Cold Email Outreach for Link Building [Case Study]
This is a case study by Gabka Koščová from Spotibo
I have worked with link building for years, but in small markets like Slovakia or the Czech Republic. I have my contacts here and I know how it goes — how the market works. It is easy, it is comfortable and I am good at what I do.
Then I started to work for Spotibo, an SEO tool that is targeting people all around the world. And there I was again, back at the starting line. I didn't have any contacts in the world. I was lost. Activities that I did daily like link prospecting or outreach emails became much more complicated. I was not successful out there, because nobody knew about Spotibo and nobody cared about another outreach email from some random Slovak girl.
So, together with our team, we had to change our approach. All together, we did three big link building campaigns, and this is what we have learned along the way.
We found out that we need a strategy
Sounds boring, right? “Marketers need a strategy for everything,” somebody would say ironically. But unfortunately, we do, even when we do link building outreach.
If you want to approach 100 websites and you are doing it unsystematically and with freestyle, it won't work. And not only that. It will take you a lot of time.
I know what I am talking about. Check out this comparison between two of our link building campaigns.
|Without strategy||With strategy|
|How many hours did we work on it?||30 hours||30 hours|
|How many sites did we approach?||60 sites||120 sites|
|How many links did we earn?||1 link||13 links|
Of course, the strategy was not the only variable that got us these links. But it was an important part of it, and it was our starting point for further activities.
Tip for you:
Here are nine important parts of our strategy that you should consider when preparing something for yourself as well:
- What kind of content are we going to create?
- What kind of sites do we want to approach?
- What countries are we going to focus on?
- What motivation will the person have for linking to us?
- How do we find sites that we want to approach?
- How will the process of our outreach look?
- How will our outreach emails look?
- Are we going to send follow up emails?
- How are we going to evaluate our activities?
We found out that great content is just not enough
Do you know the book It’s Not How Good You Are, But How Good You Want To Be? Well, let me adjust its title to the link building outreach: “It is not how good your content is, but how good your timing is”.
Example no. 1
When we did our first-ever outreach, we started it upon our complex guide about meta descriptions. I really believe that this is a really great piece of content. It is complex, well-grounded with data and our own research. I really thought that everybody would be happy to link to this kind of article. But not only did no one link to it, but nobody even answered my outreach emails.
Okay, we managed to get some natural links, but direct outreach was not at all successful. We got only one link out of it, and it was only because we found a broken link in the article.
Lesson learned: Nobody wanted to hit and change old articles, because it was not relevant to them at that time, and it was not something that was current or hot — even though we had really great content.
Example no. 2
There was another link building campaign we did. This time, we developed a mini tool for checking the length of the meta description. It looks like this:
You can just write or copy paste your length, and our tool will tell you if your length is a good fit for the search engines. An advantage of this tool is that it considers not only characters, but also pixels, which are often more important.
But other than that, you can see that our tool is not so much better than any of the others. It is not the fastest or the most beautiful. But, we developed it at the right time.
We launched the tool a few days after Google announced the new update related to longer meta descriptions. The length increased almost twice as much. (Note: Unfortunately, after a few months, they changed the length back to the original).
This was a big update, and our timing was perfect, as that a few days after the update, our tool was the only one considering this new length. That's why we tried to get the most out of it before others updated their tools as well.
And we got 13 links out of it.
Lesson learned: It is much easier to ask for a link from the articles about a trending topic. In our case, we approached bloggers who wrote about this update, so our tool was convenient for them. But we also approached bloggers who didn't update information about length in older articles. And this is the information that you want to have up-to-date. So, they were thankful to us that we let them know, and some even linked to our tool.
We found out that we can't underestimate link prospecting
I remember reading a book Never Eat Alone, where the author wrote a lot about networking. One particular thing that got my interest was his approach before attending the conference or the event. He first somehow gets a list of people that will be at the event and then he looks up the relevant information about them, so he has something to talk about when he wants to address them. Honestly, I can't imagine doing that by myself. But I do that in link building.
This activity is called link prospecting, which is basically creating a list of websites (or people) that I want to approach. Before I approach them, I have to find relevant information, so I know what I should write to them.
Sounds easy, right? But in reality, it is really hard work, and you have to do it systematically. Automatization in the process is also very important, otherwise, you will spend days on looking up people, information and contacts. And you will go crazy because of that.
So how does the process of link prospecting look?
Find the websites
I use these three ways to find websites that I want to approach:
- Link prospecting with Marketing Miner -> it basically scrapes SERPs for targeted keywords.
- Google Scrape with this handy tool -> it is the same as above, but you can specify your SERPs. For example, if you only want the results for the last two weeks.
- Analysis of the link portfolios with Ahrefs -> choose an article or a domain that is similar to your content and find their links.
Clean your data
You will find lots of data after the first step of the process, and you logically can't approach everybody. So, here is how I clean my data:
- I remove every site that has trust flow (or domain authority) lower than 8. Even though I don't like using the number when reviewing the quality of the website, with such a big dataset, I have to start somewhere.
- I remove all big players and influencer sites like Moz or Backlinko. For now, I can only dream of sending an outreach email to them.
- I remove all irrelevant sites like Wikipedia, Quora or Reddit, because they are not suitable for the outreach.
How to find the contact information of a specific author?
- You can do it manually. Sometimes, it is easy and will take you only a few seconds. But in general, it is not very handy.
- You can try the contact finder at Marketing Miner (mentioned above), which works great if you are approaching bloggers, freelancers, etc.
- You can use an email lookup tools like Find That Email, Voila Norbert or Overloop.
The topic of finding contacts also covers Ahrefs article, where they also tested a few of these email lookup tools.
Tip for you: If you don't manage to find a personal email, you can also try to outreach via an info email or contact form. It worked for us in a few cases, so it is not a lost cause. Besides emails, messages via LinkedIn works pretty well, too, as it is even more personal.
We found out that we don't have to write each email individually
I have always liked writing outreach emails. It is my favorite part of the link building process. For me, it’s simple. I just follow a few basic outreach rules and write the email that I would like to read.
But this worked for me again mostly in Slovak and Czech markets, where I know how people that I am approaching think. But it is much harder globally. An SEO industry is competitive, and SEO specialists receive and delete outreach emails on a daily basis.
So, I tried to personalize each email as much as I could, so I would stand out. But I encountered a few problems:
- It was super exhausting to personalize an email to a person that I know nothing about.
- It took a lot of time and effort.
- I ended up discovering that I had just a few little things or often nothing to personalize.
- In the end, nobody responded to my emails anyway.
Due to these problems, we had to choose a different strategy.
Prioritize your contacts
We decided to prioritize our contacts with three different levels of priority:
- Websites that didn't look nice or important at first sight and had a lower domain authority or a small backlink portfolio
- Everything between low and high priorities
- Well-known bloggers or influencers
- People that I followed beforehand, and I knew what I wanted to write to them
- People that I had something in common with
I prepared template emails for contacts with low and middle priority. But, I personalized a few things in the email:
- Low priority = I personalized a name and a URL of the article.
- Middle priority = I personalized a name, a URL of the article and one thing that was mentioned in the article (for example blogger recommendation for meta description length).
For contacts with high priority, I prepared an individual and highly personalized email or LinkedIn message.
Send your emails
Usually, I send emails individually through my Gmail account, but I needed to save some time, so I choose to send my emails through Overloop this time.
A good thing about it is that once you import your contacts and create templates, it will fill out personalized fields for you automatically. So, you save tons of time this way.
Another thing which I appreciate is that you can connect Overloop with your Gmail account, so the email looks like it was sent from Gmail.
In the end, you can analyze your results through Overloop because you see right away who opened and clicked your email.
When we prioritized, we managed to send twice as many emails, and our results were incomparably better. So, just about article about link building outreach will tell you to personalize your emails and don't send templates; here is what I think:
Personalized email is super important if:
- You are approaching somebody that you know or who could know you
- You are approaching somebody very important
- You have a really good argument for a personalized email
Don't worry about little automatization if:
- You need to approach lots of people
- You have nothing interesting to put into your personalized email
- A website is not so important
This is an approach that worked for us. But, I think it can be easily applicable to businesses that have a similar starting line. I am talking about businesses that try to penetrate big world without any contacts or without big brand.
Link building outreach is one of the most challenging things. It is difficult, time-consuming and usually without results. We are fighting with it as well all the time, but we know this activity is super important for us to not only get some nice links, but to also build new relationships. That's why we are trying different strategies, and we are experimenting all the time.
Hopefully, this case study would be a nice addition for some of you. If you have any follow-up questions or you want to add something, don't hesitate to get in touch with me.
Gabka works for SEO tool Spotibo. She is from Slovakia and she is passionate about online marketing and SEO world. Other than that she loves to travel and she is currently discovering the advantage of nomad lifestyle.