As an agency, your profit margins are constantly being squeezed. You have fixed overheads to manage and every process needs to be optimized to deliver the best ROI.
Everything matters with SEO but especially outreach.
If not properly managed, it has the capacity to end up being a resource drain.
Outreach is also constantly changing. Strategies that used to be effective are becoming less so.
Naturally, with so many moving parts to your businesses, you might take your eye off outreach only to find you have developed bad habits or are not operating as effectively as you could be.
From my position as a link provider, I have the opportunity to work with a variety of different agencies.
I get to see what works and also what mistakes are common.
I’ve highlighted 7 critical mistakes that I feel are the most common.
None will kill your business, but when looked at and optimized, you’ll find your outreach becomes more effective and delivers a much better ROI.
#1 Not being data-driven
Most of SEO are data-driven in almost every aspect of SEO. If it’s not Google Analytics, it is Ahrefs or Majestic that’s helping SEO agencies to strategize and deliver results for their clients.
Outreach shouldn’t be any different. It’s a process that can be measured at every point, split tested and optimized.
But, many agencies don’t have processes in place to measure their outreach, and it’s a mistake because ultimately, the number of prospects you have to contact is infinite.
You can’t just blast through data and expect to have more sites to contact in 12 months time; it’s essential that you maximize your return from your data.
Agencies should be tracking:
- The number of emails sent
- The number of opens
- The number of replies
- Number of positive replies
- Number of paid opportunities
- Number of “free” opportunities
- Key metrics of sites agreeing to guest posts
- Average turnaround-time
- A list of won link targets for use later-on (this one is huge)
We recently created an article on the data you need to be tracking to be able to effectively vet a potential link placement, which you can read here
With some raw data available you can start to break down and split test each stage of the process. You can measure the performance of different team members and identify who needs further training.
Additionally, with this kind of information at hand, you are able to determine a more accurate cost per link placement. Depending on the outreach model you are utilizing.
#2 Mass email is no longer enough
Just last year, outreach was a numbers game. You could hire VA’s and writers and run a cost-effective outreach team that delivered the links you needed. Links that moved the needle.
Being able to prospect on a large scale is still a very important component of outreach, but we now need to be a lot more personalized and strategic.
Webmasters have wisened up to spam-outreach.
Many agencies still leave their outreach up to a team of VAs, ready to churn and burn through thousands of contacts, wasting data, burning email IPs, and landing lower quality links.
Why? Because the site owners are becoming more difficult to please.
If you don’t incorporate personalized pitches or spend the time to find the right article idea to pitch, you’re missing out on link conversions.
Plus, you are missing an opportunity to build longer-term relationships where you can keep coming back to them with ideas for other clients or link opportunities.
The ideal scenario has to be to get a link placement AND nurture a long-term relationship. If your team doesn’t have that mindset, you are missing out.
#3 Not optimizing content creation
Following on from personalizing your pitches to optimize for conversions, when it comes to guest posts, the content you plan to create plays a major component of the pitch you send and it’s potential success.
After all, what’s the point in personalizing pitches if the article ideas you are pitching are not hitting the mark?
For successful pitches, there is a sweet spot in the content you want your outreach team to be creating.
First, the content needs to reflect the site you want to link to. It must be relevant.
But equally, it must be attractive to the audience of the target site. Otherwise, why would they agree to the article?
When targeting a small niche, there is a strong chance that content that works for you, works for the target sites too.
However, smaller niches will run out of target sites quickly, you will have to look at different angles to target different niches and then finding the sweet spot becomes important.
My agency had a client that was a large fishing e-commerce store.
Naturally, any angling or fishing related site would be very niche relevant. But it’s a relatively small niche, and it didn’t take long to exhaust potential link opportunities.
The next step was to identify content that would fit with other audiences that are not so obvious.
We successfully pitched some articles in the travel niche. Destinations to go for people who love to fish.
Another successful strategy was to target women’s lifestyle websites. With the lead up to Christmas, we are always looking at creating content that is “what to buy your man for Christmas.”
Angling is one of the most popular hobbies in the US and UK, so it would make sense that “your man” could well be a fishing fanatic.
Finally, another niche we picked up some very high-value links from was the self-help / spiritual niches. They pitched content about how fishing is a great way to de-stress, get in touch with nature and to meditate.
They were able to think a little bit outside the box because the team they had running their outreach were skilled in identifying link opportunities.
#4 Paying VAs by the guest post placement
The more cost-effective your agency can acquire links, the better your margins.
That’s a given. But there’s an issue with setting up your outreach team to be completely price focused.
We see plenty of agencies that have teams of VAs running outreach, being paid $X per guest post placement with X Domain Rating (or your metric of choice).
The issue with this model is it drives down quality. And here’s why.
Outreach has exploded. Website owners are being bombarded, daily, with offers and proposals.
It becomes a sellers’ market.
In order to meet budget criteria, VAs have no choice but to pick lower value sites.
You could end up on sites built by other marketers who build these websites just to sell guest posts, which quickly become link farms.
So, unless your fee per placement has increased, the overall quality of your links will have likely decreased, simply because of this seller’s market we’re currently in.
“Pure” guest post outreach, where you are pitching expert-level, specific content to high-value sites as editorials is also increasingly more difficult because editors are being bombarded with proposals, so they become more selective.
The freelancers doing the outreach are having to do more work on each placement.
Cost-per-link acquisition is essential to every agency, but the landscape has changed and how you value the link and measure the cost needs to be adjusted too. It can’t just be driven by price.
It needs to be constantly evaluated so you’re paying the right fee for your links to ensure the quality of placements doesn’t decrease.
#5 Templated email outreach sucks
The results are in.
Site owners are not reacting to templated emails unless they are selling links on their site.
Even site owners that sell links will be skeptical with templated emails because they are selective, and some will associate the spammy emails with poor quality sites.
That is… if it even hits the inbox.
These days Gmail and other email filtering systems are on the lookout for templated emails to mark as spam, or in Google’s case to throw them in the “Promotions” tab, where they get lost.
Open rates are the worst for emails that end up in Promotions.
This has been supported by numerous studies.
It’s not that you won’t pick up opportunities with templated email… you will. It’s just extremely ineffective compared to other strategies.
Which means your agency is missing out on other opportunities.
Just as importantly, you are chewing through prospects at an unsustainable rate.
As an agency, you’ll need to be very careful with how much data you go through; you have a number of clients to run outreach for over an extended period of time. Thus, you can’t afford to miss out on so many opportunities to get placements.
In some cases, using a hybrid of templated email outreach with some personalization will deliver better results.
#6 Follow-ups: Maximizing your outreach
Your list of prospects is the lifeblood of your outreach. It’s not infinite so you need to take care of it or life gets really tough.
Keep that thought in the forefront of your mind whilst reading about the importance of follow-ups because they help you to maximize your prospect list to the full.
Agency outreach teams tend to send out an email, and not follow it up. Especially outsourced by teams of VAs.
There are many reasons why your outreach email might have been missed the first time.
Let me run you through some potential scenarios, from the perspective of the site owner/manager. These are just a handful, there a many more.
Scenario 1 – The contact box or email address on my site feeds into my own inbox. I’m flooded with offers and proposals every day. I try to get through most of them, but sometimes, if I don’t recognize the sender, it won’t get opened.
Other days, when I am less busy, I might open everything that hits my inbox.
In this scenario, they miss the first or second email you send because it’s simply bad timing. Your email is not really the highlight of their week.
Most of the time, a conversion is a matter of being in the “right time and right place” so keep emailing them until you hear a NO or get unsubscribed.
Scenario 2 – I have created a separate email account and inbox for my site because I hate having my inbox cluttered with unsolicited email.
I tend to log in to the inbox once or twice a week and scan through the emails, see if anything looks important or stands out. I might read through a couple.
In this scenario, it could be that the first time you send an email, it doesn’t stand out or the subject line doesn’t attract attention.
Send follow-ups because they might be noticed and read.
These are just 2 scenarios that the prospective site owner might have that means they miss your email and could well be interested in your proposal. You need to follow up until you are told to stop contacting them.
#7 Not having a network
Some of the most effective outreach I’ve seen is from SEO agencies that have taken the time to put a network of freelancers together.
The goal is to have a central point of pre-vetted outreach experts that either different SEO account managers can use for their clients. Or alternatively, to have an outreach manager who uses the network to deliver all the outreach they need for all their clients.
You want consistency in terms of quality and reliability in terms of delivery. Having a network in place offers that.
In terms of outreach, having a network of freelancers is effective, on so many levels.
Cost-quality. Different clients will have different outreach needs.
In some cases, you might need to target a handful of niche relevant, lower value links, for less competitive keywords or local SEO. Other clients might need to target more high-value links. Perhaps they are in more competitive niches or are looking to incorporate PR and link building.
These require two different sets of skills and two different types of content.
You’ll probably need different freelancers to deliver these kinds of links.
This is where a network is a benefit. You can call on different resources in your network for different activities without having to advertise and recruit on a case-by-case basis.
Time = cost. At the end of the day, it all boils down to cost. Having a network saves an agency money. One of the ways it saves money is by saving time.
To be constantly recruiting, training and managing an outreach team and writers is a drain on time. If you were to build a network of freelancers with a process in place that means they manage themselves, you’re freeing up your most valuable commodity.
Once a freelancer is trained to deliver the tasks to your standards, they understand the process, they are proven to deliver the appropriate quality on-time, then and only then they join your network, afterwhich different members of your agency can use them as they need.
They won’t need a lot of managing; they’ll just need some quality control to ensure they are continuing to deliver.
Bonus: Failing to avoid the pitfalls of outreach outsourcing
A lot of agencies decide to use an outreach service rather than build their own network or run outreach in-house.
There is a lot of value in choosing to outsource this kind of service, and I’m not just saying that because that’s what we offer.
There are plenty of headaches involved with outreach. There are a lot of moving parts.
Find the right outreach service as a partner and that headache goes away.
But there is a major issue with outsourcing outreach.
For a start, outreach means a lot of different things to different SEOs and agencies. You really need to find an outreach service that matches your philosophy in terms of link quality. And maintains that quality throughout the relationship.
Outreach services vary massively. But an overriding issue with many services is link quality. They tend to use DA as a metric, which is fine as one of many metrics, but often it’s not supported with RD, Backlink profile, traffic, social media activity.
It’s often just DA and niche relevant.
The problem with that is testing has shown that results from obtaining links from such sites are minimal. Many people have reported getting placed on “outreach sites” that are just a little better than well-built PBNs.
In most cases, there is a good chance that the guest post service is legitimate but because they limit their site verification process to DA and niche (for example) the sites end up being nothing more than a link farm.
Hundreds of internal pages sold as guest posts, diluting the value of the link… if Google hasn’t devalued the links anyway.
Outreach is constantly evolving.
You need outreach links to move the needle and to be able to show clients ranking increases.
However, a mass email templated process is not as effective as it once was and decreases by the day. Agencies need to be keeping specific aspects of mass email, that allows them to scale depending on their requirements, but otherwise looking to personalize the process.
At the same time, they need to be able to identify new angles and potential placements and design content that delivers relevancy and is engaging for the audience of the placement site.
Outsourcing needs to be really well managed. Ensure that your philosophy on outreach, and what determines a valuable site to secure a link from, matches your partner’s strategy. Ensure that they are delivering those metrics consistently.
Outreach can be a black hole in terms of cost and time, implementing these changes will help to optimize and improve ROI and avoid those potential pitfalls.