Persuasiveness in Link Building – The Salesperson You Didn’t Think You Were
Many people consider link building to be the hardest SEO task because of how many hard to control variables there are.
Whether it’s warming up inboxes properly, crafting great outreach letters or simply dealing with the craziness of people, it can be a daunting task.
To succeed you need to have the right stuff. Like any sport it’s not just a case of the right equipment. Look at Formula 1 Racing for example, two drivers, same car, but totally different results.
The key ingredients you need are quick thinking, persistence, and the experience to guide you through the many “sales” scenarios that are likely to arise while conducting outreach.
Link building and sales outreach have a lot of similarities. When it comes down to it, you have to close the deal. You need to find the right people, get their attention, have a clear and valuable pitch, and get that link built.
This is where it helps to think like a salesperson.
Step 1: Getting Them to Open the Email and Respond
In any kind of sales campaign, be it by email or by phone, on the street, or door-to-door, the first step is typically the pitch. However, in reality, you need to get someone’s attention first. You need your leads to pick up the phone, answer the door, or stop in the street.
Doors and phones are pot luck because you don’t know if someone is even around.. Email outreach is more like the street seller approach, with your version of the winning smile being the subject line.
1. Subject Line
The most crucial part of any outreach campaign is getting your foot in the door. If you cannot get your email opened then you have zero chance of success.
Let’s assume you have thoroughly researched your target site and that you have mined and processed the data accurately. We will also assume you have a good inbox that has been properly configured and outreach software (such as Pitchbox!) which will deliver the email to the target’s inbox and not their spam folder.
With those bases covered, the main factor you control to get the email opened is the subject line. It needs to be good, it needs to be enticing, and it needs to make them want to open it.
What to do
Create an engaging and relatively short subject line. It’s like making a YouTube video title – if it’s too long half the title will be cut off, so keep it pithy and interesting.
Let them know it’s an article or content offer and that it’s specifically for them or their website. However, put those elements at the end because it does not matter as much if they’re missing.
The first element should be on the topic angle you’ve picked to promote and easily relatable to the person you’re reaching out to.
What not to do
Don’t make it too long and avoid anything which tricks the site owner or intended recipient.
For example, making it seem too personal when you don’t have a relationship with them can make them doubt what you’re up to. Any action which raises doubts will break your chances of making this work.
Examples of these tricks include using “RE:” at the beginning of the subject line to infer an ongoing conversation in your first pitch. Although “RE:” can greatly increase open rates, especially with your follow-ups, it can piss some people off if used with the first attempt as it implies a pre-existing conversation.
By this point you’ve hopefully convinced your target to open your email. If you haven’t, you can use Pitchbox to send an automated follow-up.
In our first subject line we made an assumption – we assumed we had something either witty, snappy or engaging that would make them open our email. This is where a sales mentality comes in, and what’s the most important characteristic in sales?
Never giving up.
By being persistent, we have the power to go down an entirely different line of thought that could get our target to open the email.
Take a few minutes and really think, “If I were John Smith at Apple Dried Chips, who loves walking his dog through the orchards and whatnot, why didn’t I reply to that email?”
By taking time to reflect on this, we can work out new lines of persuasiveness that may work on the target.
All too often, link builders tend to follow up with a similar subject line, and a basic email saying something along the lines of, “Just wanted to check in! Not sure if you saw my last message, see it below!”
While this works for people that didn’t reply because they were busy, or skimmed it and got distracted, it doesn’t work well at all for people who had no interest in the first place.
2. Nail the first sentence
The first sentence in any sales pitch can win or lose a potential customer. This is also the case for link outreach emails. Most people will not want to read the whole email and may scan the first few sentences only – if you win their attention they’ll read on, if not, they’ll likely move on and press delete.
It might seem odd, but there’s one keyword your first sentence must contain. This word is ‘because.’ The use of the word because is important because it generates compliance. (See what I did there!)
Simply using the word ‘because’ in a statement nearly doubles your chances of winning somebody over, and if you’re doing link building at scale, 50% is huge!
I wouldn’t recommend starting an email off like this but.. Even using something like, “I got in touch with you today BECAUSE I wanted a link!!” will greatly increase your chances compared to saying, “I got in touch with you today about writing some generic content and hopefully I can get a link from you.”
3. Use of statistics in first paragraph (build authority)
After using your first line as a pitch to generate interest and compliance, we need to keep the reader interested.
Ideally, we want to back our opening statement up with a statistic.
Because claims of gold and riches are great until you actually have to prove you have a treasure chest.
The statistic helps authenticate your proposal and topic choice while giving you authority, which results in the target trusting you, which is what sales are built on.
Starting to see the connection?
The first few sentences of your outreach email need to generate interest, which is backed up by trust. Without these two key components you are tying your hands behind your back and damn near making sure you’ll never get the sale, or for our purposes, the link.
The rest of your email, which should be as succinct as possible, needs to continue to develop trust while laying out the proposal. You build topic authority, make the topic choice feel relevant to their site, and establish your personal authority even if you’re using an outreach persona.
4. Make it feel personal
Remember when I said not to make things too personal early on? Well, we just hit second base and things have changed.
Put yourself in the position of the site owner. The email outreach game is both full and competitive.
Many site owners are sick and tired of the odd, badly worded, form letters. Make sure your letter feels real and personal, even if you are sending it out to a thousand sites.
There are ways to do this such as making sure you find their name (if that’s possible), naming their site in the email, and referring to a specific page you enjoyed.
You’d be surprised how just mentioning their site’s domain in an email can change their attitude towards giving you a link.
And, remember: In sales it is always about the target and never yourself. Mention them to butter them up, but nobody likes a salesman that overdoes it!
Step 2: Convincing Them to Accept an Article
At this point, we will hopefully have a reply, so we’re onto the first negotiation phase. Of course, sometimes you’ll just get a simple ‘yes’ and you can go for it.
However, most of the time the site owner is going to have questions or is going to give some other reply.
You have their attention. Maximize it.
IMPORTANT: The hardest work has already been done! You have their interest, and they want to work with you. Most rookie sales people don’t push enough here and miss out – great sales people notice this, and let their confidence feed off of the target’s interest.
Don’t stop pushing at this point! We’re approaching third base and the coach is waving you in.
With that in mind, we have to prepare ourselves for possible objections or innocent questions that may trip us up, leaving us to pick the dirt out of our teeth after we got tagged out at third.
1. “What do you have in mind?”
The purpose of this response is to elicit from you your exact plan. If you spill the beans and tell them you want to write a guest post to promote a client, they likely will start to grumble and you lose.
Don’t fall for this. Talk about the topic and your passion for covering it, explain how you’d love to write for the site, build your portfolio, and ask them what their submission guidelines are if they have any.
REMEMBER: You built up trust because of your passion/interest/love of writing/whatever. You did NOT build up trust about getting a link from their site.
2. “Can we arrange a phone call?”
Many site owners will ask for a phone call. They’re assuming you’re a real person or wish to prove you are not.
In most cases participating in a phone call is a really bad idea. You need a convincing reason not to take part – either you prefer to email, you’re too busy with the kids, illness etc.. or have a hearing problem. Don’t be evasive, but move them into being ok with an email discussion.
Now, don’t take this as something you have to avoid 100% of the time. Maybe you’re talking to an extremely excited journalist at a large publication. At this point, I recommend discussing the opportunity with the client and then taking it forward.
3. “Are you local?”
This answer usually comes from local sites be they from a specific town or village or from a small business. The purpose is to assess your local knowledge though some may wish to meet you. The latter will ask you to pop in.
One way around this is to say that you were born in the place or nearby, but are currently visiting your in-laws further away. This quite often works.
4. “Your outreach topic is not aligned with what we do”
This is a sales objection at its finest.
When someone responds with this one they’re not trying to trick you or get you to prove your worth. It means your outreach is off, but for whatever reason they still took the time to respond to you.
This tends to happen when you’re working at scale and reaching out to a high volume of sites rather than taking a super-targeted approach. Some will write this response in a way which closes down the opportunity, but others will tell you what they want.
Don’t give up here! You have a couple of options – respond and ask them if they are open to content which is more closely aligned with their site or take a chance and write something. Either way, you have to thoroughly impress them at this point.
5. “Where will this be published?”
I’ve found that no matter how clearly you write it, some people will not understand that you want the article published on their site. That’s even if your opening sentence ends with – “to be published on [their site].”
Many see this as a kind of PR article about their business and might also ask about the cost.
Reply in a positive manner and explain that this is content for their site and how content can improve site traffic etc… They might reply positively, allowing you to move to the next stage.
6. “What resource do you want to include?”
These site owners have read the email, which is good, but you may or may not have mentioned that you wanted to include a resource within the article you’re writing, and they’ve decided to latch onto this point.
If you have mentioned including a resource, this statement is vital because you need to be able to refer back to it if they fail to include your link.
Do not tell them the link. Now is the time to bluff it.
Write the article then when emailing it over to them explain how you want to show the resources in context. Obviously this is riskier than having a clear ‘yes’ for an article submission.
7. “What’s your budget?”
These site owners know the game.
If you’re looking for non-paid links then this is a tough one to wriggle through. Check the site. If it has a sponsored content page; especially one accessible from the main menu, don’t bother, it is going to be next to impossible to get an article through without paying.
And, whether you pay or not, your link will be treated as a paid one.
If they don’t, then you might be able to get a chance for a non-paid article by begging your case (poor you, starting writer etc..), but the chances are minuscule.
8. “Can you show us a few examples of your previous work?”
These sites usually genuinely want to assess your worth as a potential writer. They’ve not really caught on that you’re doing a sales pitch for a link placement.
If you have some reasonable articles under the same pseudonym, then it’s possible to share them. Be wary, however, as they may contact those sites and a different client could possibly be outed.
The best response here is to write an article for the site as a first draft and send it to them as an example which, if they like it, they can post.
9. “I’ve forwarded this on to x” or “I’m not the person who deals with this kind of thing”
This response tends to come from companies, where a person’s assistant is running the site or you’ve simply just emailed the wrong person.
If you’ve got the ear of the assistant, that’s usually as high as you’ll go and you’ll work with the site owner via them. Winning them over can help, but you’ll be unable to directly convince the site owner.
This is where you need to restate your pitch – convince the assistant this is a good idea, and then give them the necessary ammo to convince their boss.
If it’s passed on to another department or person, ask them who and how to contact them. Now is the time to get the updated contact details and start pitching the new contact.
Stage 3: Crafting your content
As with outreach emails, your content needs to be part of the sales strategy. You can’t just slap down some boilerplate content and expect it to fly up on a site.
To make matters more difficult, sometimes the best content in the world will get instantly rejected while total trash will be instantly published.
The most important thing is to have an article you are proud to sell and that is what the website wants. You basically have to make sure the content pleases your client, but if it is going to get published, it has to please the site you’re writing for.
Tailor the information to their niche and customer base, make sure it does not repeat content that’s already on there, do not link to their competitors, or denigrate their niche, and so on.
Just like emails in Step 1, your absolute focus on quality goes to your title and the first line. The title needs to grab the attention of the reader to make them open the article. Then the first line of the article needs to have a hook to keep them reading. It’s also good to have a stat in most first paragraphs and definitely an internal link to the website.
The rest of the content is about being proficient while allowing you to bury your client link as naturally as possible.
Make sure to do this in a non-sales manner and definitely, unless you’ve been paid to do so, do not name the client nor write the link context in such a way as to be a neon sign to tell the reader and site owner that it’s there.
Submitting your article
Once it’s ready, the next crucial step is to submit your article.
Don’t take forever to do this!
Reply to the thread where you convinced the site owner to let you submit one. Remind them that they’d offered you the opportunity, say how proud you are of it and that you hope they agree, and how much of a pleasure it is to write for [the site]. Explain how you want to show off your work and that you’d love it if they published your piece.
Be open to edits and so on. This is part of the sales stage where we can taste victory. We’re going to be open to just about anything the target wants, but we aren’t going to bend over either. Don’t be afraid to add 300-400 words if requested. Way too often I have people tell me the writing costs too much to add to articles.
In reality, it is the exact opposite. You’ve invested all your time into the sales process to be sliding into home plate, but have decided to end up an inch short. It is a lot easier to move that extra inch than start over.
Stage 4: Getting Published
Once the article is sent doesn’t mean we’ve won the game. Yet.
You can’t lean back in your office chair with your hands behind your head, and wait. Yes, you’ll get a few site owners who will email you a few days later with the published article or a publication date, but most won’t.
So you’re going to have to hassle them and negotiate. Let’s take the hassling or chasing as I call it, first, then we’ll look at specific negotiation points. For all the diversity of their backgrounds and website topics, there are a bunch of common responses and issues to deal with.
Okay, chasing. This is primarily where the site owner just has not got back to you. Bear in mind that they might not be ignoring you, but your article could have disappeared or ended up in their spam folder, or just got forgotten. Or, hell, people just get busy from time to time, right? Either way, as annoying as it may seem, a great salesman, or linkbuilder, doesn’t stop pushing.
A good first chase is to leave it a little less than a week then ask them if they received the article.
Chase every week or more often if it’s super time specific, and keep it polite, seem worried that it’s missing, and how excited you are to work with them.
With Pitchbox, this process is incredibly easy. They have a special feature called Chasebox™ which allows you to get automatic reminders to keep on top of your leads if they don’t get back to you.
1. “We’d like to edit the article before publishing it”
Even if you pay a professional editor to tighten up your article, many site owners will want to put it through their own editorial process. This can be a personal thing or because the site is big enough to have its own editorial department.
Of course you must agree to this, but ask to see the final version prior to publication so you can check the content and make sure the link is in there. Most sites will agree to this because they see it as a writer-website collaboration.
2. “Are you working with any of the resources?”
They’ve probably figured out that one or more of the links is a commercial one and want to tease out of you which one it is.
Now, if you’ve been smart you would have put in a noise link giving you an extra option.
Never tell them your actual client link because one of three things will happen – either they ignore you forever or they suddenly hate that link and need it removed, or they’ll tell you that it’s a sponsored link and therefore they want x amount of money for it.
Good, tenacious, sales people will have a few tricks up their sleeve. One option is to deny any link to the resources and state they were included as per Google rules for good citations.
This might work though they may ask why you are writing it or will hark back to the resource you mentioned. If you have a noise link, a plausible alternative client who does not compete with your actual client, then you can name them. If it’s removed then there’s no problem because the real one is still there.
Stage 5: Getting the Link Built Correctly
If all things go well, the final stage is inspecting the link and following up with the website.
No doubt you’ll have specific requirements from your client. Most of the time this will include things such as: dofollow tags, no mention of guest posts, and not including your email address in the article.
If all these are correct, then thank the site owner and keep them open to a second article for a different, unrelated client.
Getting the article published is not always the end of the process, however. Some site owners make mistakes, don’t know how to get things done right, some do not pay attention, and others will punk you.
In short, you might open up the article you worked on and your link is missing. Maybe the entire paragraph. Other times there’s nofollow code or safe links or the client link has been replaced.
Let’s work through these common issues and how the dedicated, persistent outreach person goes about getting them fixed, and sealing the deal.
1. “We don’t include resources in our articles”
You’ve got a Live No Link article and the site owner is happy with you. You chase them up – asking if they’ve missed the resources (don’t say links) or if there’s been a transcription error, and they say the above. They do not include resources, what do you do?
First, remind them politely that you included in the outreach email that you’d want the resources included in exchange for a free article. Add on that resources are vital for building an article’s authority and therefore the authority of the website too.
If they refuse, ask them to remove the article if they won’t add them or just leave it. Antagonizing websites can just get you outed, leading to burnt personas and email addresses.
The biggest sales play here is a bit…demeaning.
“How could you have such a great article and not cite your sources?”
Obviously, you may not want to be as frank as this and it will depend on the raport you have developed with the target.
2. “It’s standard Google policy to have no-follow links”
This is not true, but some will make this argument.
A paid/affiliate/sponsored link is supposed to be nofollow, but non-paid, resource/authority links should be dofollow. Make this argument to the site and state that you do not want your work associated with sponsored posts or advertising.
This might work, but there’s no guarantee. Persist a little, but do not aggravate the site owner.
3. Weird link code or safe links
This is not a reply, but there will be cases where the site owner includes random and odd codes in the text. This requires fixing via a feedback email.
Of course thank them for posting the article then, rather than complaining, enquire as to what the links are and comment how odd they seem. Sometimes an SEO plugin of some kind will create these codes. It is possible to negotiate having them removed so your link is perfect.
4. Sponsored tag, guest post tag, or has your email included
There will be times when your link is perfect but there are contextual issues which the client and maybe even you will not be happy about. For example, they include your business email at the top or bottom of the article.
To solve this problem, ask them politely to remove it and say that while none of their readers have caused issues, in the past you have received hateful emails from spammers and trolls. Additionally, we didn’t want this article to be commercial in nature to begin with, right? So, why include contact information?
As for the sponsored tags and guest post tags, these generally need to be removed. It will be possible for Google to associate your client’s link with these tags and this will negatively affect their performance.
Kindly point out to the site owner that these tags are inappropriate. The sponsored ones because you have not sponsored the article and the guest post ones because this is a negative term. In both cases point out that this affects their site and how it ranks rather than how it affects you.
In Conclusion: The Art of Outreach
Hopefully you’ve found this article useful and informative. No doubt you will have noticed that there are many ways outreach can go wrong, but that there are counter strategies for the persistent salesperson (link builder) to follow.
In no way are these strategies guaranteed to succeed 100% and even if you master them all, the one thing I can guarantee is that site owners will throw responses at you that none of us have seen before. Trust me. After years of doing this I’ve seen some strange things.
To sum things up, the mantra is:
- Immediately generate interest
- Gain Trust
- Never give up
Sometimes link building, and sales, are a lot like war – there is a time to push the attack and a time to cut your losses. The more you learn about advanced sales techniques, the more prepared you will be for the various situations you may find yourself in. Remember, at the end of the day it is all about Das Links.
Garrett Graff is the Head of Account Services at ReachCreator.com. He specializes in linkbuilding fulfillment for agencies and heads up campaigns in industries most people wouldn’t want to touch. In his free time he enjoys working on cars, music and a nice whiskey!