Using Outreach for Content Marketing
Part III Of This 10-Part Blog Series on Enterprise IT Content Marketing Fundamentals
In the previous article we discussed: How Content Marketing Complements All of Marketing.
In This Article:
- The Role of Link Building
- Why Link Quality Is More Important than Link Quantity
- Email Outreach: Not Dead Yet
To recap, so far, we’ve discussed the essentials of content marketing and how it can seamlessly integrate into your overall strategy. However, most of the principles, best practices, and examples highlighted only cover one aspect of content marketing: the actual creation of content.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into another part that is equally critical and can make or break your strategy—outreach and promotion.
If you’re like most of the marketers ActualTech Media works with, it’s unlikely that you’ll engage in the very “tactical” steps described below. But the goal of this article is to help you grasp the nuances and the essential do’s and don’ts of the entire process of outreach and link building so that you’re better equipped to lead your team. At the end of the article, we’ll discuss how to chart a course for your team.
Marketing, like most things in life, is a popularity contest. Whether you’re selling cookies in your neighborhood or pitching your software to global enterprises, the more you get acknowledged and recognized with a positive sentiment, the more likely you are to succeed in achieving your business goals.
From the lens of an SEO-focused content marketer, this involves getting other websites to link to your website, a practice known as “link building.”
By acquiring hyperlinks (or backlinks) from other websites, you can attract relevant audiences from similar or related sources to your own website. This way, others will essentially be endorsing your brand or content.
However, the primary purpose of link building is to increase your odds of ranking higher in the search engine results pages (or SERPs). Google and others see backlinks as “votes of confidence” and PageRank (an algorithm that Google uses to rank pages in the search results) considers the quality and number of backlinks a major ranking factor.
Link-Building Efforts Play a Major Role in Determining Your Success!
Link building is the primary component of any “off-page” SEO strategy that involves using different tactics to acquire hyperlinks from other websites that link back to you (also known as “backlinks”). These links help both users and search engine crawlers (programs that scour the Internet for webpages, analyze them, and then add them to their search engine’s index), navigate from website to website. The more links you “build” for your content, the more likely it is to show up on the first page in the search engine rankings for relevant keywords.
Why Does Quality Matter When Creating Backlinks?
Once upon a time, link building was all about acquiring as many links as possible by doing whatever it took. SEOs didn’t care much about where they were generating links from, and they were only concerned about hitting their monthly targets by leaving comments and publishing sub-par content on other websites to generate a backlink.
Today, the quality of your links matters more to search engines than the quantity.
But what does quality even mean in this context? Quality here refers to acquiring backlinks from domains that are considered trustworthy by search engines and are known for publishing popular content.
How do you know if a website is worth getting linked from? A tried-and-tested way is to look at its domain authority (DA, also known as domain rating)—a score (from 0 to 100) that’s calculated using the number of links and the quality of linking sources. It reflects the chances of a website to rank higher on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP): The higher the DA, the greater the chances of ranking even for the most difficult keywords. It’s important to remember that DA itself isn’t a direct ranking factor, but a good indicator of a website’s overall standing or “reputation.” That being said, your ultimate focus shouldn’t be to increase your own DA score, but rather to get high-DA websites to give you links.
Think about it: Whose word holds more weight? A well-known, seasoned professional with a reputation talking about their area of expertise, or a nobody with no significant experience or reputation speaking on the same subject?
Of course, you’d bet your money on the first option (unless you enjoy losing bets—we’re not judging).
To solidify everything, here’s a question: If website A has 100 backlinks and website B has more than 300, which one of them would have a better chance at ranking?
The answer: It depends. Remember that it’s not just the volume of backlinks that counts, but also the quality. Website A could win out if the quality of its links is significantly higher.
Search engines work in a similar way while analyzing the backlink profiles of websites.
“If website A is trustworthy and is sending me to website B, it must mean that the latter is trustworthy, as well.” This is an over-simplified way of explaining how search engine algorithms work while analyzing links. Considering that, the more links you have from high-DA websites, the more credible and trustworthy you’ll appear.
Here are some of the top-ranking, high DA websites that you could consider acquiring backlinks from:
- Enterprise CIO
- Fast Company
- BizTech Magazine
- Data Center Knowledge
- MIT Technology Review
- The Next Web (TNW)
To keep track of everything, search engine crawlers pass some of the PageRank (equity or value) from the linking domains to the linked sources—a process that’s sometimes jokingly referred to as “link juice.” It’s this link juice that search engines consider when determining rankings.
As illustrated in Figure 9, links essentially work as “pipes” to transfer equity or juice. This concept also applies to internal links, which is one of the reasons why it’s crucial to branch out and connect your webpages with each other.
While acquiring a link from any website, make sure they don’t use the “nofollow” attribute. This attribute is added to the hyperlink in the HTML source code and prevents search engine crawlers from passing any equity.
To find out if a website adds the “nofollow” attribute, you can either simply ask the person managing it or access the source code of any page on your browser and look at an external link.
“Nofollow links” aren’t necessarily bad. When clicking on them, the users don’t notice any difference and can use them to navigate to the linked destinations. Keeping that in mind, if you’re able to acquire a link from a website that receives hundreds of thousands of visitors on a monthly basis, it doesn’t matter if it impacts your backlink profile, as you’ll be setting yourself up to potentially receive a decent chunk of that traffic.
Additionally, analyzing your backlink profile with tools such as Ahrefs and SEMrush will also tell you which links are follow and nofollow.
Adding the nofollow attribute to external links is a way of telling search engines that you don’t trust the linked source. It is, therefore, advised that you try your best to acquire links from websites that don’t use this attribute by default.
How Do You Get Links? Create Link-able Content!
There are many tactics that you can use to generate links to your website. It all depends on the level of resources that you have.
A few tried-and-tested techniques that work for most businesses include:
- Guest Posting: This refers to publishing original content on other websites as a contributor. In exchange, you get to place a link or two (either in your bio or within the actual content) back to your own website. Try to contribute on major publisher websites and tech journals since they tend to have high DA scores (now you know one of the main reasons behind marketers and PR firms obsessing over becoming contributors to sites like Forbes and Entrepreneur). If you’re a SaaS company, you can consider writing for software review websites, such as G2.
- Broken Link Building: This is a fairly quick way to get a link. It involves finding a relevant webpage with a broken link (a link to a page that’s no longer available or moved to another location), creating similar content (or selecting an existing asset that’s a perfect replacement), and requesting the owner of the website to replace the broken (dead-end) link with your fresh and available resource. There are many online tools that can help you instantly find broken links on any domain or page.
- Repurpose Content: If you’ve published an in-depth blog post, you can repurpose it into an infographic (or any other format), publish it on a popular third-party platform, and link back to your original post. Or you could share slides from a recent presentation.
- Reclaim Lost Links: Over time, you can lose some of the backlinks that you’ve made along the way. Instead of getting upset over it, you can investigate why you lost those links (did a competitor sweep in and take your place?), contact the person managing the linking website, and either request them to give you the link back or provide them with a fresh content asset that they could consider linking to through a separate page.
Now that we’ve gone over some different link-building tactics, how can you ensure that you’ll get linked to in the first place?
You’d be right if you guess that you do this by creating exceptionally valuable content. (Perhaps you’re sensing a theme here …)
To be more precise, to increase your chances of getting backlinks, you need to make your content linkable.
There’s no universal definition of a linkable content asset. A content asset that might seem worthy of linking to one person might not be good enough or even relevant to another. However, there are a few elements that, when incorporated while crafting your asset, can increase your chances of getting links. Some of them include (you don’t necessarily have to include all of them):
- Original Data: Statistics and other data on your industry that you collect yourself (or have someone else collect on your behalf) through surveys and studies can help you gain links from related websites over the course of many years.
- Custom Illustrations and Charts: To increase the shareability of your content, you can include custom illustrations, charts, and infographics that help to get the point across.
- Word from the Wise: Another great way to make your content linkable is by asking industry leaders for their opinion or advice on a relevant subject, and including them in your asset. That way, other content publishers, when discussing the same subject and referring to their quotes, will mention your brand and link to your content.
- Unique Take and Concrete Advice: Last, but not least, taking a unique approach when covering a subject or a topic that has already been covered countless times by other publishers will help. Others will see this fresh perspective as an original thought. Furthermore, be sure to include actionable advice (like an insider secret) that your audience can use right away.
Using Classic Email Outreach to Get Noticed and Build Authority
Earlier, we mentioned using outreach tactics to distribute content and build links in the process. To recap, outreach, in the context of content marketing, refers to reaching out to influencers, bloggers, and publishers through cold emails (or utilizing existing relationships), asking them to share a piece of (relevant) content on their website to provide you with a link.
There are many ways you can approach content publishers for this purpose, such as with an original idea/data/content or an asset that they can share on their website, to name a few. See Figure 10 for some examples.
While it may be difficult and time-consuming, email outreach, when done right, can help you create some really high-quality backlinks for your website, establish long-term relationships, and get new leads in the process.
Here are some of the best practices and insider secrets to help you hit the ground running:
Find the Perfect Prospects
Your outreach efforts should begin by creating a list of potential prospects to reach out to. After all, you can’t just reach out to any website that you come across, right? That would be like throwing darts in the dark hoping that you hit the bullseye.
To make your efforts count, you need to go after the right prospects, i.e. those who would be interested in covering your content and whose coverage would send meaningful attention your direction.
Here are some quick tips to help you get started:
- Use Google search operators to find bloggers or publishers that may be interested in providing coverage. Put your keywords in quotations while searching or use the “inurl:website.com keyword” operator to see if a particular website has recently published any post that’s relevant to your topic.
- Check the backlinks of your competitors for similar content. You can use any SEO tool, such as Ahrefs, for this purpose. Websites linking to similar content may also be interested in publishing content that you have to offer.
- Check over the latest content on the website. Just because a potential prospect covered a topic similar to what you have to pitch a few years ago doesn’t guarantee that they’d be interested in doing the same again. Analyze their posts to see if they’d be interested in covering similar content at the moment.
Use Compelling Email Subject Lines
Vetting recipients and sending out the emails is the easy part.
Why? Cause it’s all under your control.
When the ball is in your prospect’s court though, there’s no guarantee that they’ll even bother opening your email in the first place. In fact, the average open rate for emails in all industries is just 17.92%32 (in other words, you’re probably going to get ignored).
For that reason, you need to write the perfect email subject line—one that grabs attention and compels the recipient to open your email.
Here’s the secret recipe for composing a compelling email subject line:
- Make it personal by adding the name of the website to your subject line.
- Avoid anything that gives off the impression that you’re spamming the recipient. Keep the subject lines descriptive and realistic, but also brief.
Writing the Perfect Email Body
Last, but not least, make the actual email body count. Just because you get a prospect to open your email, doesn’t mean that they’ll definitely consider the content you’re pitching. One wrong move can put them off and send your email straight to the trash folder. Or worse, mark you as spam.
In effective outreach, both parties (the content marketer and the prospect) have something to gain. However, the prospect has the upper hand in this transaction, as they’re probably getting approached by hundreds of other marketers with similar pitches.
To make sure that you stand out, do the following:
- Make it personal by mentioning a piece of content that the prospect has recently published, and is preferably relevant to what you’re about to pitch. This gives the impression that you’ve done your homework and piques the interest of your prospect. (Who doesn’t like receiving praise? Just be sure it’s genuine.)
- Using the personal element as a foundation, proceed to mention the content that you’re about to pitch and provide the link to it (it could be an e-book, a video, a whitepaper, or any other asset). However, don’t be abrupt, as you don’t want to seem desperate. Make sure that the transition from the personal element to the actual point is smooth.
- Avoid beating around the bush. Don’t make your email long-winded. Get to the point as quickly and naturally as possible.
- Finally, make it clear that if they find it interesting, they’re welcome to share/cover it on their website.
Using User-Based Websites for Distributing Your Content
Besides promoting your content on platforms that monitor and approve every piece of content that gets published, you can also look toward websites that invite user-generated content.
Classic examples of such websites are Reddit and Quora. These websites allow you to publish relevant content whenever you want and are essentially self-moderating. However, due to the freedom that these platforms offer, your posts should be able to stand out from the crowd or they’ll quickly be buried.
For instance, when answering questions on Quora, make sure to be as descriptive, empathetic, and helpful as possible. Don’t try to blatantly place links and push your agenda. Instead, channel your inner content marketer: Answer questions related to your area of expertise by leveraging the content that you’ve already published, build authority, and then watch that goodwill roll in.
When you publish content on a regular basis on these websites, you can acquire an appreciable amount of links. However, most of these will have the nofollow attribute.
Nonetheless, they pack serious potential in terms of bringing traffic to your website.
In addition to these avenues, you can find relevant forums and go all in on helping the community and build your brand in the process.
Create a Solid Program for Content Outreach and Link Building
If you’re not going to be the one actually implementing what was discussed in this chapter, the final piece of the puzzle is to build a scalable program for content outreach and link building—a framework based on the resources you’re willing to put in.
There are two ways you can go about creating one:
1. Create and Run an In-House Program (Which May Include Contractors)
Your first option is to create an in-house team that handles all of the content outreach and link building efforts.
Of course, this will entail recruiting a team from scratch, probably consisting of at least the following roles:
- Content Marketers: It goes without saying that you’ll need to hire expert content marketers who can not only produce outstanding content assets for your brand, but are also well-versed in the art of outreach, email marketing, and other link building tactics. In a very technical field like IT, finding an experienced content marketer who can adequately “talk the talk” can be expensive.
- SEO Analyst(s): For most teams, a single SEO analyst is more than enough. This individual can assist your content marketers with their content creation and link building efforts by identifying promising topics and scoping out third-party websites to go after, in addition to keeping an eye on your backlink profile (a “portfolio” of all the websites linking to your domain, making it easier to identify good links and bad). Additionally, they can assist you with other, “on-page” SEO-related efforts.
Once you create a team of experts, the next step is to set some goals for them. If you’re just starting out, it’d be better to stick with simple objectives. You can always count on the S.M.A.R.T methodology, which states that your goals should be simple, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Here are a few examples of S.M.A.R.T goals for a content marketing team:
- To create X number of links from 60+ DA websites in Y months
- To increase the DA-score of our website by 10 in X months
- To boost the organic traffic coming from external websites by X% in Y months
Finally, if you’re creating a program from scratch for the first time, it’s best to approach already experienced marketers for recruitment and test them on the best-practices of content marketing, outreach, and/or SEO prior to hiring them. Once everything’s set and you’re cruising, then consider developing a training program and hiring fresh talent you can train to do it your way.
2. Outsource the Whole Job to an Agency
While having an in-house program gives you more control over your efforts, it’s not always feasible to build one from scratch. Money, time, and expertise often stand in the way.
If you don’t have the resources to create an in-house outreach and link building program, you can always outsource to a content marketing/link building service.
Fortunately, there are agencies (and solo freelancers) out there for almost every budget.
Beware, though, as there are plenty of services with cheap, pre-made “packages” that will do more harm than good.
Here are some quick, to-the-point tips on choosing an agency/freelancer that offers content outreach and/or link building services:
- Avoid Pre-Made Packages: A quick and easy way to narrow down your options is to avoid services with pre-made packages. For example, if an agency claims that they’ll help you build X number of links in Y dollars—run! That’s because if the goal is to create “high-quality” links, it’s nearly impossible to guarantee a fixed amount of backlinks. The volume of quality backlinks they can generate is also highly dependent on how good the content you give them to work with is. Therefore, reputable agencies tend to work on a retainer basis.
- Hit Two Birds with One Stone: Opt for agencies that can not only help you with the promotion and distribution of your content, but also with its production. It’s best to do a quick Google search for something like “IT content marketing agency,” and then find the ones ranking at the top (evidence that they know SEO by getting themselves ranking for a highly competitive term). Great content and great promotion expertise are synergistic and the outcome is often greater than the sum of its parts.
Once you’ve shortlisted the agencies you think would be a good fit, reach out to them, spark up a conversation, and see if their services align your goals and budget. In our next article we will discuss: An Introduction To Gorilla Guides