about outreach, generally.
Broadly-speaking, “outreach” entails researching, and then messaging another person or company to get them to link to your content.
The goal of outreach is to get you backlinks and traffic from other reputable websites, which would in-turn boost your SEO and get your website and blog posts greater visibility.
Seems simple enough, yeah?
Find a relevant website. Find a contact person at that website. Email them or contact them on social media. They share your content. Yeah?
It’s a bit more complicated than that.
But, this exhaustive post is meant to go through everything you need to know to expertly execute several different outreach techniques and build valuable links to your website.
Now, I don’t want to oversell this to you and then you get frustrated at me for acting like outreach is so easy.
I’m sure you and I both know a few blogs that make it seem super-easy.
The truth is, outreach can be a bit of a grind.
(Many agencies end up foregoing the link building for clients themselves and outsource the work to white-label link building agencies.)
Researching to find the best opportunities for link-building outreach takes time and effort.
And, writing a good outreach email or message is a skill, and getting a response can be a numbers game.
Building links via outreach is popular with SEO professionals, so many reputable websites get tons of outreach emails. And a lot of the emails follow a similar template. So, those outreach emails can promptly end up deleted, unread, unless you can make your outreach stand out and be worth reading.
Not hearing back from a blog or website you reach out to can be frustrating, but from our experience, it’s a game of numbers and persistence. You may need to reach out multiple times to a particular blog to get their attention. Reply rates increase significantly when there is follow-up. And you will likely need to follow up two times. And, mixing it up between reaching out via email and social media can help.
Lots of blogs do outreach.
Over the years, I have been on the receiving end of hundreds, if not thousands, of outreach emails.
Pro tip: If you want your content to get a look from outreach, your email needs to be coherent, to-the-point, and have proper grammar.
Beyond the outreach email, the content itself has to be amazing to get consideration. Otherwise, it won’t be worth the time of the person you’re reaching out to.
But, all that being said, I don’t want you to get discouraged.
Outreach can be phenomenal for your link-building efforts to help your website’s visibility. Having done outreach in this experiment and seen the results, I won’t go back to just the “blog and pray” method of hoping my articles get my website visibility.
Heck, after I publish this very article you are reading, I’m going to do everything I mention below to promote this post. It’s a bit meta, sure.
Anyway, let’s move on to talk about the tools you need, and then we’ll get into the process and the tactics.
Tools and References for Outreach
There are some tools you will need to do outreach. Some of these tools will be used in multiple outreach methods. Others you’ll use once. Some of these tools are paid, others free.
These tools can help you do everything from researching opportunities to finding outreach contacts to sending emails and more.
This is going to be your go-to tool for getting contact information for people.
Hunter.io is a database of email addresses for a messload of domains. Chances are, if you are looking to get an email address for a specific person at a compny, you can either get that specific email address, or (something equally valuable, learn the standard email address configuration for that company (e.g. “[email protected]”).
The Google will be your friend through all of this. Important to your research to find articles to link to and people to reach out to is going to be using advanced search operators like “inurl:” and “intitle:” and “related:”.
This article from Ahrefs does an amazing job of giving you tips on Google search operators to help you find relevant websites and information.
Recently, Ahrefs has become my go-to SEO research tool.
Ahrefs is a paid premium tool that can help with most all of your non-Google SEO and link building-related research.
It can find topics, top-ranking articles, track your site rankings, do internal audits, and more.
Content Explorer is Ahrefs feature that we’ll be mainly focusing on for this article – it helps you research topics, get backlink profiles of websites and blog posts, and it can help you find new link opportunities.
SEMRush is another great SEO research tool. You can use it like Ahrefs to find top-ranking posts and see what other sites link to these posts.
I’ve used Ahrefs and SEMRush pretty interchangeably, though one can be better than the other for different things.
I personally prefer Ahrefs when researching for skyscraper technique content ideas. SEMRush is especially good in particular for its paid search-related research features.
Also, like Ahrefs, it’s a paid premium tool.
Buzzsumo is great for finding popular posts on given topics.
Buzzsumo is a research tool that gives you insights into particular keywords and domains to let you know the most popular articles on a given subject matter, or on a given website’s blog.
You can use Buzzsumo for related link outreach inspiration as well as some skyscraper topic ideation and competitor research.
Buzzsumo is a premium tool. Though you can get some information for free, you get a lot more with a paid account.
Ubersuggest is a freemium tool that helps with your blog and keyword research.
With Ubersuggest, you can search for terms, see how competitive keywords are, get suggestions for blog topics, content ideas, and also see backlink profiles to find who is linking to the top-ranking posts. It has a free tier as well as a $10 / month tier that gets you access to historical data.
Postaga is the Swiss Army Knife of link building. It does everything.
Postaga is a free all-in-one tool that brings the research, contact-finding, and email outreach aspects of link building into one app.
With Postaga, you can find outreach opportunities, get email addresses (through a built-in Hunter integration), and send out personalized email campaigns.
The Link-Building Outreach Process
While there are several different tactics and varieties of outreach that we’ll get into below, your process for outreach is going to be pretty similar for every type of outreach.
The process, essentially, is:
- Research and choose your blog topic
- Find relevant websites to your topic
- Note these target websites, with their company and author info in a Google Sheet or Excel doc that you will use to track this specific “campaign” as we’ll call it (check out our free downloadable link-building outreach worksheet for an example)
- Find contact info for each website
- Write and publish your blog post
- Write a template email for each category of outreach (also check out our free link-building outreach email templates)
- Reach out to your contacts using your template emails (making some personalizations in each email to make them unique and relevant for your recipient), noting in your Google Sheet or Excel doc your outreach date. This process is often referred to as blogger outreach.
- Note any replies in your tracking sheet
- X days later: Follow-up #1 with anyone who did not respond to your first email
- Note any replies in your tracking sheet
- X days later: Follow-up #2 with anyone who did not respond to your second email
- Also reach out directly to your contacts on social media if they are not responding to your emails
And that’ll be it, basically.
Real simple, right?
We’re going to get into the different outreach tactics and how to do the research for them. But before we do, we should get organized with managing our research efforts.
Next, we’re going to talk about managing your outreach.
Managing Your Outreach
Google Sheets or Excel is going to be your friend here.
You will absolutely need a spreadsheet to keep track of your outreach.
You will need columns for things like:
- Type of outreach (e.g. mention, skyscraper, roundup)
- Contact FNAME
- Contact LNAME
- Website URL
- Relevant blog post
- Skyscraper URL
- Outreach #1 Date
- Outreach #2,#3, etc. Date
Tracking all of this is going to be vital.
Pro tip: We came up with a downloadable spreadsheet for you so you can easily manage your research and outreach efforts.
Download our Link-Building Outreach Tracker Worksheet
This way, you don’t need to start completely from scratch.
Now that you have tools to manage your outreach efforts, it’s time to dive into the different tactics for link-building outreach and check the results from our experiment / case study.
Link Roundup Outreach
I want to start by talking about link roundup outreach because, for us, this had the most success.
The idea of link roundups came to us from this Quicksprout post that is pretty thorough, but I’m going to synthesize the most relevant points.
What is a “link roundup” you ask?
Many blogs and websites regularly publish “roundup” posts that basically serve to share recently-published relevant articles on a given topic.
You can easily find roundup posts covering nearly any topic with a simple search. No paid tools required.
Here’s what you do to find link roundups:
Go to your preferred search engine.
Search for the term (omitting the “ “ quotes): inurl:”link roundup” + “your topic / keyword”
“inurl:” denotes that whatever search results return, they will have the term “link roundup” in the URL.
Aside from that search, you may want to try intitle:”link roundup” + “your topic” to get some more varied results. This will return results of link roundups that will have “link roundup” in their page title, and also mention your topic on the page.
Here are some alternative search terms to consider:
- intitle:”link roundup” + intitle:“your topic”
- inurl:roundup + “your topic”
- Intitle:roundup + “your topic”
- “weekly link” + “your topic”
You can try a whole lot of different permutations, but here are the pieces I’d recommend for the roundup portion:
- inurl:”link roundup”
- intltle:”link roundup”
You can also add variants or modifiers to these terms for:
- Top posts
- Newsletter (some roundups articles are originally published as newsletters and then posted to their websites)
Following each of these, you can add either your keyword straight up, or an inurl: intitle:
Now, that’s great and all, but let’s kick things up a notch. We only want to find recent link roundup posts, so how do we do that?
Click “Tools” next to the search bar, and then choose “past month” so you only get results that are current and likely to accept new submissions.
And that’s how you will find link roundups.
Once you have these roundups, go to Hunter.io and look up contacts at the websites, and then add them to your worksheet.
So, how did we do in our link roundup outreach?
Of all of the methods, link roundups gave the best results.
First, we found 6 different sites doing link roundups on our topic of “web design”.
After reaching out to all of them, 2 added us to their link roundups, 2 said we weren’t a good fit (but 1 said they had another project for which we were a good fit), and 2 flat-out did not respond.
That’s a 67% response rate, and a 33% success rate!
The Skyscraper Technique
One popular method of outreach is the skyscraper technique, popularized by Brian Dean at Backlinko.
The Skyscraper Technique is a link-building outreach technique where you start by finding an article in your wheelhouse that has a ton of links to it, you make a better version of that article, and then reach out to people to get them to link to your article instead.
Doing the Skyscraper Technique is going to take you some planning from the beginning. So, if you already have your article ready to go and you just want to publicize it, you might not find success with this method.
To do your topic research, you may want to use Buzzsumo, SEMRush, or Ahrefs to explore different keywords and ultimately find high-traffic keywords and the top-ranking posts for those keywords.
With Ahrefs and SEMRush, you can look up a URL and see the domains that link to it.
For this exercise, I’m going to focus on Ahrefs.
You’ll go to Content Explorer and search for your chosen keyword.
Then you’ll see the top-ranked posts. Click on a post and you’ll see there is a tab of all the backlinks to the top-ranked post.
During this topic research, we’re going to find the referring domains – the other websites that link to these posts, so later we can reach out to them.
We’ll add these domains to a spreadsheet to keep track of them for our outreach. (With these tools, you can also export these results to a CSV file to save time from copying and pasting)
Next, you have to write a better blog post.
“Sure, I’ll just write a better blog post than what’s currently top-ranked. No problem.”
So by now you’ve found the top dog content. You know what websites you’ll be reaching out to for your backlinks.
Now, you need to put fingers to keys and come up with a better post than what’s currently top-ranked.
How are you going to do that?
Here are a few ideas.
If the top ranking article is 10 Tricks You Can Teach Your Cat – you can write a post that’s 20 Tricks You Can Teach Your Cat.
With these list-focused articles, the easy solution is to simply come up with more content.
Let me ask you this – Which is better – an amp that goes up to 10, or 11?
Obviously 11, because it’s one louder.
Make your content go up to 11.
If they wrote a blog post that’s 1,000 words, make your’s 1,100. Make your post 1 louder.
Some blog posts that only scratch the surface of a particular subject. If you can spot this in the leading post that you want to take down, adding more details to where the leading post skimmed, you can have something to pitch in your outreach.
Sometimes the best-ranking blog post is incredibly out-of-date. If it’s been king-of-the-hill for a long time because it accumulated backlinks over the years, maybe that content could use an updating for modern times.
If you find a post that has old or outdated information, you can reference some of the still-relevant points and information, but update it with new information.
Some blog posts are ugly as hell.
People hate ugly blog posts. Ugly blog posts make people sad.
If you can create a post with better visuals, maybe an infographic, your readers will find it more appealing than the current winning posts.
So with all of these ideas, write that blog post.
Once you have done your research, found your target blog post, and written a better post (either because it is longer, more up-to-date, better designed, or more thorough), you can reach out to other blogs.
For this method, you are going to find your contact using Hunter.io, and then reach out to them to let them know that your content is better than theirs.
How did we do at Skyscraper technique for our blog post?
For this post, I found 5 domains linking to the top posts on the subject and reached out to them all.
1 linked to our post. 1 did get back to me to discuss the backlink, but wanted money in exchange for the link, which we were not okay with. 3 of them ignored my outreach requests entirely.
So, that was a 40% response rate, with a 20% success rate.
Overall, I was surprised with how many responded. My assumption going in was that this would get no response, as the Skyscraper technique has become very popular among SEOs, and I assumed that my recipients would see my ask for a link and ignore it.
So, all things considered, I am pleased with our results from this effort.
Now let’s talk about mention outreach.
In your blog post, you should be linking out to other blogs and companies. External links are important.
For each other blog and company you mention with a link in your post, you will want to reach out to them.
Other blogs or articles that get a mention in your article with a backlink should be happy to hear that you mention them fondly, and hopefully they will share your article with their audience.
So, add to your spreadsheet the list of websites you link to, then use Hunter.io to find their contact info, and reach out to them seeing if they’d be willing to promote your article.
From this outreach method, you may not get a backlink from their website, but they may share the article on their social media accounts.
And, this could be the start of a good working relationship moving forward, as it puts you on their radar.
How’d we do with mention outreach?
So, for this one, I went a bit beyond just doing emails.
I also went to LinkedIn and Facebook, found the founders of the blogs and companies I mentioned, and messaged them directly.
We had 8 mentions in our blog post. We reached out to all of them, and heard back from 2 that shared our post. Beyond that though, the conversations that I started with those 2 website owners opened the door for possibilities of collaborating together in the future, 1 of which we are working on right now. That was a great additional win from the outreach.
So, for the mention outreach, we got a 25% response and success rate.
The mention outreach was particularly easy to facilitate compared to some of the other outreach methods, because I did not have to look far for people to reach out to; I just went to my own blog post.
Initially, I was expecting our mention outreach to perform better. I actually thought it would be the most effective of any of the outreach methods, because I thought that my outreach recipients would have been happy for the mentions and backlinks to their websites from my blog. But, I think my ask of, “Hey, maybe you could share / link to my post,” was not compelling enough for them to take action.
Related Blog Outreach
Beyond Skyscraper-ing, there is your “related” blog outreach. To do this, we reach out to other blogs that cover the general topic of our blog post.
Easier said than done, right?
For this, you could straight-up go to Google and search for any given topic and take note of the good blogs on the topic. That could get you a bunch of results, but you’d have to do a lot of sifting to find the good stuff.
And then, further winnowing down to find a website that is not a direct competitor that you think might want to link to your post, that could take even more time.
And lastly, you have to be wondering – even if I find a blog that is related to our topic / industry – why would they want to link to our post?
For every person you are reaching out to, they will need: 1) a reason to want to link to your post; and 2) an easy opportunity to act on your request.
If you reach out to a blog saying, “Hey, I see you cover sharks in your blog. We wrote an article about sharks. You should link to it,” that request forces the email recipient to come up with something.
So, what can you do?
Here’s a search term to try out:
What is this sorcery?
Google will actually tell you websites that are similar to a given website URL. Not for every website, but many of them.
Once you’ve got the relevant blog posts, you need that outreach.
So how did this work out for us?
We found one post in our topic area, and didn’t hear back from them.
Oh well… Can’t win them all.
In the future, I’m not sure how we could better execute this one…
As I mentioned above, the recipient needs a real reason to link to you, and an easy way to do it. Having good content, alone, is not going to inspire your email recipient to figure out how to link to your post. You will need a good pitch going in.
After all the work you do into researching, you will need to make sure your emails are good.
If your emails appear spammy or irrelevant to the recipient, they will get deleted. An article from the Postaga blog discusses how to write the perfect outreach emails for link building and ensure yours does not get rejected immediately.
His tips include things like:
- Ensuring you have the right email address
- Providing value for them
- Only using your best work
- Making the right ask
Below are the various email templates I used for different outreach methods, word-for-word exact copies. You will need to obviously alter them for your specific usage, but this should give you some idea of what to go on.
As you can probably tell by now, I really don’t want you to have to start from scratch when you try outreach.
So, I’ve made available a downloadable document with all of our email templates so you can easily copy and paste them into your email client and use them in your outreach campaigns.
Download our Link-Building Outreach Email Templates
One warning though – one of the hallmarks of a good outreach email is that it is personalized.
Do not use the same exact email for every recipient; they will pick up on the fakeness.
Also, aside from reaching out via email, consider using social media platforms like LinkedIn to message your contacts. Email inboxes can get inundated with unsolicited messages. Reaching out via social can help you get your target recipient’s attention.
So, start with checking out these outreach email templates below that I used to get some inspiration.
Or, if you weren’t impressed with our results and think you can do better… great!
What do I know?
Craft your own better outreach emails, then!
Link Roundup Outreach
Hey [insert name]!
I really enjoy your [topic] roundup posts. I just published this piece of content that I think would be perfect for your next roundup. [link to content]
It’s a detailed guide of questions web designers should ask new clients in onboarding and why. The article also has a downloadable PDF that readers can refer to.
Let me know what you think! I’d be happy to share your roundup on my social media platforms.
Thanks for the consideration!
Hey [insert name]!
I recently came across your article, [link], while searching for pieces on web design questionnaires.
I noticed that you linked to a great article on the topic – [link].
I wanted to give you a heads up that I recently published a similar article.
It’s like the article you mentioned, but it is a bit more thorough and practical, also giving readers the ability to download a PDF of the website creation questions to ask new clients.
I thought it might be worth a mention on your blog.
Either way, I like your article and appreciate what you do.
Hey [insert name],
Andy from Offsprout here. Hope you’re having a great day.
We’re big fans of your blog at [company name] and mentioned one of your articles in one of our recent posts about web design questionnaires for new clients in onboarding. You can check it out here: [insert link]
Feel free to give it a share, if you would be so kind.
Also since we’re complementary to each other’s audiences (we offer a robust WordPress website builder), I think it’d be great to have you guys do a guest blog post at some point (and vice-versa).
Let me know what you think.
Hey [insert name]!
I really enjoy your [topic] posts. I saw that you did a write-up about web design questionnaires not too long ago here [link].
I just published this piece of content that I think would be perfect for consideration in this post. [link to content]
It’s a detailed guide of questions web designers should ask new clients in onboarding and why. The article also has a downloadable PDF that readers can refer to.
Let me know what you think! I’d be happy to share your post on my social media platforms.
Thanks for the consideration!
Results and What’s Next
Overall, we put a lot of work into this outreach campaign.
It was the first time I engaged in a campaign this thorough, but I wanted to be able to see what real results we could get, and share them with you.
So, for those keeping score at home:
> Link Roundup: 6 Contacts; 67% Response; 33% Success
> Skyscraper: 5 Contacts; 40% Response; 20% Success
> Mention: 8 Contacts; 25% Response; 25% Success
> Related: 1 Contact; 0% Response; 0% Success
Overall, all these efforts to find and reach out to 20 contacts netted us 5 links. Overall, that’s a 25% success rate.
Now, you may be thinking, “AFTER ALL THAT, YOU ONLY GOT 5 LINKS?”
It’s about quality, not quantity. And we wrote a blog post targeting quality links.
And our response rate was a lot better than I thought it would be.
I would definitely do this again in a heartbeat, for all future posts.
Like I said in the beginning of this article, I will use these outreach methods on every one of my blog posts moving forward, including this very post.
Beyond these efforts, I would also look into the other link-building outreach tactics that I mentioned in-passing: broken link building, link reclamation, and resource pages.
As I said before: Writing a blog post without link-building outreach results in wasted effort.
Over the years, I’ve written many posts that I thought were amazing – long-form, well-researched, and better than other posts – but garnered little attention and few links. Nowadays, it takes work to get your posts noticed. Hopefully these templates and guide can help you out.
So, what are your next steps?
Next, grab our free link-building outreach email templates.
Then, get an account with Postaga, Hunter.io, AHrefs, SEMRush and/or Buzzsumo so you can do your research.
Does this sound like too much of a hassle for you? There’s also a ton of SEO companies out there that will sell you links directly. Just be careful… you definitely want to choose a reputable one.
After that, start doing some blog topic research and get going!
Any feedback or thoughts? Share below in the comments section.
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Offsprout was founded by two former college freshman roommates. Drawing from their experience building their web design business, JurisPage, which was acquired in 2016, Offsprout is singularly focused on being the best white label website building tool for web design businesses.