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Everyone wants more traffic, particularly organic traffic. The way to get that is to boost your SEO strategy to rank better and to drive more people to your website. But what is this SEO game all about? How does Google decide who it loves and who it doesn’t? Is having industry influencers sending their own audience members to your site just a pipe dream?
Today we’re talking to Joshua Hardwick, the founder of the SEO Project and a writer at Ahrefs. He’s going to talk to us about outreach-based SEO. If you’ve been wanting to get your site at the top of the Google results page (and who hasn’t?), you won’t want to miss today’s show.
Some of the highlights include:
Jordan: Everyone with a website wants more search engine love. We want our content to rank well on Google so people know we exist and we get that coveted organic traffic. This is the whole purpose of search engine optimization, but what are the best ways to improve your SEO game? How does Google decide which sites it loves and which ones it doesn’t care so much about? Are there ways you can reach out to industry influencers who will actually send people from their hard earned audience your way?
These are the SEO questions I had and knew the best person to turn to was today’s guest, Joshua Hardwick. Joshua is the founder of The SEO Project, he’s a writer at Ahrefs and a lover of red wine. I’m Jordan with CoSchedule, now let’s talk with Joshua and take a look under the hood of outreach based SEO.
Hey Joshua, thank you so much for being on. To start off, can you just tell us a little more about your work with Ahrefs, The SEO Project, and that massive 400 page ebook you’ve written and published?
Joshua: Yeah, sure. Around a year ago, I launched a new SEO blog showing The SEO Project. I supposed anyone familiar with that website will probably know that right now, there’s only one real post published on there which is the big list of link building strategies that you’re referring to. It’s basically just a list of 180 plus strategies and that’s all parting to a 400 word ebook also that you can download, it’s a bit intense trying to read on the blog.
I also write for Ahrefs, still not entirely sure how you pronounce that. I write regularly for them, one or two posts a month. Generally, just blog about SEO in general, do some work for clients. Generally, just talk about SEO far too much and annoy some people.
Jordan: I’m excited to have you on today because one thing you and I have talked about a bit is outreach based link building. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about that.
Joshua: Yeah, sure. I suppose generally, when people are referring to outreach based link building or linked outreach or whatever they want to call it, it’s essentially just trying to gain links to a website or a piece of content using some kind of outreach. Usually, it tends to be done by email, people will reach out and attempt to convince that person from a certain website to link out to their website or to their piece of content.
For example, if I wanted to send out a link from the CoSchedule blog for example, I would probably just reach out to either yourself or ideally the person who happens to be in charge of the actual blog of the piece of content that I want to attract a link from. Make contact and build a relationship, show you the piece of content that I want to link from. Basically, attempt to convince you and hopefully get you to link to that piece of content.
Jordan: Overall, why would you say it’s so important to people’s SEO strategy?
Joshua: One of the most important, if not the most important ranking factor, at least in terms of how Google ranks websites which is obviously what most people care about, ranking in Google and ranking for certain terms and certain keywords. There are obviously a lot of lists of ranking factor that are somewhat shady, depending on which one you’re looking at. Links have been confirmed time and time again by the more legitimate studies and ranking studies out there to be one of the top ranking factors.
Effectively, if you want to rank for any worthwhile keywords with any worthwhile search volume whatsoever, keywords that are actually bringing organic traffic and bringing people to your website, usually you’re going to need links in order to do that. That’s especially true for example if you’re competing with and trying to outrank pages that already have a good amount of links.
If you’re talking a few websites in the top 10 with a bunch of links, you don’t need links to outrank them. When you outrank them, that’s when you attract some traffic to the website and hopefully increase revenue for the business which is what those people really want to do, increase the bottom line, a means to an end with SEO.
Jordan: Absolutely. How have you personally seen it work? Do you have any successes that you can point to?
Joshua: I’ve used it quite a few times. I have used it in the past with my own websites. Also, mainly these days, clients, [00:05:04] clients. One client I recently worked with, we spilled around 30 links within 2 or 3 months which may not sound like a crazy amount of links because some people got their crazy amounts of links. Some industries are obviously more accessible to link building. We’re talking high quality links there, not PBN links or crazy, nonsense.
With that, to build those links, we just create good content, tell people about it, talk to the right people about it, and give them a reason to link to us. I’ve not really done any outreach for The SEO Project that I mentioned earlier, although I did use outreach to promote the link building post when I first published it, which wasn’t really with the aim of attracting links but rather just getting eyeballs on content which I think is something that a lot of people forget, a use for outreach. It’s obviously good for link building, and links to the piece of content which should be a little to aim. It’s also good for letting people know that it exists and letting other people with influence, letting other people within the industry know, you produced something that may be of value to them or their audience.
I’ve used it a few times in the past, but mainly for clients, mainly for various client projects.
Jordan: If someone’s new to this, where should they start, you think?
Joshua: Basically, you need some type of content on your website, on the website that you want to attract links to that people are going to be open to linking to, and that people will actually want to link to. In general, that’s kind of just referred to as link worthy content. I guess link worthy means good, in a sense. It also means that it’s something that’s drawing out appeal to the people that you actually want to link to that piece of content. It’s rarely ever a sales page or a product page, but rather something useful, something of value, something like a blog post or a video or infographic.
It can be anything, really, as long as it demonstrates some kind of value to the audience that you actually want to attract to the website. There often needs to be a good pool of people that will actually care about that that actually also are websites.
The first place to start, I guess, is have something worthwhile, something that people will actually link to. There’s no point performing any outreach if you reached out with a blog post that’s completely out of date, that was 200 words, a useless piece of content. No one’s ever going to link to it. The first place is always the content.
Jordan: And would you say people should create content that they just think is extremely valuable and then look at its performance and say okay, I think this is link worthy and people would want to link to it, or do you think people should create content with who they want to do the outreach to in mind?
Joshua: It’s a difficult one, really, that one. Obviously, the piece of content that’s good and that people may want to link to isn’t always particularly obvious. Knowing the industry that you’re working within really comes into play when it comes to content creation, I guess. If you know what people in that industry want to see and what they’re likely to care about, if you know the industry pretty well, you’re going to stand a better chance of creating something that makes sense.
For example, with me being ridiculously obsessed with SEO, there’s a million things that I want to publish and that I do publish occasionally with Ahrefs and very rarely on my own website right now. I know the industry, I kind of know what people probably want to see.
If you’re working in an industry that you don’t know particularly well, there are tricks to finding content and matching that to people. I’m sure that most people, anyone that’s looked into outreach in the past, has probably heard of things like the skyscraper technique which is essentially just find the piece of content that already has a bunch of links pointing towards it and making something even better, making something along those same lines is even better. Then, trying to convince the people that link to the old piece of content to link to your new piece of content which is even better. The value add there is you’ve made the content even better and it probably makes more sense to link to that.
There are a few individual strategies around for matching up outreach prospects with content and deciding exactly what piece of content may be likely to do well in terms of outreach and link building.
Jordan: Okay, that’s really interesting. So when you decide that you’re going to do some outreach, is that where you start with the skyscraper technique to find people to ask to link to your content? How do you decide who to reach out to?
Joshua: It depends on the initial starting point of the website that you’re working with. Some websites, some businesses, some blogs even, some of them don’t even have a blog, they haven’t really published much content on the website. If that’s the situation you’re in, in a way, that’s a good thing because you can do things like I say, the skyscraper technique, you can approach things that way because you need to actually create a piece of content first, you don’t have any content lying around on the website that may be able to be used for outreach purposes. You need to start from scratch.
The skyscraper technique does, I guess, work for most people. The principle of it works. People have varying levels of success with it, and there’s a certain nuance to actually get it right. The technique itself does work. If you have a blog or you have a website, you’re working with a brand, you’re a brand yourself, you’ve invested in content before so you got a blog or some kind of content on your website that’s actually of value to some people.
If you’ve already got that content there, it may be better to start from the point of view of trying to find people that that may appeal to. Then, you cut out some of the work. You actually create the content, you can take the shortcut of just finding people that may care about that, that just may not know that that content exists. You may have published something a year ago as you know I did for example, I’m not really doing outreach for that. Right now, that content’s sitting there. It’s still great content, I just haven’t really told enough people about it. The people out there that listen to this podcast that don’t really know that they exist, you try and find people that that may appeal to. I don’t have to create the content from scratch, it’s already sitting there. I just need to find people that would be interested in that.
The approach kind of depends on the situation that you’re in, I guess.
Jordan: Are there any other ways you would coach people to start with their outreach efforts? Where should people start in other ways?
Joshua: There are tools that you can use to kind of inspect what people have already linked to in the industry. For example, things like BuzzSumo or HREFs, you can also use their content explorer. You can basically type a keyword into these tools and they will kick back the content related to that that already has a lot of links. You can filter it in various ways and find content within an industry that has a lot of links to it.
If you start looking through that, you can get a sense of what people are interested in within the industry. If you were to see that for the SEO industry, you’d probably find a lot of stuff about link building, a lot of stuff about outreach, on page guides, all these kind of stuff. You can get a general sense of what people may be interested in linking to by doing that.
In terms of other ways to get started, if you really aren’t sure if you want to test whether or not an idea that you have, maybe you feel that you’ve had a great idea for a piece of content but it’s not being verified and you’re not sure if it’s going to resonate with people.
You can always reach out to people that you respect within the industry. Say, “I’m thinking of creating this piece of content. Would you care about that if it existed, or is there anything out there that already exists that means that I don’t really need to create this piece of content?” You can always ask people and try and get a sense of whether or not you should create content before you do. That can obviously a lot of expense if the idea ends up not being that great.
Jordan: For sure. Can we talk about what the actual approach looks like? Let’s say that I’ve identified you as someone who I’d love to do some outreach to. What does that process actually look like? How do you approach doing the actual outreach?
Joshua: For example, as you say, you identify me as a prospect perhaps. I guess the first part of the process would be to find some content details from me, find an email address, look at my website which is where you can usually find the content information for most people. Make sure you’ve got these people’s names. The amount of people that don’t even have people’s names, they just scrape websites from some unknown place or whatever.
Make sure you’ve got this person’s full name. Make sure you’ve got the right email for them, which like I say is found on the website most of the time. Make sure you learn a bit about these people, have a look at their Twitter or wherever they hang out and see what they’re interested in. You can begin building that relationship when you actually do reach out. The actual outreach process, I guess, starts with you sending that initial email.
With the initial email, you can approach that a number of ways, you can say a number of things. You can just introduce yourself and attempt to build a relationship. A lot of the people that do outreach at scale, a lot of the stuff you hear about outreach, tends to be people just going straight in and asking for a link. Generally, you find that they work better if you can build that relationship in some way beforehand. It really depends on the person, what kind of approach he wants to take; if he wants to take the lazy approach or the non-lazy approach.
That means the actual language process is as simple as finding the person that you want to reach, that you want a link from, finding the name and email address and actually making contact with them, attempting to begin that process of introducing yourself, introducing content, introducing who you are, and asking, eventually, if they would consider linking to whatever you want them to link to.
Jordan: Okay, thanks for that. How about now some ways to not approach link building with outreach?
Joshua: I suppose there’s probably more ways not to do it than there are to actually do it. My number one piece of advice would be just to be as genuine as you possibly can. A lot of average templates have their own, pretty much every SEO blog. Even I’m probably guilty of putting some templates on my blog. A lot of them advocate things like starting an email with, “Hey, I’m a big fan of your blog.” Or, “I was just searching for posts about this.”
The thing is, it’s not always true. Sometimes, people, if you’re not a fan of that blog, if you’re just reaching out to that person with the aim of getting a link, it’s a lie if you say that you’re a big fan of the blog. You’re just saying that to try and ego bait them, I guess, into actually doing what you want them to do. There’s nothing wrong with starting an email with a compliment or some kind of introduction like that, but in my opinion, it needs to be genuine. You reached out to 100 websites or even more with a certain template, perhaps.
The only compliment that you can actually pay to those 100 people is going to be a ridiculously generic compliment which most people can spot a mile off. When people do spot that you’re not being genuine, they’re probably not even likely to reply, let alone actually link to you.
Like I say, just be genuine. If you want a link from them, you don’t always have to make a secret about that. You can explain that that’s what you want. Sometimes, word travels, but if you can build that bit of a relationship beforehand, it will generally work better because who wants to link to someone that they’ve never heard of? Not many people.
Jordan: Yeah, no kidding. That’s a great way to approach it. As people start this then, how should they measure success along the way? Are there some metrics they can look at? How do they know if this is working or not?
Joshua: Obviously, people tend to look at things like the amount of links that they’ve built which is obviously a good metric for success. If you’re building links, then you’re not having success, even with the outreach process and the link building process. Obviously, the point of link building is to get more traffic to a website. By getting more traffic to a website, generally what most people want to do is increase the amount of revenue that their website is making.
The ultimate metric would be the amount of money that a website’s making. If you’re doing multiple things, multiple SEO things or content marketing approaches, you’ve got to segment that in some way to figure out exactly what’s leading to what. The ultimate metric would be money. One down from that would be the amount of traffic coming from organic search; Google, Bing, those kind of search engines. If that traffic is increasing month on month as you’re in line with your outreach efforts, in line with the actual links that you’re building, that’s a positive thing, that’s exactly what you were approaching, what you started doing link building for in the first place.
In terms of actually the outreach process, I guess there are some kinds of metrics within the outreach process that you can look at to get a general sense of what you may be doing, directly or indirectly. For example, in order for someone to actually link to you, if you’re performing outreach, they’ve got to go through a certain process, they’ve got to actually get the email, they’ve got to open the email, read it, and then reply and then link to you. They’ve got to do that process in that order.
You can fail at each one of those stages. If you realize that people aren’t opening your emails, there’s probably an issue with the subject line. You probably need to figure out whatever you put in the subject line probably doesn’t resonate with that person. You may need to go back and re engineer that. If people are opening the email but you’re not getting many replies, the offer within the email, whatever you’re pitching or whatever you’re saying to that person isn’t really resonating with them. You may go back and fix that or work on that.
If people are replying, you want to promote a piece of content and your initial outreach email is just to try and show these people the content, show what you created. You’re saying I just created a guide about traffic lights for example, you say would you like to see this guide? If anyone’s saying yes, send them content, and then ask them a link. If they don’t link or they don’t reply or they don’t care about the content, you’ve got a content issue. It’s not good enough, it’s not matched to the prospect well enough.
You can figure out where you may be falling down by looking at those metrics, but I wouldn’t say that those metrics within the outreach process indicate success of an overall SEO campaign. You’ve got to remember to not get too bogged down with that because the natural aim of doing this is to get more traffic and get more people to your website and make more money. You need to identify the things that you want to happen and make sure that they’re happening as a result of the outreach that you’re actually doing.
Jordan: Do you think there should be a difference in approach for a company or a brand versus an individual when doing outreach?
Joshua: Not really. In general, if people want to link to a piece of content, if people care about the piece of content, then they care about it and they want to link to you. They don’t really care who made it within reason. There are obviously advocates of certain brands, people that are fans of certain brands, in which case you do have the upper hand with a brand. For example, a brand like Apple, it’s going to be pretty easy to build links to a brand like Apple because they had years and years of brand building and they’re now one of the most recognized brands in the world that people love and people care about.
Depending on the brand that you’re actually working with, that can be a positive thing, that can increase success within the outreach campaign because people have heard of you, they are more likely to care about what it is that you’re offering because they may already like you. But the actual outreach process is the same for any individual and in between and brands, really. You still have to find persons to contact, contact them as an attempt to get the link, the outreach process is exactly the same.
I guess where people tend to get some confusion is in terms of exactly who they should reach and who should be the person doing the outreach. If you’re an individual, then it’s obviously going to be you. The outreach persona is going to be you. But when you’ve got a brand with multiple employees, sometimes even hundreds of employees, it’s like who do you perform that outreach on behalf of? In general, I would say if you’re not the person doing it, the SEO company or freelance whatever, it usually makes sense for them to perform the outreach as the business owner, or at least someone within the business.
The other option that you’ve got is if you’ve got talent within the company, if you’ve got a bunch of employees that are really good at certain things, you can utilize them for link building. Maybe they’ll have a good idea of the industry or a good idea of a piece of content to make. You can utilize talent within a company. That’s the upper hand a brand may have. That doesn’t always translate when you’re outsourcing the link building because people don’t always tend to use those positives.
Jordan: Okay, thanks. That makes total sense. To put a pen in this and just get your final perspective, I did want to ask now, you keep zooming out and helping us see this is a good tactic but remember what the goal for your overall SEO strategy is. You keep pointing us back to that, and I love that. Can you give us some insight into how this outreach based link building should fit into your overall SEO strategy?
Joshua: I think the most people it should really be a significant part of trying the overall SEO strategy, obviously there are other aspects that are equally important on issues, technical issues. Generally, when you see a website ranking in the top spot for any worthwhile competitor keyword that actually has volume, that website will usually have a bunch of links pointing towards it. That is one of the reasons that it tends to rank.
Even if you’re creating great content, even if you’ve got everything else right, most people won’t rank for the terms that they want to rank for without getting at least some links. Obviously, you’ve got to keep in mind the overall aim of any SEO strategy which is just to get more traffic, more targeted traffic from organic search. You need to make sure that the effort that you’re putting into link building actually translates to that and results in the outcome, if that’s what you want to happen, which is what you generally do want to happen if you’re involved in all this kind of stuff.
Jordan: Love it. Thank you so much, Joshua, for sharing some knowledge with us on SEO today.
Joshua: That’s fine, no problem.
Jordan: Links are arguably the most important search engine ranking factor, which is why it’s great news that you have the power to win links to your top shelf content. Outreach based link building is a significant opportunity for successful SEO. If you put the handwork into creating amazing content, it is certainly worth the effort of making sure to build quality links to it.
Identify the folks with the audiences who will benefit from your stuff, stay genuine, and strike up a relationship with them to take the first step.
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