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Bucketing Link Prospects for Link Outreach

John Doherty —  February 21, 2012
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Linkbuilding is always a hot topic within SEO, and different schools of thought exist. There’s the Throw Away Your Form Letters approach, and then there’s the school of form letters are great, just make them personalized. I did a lot of linkbuilding at my old job, and am doing some now for clients, and I prefer to take a more nuanced approach.

Different targets require different approaches. Let’s break the types of link prospects into three groups:

  • High level – these are the most important links. High quality sites.
  • Mid-level – these are valuable sites, but maybe not as hard to get.
  • Low-level – when you need mass.

Let’s examine the different approaches required for each.

High level

High level link targets, like someone at Mashable or TechCrunch in the tech sector, or a blog like Moviefone in entertainment, take a long time to get. Because these journalists and bloggers are being pitched every day, you have to provide them a ton of value and present a compelling case to them. What is even more important though, and will help better ensure success, is if you build a relationship with them.

Here are the steps that I take, which I learned from Rob Ousbey:

  • Follow them on Twitter, or put them in a list;
  • Retweet them;
  • Comment on their G+ posts or blog posts (or both) (Protip – set up a Google Alert for their name);
  • @reply them on Twitter;
  • Comment on their blog again;
  • Then email them. Maybe correct a typo in their latest post (be nice about it, of course).
  • Then reach out again when you’re doing outreach for a piece of linkbait.

The goal here is the build the connection. Otherwise, you will almost definitely be ignored.


Mid-level contacts require less work, but still a personalized touch. These are maybe mid-level bloggers, like myself, who are open to trying new tools or watching new videos, but you have to convince me. In order to reach bloggers like this, you need to provide them value like a video or content that they would enjoy, based on your research of them. If they like puppies, don’t pitch them a post about kittens.

The steps I would take with a mid-level blogger would be:

  • Comment on a blog post and tweet it at them;
  • Comment on another blog post;
  • Email them.

This is often the level at which we are tempted to cold-email someone, but that almost never works. You will see incredibly low response rates if you do this to your mid-level contacts, guaranteed.

I prefer to make my first contact simple, easy, and adding value to the person. I also like to bait them a little bit. Anthony Nelson talked about this in his broken linkbuilding post on YOUmoz. I recommend going over there for how he does.


Ah, finally we get to the low-level sites. These are the sites where you can shoot to get better targeted anchor text, the writing does not have to be as good, and you have many more of these contacts. In fact, Greg Shuey wrote an interesting post about this.

For these sites, I think form letters are fine. But do not send a blanket form letter. Instead, you need to personalize this form letter even to at least include their:

  • Name
  • Site URL
  • A few ideas that fit their site

If you are doing outreach to lower level sites, you can email the same ideas multiple times. But remember that if they come back and say yes, you still need to provide them original content. Don’t ever spin content for guest posts. And this outreach is still done manually, which yes, is hard to scale. But you will get a better response rate, so the effort pays off.

I put some of my peers’ template emails in this Gmail Productivity post.

To better help you bucket your link prospects into levels for outreach, and also so that you can easily split them amongst a team if you have on, I have built out an Excel spreadsheet for you to use.

Download the spreadsheet

TL;dr on the sheet:

  1. Take all of your potential link prospects and dump them into the “Prospects” tab in columns B and C. The next 3 sheets, entitled “High Level”, “Mid Level”, and “Low Level” respectively, automagically pull the sites within the specified domain parameters.
  2. As you go through and collect the contact names and emails, these automagically get pulled over as well. When you update the “Contacted”, “Responded”, and “Linked” columns, these automagically pull back to the “Prospects” sheet.
  3. Finally, the Dashboard sheet shows you the breakdown by level of the prospects you’ve gathered. It will also give you a total percentage of Contacted, Responded, and Linked.
The longer version:
Go to the first sheet and input your link prospects in columns B and C:
The contacts, depending on their DA (which you gather yourself, or hack the sheet to pull in Moz Metrics via the API or use Neils Bosma’s SEO Tools). As you update the Contacted, Responded, and Linked columns on the three bucketed sheets, these values pull back over to the “Prospects” column.
And they pull over:
Finally, I’ve given you a semi-pretty dashboard to give you contacted, response, and linked percentages (your boss may want to see this):
Once again, get the Excel Spreadsheet:

I cannot stress enough the value of segmenting your lists. You don’t want to email Avinash a templated email, for example. When it comes to high-value linkbuilding, think of it like PR. PR professionals guard their contacts very closely. You should also value yours, because you have built those relationships over time. Don’t give them away easily!

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

John Doherty


Founder of Credo, I'm formerly the Senior Growth Marketing Manager at Trulia Rentals. Previous to Trulia Rentals I ran marketing at HotPads.com. Previous to that I worked at Distilled for 2+ years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter account.

18 responses to Bucketing Link Prospects for Link Outreach

  1. If excel sheets can get worn out from overuse, this one will :). Thanks John, this will replace my current prospecting excel sheets, it’s appreciated.

  2. These are some excellent tips and likely a spreadsheet that’ll get used a ton. I think the main keyword here is “personalize”. Form letters, as scalable as they are, are getting less views and being ignored. My goal when it comes to link building is to never have to use the site’s Contact page to get a hold of them. Like you said, building a relationship, even if that takes weeks, will produce far better results than trying to reach them otherwise.

    Mixing this spreadsheet up with something like Boomerang for Gmail would be huge. If you forget just about everything, like I do, keeping tabs on when an email was sent and when to follow up helps out a bunch. It’s a helpful reminder to not only send an email to them, but to continually nourish the relationship that you’ve built with that person. Can’t wait to utilize this spreadsheet on a more regular basis!

  3. Great post John… Lots of actionable items that a link builder can take and run with. And thanks for the mention!

  4. Awesome post John….really insightful…I’m am not good at blogger outreach above post gave confidence of do doing

    Just a quick question the above strategy will work for infographic as well or you follow different approach.

  5. Another solid post and these tips are great how to do linkbuilding that’s kept trackable and efficient. You can also use a lot of these tips in association with http://www.buzzstream.com to help with the tracking instead of an Excel.

  6. Great post, thoroughly enjoyed it and will be using some of these techniques :)

  7. Great post. Thanks…working through the various tools you have mentioned.

    Can you do a post with all your excel tools in one place?

  8. I love your site~~your blog~~with so many beautiful and amazing pictures in your page~~~you know the point is that your stylish writing is helpful ~

  9. Great spreadsheet.

    I’ll import into Google Docs and give it a try.


  10. If you were thinking of a tool to segment your prospect list then this spreadsheet is the way to go.

  11. I was a bit shocked when I saw that seomoz.org’s DA was “only” 75 a year ago. Rand and his guys did a nice job with increasing DA of seomoz.org form 75 to current 93 in a year!
    Great post John and thanks for useful tips and download!

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