I receive lots of requests asking to add guest posts (read: backlinks) on my website. My mailbox is filled with link requests and pitches asking for all sorts of things. This is part and parcel of running a PR agency, and I had no choice but to learn how to live with it.
What surprises me is not that people try in every possible way to get a backlink, but that they’re hoping to make this exchange in a hit-and-run fashion, without even trying to build a relationship with me.
Without even touching on the unethical side of this approach — I wouldn’t consider spamming busy website owners a particularly good approach when it comes to building links, or anything else — I’ve come to notice that this method is missing the “build a relation factor” that, in my opinion, is key to making this strategy work.
Social-exchange psychologists believe that people decide to start a relation only when the potential benefits overcome the risks. There is a natural tendency to maximize benefits and minimize costs, and when that doesn’t work, people decide to end their relationships or not enter into one in the first place.
Now, going back to those daily requests for guest posting, how would this social-exchange model apply? I don’t know the person sending the email (these emails are normally cold pitches), nor do I know where they got my email address. Very often, the site offered as backlink has little or no domain authority (not even appearing in the first position of Google when searching for its name), and lastly, the trade-off for me to do this is a “free guest post,” i.e. a spun version of a real article with no ranking value at all. Would I even consider granting this request and risk minimizing my site authority in Google’s eyes? The answer is obviously yes.
The key, in my opinion, is to think about SEO outreach efforts as a relationship-building strategy. Hence, shifting from viewing these requests as cold outreachesto value-added communications with your subscribers; from overtures from an unknown site to those coming a brand; from them offering something irrelevant to something that sounds like what your readers really want.
Build a database of subscribers
Building a database of subscribers is a powerful tool when it comes to building a relationship and creating a certain level of trust. Since backlinks are all about trust — particularly when they are do-follow links — building a database of subscribers is a necessary step in your SEO efforts. A customer database allows you to build brand affinity and to communicate to users what they want to hear and what you have to say, since they have opted to receive your emails in the first place. A database of subscribers also allows you to segment your user-base, ensuring that guest-post requests sent to those users might potentially be more interesting than others.
For example, let’s say you own a children’s clothing website — or you are an agency acting on behalf of your client — and you are desperately looking for backlinks. Would you rather filter your database by searching only for those blogs in the clothing or baby sector? If you don’t have an industry field in your database of subscribers, you could just filter by demographic factors, such as women between 28 to 45 years old, who would be more likely to be interested.
Build an identity
The success of your campaigns strongly depends on what is called a “branding experience.” A request made through an email representing a company that you have never heard of — and that often does not even appear in the first position of Google even when searching for its name — is not to be taken seriously. An email from a company that you already know has a much higher chance of success.
As pointed out in a recent Entrepreneur article by Areva Martin, “Never before have you had the chance to build a brand like you can today, then leverage it to expand your business, increase your sales and enhance your credibility and ultimately your bottom line.”
I have to add that building a brand is expenseive, and its costs represent a barrier for many startups coming on the market with low budgets. So how to do it? Offer something free, and get your potential clients to know you and even to work with you before pitching to them or before sending them a cold “guest posting” request. They will be keener to listen and keep on working with you or buying your products/services once the free trial has ended.
Offering a real value exchange
If you are reaching out to a blog, they are likely to have plenty of articles already cued in their system to get published. Similarly, if the blog you’re reaching out to is one with good SEO metrics, it’s likely that they already have professional writers publishing SEO-optimized content. Do you think they see the benefit of accepting a guest post just because it’s free? I highly doubt it.
However, people love research papers and use them as a method of exchange, which is one way of providing real value behind your offer. Getting back to our previous example of the children’s clothing website reaching out for backlinks, you could create a research paper titled, “How Dress Colors Influence a Child’s Mood.” And your outreach email could read:
“I’m back again, this time to ask for your help.
I have just completed a research paper titled: “How Dress Colors Influence a Child’s Mood.”I’d appreciate your support in getting this research distributed. Do you think you would be able to post it on your site? This would help us in producing more researches like this, which we believe to be very helpful and informative for moms.
Thanks in advance.”
Whatever your strategy, and whichever side of the exchange you’re on, there are benefits to be reaped from viewing SEO outreach as a win-win opportunity.