Link Building Outreach – Why Many Agencies Struggle

Stewart Dunlop

Many digital marketing agencies out there suck at outreach for the purpose of building links and promoting their client’s content. It’s such a common, frequent and unnecessary phenomenon I’ve noticed, even in 2016, a year when $65 billion will be spent on SEO! In this blog post I’m going to show you exactly what I mean with some real examples, and offer some tips on how to gain better results with your outreach and relationships. Whether you’re an in-house brand or a professional SEO – Building quality relationships to help your linkbuilding efforts is absolutely key. Creating great content is one thing, but making sure the World pays attention is a whole different ball game.

Agencies have a problem with link building outreach 

I’m seeing ‘renowned’ SEO agencies sending out simply terrible emails on behalf of their clients in order to solicit a backlink or promotional article. It’s no wonder webmasters are so savvy nowadays to SEO’s soliciting them for backlinks, it’s still such a common occurrence!

Agency OfficeI do absolutely understand why it’s such commonplace issue for agencies – let me explain: Many SEO’s are masters at a number of skills:

  • Keyword optimization
  • On-page optimization
  • Conversion optimization
  • Technical issues
  • Site architecture analysis
  • Content analysis
  • Competitor analysis
  • The list goes on!

There’s literally hundreds of key skills that any good SEO professional brings to the table that add value. Many of these skills are technical and detail oriented tasks, and many agencies put a premium focus on these aspects of SEO – and rightfully so! But when it comes to sending emails to build relationships on behalf of your client (which is key to gaining quality backlinks) they become a little lost.

Many SEO agencies like to focus on the more technical aspects of their trade.

They don’t know how to write good emails and how to give value propositions to key influencers. Simply put – They don’t have a solid scalable process in place to consistently achieve results.

Outreach doesn’t come natural to agencies

Outreach itself is so far removed from the technical and more tangible aspects of SEO that an outreach campaign for linkbuilding purposes can be a daunting task for SEO agencies who prefer to stick to their bread and butter services. They realise the wonderfully powerful benefits of outreach – gaining powerful backlinks on authority websites, but they just don’t know how to do it well enough to make it worth their while.

This image from quicksprout’s technical SEO guide accurately shows the differences between technical SEO, on-site SEO and off-site SEO.

Below: Outreach certainly falls under off page SEO.

seo triangle

What exactly are agencies doing wrong?

Many of the so-called ‘top’ SEO agencies, even those working or high level clients in big budget campaigns have a poor standard of outreach.

Note: When we talk about outreach, we’re referring to the efforts of connecting and communicating with influencers in order to gain some kind of partnership – Whether that’s ultimately a backlink on someone’s, or a shout out an experts social media channel.

Here’s an image from Paddy Blog depicting the craft an SEO outreach template using Buzzstream:

buzzstream outreach

All too often, agencies use overly generic email templates and completely uninteresting copy, preferring quantity of emails sent over quality and personalization. There’s a few major flaws in doing outreach this way – You’re going to gain a far lower response rate to your outreach emails, and when you do receive a response, it’s going to be from the lower quality websites and influencers on your target list.

Real Examples of Bad Agency Outreach

I’ve compiled a number of bad outreach emails received by some of my clients over a period of time. In each example, my client was being solicited by a third party marketing agency in order to place their own client’s content (and ultimately backlink) on their website.

Note: All of the emails below are sent from genuine marketing agencies, many of them with renowned clients! I’ve hidden names to protect the agencies and individuals working there. The purpose of this is constructive criticism, to highlight what’s weak about these outreach emails.

Example 1: Agency outreach – sloppy, generic and transparent

Amateur Email Outreach

Who’s it from? This was an email from a ‘Digital Outreach Agent’ from a slightly smaller agency with around 15 employees (which I discovered on their website).

What’s wrong? The email is weak on a number of levels – He’s openly admitting that he wants to provide content from his clients in the form of a blog/news article that will contain a link to the client’s site. Seriously, other than striking gold and managing to reach someone who’s unaware of SEO and the backlink game, or someone who’s so desperate for content that they’ll take anything, this isn’t going to get anywhere.

Example 2: Agency outreach – Insanely vague and generalistic introduction

Vague Agency Outreach Email

Who’s it from? Here’s someone from a ‘renowned’ marketing company with around 25 employees according to their website. My client received emails from other representatives of this company on other domains with a similarly poor level of email, I’m assuming the ‘outreach experts’ are poorly trained and outsourced.

What’s wrong? It’s simply a very vague email! He thinks that the website in question ‘would be an excellent promotional platform for our customers’ and alludes to seeking a ‘long term partnership’ – That’s all fine and well, but it’s important to be a little more specific in your opening email.

Example 3: Marketing Director from US agency

Marketing Director Email

Who’s it from? This one is interesting. This is from the marketing director of an agency based in the US, with around 6 employees. They actually mention on their website using ‘native English speakers’ to write their content, which is a red flag in itself. One of his employees made the initial contact, and my assumption is that upon receiving a ‘lead’, the employee passed it on to his boss. This is the response from said boss.

What’s wrong? As you can see, it’s the second email from someone interested in a ‘collaboration’, but it’s still extremely vague as to what exactly the proposition is, other than the fact that he’s promoting content on behalf of a client and has a number of options to offer. He’s placing the impetus on the other person to make all the effort, which is a clear mistake, especially when this is already the follow up exchange.

Example 4: BIG agency doing a sloppy job

Big Agency Weak Email

Who’s it from? This email is from a very big UK-based international marketing agency with over 30 in-house specialists and who knows how many outsourced employees. It’s a little more detailed, but it’s so basic and simple that it’s laughable. I removed the link for the piece of content they created, but it was quite basic and certainly nothing ground-breaking.

Why’s it bad? Essentially, the marketing agent is hoping that we’ll link the article somewhere – a very tall ask! Even if they sent this on en masse to a thousand websites, I highly doubt they would get any real quality results. It’s completely lacking in any value proposition.

Example 5: Another Huge Agency, Slightly better…

Improved SEO outreach email

Who’s it from? This email is from a UK based ‘full service digital marketing agency’ who have boasted some mammoth clients in the past including the NHS, Santa Fe relocation group and more. Impressive, right?

What’s wrong? So firstly I should mention that this is one of the better outreach emails I’ve received, but I still think it’s bad. He mentions being involved in editorial writing himself, uses good language and a well structured email, and also offers a value proposition – a paid insertion providing that his article is topically relevant. He seems quite eloquent in his approach. This is of course still an email template, probably created on Buzzstream, and it still feels impersonal. He’s hoping that the person receiving the email will read far enough to see the ‘paid insertion’ point, but if they don’t make it that far, he’s simply not going to get any kind of response.

What can agencies do to improve their game?

Here’s 5 quick, easy tips to improve your outreach efforts to influencers and webmasters!

  1. Never use a generic subject line – I always personal and somewhat engaging – Never ‘advertising enquiry’ ‘business opportunity’ ‘PR enquiry’ – That’s got generic template / generic enquiry written all over it. Sometimes I’ll include my name in the subject, or the prospective blogger / website name, sometimes I’ll ask a question in the subject line, or mention a recent piece of content that they’ve created. I’ll mix it up depending on who I’m emailing and how I’m contacting them – Is it a writer or a website owner? Am I sending them a tweet? Or going through a contact form?
  2. Research – Look at recent articles on their website, look at their social media pages and find out who you’re actually dealing with. Is this website in question related to your client or company? Are you promoting a piece of content that’s maybe similar or has a connection to a piece of content they’ve created in the past? It always pays to do your research, that’s what’s going to impress the recipient and make them think ‘This guy’s a diamond in the rough’,
  3. Be careful with templates – Always leave room for personalization here. Templates from software like Buzzstream can save an enormous amount of time, especially for follow ups, but use them wisely! The main problem with templates is that they can lack personalization, but the first email should always include something personal that touches or connects the receiving influencer in some way. So in your template, leave gaps here and there where you can add in some unique and personal line to draw attention.
  4. Give a value proposition – For example – Perhaps we have created a groundbreaking infographic that we’re sharing first exclusively with you. It means their readers will be first to see it and they can be the first ones to ‘break’ the content. Or perhaps we’ve just released a new groundbreaking product and we want to send it to you free of charge to be the first to review. A much simpler form of value proposition is a meaningful suggestion or tip – We might give some detailed feedback on a recent blog post, or provide some insight into something they’ve recently mentioned on their website. It’s all about creating a connection and a relationship, and then going for the sell!
  5. Follow up – Even if I’ve sent an outstanding email, sometimes things just get missed. I’ll always send a nice personalised follow-up email after a few days if I’ve received no response. Nothing too pushy, but friendly which once again highlights the value proposition along with a friendly comment on something they’ve done recently (social media is your friend!)

Ultimately, you’ve got to know what people perceive as interesting. There’s so many propositions and spam style emails being sent every day that busy webmasters and influencers ignore a huge amount of anything that lands on their plate.

It’s all about building relationships!

Building Relationships
The key is to develop a real, lasting relationship on a more personal level and that’s exactly what we focus on. You can’t just go in there talking in terms of what you want or what your client wants. That will come naturally, but it’s not the first step! So go the extra length to research the website, find a point of entry and craft outreach emails that will get responses and make them flourish to your advantage.