Cold email outreach is an effective way to build backlinks, but not everyone is seeing great ROI with it. Backlinko analyzed 12 million cold emails and found that only 8.5% of emails triggered a response. From getting the first response to actually closing the deal, the numbers go down even further. So this begs the question — what’s ailing the link building today?
The answer is perspective. Folks doing cold email outreach for link building focus more on the scale and less on personalization. They think the wider net they cast, the more success they’ll have. The truth is, marketers and SEO managers are tired of seeing spammy and irrelevant emails, giving cold outreach a bad rapport.
If you want to avoid the cycle of spam emails and actually strike deals for backlinks, focus on personalization, relevancy, and value. In this article, we’ll go over 6 steps to maximize the ROI of cold email outreach for link building and share tips on staying ahead of mediocre link builders.
Link building guide:
- Pick a fitting link building strategy
- Invest time in prospecting
- Find key decision-maker
- Build outreach lists & verify your contacts
- Personalize your outreach sequence
- Don’t forget to follow-up
1. Pick a fitting link building strategy
The first rule of building authority links at scale is identifying the link building strategy that works best for your business. Depending on your budget, goals, and industry, you can pick from many options:
Skyscraper link building
Pioneered by Brian Dean back in 2013, the skyscraper technique is still going strong in the SEO world. Here’s how it works: find a piece of content that can fetch high authority links and create something way better than it. This sounds simple, but beating a proven content at its own game is not easy.
Here’s how you do it:
- Properly analyze the article, original study, or infographic that’s getting tons of backlinks and find the weak points. If you look hard enough, you’ll find that it’s either old, broad but shallow, or isn’t formatted perfectly
- Now plug the gaps with more profound research, fresher insights, and better visuals. Take the existing asset as the benchmark and surpass it with more value
- Find sources linking to the previous asset and pitch your piece to dethrone it.
And that’s it! You have acquired quality backlinks from relevant sources. According to Ahrefs, Brian’s post on the skyscraper technique had more than 1,800 referral domains in 2021.
Unlinked mentions are one of the smartest ways to get backlinks. When sources mention your brand or your products but don’t link back to you, that’s an opportunity you need to exploit. Unlinked mention strategy works because:
- The source already trusts your resources. Convincing them to add a hyperlink is easier
- It’s cost-effective and highly converting
The trick is to find mentions that are unlinked. You can use Mention, Ahrefs, Semrush or Google reverse image search for image assets.
Broken link building
Broken link building takes the resource building of the skyscraper technique and merges it with the investigative spirit of unlinked mentions. Here’s how you do it:
- Download the Check My Links Chrome extension to find links with 404 and other errors
- Browse the websites you want to get backlinks from and make a list of broken links
- Create superior content to replace the links
- Send a cold email to the site admin to offer help
Broken link building is one of the most effective link building strategies because you’re offering free value upfront. If you have a vast content pool or a robust content production engine, this should be your go-to content curation strategy.
From retail and ecommerce to SaaS owners—everyone can use listicles to build backlinks. Getting featured in popular “Top X” and “Best of” articles indicates to Google that you’re a trusted resource, which improves your SEO performance and SEO ROI. Since listicles are high-intent content assets, you might also get some qualified traffic from them. Here’s how you do it:
- Find the listicle you want to be part of. Following your favorite bloggers and publications in relevant niches will help you.
- If you find similar businesses in the list, send a cold email to the author to show appreciation for the listicle, introduce yourself and perhaps invite them to try your services.
Popular blogger Ryan Robinson has rounded up a top alternatives listicle that offers great backlinks to the selected tools.
Guest blogging is a tried and tested method to earn backlinks. With guest posts in industry-leading publications, you can expose your business to a bigger chunk of the audience and signal Google to take notice. Guest posts in authoritative sites work as a stamp of approval which improves SERP performance. However, the success of guest blogging depends on how relevant and personalized your outreach campaign is.
2. Invest time in prospecting
After picking the link building strategy you want to explore, focus on finding sources that can host your backlink. Depending on your strategy, you can do link prospecting in several ways.
Reverse-engineering your competitors
If your competitors have better link building strategies, why not just hack their process? This works a lot better than it sounds. You essentially look for the various content marketing and distribution strategies your competitors are using to build backlinks. Using tools like Ahrefs, Semrush, Majestic, and SE Ranking, you can see their backlink profiles, best-performing keywords and links, domain types, and many more granular datasets. After you find the gap, try listicles or guest blogging to stay ahead of them.
Looking for broken links on your competitor’s websites
Both Semrush and Ahrefs have awesome tools to help you find broken links. Start by entering your domain in Semrush to find your competitors. Click on a competitor site, find Indexed Pages, and check the Broken Pages box. Here you’ll find all the broken pages in competitor’s website sources are linking back to. Nail down your skyscraper technique and cold email outreach, and you have a new backlink! You can mimic the same process with Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and Batch Analysis Tool.
Looking for unlinked mentions
We’ve already discussed how effective unlinked mentions are. Apart from Chrome extensions, you can use tools like Mention, Ahrefs, and Semrush to find the unlinked mentions and get backlinks. Remember how you come across in your cold email is very important for this one.
Using advanced Google search operators
Google search operators are great for building links for guest blogging. You essentially use special characters to narrow down your searches and build a guest posting list. Popular operators are:
keyword -keyword to exclude a keyword
“keyword” for an exact keyword match
Keyword AND keyword AND keyword to display results with all keywords
related: website URL to find related pages for the topic
intext:keyword/ inurl:keyword/ intitle: keyword to find websites containing a keyword, website URLs containing keyword, and website titles containing keyword, respectively.
You can find an entire list here.
I tried guest posting for cybersecurity and these are the results I got:
Researching the most active authors in your niche
In the age of personal branding, influencers and bloggers often have more pull than big publications. Try Googling popular authors with keywords and their author headshots to learn more about them. If you’re convinced about the prospects, build a list to reach out to.
3. Find key decision-makers
Once you know where to look, you’d be able to find people that control the fate of your link building strategy. Here’s the secret: link building is a job that’s mostly handled by SEO Managers, Head of Marketing, Content Strategists, PR Specialists, and Outreach Managers. If you have a website in mind, go for these profiles.
The easiest way to find contact details is by browsing the About Us or Contact Us pages of a website. If you still fail to find their professional contact details, try socials.
Twitter and LinkedIn are wonderful resource hubs for cold outreach. If Twitter bios don’t feature contact details, head over to the LinkedIn company page. Here you’ll find an employee list with designation and contact info, which should help you build a list of key decision-makers to reach out to.
Pro tip: Before cold emailing, try interacting with their posts. From comments and shares to retweets, anything that makes these profiles take notice of you should work.
4. Build outreach lists & verify your contacts
Remember that searching public profiles will not give you 100% results. It’s because SEO managers and content editors get bombarded by lazy link builders every day. If you want to reach them, you might have to work harder. Fortunately, it’s not very difficult. By using Hunter’s Email Finder you can quickly find the address you’re looking for:
By now you have a list of prospects and their contact info for cold outreach. Now it’s time to blast that cold email right? Actually, there’s a step before that — building a contact list.
Not all the contact details you find online are active or current. Professionals change their email addresses all the time and they often stop checking old inboxes. If you don’t have updated contact info, then you’ll be emailing inactive addresses. This is a problem.
Emailing to inactive or spam inboxes will increase your spam and bounce rate and bring down the deliverability score of your domain. This will drive your cold outreach campaign to the ground even before it takes off. You need to use tools such as Hunter’s Email Verifier to make sure the addresses you’re emailing to, are in fact, active.
5. Personalize your outreach sequence
This is the part where most link builders fail — they don’t personalize their emails so even if they don’t end up in a spam folder, their email will most likely get ignored and lost in a sea of mediocre, and generic emails. Here’s how you can stand out:
Personalize subject lines
Subject lines hold the key to your cold outreach sequence. 47% of email recipients open emails based on subject lines. Make it personal, authentic, and attention-grabbing and offer value right at the beginning.
Use an email opener
Remember the pro tip I shared earlier about interacting with your target on social media? Use that exchange for a killer email opener. Talk about the pain points or something super relevant to compel recipients to read your email till the end.
Offer a value to the prospect
Now that you have their attention, offer value. Remember that in cold emails, you’re the stranger to the recipient. If they can’t see the benefits of helping you, they will most likely not reply. More than what you can offer, talk about how your content assets are going to help their business and audience. While you’re at it, add some free resources if you can.
Keep it short but on point
Long outreach emails are as bad as extremely short emails. If your cold emails aren’t performing well it’s probably because you’re boring the recipient with long-winded sentences or not providing enough details. Professionally written emails focus on writing short and precise sentences.
Move from introduction, to value and finally CTA in multiple paragraphs and use action words to keep their interests. Offer a clear and single CTA for the next steps to not confuse the recipient.
Here’s a cold email done right:
Master the best time to send your cold emails
When you send an email is as important as what you write in it. The best time to send emails depends on audience preferences and industry standards. Some industries see great results in the mornings while others get more opens during work breaks. Weekends, late nights, and holidays generally perform low.
You have to find what times perform best for your email campaigns. Start with the industry standards, analyze how _your _audience reacts, and refine the timings as you go along.
6. Don’t forget to follow-up
Being persistent at cold outreach is an asset, as long as you don’t overdo it. Most editors and managers don’t have time to reply to every single link building request, regardless of how well it’s written. What you can do is stay on top of their minds by scheduling a follow-up sequence. According to Woodpecker, a single follow-up email can take a reply rate from 9% to 13%. Experienced campaign managers get up to a 27% reply rate with a follow-up campaign.
Start by sending a follow-up email 3-4 days after the first email. After that, you can increase the duration for an email sequence consisting of 4-5 follow-up emails. With each follow-up email, use a short copy to link back to the previous email and try adding more value to convince the recipient. But if you don’t fetch a reply even after a month, consider them as not interested. You can automate the whole process with a follow-up campaign manager. Also, consider using Gmail as a mail client to manage your inbox efficiently, as countless integrations will make your life easier, especially as a busy outreach manager.
Cold emails are all personalization and in heavily explored niches such as link building, standing out with meaningful personalization is the key. Take time to understand what strategies would work best for you and focus on building a high-value prospect list. Avoid writing spammy email copy and subject lines and remember to follow up. When you start thinking from the perspectives of your recipient, your cold emails for link building will perform even better.