The new mantra in Internet marketing is “great content.” After all, if it’s a Matt Cutts meme, it must be true – right?
And while few of us would ever argue against great content, I’m here to say it’s not enough. Today you need to surround yourself with inﬂuencers and evangelists, too.
After all, a website doesn’t give you a link – the person who owns it does.
Personality and relationships go a long way toward determining whether you’re a great link builder or just an average SEO. Here is an outline of the outreach process that works for me.
Step 1: Make something amazing
Before we get into the ins and outs of outreach, let’s take a step back to the content. In the world of Penguins and Pandas it’s all about the quality of whatever you do, and that’s only going to become more important in the future.
But to really stand out, you need to push the boundaries. By knowing your industry inside out you’ll be able to see who’s doing great things, where the gaps are, and how to exploit them.
For instance, I’m the co-founder of Pet365, a UK-based online retailer. I discovered early on that nobody was creating and targeting content for bloggers. Yes, there were a few infographics out there, but nothing that was fun and stood out.
In we stepped, creating infographics like this one once a month late last year (click to see the full size version).
In the process, we picked up some of the greatest trafﬁc, links and (more importantly) friendships with bloggers that you could ever hope for.
I know what you’re thinking: “Infographics? SO last season.” As an SEO snob you’re probably right, but that really isn’t the point. Marketing is about grabbing hold of your niche, kicking it in the balls, and doing whatever you can to get your (or your client’s) name out there.
Forget what other people think, disregard what your peers say, stop being so scared that your great idea won’t work and go for it. Cinemagraphs, kinetic typography, viral videos, parallax navigation, ultimate guides – anything that makes you say ‘wow’ is worth trying. But you have to market it properly!
Step 2: Hunt for gold
Now it’s time to work out who to get on your side. In my experience, the quick wins nearly always come from bloggers – they generally all talk to each other, have great readership, and know what works (and what doesn’t). Here are some of my favorite ways to prospect for targets:
- Use Followerwonk to ﬁnd Twitter inﬂuencers and see which site is listed in their bio
- Fire up the Citation Labs Link Prospector and let it do the hard work
- Use scrape similar to easily grab blog links from Technorati
- Search for things like ‘Top 50 pet blogs’ and use those lists
- Browse industry blogs and copy their blogrolls
- Code your own web scraper and let it do the hard work
At this point you’ll have a big list of sites/blogs of varying trafﬁc levels and quality. It’s time to narrow the list down based on your own set of criteria. Outsourcing this task is a great way to take the legwork out of what is, quite honestly, the most boring job you’ll ever come across. The important bit here is that you deﬁne exactly what you’re looking for. I tend to use a spreadsheet with the following columns:
- Site Name
- Domain Authority
- Contact Name
- Email Address
- Twitter Handle
- Number of Twitter Followers
- Facebook Page
- Number of Facebook Fans
- Is it a Blog?
- Is it Irrelevant? (If not, what’s it about?)
- Latest blog post title/URL/date
- Competitor? (You’ll need to deﬁne how to work out the answer).
Write step-by-step instructions on how to ﬁnd all of this data (don’t leave anything to chance) and leave your new recruit to work. If you’re in a hurry or have an epic list of sites (I’m currently in the process of sifting through 20,000 pet-related sites) you could even create the sheet in Google Docs and give multiple people access to
speed things up.
Once done, you should easily be able to ﬁlter out the low quality, poorly maintained or irrelevant sites and concentrate on making friends with the important people.
Step 3: Inﬂuence the inﬂuencers
As someone with a fantastic personality, you’ll have no trouble wooing your chosen targets, but to help others out who aren’t so fortunate I’m going to list some tactics anyway. (Disclaimer: Most of these aren’t my own and have been picked up reading blog posts and watching inspiring videos.)
The process that I’ve made work has been fairly simple:
- High value targets, such as those with huge readerships or high domain authorities get stalked. Starting with Twitter, then Facebook, then email, and sometimes an unannounced 3 a.m. visit to their back garden. I’ll help them out, ﬂy across the world, and basically do anything to make friends.
- Medium value targets get a smoother ride. I’ll reach out to them, make myself known, and befriend them but won’t go too overboard.
- Standard level targets are added to my email tool or Raven’s CRM so that they can receive a semi-bespoke email when I have content that I want to push.
The key here is to pick your battles. The easiest people to get in touch with tend to be the mid-level bloggers who have a decent amount of inﬂuence but have yet to hit the highs of better known characters. They’ll most likely be happy to help you out if it makes sense for them, and they tend to be like-minded individuals.
This sounds a bit scientiﬁc in its approach, but I’ve made some great friends following the process I’m describing. The important thing is that you don’t think of is as link building – you’re starting relationships that will have beneﬁts for both of you far beyond a single link. If you have the chance to help someone, do it and don’t worry about what you’ll get in return. Karma generally sorts that bit out!
Step 4: Involve others early
Some people only start marketing their content once it’s ﬁnished, but there are far greater opportunities to do so at each stage of the creation process.
Asking inﬂuencers to comment on your ideas and come up with some of their own is a great way to instil a sense of ownership very early on in the process. By including someone as a source, you’re pretty much guaranteeing that once you’ve ﬁnished they’ll tweet, share and post it without you even needing to ask.
It’s also worthwhile going through several iterations of reﬁning what you’ve put together. A prime example is one of the Pet365 infographics that we recently put together about dog food (click to see the full size version.)
By speaking to a number of key bloggers I realised that some were sponsored by pet food brands so would need a version that didn’t mention their competitors, and that we’d also need one version for the UK and another for the US. Had we simply created what we thought was fantastic and not consulted anyone, our traction would have been considerably lower.
Step 5: The big release
When your content is ﬁnished, you now have an asset. Just like anything else tangible, your business now owns something. Don’t forget this. You should be excited by what you’ve produced, and this will carry through to the people you’re contacting and asking to share what you’ve done. The following is a rough outline of how I release a piece of link bait:
- Post it to our own site, ensuring that the embed code and social widgets are included
- Allow it to be indexed
- Reach out to high value inﬂuencers and those I know will republish the content
- Contact medium value targets with bespoke emails asking if they’ll share
- Send a mass, but personalised email, to everyone else who meets my minimum threshold
- Throw some paid trafﬁc at the original (StumbleUpon, Adwords, etc)
- See how things go for a day or two
- Follow up with those that I haven’t heard back from
Every campaign is different – what is most important is to do this in the most effective way for you. Spend time manually creating great outreach emails, replying to people, answering their questions, and doing all you can to befriend them. At some point you’ll probably need their help again.
Fortunately, this gets easier as time goes on. The ﬁrst time you do a release you’ll be making yourself known to tens or hundreds of people, but after a while you’ll become more and more well known. Assuming your content is as good as you think it is, site owners will be only too happy to publish what you’ve done.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t give up. Some things work. Some things don’t. That’s life – embrace it!