Outreach is the future of SEO. As Google’s algorithm changes and the SEO goalposts move, it’s vital that brands embrace outreach to get themselves found online.
But outreach is a hazy concept, and as a strategy, it’s still in its relative infancy. To shed some light on exactly what outreach is and how it works, let’s break it down for you.
What does outreach mean?
Search for a definition of outreach online, and you’ll probably struggle to find the same definition twice. Outreach is a nebulous concept, and can be hard to pin down.
Google defines the word ‘outreach’ as “the extent or length of reaching out.” Helpful.
Search Engine Land offers a more insightful definition:
“Outreach marketing is the practice of seeking out individuals or organizations that have a shared interest in what you or your company has to offer.”
To get a better grip on the idea, we asked our team what outreach means to them:
Kayleigh Töyrä, Creative Director
“For me, outreach is all about: value exchange, being open, community building, and creativity. It’s a very people-oriented process and a marketing tactic that’s hard to harness. Only certain types of brands (and agencies) succeed at outreach.”
Gareth Simpson, Managing Director / Head of SEO
“In its most simple form, outreach is about building relationships through communication to get a link through value exchange. I often refer to outreach as ‘permission’ link-building.
“In the old days of SEO, you could just submit a link to a directory. But this form of submission link-building doesn’t necessarily add value.
“With permission link-building, you have to win someone over and persuade them to provide a link.
“Every link needs a story behind it, because, for me, the link is the reward but not the objective. The link is a validation of something else that’s going on: an event, a collaboration, a personal recommendation, and so on.
“Google states that links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking violate its guidelines. But outreach creates links that do more than just improve rankings. It’s content marketing, creating value that benefits everyone.”
Lewis Chaffey, SEO Executive
“Outreach is an advanced form of link building that uses surgical link building tactics to enhance organic visibility on search engines. Outreach is really a collection of small step-by-step tasks that make up a full outreach campaign, these include: prospecting, pitching, writing, negotiation, and link-building strategy.”
Laura Slingo, Digital Campaign Manager
“Outreach, at its core, is communication. It’s the very literal process of reaching out to someone and telling them something great and, ultimately, prompting them to do something with that information: share it, write about it, or link to it.
“It’s not just about reaching out to every Tom, Dick, or Harry though. No no. It’s about reaching out to the right people at the right time and achieving what you need in line with your business KPIs.
“Outreach is the perfect blend of the creative and the strategic, and it takes a specialist team to do it well.”
Daisy Sawyer, Outreach Executive
“Outreach is pinpointing a fact or piece of data and creating an interesting story out of it. Successful outreach happens when you create something creative, unique, and newsworthy, and get it out to the right people. Sounds simple — but you’ve got to get it right!”
As the definitions above indicate, outreach means different things to different people. But at its heart, it’s about connecting with contacts, nurturing relationships, and building links.
Why is outreach so important?
The state of SEO has changed dramatically in recent years.
As Google’s algorithm improves, it has become better at detecting link-building practices that violate the search engine’s guidelines. Private blog networks, link exchanges, advertorials — link-building practices such as these and more can be found and penalised as a result.
But backlinks remain the most important ranking factor for the Google algorithm. Without a network of strong backlinks, a website’s rankings will suffer.
Consequently, a brand will lose traffic and, as a result, lose sales as well.
To combat Google’s improved algorithm, more and more SEO agencies have expanded their strategy into outreach. A side effect of this is that the supply of content outstrips demand for it.
Publishers receive hundreds of emails a day from agencies requesting their publish and promote their content. As a result, outreach becomes less automatic and more nuanced, requiring strong negotiation and interpersonal skills.
What does outreach involve?
In the simplest terms, outreach is about building links.
As an SEO strategy, outreach is used to build valuable backlinks from external publishers to a single client website.
A backlink network enhances a website’s rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs), driving qualified organic, referral traffic, and increased revenue.
But outreach is also about improving a business’s credibility and strengthening brand awareness. Getting your business seen on authoritative, respected websites imbues it with credibility, boosting its branding on the digital stage.
An outreach strategy is a protracted process. But, as the old saying goes, if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
The outreach process
Let’s look at the outreach process from start to finish.
First, we need to identify publisher websites to post our content on. This process is known as prospecting.
There are myriad ways to do this, but the most popular is through the use of dedicated prospecting tools. Seeker uses Pitchbox, but there are lots of other useful tools you can use.
Prospecting involves identifying websites that are 1) reliable, and 2) relevant. Not every website is worth your time
Collating a prospect list requires the following information:
- Publisher name
- Contact name
- Email address
- Job title
- Social media profiles
But what makes a good prospect? It’s all about the metrics. Here are a few things to look out for:
- Relevance: a good prospect is one that is relevant to your client and the page you’re linking to.
- Popularity: your prospect should have high traffic, high social shares, and a high number of good backlinks.
- Trustworthiness: does Google trust your prospect? Look for a site with an aged domain, strong UX, and a fresh content strategy and you’ll get a trusty prospect.
- Link practice: is your prospect a link farm? Look out for excessive or irrelevant outbound links, as this indicates a poor prospect.
- Domain Rating (DR): DA is a search engine ranking score that represents a domain’s popularity, based on its backlink profile.
- Page Authority (PA): a search engine ranking score that indicates whether specific pages on a domain have authority, based on a range of factors.
- Citation flow: this is the number of backlinks leading to a domain. The more you have, the better Google will rank the prospect.
- Trust flow: this relates to the quality of the prospect’s backlinks. Better quality links (as determined by Google) mean a better quality prospect.
- Citation flow/trust flow: this is the ratio of general links to quality links. If a prospect has lots of links but only a few quality links, it might be ranked lower by Google.
These are just a few factors that make for a good prospect. While it might seem like a mammoth task, the outreach tools mentioned above make it easy to find the prospect for you.
Now you’ve identified the website(s) you want to outreach to, it’s time to pitch. This is where your interpersonal skills come into play. It’s important to remember that you are outreaching to people, not businesses.
A good outreach email has the following features:
- A strong subject line: getting your prospect to open your email is crucial, and your subject line is what gets this done.
- Personalisation: a personalised email is key to the outreach process. Generic automated emails lack a human feel, and will put prospects off your pitch.
- Brevity: publishers receive hundreds of emails a day, and are often time-poor. Keep it short and to the point.
Prospects get dozens, hundreds, and even thousands of outreach requests a day. Consequently, you need to create a tailored approach when you’re conducting your outreach. Beyond considering what you need, consider what your prospect needs too.
Here are a few tactics you can employ in your outreach:
- Update an old post: find an outdated but well-performing post (e.g. an essential guide from 2017) and contact the publisher with the offer of an updated piece.
- Fill a content gap: find a gap in a prospect’s content strategy and offer to fill it with your own content. Alternatively, find a topic that the prospect hasn’t covered in depth and offer the same.
- Offer an opposing viewpoint: good content sparks debate. Pitch the idea of an opinion piece that goes against the publisher’s viewpoint.
- Use current news and events in your pitch: identify a key recent event in your prospect/client’s industry and use it as a pitch for a news-style piece.
- Offer seasonal content: virtually every industry integrates seasonal content in their strategy. Pitch an idea based on a holiday or national event that relates to your prospect and your client.
There are myriad tactics for a strong outreach pitch, far too many to list here. Use the above as a jumping-off point and craft your own outreach strategies.
Once you’ve won a pitch, you need to write the content. The brief is usually a balance between the prospect site’s and your client’s respective niches. You’ll be writing for your site, not your client, so adhere to their editorial guidelines throughout.
The type of content you write will ultimately be up to you, although your prospect and/or client should have their say in this too. The content has to suit the prospect’s site while fulfilling the client’s needs, so listen to their input to find the right content format that works for everyone.
Google’s E-A-T algorithm should be considered here. The overall theme of the piece has to be relevant to the client and anchor text, so select a topic that works.
For instance, if you want a link to a product page for an eco-friendly toothbrush, a blog about the best environmentally-friendly personal hygiene products would be ideal.
You’ve won the pitch, you’ve created a piece of on-point content. Now you need to nurture that relationship and persuade your prospect to accept your content with the links intact.
The key to this is through a high degree of personalisation. If you contact your prospect with an obviously generic email, you’ll detract from the value of your relationship.
And that relationship is critical. If your prospect is wary of you, they’ll be wary of your linking practices too. Check your prospect’s backlink guidelines before sending a piece of content over — if your link contravenes their requirements, they’ll strip it or simply refuse to publish your content.
If your prospect hasn’t gotten back to you, feel free to send them a chaser. But be warned: if you sound needy or pushy, you’ll lose them. The prospect relationship is a delicate one, so tread softly.
Once you’ve persuaded your prospect to accept your content with links intact, you’ll need to evaluate that link’s performance, both as an individual link and in the context of your wider outreach strategy.
There are several factors you should consider when you’re analysing your outreach campaigns:
- Volume of backlinks: how many links has your campaign created? The more the merrier — be sure to identify direct links (from the prospect) and indirect links (from third-party sites that reproduce your content).
- Social shares: the more social shares a piece of content gets, the more people it reaches (which in turn creates indirect backlinks).
- Pitch to placement ratio: this relates to the number of actual placements you receive compared to the number of pitches sent out. If you send out hundreds of pitches but only receive a dozen placements, your outreach strategy needs fixing.
- Placement quality: further to the above, if the only placements you get are with low-quality prospects, your outreach needs augmenting.
- Keyword performance: the pages your content links to are associated with specific keywords. When you create these links, these pages should rank higher organically for these keywords.
It’s vital that you assess the quality of your outreach campaign, and not just upon completion. Evaluate your campaign on a regular basis. This helps you identify any potential bottlenecks or flaws in your outreach strategy early on, so you can keep it perfect.
Outreach and SEO are becoming ever more inextricable in 2019. The goalposts are moving, and brands and agencies will need to work hard to source valuable backlinks on authoritative sites. It’s not impossible — but it’s challenging.