By MeghanCahill
23 Dec 2014

Best Practices for Link Building Outreach - Tutorial Tuesday

Link Building

Welcome to another round of Tutorial Tuesday, folks! Today we’re discussing some tips for nailing your link building outreach.

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In the wide brim of the SEO industry, we wear many hats. No, not “white or black”. It’s broader than that. For instance, you might put on a hard hat for assessing on-site factors. A regional team ball-cap for building local citations, perhaps. Link builders, specifically, might wear a fedora, a woolen beanie and a dusty cowboy hat in one afternoon. Clearly, our duties vary widely, but a large chunk of the job can be boiled down to one simple task:

Sending emails.

With so much rubbish cluttering up the ‘cyberhighway’, making human connections in the digital realm can be difficult. The inbox is prime real estate. You have to stand out and for the right reasons. There’s a time and a place for ‘canned’ templates. This article isn’t that place.

Personally, I have only one hard-fast rule for writing link building emails: sincerity above all else. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few tips for crafting killer, customized outreach...


Step One: Assess the Website

Different strategies are used depending on the type of link you’re attempting to build. An email written with the purpose of fixing a broken link will differ wildly than one written for the intention of blog contribution. Sometimes you just need to get the pertinent facts over to a webmaster. Sometimes you have to turn yourself into the value proposition. Either way, the first step is assessing the website and the person/people behind it.

Read through their information, check out their ‘About Us’ or ‘Contact Us’ pages.

  • What’s the language style used? Wordy, brief, or super-straightforward?
  • Does it display a sense of humor?
  • What’s the level of professionalism?
  • Are they visually-oriented? Data-driven?

The goal is to echo their tone without losing your own voice. Different keystrokes for different folks [insert groan here].

Are they ‘hip to your game?’

  • Are they SEO savvy? Determining their level of SEO knowledge can make the process easier. It can you save time if the site-owner already knows why total strangers are emailing them.
  • If it’s a site that’s inundated with spammers and scammers, feel free to commiserate. Because you aren’t reaching out to a cat lover’s forum trying to score a link for a payday loan site or something, right? RIGHT.

Step Two: Connect it to Yourself

Outreaching to anyone, for any reason, becomes infinitely easier if you can personally connect with them, on any level. This should only be done in earnest. And remember: the end-game isn’t about you or composing copy that dazzles. It’s about offering something of value. Which, unsurprisingly, is easiest when you can find a way to relate.

What do you have in common with this person or their site/services?

  • Familiarity = likeability. Humans are creatures of comfort. People want to ‘do business’ with someone they can identify with.
  • Are you both mountain bikers? Have pug dogs? Like science fiction? Went to college in Oregon? Hate Fleetwood Mac? Find that gem you can connect with. Mention it.
  • But don’t overdo it. This isn’t, “You like the ocean -- whoa, hey, I like the ocean! Please put up my resource guide.”
  • Also, don’t turn it into a ‘personal experience’ essay. It’s a business email. Keep it simple, silly.

You can name-drop without being a disingenuous shill.

  • Mentioning relevant sites/resources you (or your client) have been affiliated with or contributed to isn’t extraneous horn-tooting. It’s sensible.
  • If XYZBlog mentions one of their favorite websites is ABCBlog and you’ve been a contributor there? Include a link in your email. It’s like a character reference.

Male stenographer taking dictation

Step Three: Connect it to Your Client

A good link is not only relevant, it provides value for both parties: the target site and your client. Websites link to other websites -- this is pretty much the basis of the internet. The blanket mentality of “no links EVER” is not only unsustainable, it’s extremely rare. Sure, a reputable news outlet doesn’t want a blatant commercial advertorial nestled among their content, but every potential link has a potential home.

Whatever your client offers or sells -- someone uses it.

  • Every e-commerce product or online service has an audience.
  • We live in a capitalistic society, darnit. If you’ve found a potential audience for your client’s offering, don’t feel egregious or guilty about what you’re offering. Be prepared to honestly explain the value in your resource.
  • Every brand or company has a potential customer base. Finding these relevant sites is only a fraction of the battle.

The law of reciprocity isn’t always applicable.

  • When you or your client do have a legitimate place for a type of reciprocal -- an extremely popular newsletter, 10,000+ loyal Twitter followers who re-tweet your every word, an informative resource page or awesome blogroll -- fantastic! Scratch each other’s back.
  • However, sometimes you don’t have much to offer. Don’t pretend that you do. There is no shame in simply asking for a favor, if that is indeed what you’re asking.

Step Four: Tie it All Together

The ideal email should be personable, yet succinct. You have a solid understanding for the person/site you’re outreaching to. You found a way to connect either you, the client, or both. Now it’s simply a matter of stringing it all together in an impactful way.

No, it’s not about ‘stroking their ego’. Okay, maybe a little bit...but don’t smother it.

  • If you can’t say it sincerely, don’t say it at all. But if their blog has top-notch graphics or you found their latest webinar fascinating? Tell ‘em! Everyone appreciates a genuine compliment.
  • Your contact is, presumably, an expert in their field. Treat them as such.
  • On the same note, don’t pretend to be an expert in something you can’t back up. The quickest way to come across as inconsequential is to tout how ‘influential’ you are.

You needn’t include every detail of your ideal outcome into the initial outreach.

  • This might sound like gamesmanship, but consider just starting a dialogue first and working your way up to the link request. Do it naturally.
  • Try to turn your request into a solicited response by piquing their interest.


Step Five: A Few Things to (Please) Avoid

Veering into slightly more opinionated territory, some of these are more like personal pet peeves. Regardless, they’re all things I’ve seen in the link building trenches, and they’re all things I hope to never see again.

  • Capitalizing Every Word In A Subject Line...looks ridiculous. Don’t do it. Conversely, writing in all lowercase looks unprofessional. I won’t even address ‘all caps’.
  • Being overly complimentary, as a psychological strategy (particularly if you’re not being sincere) will backfire. Don’t treat your contact like fool.
  • Don’t act like a used car salesman. Even if the infographic or scholarship or whatever resource you’re trying to link to is legitimately the most-awesome-thing-ever, choose your words carefully.
  • Or a robot. Even spammy software could probably find a contact name and plug it into the right place. That’s not “personalization”. It’s literally the least you can do.
  • The ‘perfect length’ for an email is frequently debated, but I reckon anywhere between 50-250 words will get the message across.


Above all else, link-building outreach should be purposeful, concise and sincere. The odds your email will be read and responded to increases substantially when correspondence is crafted with a tailored, human touch.

Show your personality. Provide something useful. Establish your trustworthiness. Show a touch of humor. Show a touch of class. Show the world what they didn’t know they were missing. (Your link, of course!) And never, ever underestimate the power of a kick-ass subject line.


Meghan Cahill is a link-builder and content writer at Page One Power in Boise, ID. She spends far too much time collecting classic movies on VHS and quizzing total strangers about Idaho history.