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The One Element Most Linkbuilders Miss

John Doherty —  August 21, 2012
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Online marketers, and SEOs especially, like to talk/write/read about linkbuilding. SEOmoz has a category of linkbuilding articles that has the most, and most well linked-to, blog posts on the site. Heck, Distilled even has our Linklove conferences in the spring, which are one day conferences all about linkbuilding.

But many SEOs, especially those who do not linkbuild full time and are hopefully decent at it, miss one main consideration when doing outreach for links.

What’s in it for them?

Changing Paradigms

Darren Rowse, also known as ProBlogger, recently posted a Google+ update/rant where he talks about the quality of guest post pitches received by him and his team over at ProBlogger and his other websites.

Because of this site, and because I used to accept a lot more guest posts (I mostly only accept them from trusted friends now), I receive a decent number of guest blog pitches. Most are terrible, just like Darren’s. In Rowse’s words, they often follow this format:

  • I am a big fan of your blog
  • I represent XXX company
  • I would like to provide unique, relevant and useful content for your blog
  • The topics I can write about are XXXX (usually something completely relevant and on the topics of credit cards, holidays, a movie, pharmaceuticals etc)
  • All I require is a link back to our company site with unchanged anchor text etc

What’s missing here? Besides the obvious templated format which misses out on connection with the website owner, notice the focus of the pitch.

It’s on the writer and their site, not the site owner and the desired linking site!

How would you feel if you walked into a Ferrari dealership and the salesperson launched into this pitch:

Hi there! I sold the most Ferraris last year for the whole East Coast, so I’m a really good salesman. I have an uncanny way of selling cars to people even when they can’t afford it. I don’t care what your needs are; instead, I just want to make that big fat commission so that I can buy a bigger house. Shall we sign that purchase contract?

That’s what I thought. You would most likely turn around and walk straight out of that dealership. Even if you can afford a Ferrari (in which case, hit me up because I’d like one too), would you really want to buy from that dealer? I think not, because he made absolutely no attempt to connect with you in a real way. A good Ferrari dealer would ask you if you want something to drink, ask about your family, ask about your past Ferrari experiences, your dreams for what the Ferrari will bring you, discuss colors and interiors with you, and see that you get exactly the right car, the car of your dreams that you have most likely been working a long time to be able to afford.

This is how linkbuilders, especially those pitching guest posts (and if you’re not a good writer, please do the pitching and have someone else write the post), should think. Here are some questions to ask yourself -

  • Have they accepted guest posts before? What were the topics? (Do a site:domain.com intitle:”guest post” or site:domain.com “guest post” search to find them. If you’re lucky, they have a “guest posts” category that you can scrape or peruse.)
  • Where are the content gaps on the site which they might be interested in filling and which you can write about authoritatively?
  • How often do they publish, and what style are the posts in?
  • Do they have guest blogging guidelines on their site to which you should be sure to adhere?

Notice that these questions are all focused on the site and site owner, not you.

Good Guest Pitch Examples

Instead of showing bad guest pitches (if you want to read a hilarious one, check out this one on iPullRank), I want to show you a few pitches that I have either received or sent myself that worked very well. I’ll also outline the elements that were particularly effective.

I should also note that I no longer use templates when doing outreach. When I worked in-house I used templates all the time, but honestly had a low response rate. I even gave away some guest post templates from trusted linkbuilders in this post on SEOmoz, but now am rethinking the wisdom in that. Have I perpetuated the cycle of bad guest pitches? I hope not.

Linkbuilders should shift thinking from guest post pitch templates to having a guest post pitch outline that can be completely customized to the recipient. Sure, this may cut down a bit on the quantity of emails/pitches that you send (so you’ll need to set your boss’s expectations), but the goal is to increase the quality so that you can then increase the rate of response from your pitches. Ultimately, I think you’ll see that your success rate, on more quality sites, goes up.

ProBlogger Pitch

A few months ago, I actually pitched ProBlogger on a guest post idea that I had. I read ProBlogger frequently and know that it’s a very well-read, well-respected site that attracts my target audience. So I sent the following email to my contact there -

Notice I build rapport with the contact, but then I show that I have read ProBlogger and seen a need, and I offer to fulfill it. This puts the focus back on the blogger, not on myself.

Also, notice what I did not talk about – links. The purpose of this post is not for links. It’s to build value.

Pitch from James

My friend James recently sent me a pitch (for a forthcoming guest post) that is one of the best that I have seen. He doesn’t even mention a guest post.

Instead, he does the following:

* Mentions a recent post of mine and adds value to it;
* Asks for feedback on the topic;
* Doesn’t say what he wants from it. It’s a given that he’ll link to himself.

Funny enough, because I know James in real life, I even wondered if he had asked me in person if he could write a guest post. I don’t think he has, but this email made it seem like it. Well done sir.


I hope these pitches do the job of celebrating pitches done well. I think we should all strive to add value in these ways, which will also help our industry not be hated on by well-known bloggers.

John Doherty

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I'm the new (as of October 2013) Online Marketing Manager of Hotpads.com, soon to be based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, explore new and interesting food in New York, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

19 responses to The One Element Most Linkbuilders Miss

  1. Another great post John. Several moons ago, I tried the template approach, templates that were good, well written and didn’t appear obvious – the success rate was, well, alright. I then decided that I would email blog owners as if they were someone I knew, not a machine and each email would be different and would show that I have an interest in what they do – the success rate was, well, way higher than the previous attempts.

    We’re not talking to machines, so I don’t see why people bother with templates anymore. I also feel that to ask someone for a guest post, you really should know their blog well and not just heard the blog’s name.

    It’s all about being natural imo :)

  2. I think the problem is that so much of this outsourced and it is a pure numbers game. Client A wants to buy 10 guest posts with 2 links per post. Despite panda, despite penguin, despite 10 years of Google updates, reshuffles, penalties and sites dropping out the index, people still want to buy SEO packages and businesses still want to sell something that has a quantifiable aspect which SEO, even done well and especially at the beginning of a project is not always that good at.

    We work a bit differently, we charge for time, so ultimately, I can sit down and spend a few days digging and this slower, more methodical approach works, especially for outreach, guest posts etc on high quality sites.

    I read a great quote on the latest Eric Ward link moses newsletter earlier today:

    “I don’t like any linking strategy that can be packaged and sold like eggs. Eggs break.”

    Damn straight. :)

  3. Fantastic article, John. it’s very difficult to write pitches these days, especially to the more popular bloggers. I hope many learn from your advice.

  4. If one is guest posting within his niche, then I find this works well.

    Write a great post that you’d like to publish on your own site, and then offer it as a guest post to a blogger in your niche who you’ve already built rapport with.

    This is a win-win situation, because if he turns you down, then you publish the post on your own site.

  5. Great write-up – I would hope those sites (such as Darren’s) would have some type of criteria for guest post. I don’t mind guest links as long as their valid w/ the content and actually contain internal-links in the article.

  6. That’s a great idea. Salespitch leaves a long lasting effect on fellow blogger. Honestly, this is something more of an art, which I lack badly.
    BTW, thanks for putting up some of the great examples as well

  7. Awesome post John. I subscribed to your blog 3 months back and I read and enjoy each and every post your write.

    18 months ago when I started guest posting, I used to make a small pitch with 3-4 lines by max, but as and when I started reading more stuff on the internet about how to make the pitch better and increase response rate, I started writing all the things in one email without hesitation to provide as much information about myself and the post as possible.

    I read at many places that people recommend to write small blogger outreach pitches to not annoy the webmaster BUT I’ve experienced that only talking about getting our post approved on the other website doesn’t work much, instead, sharing things about how did you find them, your point of view about their website, the post idea, why their readers will love the post and what can you do more to get the post viral helps more to get a positive feedback from webmasters.

  8. Wow, loved the article John.

    It amazes me what a little creativity will do. I mean, this friend of yours took an approach that’s a little more forward than I would have expected. And I guess it worked well enough, seeing that he’s the subject of a whole post. Plus he gets the link he wanted! I’d say that’s a pretty good return for the time it took to send the email.

    I did have one question John; in your email you linked to copyblogger’s guidelines page. Of course they know what page you were talking about, so why the link in an email?

    • Loved the point at the end: ” Doesn’t say what he wants from it. It’s a given that he’ll link to himself.”

      The main goal of this pitch is to offer a valuable resource/article for this contact – the link is just a natural exchange after the content is agreed upon.. I try to keep this in mind when doing outreach for guest posts too – it’s usually obvious that you’d hope to include a linkback

      @Kelsey I had the same question when I began outreach and was advised to include links to that contact’s site – imo though, it reinforces the idea that you have taken the time out to really comb throught that person’s site and get a feel for what content they like, what guidelines they adhere to etc… It seems like just another nice gesture in going the extra mile.

      Thanks for the cool ideas, John!

  9. Great post, and truly worthy of a mention on SEOMoz (that’s how I found it).
    Much success to you!

  10. Seriously awesome insights for a beginner like me to learn how to go for guest blog posts and how to pitch with right words on right time.
    Thanks for sharing.

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