Building an SEO strategy on blogger outreach is something we’ve been recommending for years. It’s completely aligned with Google’s own measures for getting quality, relevant websites to link to you on the strength of your own product and service alone.
It’s messy though.
Gaining a dozen links might mean contacting hundreds of bloggers, working out the foibles of each one and negotiating exactly what they want in return for that precious link-juice. Over the years we’ve refined the process into a number of steps, and worked through dozens of tools to help make the process more efficient and effective. Here is our recipe, stripped down to the bare essentials…
Step 1 – Prospecting
If good links are like gold dust, it helps to know where to look. For this there are 2 broad research techniques.
The first is finding sites that link to your competitors, the theory being that they will have an interest in your field and might link to you also. For this there are a few tools, including AnalyticsSEO which we use for most of our client reporting, but most rely at heart on data from either Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO. Both will give you reams of data on who link to your biggest competitors from all manner of sites. Directories, forums, blogs, news sites and a fair few junk scraper sites too. They can give you some great ideas as to how to get a link from these sites also ( you do have your own content strategy in place, don’t you?).
The second is finding sites that fit a certain profile that is likely to link to you. Using advanced search queries you can use Google to find sites who – for example – already accept guest posts.
Typing the above into Google will help you find blogs who have guest posts about ecommerce.
Tools to regularly run these searches are built into many SEO management tools such as AnalyticsSEO and Buzzstream. There are also dedicated tools like Link Prospector that will help you too. Our recommendation is to use a variety of them, and use a variety of search engines, not just Google, to give you as much variety as possible.
Repeat these processes a few times, for each of your keywords and we can end up with thousands of targets. On to step 2.
Step 2 – Filtering
If you’re panning for gold you need two things for success. You need to be looking in a place with gold in the ground, and you need a way to separate the mud from the gold as efficiently as you can. Our prospecting searches dealt with the former, now we need tools for the latter.
Our tool of choice in this area is Buzzstream. From a list of sites we can see various metrics about how valuable a link from that site could be for us, as well as tools to help us find the site’s contact address or forms.
Remember, no contact details makes it hard to reach out to the site editor, so chasing a high ranking site with no contact details may not be the best use of your time.
Sifting through back-links in particular is very very tedious, so this is something you might want to outsource to a low-cost supplier like the Amazon Mechanical Turk
Step 3 – Contact Your Bloggers
So you have the site’s email address or contact form, you can just email them, right?
This is where your outreach efforts can live or die. Your first contact with the blogger, so it’s imperative that you put some effort in personalising your emails. By that I don’t just mean “Dear John,” but showing you’ve genuinely read the blog and get who it’s aimed at and what you have to offer that same audience.
Keeping track of these emails will become a big chore as the campaign progresses. We often get responses a good couple of weeks after the initial contact so relying on memory won’t cut it.
Buzzstream allows us to both email, and log who we’ve contacted, using outline templates to give guidance on the pitch for each client. Gmail also has some handy tools for pre-written contact emails.
Don’t forget your phone when doing this either – for full time pro bloggers in particular it’ll get you a far better response than a template email.
Step 4 – Remind
You really need some tools where you can remember to chase bloggers a few times before giving up on the outreach effort, or at least changing tack.
Buzzstream will help a little by changing the status of each contact to show who you have mailed. Boomerang for Gmail can also help by sending you reminders a couple of weeks later so you can send follow-ups. Responses to second, third and even fourth emails make additional efforts worthwhile. Just vary the message each time and copy your previous efforts in.
For another level of visibility on your efforts, Yesware will track which emails have been opened so you can see if you are even getting through to someone or not. This is another Gmail add in so great if your organisation is using Google Apps (even better if you started using it before Google made this a paid service ). It also integrates with many CRM tools, so if you are using something like Salesforce to manage your database of Bloggers, this could be useful
Step 5 – Negotiate
Once your outreach efforts bear their first fruit and you start getting some responses, you’ll realise there’s still a long way to go.
Bloggers will want varying degrees of value of some sort to promote your business. These can range from sponsored posts, products for review (that may well end up on eBay) or exclusivity on a big story. The bigger blogs really know their value these days so don’t expect to see guest posts accepted for free except by the laziest of bloggers unless you or your client has some real cachet in their niche.
This can involve a lot of to-and-fro so can be quite complex to manage, especially if a large team is involved.
We’ve ended up using a heaviliy customised version of the Kayako Resolve helpdesk for this. We tried using various CRM systems, but none of them really seemed to really match what we wanted. Kayako helps us keep responses to various campiagns separate, escalate things like commercial negotiations to other members of the team, maintain response speed with built in SLA reminders, monitor the stage in negotiations we’re at, and report on how many conversations resulted in links.
Step – 6 Produce the goods
At some point you have to give what’s promised to the blogger. Writing guest posts, or quality content isn’t something you can get software to do but if you’re managing lots of content writing, there are a few tools to help manage the team.
I’ve already written about how Textbroker can quickly provide the backbone of a blog post, and if this is your only source of content then WordPress has a plugin to manage this all under one roof.
For higher quality content we have an in-house team, but when we need specialist content writing I’m becoming a big fan of PeoplePerHour.com. PPH seems to attract a higher quality of writers than oDesk and Freelancer.com. Rates are generally higher but you can get a 1000 word piece written for anything from about $20-$200 depending on the experience of the writer. There’s an escrow system and solid support if the work doesn’t meet expectations.
You also need some tracking of what cash is being spent on the campaign. Your own accounts team may have a solution, and we use Workflow Max integrated with Xero for accounting and client billing. Interestingly, few of the SEO campaign tools I’ve seen include this element. I think Linkdex may have something in there, but while it’s a great tool, it’s a little pricey.
Maybe this is down to Google’s mantra that paid links are bad, something we agree with, but money is being spent elsewhere such as on content, product samples and legwork so you need to keep track of that. This is all about making money at the end of the day and half of the profit equation is in controlling costs.
Step 7 – Monitor Your Outreach Success
With your link in place you need to monitor a few things:
1) That it stays there – you’d be amazed how quickly some directory and social links disappear from sight
2) That it’s having an effect on your rankings
3) That it’s having an effect on your traffic
4) That it’s having an effect on your sales
All these things are thankfully covered by AnalyticsSEO for us with its Google Analytics integration. You can cludge a few directly out of Google Analytics and webmaster tools, but it can be laborious unless you know how to set up and save reports.
About a year ago, Yahoo closed off it’s Site Explorer service which gave access to valuable backlink data. My prediction for 2013 is that more reporting services, particularly provided by Google, or from scraped Google data will start to become commercial only, so figuring out what data you do and don’t need right now will be time well spent.
Summary – Scaling Blogger Outreach Needs Tools
I hope this is helpful putting a structure in place if you’re planning your own outreach campaign. Whilst anyone can do this, it certainly helps if you have a process that you can scale, delegate and measure. Spreadsheets will only take you so far!
I know SEO’s love new software tools so do let me know if you have any other tools in your trunk that you think others should know about.