What do I do to get a link to my site?

If you read one paragraph today, I want it to be this one: When you’re trying to get a link to your site, you need to focus first on building a relationship with the people who manage the sites you want to earn a link from. Getting a link should be, like, fifteenth in your mind. By first focusing on building a relationship, you’ll have better success acquiring the link — and lay the groundwork for future opportunities to work with them to promote your best content and products. 

Wait — who are you? And how did you get in here? 

Kai-Davis (100x100)Hi, I’m Kai Davis. I’m an Outreach Consultant in Oregon. I work with retail eCommerce companies and help them increase their sales. I do this by identifying influencers who have an audience that matches your audience and then finding opportunities to expose their audience to your best products and content. 

The best practices that I’m talking about in this article are strategies that you can use today to start answering that oh-so-excellent question: “What do I do to get a link to my site?”

Zen and the Art of Link Outreach

There are four fundamental stages of earning a link for your website:

  • Prospecting — This is where you go out and identify potential sites that can (and should!) link to you. LinksSpy is great at this — with LinksSpy’s Competitive Link Analysis report, you can get an X-Ray inside of your top competitors’ websites, identifying their most valuable links. 
  • Qualification — Once you’ve assembled a list of sites that should be linking to you, the next step is to qualify them. Is there overlap between your audience and the audience of the site you want to link to you? Is the site you want to link to you recently updated? Does it look like a personal weblog or site (good!)? Is it a corporate site without any personal branding (less good!)? Can you easily find a name and email address for someone in charge of the website (very good!)?
  • Writing Outreach Emails — Once you’ve qualified the sites for your outreach, you want to think about what you’re going to say to the people you’re emailing. What will your first email say? Your second email? How will you respond if they say no? 
  • Managing Outreach — Finally, you get started with the fun part that we all got into SEO and link building for: Emailing People! Relationship Building! Convincing Strangers To Work With You! (While I joke, these are great skills that will help any person working in Digital Marketing or SEO succeed — and if you’re looking for help with these skills, I include a few ‘recommended resources’ at the end of this article)

In today’s article, I’m going to walk you through the last three steps in this sequence. I’m assuming that you’ve already used LinksSpy to generate a list of prospects to email. If you haven’t you should go signup for LinksSpy and follow the instructions. Christoph has built a wonderful tool that has become an invaluable part of my Search Engine Optimization, Link Building, and Digital Outreach toolkit. 

Qualifying Websites For Outreach

Once you have a list of websites that you want to link to you, the next step is to qualify them! Why qualify these websites? I mean, they’re already linking to your competitors, so they must be a good fit for you, right?

WRONG!

There’s only a limited number of ‘best’ partners out there for you to work with. By focusing your outreach and link building efforts on just these best partners (“Best Influencers” or “Dream Websites”), you’ll see outsized results. 

Marketing to just the most qualified Best Influencers is cheaper than marketing to everyone… even when your marketing costs are hitting ‘send’ in your email app of choice. By first reviewing the list of sites that you want to be earning links from and then initiating outreach, you’ll see dramatically better results — more links, less emails sent, more positive relationships. 

How do I qualify websites for outreach? 

When I’m training a team member on qualifying websites for linking opportunities, I tell them to focus on 5 critical factors that are a mixture of both quantitative (ex: the number of domains linking to the website as a whole) and qualitative (ex: is the site recently updated? does the site look like a high-quality, relevant site?) factors. 

Let’s run through each of these qualifying factors. For your business, you might have your own qualifying factors in mind. That’s excellent! These are the qualifying factors that I’ve found work well for me and my clients — adapt and adjust these for what works well for your campaigns. 

For each of these factors, I’ll explain why I like the factor, how I check it, and what, specifically, I’m looking for.

Factor #1: Number Of Referring Domains

Why — The number of referring domains pointing to a site is a great way to qualify sites. Larger sites (sites with more other sites linking to them) are, typically, more popular. The more popular a site is, the more people will be pitching the site on working with them. And the more people pitching the site, the more defenses the site will have put in place, to guard itself from the relentless onslaught of low-quality pitches. 

How — I like to use an SEO backlink checker to assess this metric. I use Majestic, AHrefs, and Moz equally. Any of them will work fine for you. To view this metric, we’re just looking for the total number of referring domains (or external domains — some tools use slightly different language) for the root URL of the site. 

Here’s what this looks like in MajesticSEO:

Site_Explorer_Results_-_Summary_-_Majestic

We can see that LinksSpy.com has 64 referring domains pointing to it. Woohoo!

…but, uh, is that good? 

What — I’ve found the most success with outreach to websites that have between 100 and 1,000 referring domains. That is, websites with between 100 and 1,000 other sites linking to them. 

(This metric is talking about links from unique domains, not total backlinks. If a site has links from 100 separate domains, awesome, it has links from 100 referring domains. If a site has links from 100 pages on 1 domain, uh oh, it only has a link from 1 referring domain)

Typically, sites with less than 100 referring domains aren’t established enough for me to want to work with them. They don’t have a large enough audience or enough authority for me to consider a link I earn from them being worth the time spent outreaching to them. 

Likewise, sites with more than 1,000 referring domains are often established — but due to the defenses they’ve put up to stop a relentless barrage of low quality outreach attempts (assistants and gatekeepers to prevent you from talking to decision makers, contact forms on the page, payment for working together, etc), the time spent earning a link from one of these sites may be better spent earning links from ten smaller, high-quality sites. 

These ‘100’ and ‘1,000’ numbers are squishy. I’ve worked with sites with more than 1,000 referring domains and it worked out great. Likewise, I’ve had great relationships with sites with less than 100 referring domains. As always, use your own best judgement here. 

Factor #2: What type of link is pointing to my competitor? 

Why — There’s a whole range of different types of ways our competitors might be linked to: a link in a review, a link as a reference in an informational (“How To”) article, a link as part of a news article, a link in a directory, etc. 

By qualifying the type of link that our competitors have acquired, it makes it a lot easier to identify the difficulty of acquiring the same (or similar) link to our website. 

How — You should open up the sites that you’ve qualified and look at them with your eyes to see which sites pass this further qualification. Is the link in a news article? A directory? An informational article? Something else? 

What — Here’s a few examples to give context to this idea:

  • A news article about the company — Very hard to replicate! You won’t have success emailing the journalist and asking them to also link to you in the article. Likewise, unless there’s something very newsworthy about your company, you’ll struggle to pitch the journalist on why they should write an article about you. 
  • A link in an informational (“How To”) article — Moderately difficult to replicate! If you’re able to demonstrate how you’re better than the competitor linked in the article and how you make it easier for the article’s readers, you can have success replicating this link.
  • A link in a directory — Easier to replicate! Depending on the quality of the directory (i.e., Avvo (a high-quality directory for lawyers) and Alpha Legal (a free legal directory last updated in 2012)), you’ll be able to tell how difficult (or, well, valuable) the link is. 
  • A link in an online review — Easier to replicate! If you’re able to see that someone has taken the time to write about your competitor, you’ll have an easier time approaching them and gaining access to their audience, by offering to make yourself available to contribute to a review about your product, company, or content. 

Factor #3: Does their audience match my audience?

Why — Let’s say we’re representing a client selling selling high-quality watch bands. We want to earn them links from relevant sites. We want to make sure that the audience for the site that we’re outreaching to matches our audience for three reasons:

High-Level Relevancy

If we’re earning a link from a site reviewing men’s accessories, well, that would make sense to a human (like my mom) or a robot (like Googlebot) that sees the link. They’d think something like “Oh, this site reviews men’s accessories. This link is to a site that’s about watch bands. A watch band is a type of men’s accessory. This makes sense!” 

But repeat that thought experiment with “A site about shoes”, “A site about link building”, and “A forum about lizards for lizard owners” and you can see that the relevancy of the topic of the site is important. If the site linking to our site isn’t relevant, well, then I’d guess that a smart robot (like Googlebot) would value that link less than if both sites are relevant to each other. 

Potential Buyers

We’re chasing links — but links can (and hopefully do!) lead to referral traffic. If the link is coming from a relevant site, that will improve our chances of having the link generate sales. 

Value to the Audience

If I run a site about printers and you come to me asking me to link to your site about men’s watch bands, well, why would I do that? I’ve spent a lot of time building up an audience that is very opinionated about printers, printer ink, and printer related theorycrafting. It would take a lot of effort for me to decide to link to your watch band site.

However, if I run a site about men’s fashion accessories, I’m sure my audience would love to hear about a new watch band! In this case, because our audiences match, it will be easier for me to link to you. 

How — This is another ‘human’ step. Open up the sites that you’ve qualified so far and browse around. Does their audience match up with your audience? 

What — You’re looking for keywords or phrases that your audience uses. You should have a good grasp of the type of people that you want to attract to your site. Does this site match up with those people? Does it look like it’s part of the same broader community? 

Factor #4: Has the site been recently updated? 

Why — Sites that are out of date are out of mind… of the authors. If the site hasn’t been updated since 2012, well, chances are responding to your email asking for them to link to you is the furthest thing in the author’s mind. 

How — For the sites that I’ve already qualified, I’m looking to see what evidence I can find that the sites is still active. 

What — There’s a few different factors that you can look for:

  • Is there a twitter profile linked to from the site? Has it been recently updated? 
  • Has the author posted an article in the last 1/3/6 months?
  • Are there recent comments on the site? 

If the site is active, you’ll have a great chance of making a connection with the person behind the site and working with them to earn a link. If the site is out of date or not recently updated, throw that site out! It’s not worth investing any further time in. 

Factor #5: Can I find a Name and Email Address?

By now, you’ve removed a number of the sites that don’t qualify to work with you. That’s great! Now, you’re left with a list of sites that are the “Best Websites” for you to earn a link from. 

The final qualifying criteria is finding a name and email address for someone at the site. 

Why — Well, broadly speaking, without an email address, you won’t be able to get in touch with them. But more specifically, I leave this as the last step so I’m only prospecting for a name and email address with sites that have otherwise qualified. I’d much rather track down the contact information for twenty qualified websites, instead of two hundred not-so-qualified websites. 

How — With your eyes! Browse through the website and see if there’s an ‘About’, ‘Contact’, ‘Advertising’, or ‘PR Friendly’ page. If there is, you’ll often be able to find a name and email address for the person behind the site. 

What — You’re looking for the name and email address of the person behind the site. 

Writing Great Outreach Emails

Once you have a list of qualified sites, you’re almost set. The final step is to think about your outreach emails. 

“Outreach emails? Aw, come on, Kai. All I need to do is send them an email explaining who I am, what my site is, where I want the link, and the exact match text I want them to use. It’s that easy!”

Wrong. 

Writing an effective outreach email is the most important part of earning a link. I can’t emphasize this enough. 

How would you like it if a stranger at a party walked up to you and started pitching you on their business? Or what you could do for them? 

You probably wouldn’t like that, right? And if it happened once or twice, you’d start to recognize the early warning signs…

…and immediately cut off the next person who tried that on you, right?

There’s a reason that people have written hundreds of books and resources on writing great emails. It’s a very good skill to learn that has a tremendous return on your investment!

I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars in education and learning and read thousands of websites, courses, and books, and sifted through some very good advice and a lot of junk to learn how to write outreach emails that get opened and responded to. How much would it be worth to you to save yourself the years of sweat and tears?

Here are three resources that I recommend above any other. 

  • Emails That Win — Written for an audience of freelancers, the best practices that Robert advocates in his book will save you time and help you make more money – and earn links to your website. 
  • 50 Proven Email Scripts — From Ramit Sethi and the ‘I Will Teach’ team, you’ll get tested strategies and word-for-word scripts to write emails that get results. 
  • How To Make Friends And Influence People — A timeless classic from Dale Carnegie, this book has helped hundreds of thousands of people build better relationships and achieve success in their business and personal lives. 

If you only read three books this year on writing better emails and being a better person, make it these three. 

So, What Should I Say In My Emails? Kai — Be Specific!

I shy away from offering email templates because what works for me might not work for you. Every audience is different and what works to reach one audience might not work for another. 

That said, here are a few best practices that you need to think about. 

  • Be shortYour emails should be under 150 words until you’ve built a relationship.
  • Read the email as if you were them — When you receive a multi-paragraph email from a stranger, what’s your reaction? Probably to archive/delete the email, right? Make sure your emails are short and to the point and valuable to the person reading them. 
  • Be specific — You’re asking for something. Don’t bury it. 
  • Talk about them, not you — Frame everything you’re doing in terms of the value to them and their audience. Use the word ‘you’, not ‘me’ or ‘my’.
  • Have a call to action and next steps— End every email with a call to action. Not ‘Let me know what you think!’ but “If this shoulds good to you, shoot me back a yes/thumbs-up. As a next step, we’ll….”
  • Plan out your outreach funnel — What’s the first email you send? The second? The third? Heck, you should be answering the question…

“What are the first 5 emails I send?”

“5 emails? Kai! You’re crazy! I’ll just send one email!”

Wrong!

You need to think about:

  • The introduction email you send to start the conversation (#1)
  • The email you send if they don’t respond to the introduction email (#2)
  • The email you send if they do respond to your introductory email (#3 — “The Pitch”)
  • The email you send if they decline your pitch (#4)
  • The email you send if they’re open to working with you (#5)
  • The email you send if the conversation stalls… (#6)

For my clients, before I send a single email, I’m planning out the first ten emails in my Outreach Campaign. I’ll draft these at the start of the campaign and then tune and modify them as I get feedback from the people I’m emailing. 

The emails I have ready at the end of a campaign aren’t necessarily the emails that I start the campaign with, but by drafting the outreach emails ahead of time, I’m thinking through the different questions the people I’m pitching might ask and the objections they might raise — and planning out how I counter those objections. 

Managing Outreach

Once I’ve drafted the emails, I’ll plan out a multi-week outreach campaign for the people I’ve qualified. 

Why a multi-week outreach campaign? 

It can take up to 9 rejections to get a meeting or have a conversation. 

What makes the difference between people who face that rejection one time and quit or 40 times and never quit is purely determined by the systems that they have in place. 

Very few — only about 4% of people — keep trying after the first four rejections. You must have the expectation that you will receive rejection. Do not take it personally. This is only part of the system, part of the process of building this relationship. To be successful you must go through this rejection.

The Magic Behind This System

Your goal? Take the person you’re contacting from ‘I’ve never heard of this website’ to ‘What is this website that I keep hearing about?!”

If you continue to market to someone with great vigor, they will absolutely get to know who you are. If they tell you ‘No! No!’ and you keep selling them, they will go from not knowing you to knowing who you are to feeling obligated to work with you. 

If someone keeps coming after you — even in the face of rejection — you start to feel like you want to give something back. 

You must expect and plan for the influencers and websites you’re contacting to say ‘No!’ several times — and anticipate that these rejections will not cause you to give up. In your mind, you must have a plan in place for your outreach: what’s the first email you send them? What’s the second? What’s the tenth?

Tracking Your Outreach

You can use this spreadsheet to track when you reach out to an influencer. If you’re looking for a paid tool, I like Buzzstream and Streak for managing my outreach process.

When To Contact Your Influencer

You want to contact the person you’re trying to reach once per week. If you’re trying to reach 10 sites and earn a link from them, that means every day you’d be contacting TWO of them, logging the contact, and forgetting about them until the next week. 

By focusing our outreach on a once-per-week ‘touch’ for each influencer, we experience three main benefits:

  • The influencer doesn't feel overwhelmed.  We can all imagine what it feels like when a push salesperson follows up daily or hourly — we feel smothered and lose any interest in doing business with their company. By focusing our outreach on a once-per-week ‘touch’, we avoid smothering our target. 
  • We slowly build a relationship. By focusing on the long-term, we’re able to build a relationship with the influencer we’re trying to reach, educating them on the opportunities available in working with us. 
  • We don’t feel overwhelmed. With 10 influencers, you’re only contacting 2 every day. That’s a very manageable number when you’re getting started. By focusing your outreach on a smaller daily number, you avoid burning yourself out on too large of an outreach plan. 

The Importance of Persistence

The most impactful marketing tool is repeated direct personal contact. 

By constructing a persistent, consistent, multi-week outreach strategy, you’re organizing a relentless program that will win the person you’re contacting over as an ally for life. 

But! You must expect and plan for the person you’re contacting to say ‘no’ several times — and that these rejections will not cause you to give up. 

To overcome their rejection, plan out your strategy approach.What’s the first marketing piece you send them? What’s the second? 

Massive, diligent follow-up can penetrate any organization if you’re determined. If you continue to market to someone with great vigor, they will absolutely get to know who you are. 

If they tell you ‘No! No!’ and you keep pitching them, they will go from not knowing you to knowing who you are to feeling obligated to work with you. 

If someone keeps coming after you, you start to feel like you want to give something back to them in exchange for their time. 

After all, how important could your website be if you gave up after a single rejection? 

Closing Thoughts

Outreach is a performance art. 

Sure, there’s an intellectual part to it, but you have to do actual outreach to get good at it. You can’t just study the theoretical aspects. You can’t become a great chef just by reading cook books. You can read about it all day long, but until you start practicing it — prospecting  websites, qualifying websites, writing outreach emails, emailing folks, and earning links — you won’t get good at it. 

So what I'm saying is practice this. Go out and try it. You’ll fall on your face the first few times — but there’s billions of people on the Internet. If you unintentionally offend one or two with a clumsy outreach attempt, who cares! What’s important is that you’re learning from your mistakes and slowly, incrementally getting better at the art of link building and link outreach.

Recommended Resources

First, you can Ask Me Anything about SEO, Link Building, and Outreach. I really love answering questions about Search Engine Optimization, Link Building, and Digital Outreach and wanted to provide a sharable place for our collective wisdom. If you ask me a question, you can expect an answer within a day or so, maybe sooner — ask away!

And if you want to get better at this outreach thing, here are five resources that I recommend:

  • Emails That Win — Written for an audience of freelancers, the best practices that Robert advocates in his book will save you time and help you make more money – and earn links to your website. 
  • 50 Proven Email Scripts — From Ramit Sethi and the ‘I Will Teach’ team, you’ll get tested strategies and word-for-word scripts to write emails that get results. 
  • How To Win Friends And Influence People — A timeless classic from Dale Carnegie, this book has helped hundreds of thousands of people build better relationships and achieve success in their business and personal lives. 
  • Outreach Tracking Spreadsheet — I put together this spreadsheet to better track my outreach. It’s a great resource to help you track who you’re getting in touch with and the status of the conversation. (And — it’s totally free). 
  • My Outreach, SEO, and Link Building Newsletter — Want to learn a lot for free? Every week, I write a letter to my friends, colleagues, and clients about Search Engine Optimization, Link Building, Digital Outreach, and a bunch of other interesting things. You should join us.

Okay, awesome. I hope you’ve enjoyed this deep dive into what you should do to get a link to your site. Thanks so much for reading along! And if there’s anything I can do to help you, you can always get in touch with me by leaving a comment on this post, asking me a question, or sending me an email.

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