Email Outreach: The Ultimate Guide

Disclaimer:

In this guide, there are no silver bullets, magical how-tos, or secret strategies that will bring you thousands of links. The main idea behind this guide is to share how you can start getting links faster and easier, however, not effortlessly! Most likely, the first month of email outreach won’t result in any links whatsoever, but that shouldn’t discourage you. It’s similar to the sales process that doesn’t bring the results starting from the very first minute. But if you do everything right, each month you’ll be getting more links than in the previous month.

My first experience with outreach was a complete failure. It was around 4 years ago, and the client was looking to acquire links. The project’s niche was Edutech, and we’ve created a super-valuable content for it — a huge comprehensive study. We spent around 2 months on production, and were expecting not less than a flood of links once we start pitching our research to blogs.

The reality couldn’t be further from this. We sent a gazillion of outreach emails and built only 2 links. Long story short, the campaign was a huge waste of time. By the way, one of the main lessons that I learned from that time was to stop working for free. Our initial agreement with the client implied that they were paying us post factum for the number of acquired links. And in this case, it was a big business mistake, but that’s not the point.

If you’ve never built links via email outreach before, you need to get ready for it by all means possible and learn as much as you can to avoid the most typical mistakes.

First of all, you need to toughen up and get ready for rejection, because there will be a lot of it, especially in the beginning.

I want to be 100% honest with you: email outreach is a hard, very time-consuming process. It can’t be stressed enough: when people preach this technique they forget to mention how much time, effort, and emotional investment it demands. But the outcome is totally worth it. The relationships that you build pay off in the long run and the quality of links acquired through email outreach is the highest.

So, if acquiring links through email outreach is so tough and time-consuming, why should you bother to do it?
  • It’s free (except for the cost of your time) It’s free (except for the cost of your time)
  • Links are allocated on the relevant sites within well-written content pieces Links are allocated on the relevant sites within well-written content pieces
  • Every month, those links are bringing more and more value to your Domain Authority rank (the sites that are linking back to you also invest in growing their web presence, so their DA ranks are increasing, too) Every month, those links are bringing more and more value to your Domain Authority rank (the sites that are linking back to you also invest in growing their web presence, so their DA ranks are increasing, too)
growth of referring domains

Contents

Link prospecting is the art of finding opportunities for link building. It is the first and foremost skill of a link builder with all the future success of a campaign relying on it.

I don’t think that traditional methods of link prospecting are very effective but they surely are widely popular. The number of outreach emails that hit my mailbox on a daily basis only confirms that. I’m assuming that they deliver somewhat satisfactory results otherwise people wouldn’t appeal to them so often. Even we sometimes circle back to these strategies to find new link building opportunities for clients that have already built thousands of links.

Plus, I highly recommend giving traditional methods a try and then compare them to “the smart link prospecting methods” to feel the difference: the latter allows you to acquire links faster and easier.

Traditional methods

Once, I received an outreach email that was inviting me to join a round-up of wedding planners. Even though not that long ago before that I’d been organizing my own wedding, this email was immediately marked as spam. So, to avoid being labeled as a spammer, you need to send emails ONLY to the relevant sites that publish content similar to what you’re about to pitch.

The methods that are listed below are not the only ones that exist because, honestly, “catch ‘em all” wasn’t on my radar. I simply want to give you an overview of the most popular strategies and, what’s even more important, how exactly you can take advantage of them. 

Traditional method №1. Scraping the SERPs (with the help of free and paid tools)

Google SERPs is a huge library of various resources where, knowing the right combination of search terms, you can find basically anything. Even gated content that websites only allow you to download by leaving your email can be found if you know the right search operator. 

Here’s how it works. On this page, users can download a study by filling in a pretty elaborate contact form. But if you use this search operator, the link to the .pdf file will be in the top search result. 

Link building means getting a link from one piece of content to another one, so your first task is to find all content pages that you could get a link from. The fastest way to find it is by scraping the SERPs. Additionally, when you do so, you won’t accidentally capture deindexed pages. For example, penalized sites can still be featured in round-ups and listings, but pitching to them makes no sense. Not only they receive no organic traffic but they’re also toxic to your backlink portfolio, so it’s better not to have a link there at all.

Step 1. Putting together the list of search operators

Scraping the SERPs starts from pulling together a list of search operators. A search operator is a line of text with your target search terms that works as a command to the search engine to show you only the pages with specific parameters.

Let’s say your target search term is “email outreach”. Then, the search operators to use should be:

  • Inurl:email-outreach. If you use this operator, Google will show you the pages that contain the phrase “email-outreach” in their URL address.
  • Intitle:email outreach. By using this operator, you’ll see the pages that contain “email outreach” in their title.

To find your niche guest blogging opportunities, you can use the following type of operator:

“[your keyword]” (intitle “[write for us]” OR intitle: “write for me” OR intitle: “guest contributor”).

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re looking for guest blogging opportunities on websites that write about SEO:

“SEO” (intitle:”write for us” OR intitle: ”write for me” OR intitle: “become a contributor”)

By typing it into the search line, you’ll get the list of pages that have the word “SEO” in their title and that a mention of providing a guest blogging opportunity in any form.

You can also try the following phrases in page titles:

  • guest post guidelines
  • guest post
  • blogging guidelines
  • guest post guidelines
  • guest column
  • submit a guest post
  • accepting guest posts
  • contribute to this site

Another way to find websites that accept guest blogging is it to see where other industry experts contribute. Here’s a search operator to use:

“[your keyword]” ( intitle: “[expert name]” OR intitle: “[expert name]” OR intitle: “[expert name]”)

Let’s say, you’re looking for the websites that have published the posts by Ann Smarty, Julia McCoy, Andrew Dennis or myself:

“SEO” (intitle:”ann smarty” OR intitle:”julia mccoy” OR intitle:“alexandra tachalova” OR intitle:“andrew dennis”)

These are just a few examples, so feel free to try your own combinations. And if you don’t want to rack your brain over what operators to use, check out this study: its authors put together a list of 10000 possible search queries for any link building campaign.

Step 2 Collecting the data

After you’ve built a list of phrases and search operators, it’s time to scrape the SERPs. Here’s where things get tricky. Technically, you can copy and paste each resulting URL into a spreadsheet, but that doesn’t sound like fun, does it? Here are your options.

Scraping by using FREE tools

Free tools, however appealing they were, have one major flaw: quite often, they simply don’t work. Let’s leave it to the discretion of the software provider, but that’s the reality that we have to work in.

All the tools that I’m listing here have been manually checked by myself, so I can guarantee that they are reliable and actually 100% free.

SERPs Scaper from URL Profiler

As any free tool, it comes with a good number of downsides. Among them is mandatory desktop installation. If, like me, you prefer to use cloud solutions, this option might not be your best choice.

After you install this software, you can start scraping the SERPs. The tool’s main limitation is that it displays only 100 URLs for each search request. The SERPs Scraper tool supports several countries including Canada, Australia, UK, and a few others, so you can get country-specific results.

All the data that the tool scrapes from Google will be served to you in a .csv file.

SEOquake Toolbar

This one is my personal choice. Besides providing the URLs, it also shows several other page parameters such as the number of backlinks and the amount of organic traffic for each scraped page. Both metrics are taken from SEMrush.

The only thing you need to do before starting the process is to set up your browser to serve 100 search results per page. To do this, click on Settings and then go to Search Settings.

After this, tap the selector “Results per page” and set it to 100.

Finally, you can click on Export CSV  in the tool and check out what kind of pages it serves you:

Hint: you can select the page creation time range to only see the pages that were created within the last 24 hours, week, month, etc. This way, you can choose to analyze only the fresh content.

Scraping by using PAID tools

Paid tools have one major benefit: they are maintained by the developer and are generally more reliable. Here are a few tools that I tried and found quite handy and can personally recommend in this guide:

ScreamingFrog

This is also a desktop installable tool, which I am not a huge fan of but it’s very affordable and has a powerful functionality. This could be a perfect match for people who used to be in love with DOS and like the command line interface. 

In it, you can basically create as many requests as you want, and this is how it should look:

https://www.google.com/search?q=inurl:content-marketing

Feel free to use this formula to create a list of your own search requests with your target keywords: 

=”https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=”&SUBSTITUTE(your keyword,” “,”+”)

And `here’s a template that you can use to automatically turn your keywords into a search query with parameters.

If you need more info on how to set up this process, there’s a good post that explains everything in detail. 

Data for SEO

This option works well for those who know how to code or have a developer that’s ready to help. The tool provider gives you access to the SERPs through API, so you can collect literally any data from the SERP with it.

It’s worth mentioning that compared to other tools, this one is extremely affordable as they only charge you $1 USD per Google request, so for a $100 USD you can analyze 100 keywords.

Scrape Box 

This tool is a good alternative to Screaming Frog and is even cheaper. You can get lifetime access for only $67 USD which is a great deal. Besides scraping the SERPs, you can also use this tool to scrape websites to find specific content pages on the industry blogs.

Pitchbox

Pitchbox is an outreach tool of the full cycle. Besides scraping the SERPs, it also finds all the contact information, including email addresses, on the associated content pages. Moreover, it allows you to sort the resulting pages, set up outreach templates and schedule follow-up email, and manage your whole outreach campaign in one place.

The only downside to Pitchbox is that it’s quite pricey, so it will hardly be a match for a beginner. Big agencies, on the other hand, would benefit from it tremendously.

Traditional method №2. Searching for broken links

Another widely popular link building strategy relies on finding broken links on the websites with the content that’s relevant to your pitch.

A broken link is the link that, plainly speaking, “doesn’t work”. It either returns a 404 page or doesn’t open.

Frankly speaking, I don’t believe that this strategy can bring you tons of links, because in online marketing, links are some sort of a digital currency. People don’t randomly link to other websites, they only do it on purpose. So, if a link is broken and you alert the website owner, it doesn’t give them much reason to link back to your site. Plus, your content should really deserve their consideration, because, trust me, the majority of online content is not even worth to be checked out.

Finally, always double-check what kind of content was on the “broken” page. To do this, use the Wayback machine to see what content it featured. Only then you can add the page that linked to it to the list of your prospects.

If you’re not a fan of manual work, tools like Ahrefs or Majestic can help you effortlessly collect all the broken pages for any selected domain. The biggest downside to this tactic is that you need to have to prepare a list of sites that you’re going to analyze as these tools don’t allow you to find broken links just by searching through your niche SERPs.

There’s however one tool that can help. Broken Link Builder allows you to select the keywords that should be present on the pages that include a broken link. This logic makes much more sense as you don’t need to check each domain manually and can pull the list of pages that are relevant to your pitch.

Hint: Always double-check that a link is really broken. I personally caught tons of links that Ahrefs and other tools reported as broken even though, in fact, they were functioning just fine.

The last option is to go with a free Chrome extension, Broken Link Checker that analyzes an active page for broken links. This process is quite time-consuming as any other “brute force” method. It could be useful, though, if you’re investigating a page with a lot of outbound links: a roundup, a resource page, a listing, etc.

Traditional method №3. Analyzing competitors links

Sites that are linking to your rivals are very likely to be a good link building target. Backlink analysis tools like Ahrefs, Majestic, Moz, SEMrush, CognitiveSEO, and LinkResearchTools allow you to analyze any domain backlink profile and collect a list of prospects.

But here’s a tricky part. Some domains have huge backlink profiles with thousands of backlinks and it’s just impossible to analyze all of them. Here’s a workaround to this issue:

  1. Use the Ahrefs report “Best by links” to uncover the best pages by the number of referring domains. Moving further, you can search for relevant pages directly in this report or use the export feature.

  1. Next, you need to apply filters to select the websites that are relevant to your pitch topic and among them choose the pages that link back to your competitors’ sites. In this example, I looked up all the pages that link back to a particular page at mangools.com:

The pros and cons of traditional link prospecting methods

These are the most popular traditional link prospecting methods. I’ll leave the decision about their efficiency to you: after all, the devil is in the detail, and what didn’t work for another company, can bring great results to your site due to your own efforts and your niche specifics.

Let’s just sum up all their pros and cons.

On the bright side, traditional link prospecting methods have been long in use by thousands of marketers, so their outcomes can be well predicted. If you have unlimited time resources and are ready to invest it in your campaign, chances are you’ll acquire a few quality links.

However, that’s not always the case, especially for solo practitioners and small agencies. Traditional link prospecting lands you with “cold” contacts, i.e. you’ll be reaching out to people who have never heard about you or your site, so you’re very likely to be rejected in the majority of cases.

Smart link prospecting methods

Now, let’s look at what else is out there. As I’ve already mentioned, I don’t think that traditional link prospecting is very effective: it takes a great deal of time and has little chances to land you a link. 

Broken link building, SERP scraping, etc. have one major flaw: they are very impersonal. These strategies focus on finding relevant sites, but don’t secure the communication line. Even if you find the greatest fit for your pitch, the site owner might think otherwise. If they have never heard about you, why should they engage in communication or, what’s even more, link back to you?

In his recent study, Brian Dean uncovered that an average response rate of an outreach email is only 8,8%. Considering that not every response results in a link, can you estimate how many of those emails you’ll need to send in order to build just a handful of links? My guess is thousands. So, what’s the workaround?

The answer is simple (but not easy). Your link prospecting strategy should focus on two factors:

  • Relevancy. Your content should be laser-targeted at your link prospects, it should fit their blog as if it was a part of their editorial calendar to begin with.
  • Trust. People who have heard about your brand are more likely to respond; if they follow you on socials — even more so. And if they worked with your company and had a positive experience — that’s a jackpot.

Once these two factors meet, people become super responsive and are happy to team up with you on a link building side. Just as an example: with prospects like this, we manage to build links within an hour, completely hustle-free.

So, are you curious to know how to pull together a list of such prospects? Worry no more, here they are.

Check your circles

Thanks to your marketing and sales efforts, your brand must have a network of partners and customers, so why not look for link prospects among them? Your social media following is another place to look for opportunities.

Review your subscribers, clients, and partners

First of all, you need to assemble a list of prospects. If you have a CRM system, just export your client’s contacts from there. If you don’t collect their website’s names, a good number of emails are corporate so you can check the domain there.

Getting the domain name from the email address is quite simple in MS Excel. Select the column with email addresses and choose Split to columns from the menu. To separate the part that comes after @, choose the option Other:

When your column is split in two, you need to clean up the domains’ list. First, get rid of the doubles and free email domains like Gmail, Yahoo etc.

Take the list of free email domains and use the Vlookup formula:

=VLOOKUP(B2;Sheet2!A:A;1;FALSE)

In this formula:

  • B2 — the cell containing the domain taken from the email address
  • Sheet2!A:A — the list of free email providers that I added to a separate sheet
  • 1 — the number of a column from the Sheet2
  • False — the parameter allowing to delete the address once it matches the one from the Sheet2.

Next, select all the resulting cells, apply the Vlookup formula and paste them as Values as specified in the screenshot below. All you need now is to filter the column and delete all the found lines.

Now that you have a list of addresses, export it to Majestic Bulk, which allows you to categorize the websites by niche.

Hint: Double check the website category as sometimes Majestic shows it wrong. For example, here Accuranker.com fell under the Arts/Music category.

Ahrefs has a similar tool in their kit. It doesn’t provide website categories but can show you their organic traffic. I usually take advantage of it after I sort the websites by relevancy and the number of backlinks.

Social media followers

The followers of your social media channels are usually much more responsive than strangers. Obviously, if they follow you, they have some sort of interest in your brand so there’s no need for lengthy explanations should you decide to reach out.

However, as it always happens in online marketing, there are a few tricky moments. Facebook and LinkedIn don’t fully disclose the list of people who have liked your page. Officially, that’s due to their privacy policy, which is logical. However, rumour has it, that’s just to masquerade the fact that the majority of pages, even quite popular ones, have an army of bots among their followers.

There’s still a workaround for Facebook: here, you can see who has liked your page during a certain period of time. To see it, go to your brand’s page and open the Notifications tab. Then, click the “X liked your page” notification.

Finally, both social media platforms show you who has liked or shared your posts. It does require some manual work, but the result is absolutely worth it as people who engage your content are one of the most responsive groups.

On LinkedIn, it’s also quite convenient to connect with people once you see that their company or position title are relevant to your pitch. Here’s how I found out that Laura from the Verve Search liked our LinkedIn post, so here I am, sending her a connection request.

People that have ever mentioned your brand in their guest post combine another interesting audience category. To find them, you need to start tracking your brand mentions on a regular basis. The easiest and cheapest way is to use Google Alerts. However, you can also utilize paid tools like Mention, Brand24, SEMrush or Ahrefs. Once you spot that a mention is made by a guest contributor, you need to act on it.

Go to BuzzSumo and search via the author’s name:

If they mentioned you once without any additional effort from your side, there’s a high chance they will be willing to do it again if you ask them to. Very often, people contribute to multiple blogs, so if you manage to establish a relationship with 10-20 od such writers, you’ll be showering in links in no time.

(Not really 🙂 have I ever mentioned that getting links is hard?)

Industry groups and communities

Another source of link prospects are the industry groups that you’re a part of. I especially love Facebook closed groups because of their expanded functionality. There, you can see a list of group members as well as join an engaging conversation and then reach out to the people who were also a part of this discussion. I’m a member of several closed Facebook groups and some of them are really engaging. Your goal is to find a group with a lot of lively discussions — that’s the kind of environment where you can establish a connection with link prospects.

Hint: Besides Facebook groups, each industry has a number of private (and sometimes paid) communities that are focused on sharing experience and education. In digital marketing, it’s Zest.io and Traffic Think Tank. Members of such groups are super responsive and eager to partner up when it comes to building links.

What’s next?

When starting an outreach campaign, marketers often underestimate the power of connections. Looking for outreach targets, they completely disregard their already built network like partners, customers, and social media followers. But that’s in fact one of the richest resources for link building.

Yet, it’s not to be forgotten: for an outreach campaign to result in links, the targets should be properly evaluated and filtered to only leave the opportunities with the highest success potential.

Filter out irrelevant sites

Not every site is worth including into your prospects’ list. When you do link prospecting, you surely don’t expect your targets to get banned by Google the next day. But the sad truth is that many websites use doubtful promotion tactics, and it would be a waste of time to be trying to get links from them.

Plus, it’s not always about the toxicity of their methods. Some websites simply don’t allow the possibility to get a link there due to the nature of content that they publish or the arrangements that they have with their authors.

Let’s explore the main types of websites that are not worth your attention in terms of outreach.

1. Domains with DA lower than XX

The actual number depends on the analytics tool since the metrics and calculation algorithms that each tool uses are different. For instance, digitalolympus.net has a different domain authority in the four most popular tools:

  • Moz – 37
  • Ahrefs – 49
  • Majestic – 38
  • SEMrush – 40

Personally, I prefer to use Ahrefs and I usually disqualify all domains with the domain authority (in Ahrefs it’s Domain Rating) lower than 30.

2. Domains that have zero organic traffic and keywords

If you’re working with domains with DA higher than 30 by Ahrefs, they will most probably already have some organic traffic or at least appearing in the top 20 search results by a good number of keywords.

But in case you want to expand your margins, make sure that the website that you target gets at least some organic views. You can check it with the help of Ahrefs, Majestic or SEMrush bulk checker up to 200 URLs at once.

3. Domains with spammy link profiles

Normally, to run a quick check on a website, I open the list of all its referring domains and sort them by domain authority. After that, I can easily figure out whether its backlink profile is relevant to my niche or not.

We’ve witnessed a few times how white-label businesses purchased domains within their niche and redirected all those sites back to their pages. Generally, I don’t consider this a safe tactic, so websites with not 100% exactly matching backlink profiles should also be excluded from the list of your prospects.

4. Guest posts (since their authors rarely have any control over the content after the publication)

From time to time, I receive emails where people ask me to add a link to my already published guest post. Guys, this is just stupid. An author has no control over the publication after it’s been made — we simply can’t edit the writing even if we wanted to. What’s even more ridiculous, some of the outreach rock-stars try to pitch me their guest posts sometimes.

There’s a small exception here that is worth being mentioned. If you decide to go with a smart link prospecting approach, you shouldn’t exclude guest authors completely. These people are a real gem because most of them write for many sites. It makes sense to check the websites to which they contribute with the help of BuzzSumo and label them as your top-tier prospects.

5. Competitor websites

Don’t be surprised when I tell you that this happens all the time: websites are trying to get a link from their competitors. We have a link building partner that once received an email from their direct competitor with a similar request. The company that sent that outreach email was Mailchimp. So, a Mailchimp employee asked whether their rivals could allocate a link back to them in one of our partner’s pieces. By the way, in exchange of a link they were offering their branded socks. This could have been not a bad deal, even though the average price of a link on a high-quality site costs around $200-300 USD. Should I mention that the socks are worth like 5 bucks?

6. Websites that have already linked to you before

This might not be as obvious for many marketers as other no-nos, but that’s true. Once a website has allocated a link to your site, they are very unlikely to get into trouble to do it again.

To exclude those sites from the list of your prospects, just export all of your referring domains from Google Search Console and using the VLOOKUP formula compare it to your prospecting list.

That’s not the end, that’s the very beginning

Link prospecting is one of the most important stages of email outreach. The quality of the resources that you select for your campaign directly impacts your future course of work and your chances for success.

Make sure to invest enough time on checking the website’s relevance, quality and all the other factors that I’ve mentioned in this chapter. Your goal is not just to get as many links as possible. It is to enrich your website’s backlink profile with high-quality links that will help you get more traffic.

One of our clients recently reported an increase of traffic to his commercial pages after we’ve helped him make as little as 20 new links.

Now that I’ve unveiled a few link prospecting tips, get ready for the next chapters. This is only the beginning of your email outreach campaign, and we have lots of work ahead of us!