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Show Me The Links 2.3: Live Q&A - Your Questions Answered




Julie Joyce: Hi, everybody. Welcome to the next episode of the SEMrush webinar series Show Me the Links. I am your host Julie Joyce with Link Fish Media, and this is our 13th episode that I've done, so very happy about that. 

We've got great guests today, as always. We have Carrie Rose from Rise at Seven and Mark Lindquist from Mailshake.

Our topic today is building and leveraging relationships to consistently earn high-quality links from great content. These guys tend to work with really good stuff, so they have a lot of great things to say. 

We'll start out with defining what we mean by good links and good content, but first of all, I wanted to turn it over to Carrie for an introduction. 

Carrie Rose: Hi, I'm Carrie. I'm here in Sheffield in the UK, and I currently work in digital PR and content marketing for my own agency, so I launched Rise at Seven around five weeks ago. 

Julie Joyce: Mark, would you do an introduction for us, please?

Mark Lindquist: I'm Mark. I am the marketing strategist at Mailshake, and Mailshake is a tool that helps you send cold emails. Basically, if you're doing link building and you're trying to connect with people, and you want to connect with a couple hundred people at a time, you would use Mailshake to personalize those emails in bulk and schedule follow-ups. 

Send the first one and if they don't reply, or they click a certain link in the email, you can trigger a follow-up email to send and then it will follow up. You can also trigger LinkedIn messages and things like that. 

I do all the content marketing strategy and link building here at Mailshake. Before this, I was at a couple of different marketing agencies doing content marketing, particularly with building links and creating content in a lot of different industries. I've been doing that for a while. 

Julie Joyce: All right well I wanted to go ahead and dive into you guys talking about what a high-quality link is. Carrie, do you want to start with that? What to you is a high-quality link?

What Is a High-Quality Link?

Carrie Rose: Sure. I guess my opinion or view on it has changed over the years. Now, I guess it's anything that my clients would recognize. If I would say, "do you recognize this website, have you heard of this website, or is this something that you would dream to get it on," that is what I would call a high quality (link). 

I guess when obviously looking into whether I should be targeting that publication, it's anything from engagement rates, Twitter following, etcetera. I don't necessarily use the typical surge metrics anymore and that is something that I did use a couple of years back. I've changed my approach. I've gone for more an engagement PR-like approach. 

Julie Joyce: Cool. What about you Mark?

Mark Lindquist: I look at four different things when it comes to if it's a publication that I want to engage with to get a link.

The first: domain authority or page authority. Primarily domain authority; using a tool like SEMrush or any of the other tools that you can check with this. Usually, I shoot for above a 50 domain authority. That sort of narrows down to the higher quality sites and at least sites that are active and actively publishing content. 

The second is relevance. We are primarily a sales marketing tool which gives us a lot of different types of sites that we can reach out to that are relevant to the type of content that we are creating. 

The third is the anchor text. If we are trying to build things for instance to an article that is about cold email, we can get the link text to be related to cold email. That's generally what we shoot for. 

The last thing, and this is what I would say is the most important, is if I'm connecting with someone that I can build a relationship with. That's sort of my perspective when it comes to link building. 

It's one thing to get the link on their site but if they are writing content consistently on other sites, or have an audience that overlaps with ours, the link is just the first step to a bigger relationship. 

That's what I really try to shoot for with any link building effort that I do; is finding people that I can connect with, get on the phone with, talk about what our marketing goals are and see where we can align. It goes way beyond just getting the link.

Optimizing Links and Anchor Text on Other Websites

Julie Joyce: Olivia Jane was asking in the chat for you Mark, how can you control the link and anchor text? What do you do to try to get what you want?

Mark Lindquist: Sometimes if you're doing outreach and you're submitting a quote to an article and it's already been published, that's something that we do because it's not just like, "hey, can you put this link in your article?" We're adding a little bit of content to something that they've published to make it a little better. 

Whether the quote is related to cold email and it's building on a concept that they're covering in the article, in my quotes, I'll put the link to the page that I'm trying to build a link to on the anchor text that I want to put it on. 

Sometimes they'd rather not have anchor text like that and they'll tell you in how they respond. For the most part, people are okay as long as the quote is genuine and good content, most people are okay with that. Usually, it's with quotes; it's adding quotes to content.

The Ingredients of Great Content

Julie Joyce: Okay. Good question. I wanted to go back to Carrie so she could talk about how do you define great content.

Carrie Rose: I kind of have four things that I always think about when it comes to creating good content and it's content that is either engaging, resourceful, position your clients as the expert, or adds value.

First of all... engaging content. So, it's content that is shareable, that is going to drive traffic to your website and keep them on-site for a longer period of time than just a click, quick glance. 

There's resourceful content; whether that's data-lead reports or guides which also position you as experts. Whether that's top tips or places to go but also, industry reports and things like that. 

Then content which adds value to say another publication or another journalist. A lot of that is usually again data-lead stuff or tips from the experts within the company. Any sort of content that we can create on-site which naturally would appeal to a journalist or appeal to another publication that's thinking, "oh, that's interesting for not only myself, for my readers". It's all about having that sort of content on your website which other publications could link to.

Julie Joyce: Mark, I know you do a lot of outreach and that, do you deal with creating content? 

Mark Lindquist: I handle all the content strategy. We have a team of writers that do the research and write the articles but overseeing the outlines and coming up with the topics and everything is part of my role.

A couple things around great content, I think the first is if it's written by an expert who has personal experience with the topic that they're writing about. For me, it's always really clear, particularly with marketing content when the person writing it has actually done what they're talking about versus just their researching. It can only be so good if you don't have personal experience with the topic that you're talking on. 

That would be the first one, is if you can get subject matter experts, whether you're interviewing them; that's one thing that we've done at Mailshake. What I'll do is I'll listen to sales podcasts and they've done the hard work for me in finding people that have interesting things to say about interesting topics. I'll just email them and I'll say, "hey, I loved your episode on X podcast on Y topic. We want to cover a similar topic on our blog. I'd love to interview you." 

Use that and kind of give the interview to our writers to write the article. Some of our best content has come from that. The success rate on outreach is really high. You get on the phone with them, you have a good conversation, you're writing good articles; they can see that you're doing good work and then there's a lot of opportunities to work with whatever comes with that.

The second thing that I like to think about when I'm trying to come up with topics is what topspin can I put on a topic that makes it a little bit different than the way that other people are talking about it, because there's like a million articles, for instance, on employee engagements.

The angle that we wanted to try to come up with a way of presenting it that was unique and not just kind of the me-too content that you see out there. What we did is Glassdoor comes out with a top 50 companies to work for, small, medium and large companies. We've reached out to all those companies and sent them a survey about how they build employee engagement with their employees. 

Their communications people got back to us and they were excited to work with us on it and I think the article turned out a lot better because at the end of the day it's still top tips for employee engagement. 

Julie Joyce: I wanted to mention, just kind of going back to something someone asked about when you were talking about asking for a link with anchor text about whether a link exchange was a violation of Google's guidelines. I just wanted to say, unless I misunderstood, we're not really talking about a link exchange, we're just talking about asking for a link which is not against their guidelines.

Mark Lindquist: Yeah. That's right. I think a link for a link on each other's sites, I think, it's really easy for Google to identify when that happens and then devalue the links. I wouldn't recommend doing a direct link trade.

What to Do About Nofollow Links

Julie Joyce: Okay someone asked, what do you do when a new site gives you a link but it's a nofollow. Carrie, do you want to take that?

Carrie Rose: Yeah, sure. Absolutely nothing. The reason for that is because here in the UK, we have a lot of websites. We just have a policy which is nofollow throughout the site. No matter what your website is, no matter the content, it will always be a nofollow. 

For me, I guess, the way I approach a link acquisition and building links is through a PR approach. Creating content is naturally going to get links and talked about. I just try to create content that naturally gets that link, that journalists think, "Oh, I want to link to that because it adds value to my story." 

The questioning around it being a nofollow, I don't do anything if I am completely honest. I go with it, I go with the flow. I'm not going to approach a journalist and request that they change it because I don't want to come across spammy in any way. 

I want to keep that relationship with the journalist so that next time if I have a nice piece of content, or whatever it is, that hopefully it will be followed next time or that they would speak to me again, cover my content, etcetera. 

Mark Lindquist: I think if you're doing outreach to larger publications or if you're trying to get links on larger publications or connect with journalists, I think that's definitely the approach. You definitely don't want to come off as spammy or desperate or kind of contributing to the noise that these people are hearing all the time.

Especially, again, larger publications, the ones that your clients have heard of that you are talking about as one of your definitions of a quality link, you prioritize the relationship first.

Do You Get Penalized for Having Bad Links?

Julie Joyce: Lilly had submitted a question asking, "Can you still get penalized by having poor quality, bad links because supposedly new Google algorithm update should not take bad links into account. What do you guys think about that?

Carrie Rose: Someone asked me the same question recently and it was actually a competitor in their industry was caught doing a lot of spammy link building. They felt annoyed they wouldn't get penalized for it and the way that I explained it is what they're doing is spending a lot of money on doing this sort of stuff and while they might not be getting penalized, they are not seeing any growth. 

I guess the way that Google has changed is that it's constantly looking at the bad link profile and rating you based on quality now and relevance, etcetera. Rather than penalizing for bad and unethical, it's more just ignoring it and it's wasting your budget in sense. 

Julie Joyce: Right. What do you think, Mark?

Mark Lindquist: Yeah, I think if you're doing spammy outreach and getting links on spammy sites, eventually the algorithms will keep getting better. There used to be PBNs back in the day where people would buy a bunch of domains and sell the links and Google picked up on that. 

I think most people can recognize if the site is spammy or if the type of outreach they're doing is spammy. Eventually, sooner or later, Google will recognize that and either penalize your or devalue the links. Even if it works right now, some tactic works well right now but it's clearly kind of spammy, it's not a long term business strategy even if it's effective in the short term

Julie Joyce: I used to think bad links would hurt you and I'm kind of the opinion now from what I've seen, I think they are probably mostly ignored. I'm not saying go get them, because that is a complete waste of money, but I haven't seen anybody getting any big penalties lately. I may be in the minority there. 

Identifying Who to Connect With for Link Building Outreach

Another question. Going back to the beginning, how do you identify the right people to connect with when you guys are reaching out? 

Mark Lindquist: Yeah. First, I look for publications in the space. That's the first thing that I look for, relevant publications. Then I look on the site to see if there's one person that publishes most of the content and that's generally the person that I reach out to. Then I go on LinkedIn if there is not someone clear from the site, and try to find someone with content or marketing or something like that in their title. 

If I can't find that, it's a really small company, I'll reach out to the founder or the CEO because generally, if I can't find a marketer and even if they have one, I reach out to the CEO and they send it down to their marketer. I'll always get a response from the marketing person. 

If worse comes to worst, I shoot high. I mean this is smaller companies, so not the CEO of Salesforce or something, but if it's clearly a relatively small company, you can usually connect with the CEO. Editors or writers or content marketing strategists or marketers at relevant blogs is where I start. 

In terms of trying to build a relationship with the right people, I try to find people that are doing a lot of guest posting. There are people who are writing on a lot of different domains that are in the space, generally, are the most active and the most interested in some kind of co-marketing. 

Julie Joyce: Okay. What about you, Carrie?

Carrie Rose: I'm mostly only connecting with journalists, editors, writers and to kind of target the most relevant ones and right ones, I usually start just by googling the topic. If for example, I have a story on Disney, I would just google Disney. 

Let's look at what journalists are already talking about Disney as a topic within the last three months and then I would use a database Google, Arcana, or Varella... what other ones are there? 

There's a couple of others out there, just a general list database and then I would get their contact and pitch my story.

In terms of them building a relationship, I usually do interact with them on Twitter and stuff like that. Journalists over here they have not a lot of time nowadays to build relationships with PRs like myself. 

I actually spoke to a journalist at top ten media publication recently and she said everyday she has to write around eight articles a day and she has an hour to write every article. Her time is very much limited. 

In terms of building relationships, she would much rather me tweet her or connect her on social media in some way because it's easy, rather than bombard her and stuff. I've tried every single approach from emails to calling, social media, and I just try to be most convenient for them, if that makes sense.

How to Avoid Outreach Emails Ending up in Spam Folders

Julie Joyce: How do you keep your emails from going into spam folders or getting deleted? How do you actually get these emails through to people when you're trying to reach them? Do you have any tips on that?

Mark Lindquist: The first is if you have a new domain, or if you haven't sent a lot of emails, Google and other spam checkers are really skeptical of the domain that you're sending from. You can't start with a new email address and send 1000 emails a day because you'll immediately get picked up and marked as spam. 

Once you get a bad sender reputation, you might as well toss the domain. It's really hard to overcome that. You can't just make a new email and start from scratch if you've already been flagged. The first thing I would do if you haven't been doing a lot of outreach is start small and a couple of emails a day and build up from that. 

The second is not doing huge send-outs. I never really do more than 60 to 80 emails in a single campaign. It's usually less than that. Some people will do really spray and pray hundreds of thousands of emails all at once and all it takes is a few people to start marking you as spam or for your open rate to be really bad for you to start building that bad reputation. 

It's more effective in the long term to do smaller batches of outreach that you can personalize more effectively. Then, if your open rates and reply rates are good on those smaller batches of outreach, you shouldn't have an issue. 

Carrie Rose: From my side, I've never really had issues from the junk side. One person did tell me that if you include way too many links within your emails, for example, like linking off to different parts of your website or if you're attaching say a video into the email, a lot of the time that can shoot it to the junk folder. That's something that I try to kind of refrain from doing. 

Mark Lindquist: Yeah, attaching for sure. That's a good point, Carrie. Definitely, don't send attachments in cold outreach. Those will often get picked up as spam, and also links.

I think if you're speaking like a real person and you're not sounding super spammy and you're avoiding the big no-no's like attaching and too many links, I think you'll mostly be fine. 

Personalizing Outreach Emails

Julie Joyce: What do you think about making each outreach email personalized? Do you try to do that? I don't know how many emails you send out. If you're sending out one hundred at a time, I don't know how you make that completely personalized but what are your thoughts on that? 

Carrie Rose: Personalization is making sure you know what they already write about as topics and saying, "I think you might like this because I know you already talk about it." You don't need to go into too much detail. 

Obviously going into every single email outreach would take a lot of time to personalize, but making sure it's relevant. Relevance is the biggest thing for me. I know that they have spoken about this topic or are passionate about it in some way and so I'm going to reach out to them.

Mark Lindquist: Yeah, I definitely agree with Carrie. I think having a good idea about the general topic they tend to cover. If they have a lot of articles about sales prospecting outreach, for instance, I'll put that in a column in my spreadsheet. 

Then with Mailshake, you can add those as text replacements. Just finding that common ground and making it clear that you're actually looking at the blog and it's not just a total spray and pray type of outreach. 

I think it's important to personalize to some degree, but if you can get a template and 80/20 it from there. At some point, it doesn't move the needle that much if you're going to write 100 percent personalized every single email. Starting with the template, personalizing off of that makes more business sense. 

Turning Brand Mentions into Links

Julie Joyce: How do you ask for a link if the publication just mentions your content, or your study or data but they don't link to you? Do you back and ask for a link?

Carrie Rose: Yeah, mostly. If I know that they're not going to give a link because I know their policy, then I won't badger them in any way but in terms of trying to get that link, it's mainly for me, we have this valuable report or asset on our website that I think would add value to your article. 

If it's just a link to say my client's home page, or a product page, or a service page, that's not necessarily something that I would ask for because it's not natural. 

Whereas if it were an article talking about, say, crime in the UK and I had a report on crime in the UK going on for the past ten years, then I would say, "hey, I think this might add value to your story. Would you link to it and credit it as a resource?" 

Julie Joyce: Okay. Mark, what about you?

Mark Lindquist: Yeah, I would do that same. If somebody mentions content of ours or references a stat that we have on our page, I'll ask for a link. I think you can do it in a way that's appreciative of them mentioning you and recognizing something you created. 

People know if you're reaching out to get a link, people aren't going to be surprised. It doesn't have to feel spammy or whatever. Generally, people will, especially if they're referencing specific content that you created, they should have a link for that anyways. 

We track our branded mentions so if someone mentions Mailshake and doesn't link to us, we actually will reach out. If they're writing about you, they are probably writing about similar topics that you cover and then there's an opportunity there, again, to build a relationship and see what else you guys can connect on. 

Content Ideation Tips

Julie Joyce: Okay. There's a question about content ideation. I was going to start with Carrie on this. What are your top tips for content ideation and can you tell us exactly what that means?

Carrie Rose: Yeah, sure. I actually think when trying to land links back to your client's websites, the hardest thing is coming up with the idea; how to come up with a good story. The biggest thing or the first thing that I do, something that Mark actually mentioned previously, was looking into competitors. 

Using tools such as SEMrush and looking at BuzzSumo as well. In SEMrush, I can look into the backlink profile of my competitors and look at where they're getting links from but also what was the story that was linking to those. That way I can kind of come up with my ideas and stories that I can create for my clients to get some of their links. 

Not only that, I do use BuzzSumo quite a lot. Buzz Sumo I can type in the topic or the URL of say my client's website or my competitor's website and look into the most shared articles, what sort of content is being talked about quite a lot and that way I can get inspiration for what sort of content I should be creating. 

I actually do use a lot of word association. If I knew that I need to come up with a campaign around holidays. I would then use holidays as my term and branch off that. 

It'd be like a spider diagram web where I literally think about holidays, to beaches, to flights, to prices, to children. I'll create all these different words that I can come up with ideas around and think what stories and content my audience seems to be interested in surrounding that topic. 

Mark Lindquist: Yeah. I really like that word association thing. That's interesting. The way that I come up with topics is, I usually start with competitor research, especially if I'm working with a client.

Especially back when I was at the agency and I wasn't super familiar with the space, I would start with content competitors and see what's driving a lot of traffic, what keywords are driving a lot of traffic for them. 

Julie Joyce: I was going to try to get a few more of the submitted questions from the chat. One is, "how do you keep track of all of your client's content from when the opportunity comes up for a link?" 

Carrie Rose: Yeah, sure. I guess, obviously, it's getting to understand your client's website inside out. For me, I have a lot of alerts set up, whether that's Google alerts or similar so I know if this topic is mentioned, then it will come into my inbox and I can react fast. 

I guess it's just being aware and knowing what sort of content we can react to anyway, even if it's not content that's already on the website and that we can create quite quick or fast to be able to get into the press. Yeah, it's just kind of like monitoring live and making sure that we use tools like Google and trends and stuff to spot opportunities that way. 

Best Way to Contact People for Links

Julie Joyce: We had talked a little bit earlier about emails versus the phone and my friend David had asked a question. "Which is the fastest? Which is the best way to land a link? The email or the phone?" 

Now, I know, Mark, you said you would get on the phone and I shuddered. I just can't handle it. 

Mark Lindquist: Yeah.

Julie Joyce: Carrie, do you ever get on the phone to get a link?

Carrie Rose: No, not really. I used to. I guess a previous agency, they tried to push it as much as possible. They saw it in a traditional PR perspective of go and build relationships. 

I think nowadays, journalists, especially writers and editors, don't have the time to kind of listen to me on the phone. They would much rather me drop them an email, or send them a tweet. I always resort to emails or Twitter to pitch to editors.

Mark Lindquist: Just to clarify, I would never cold call to get a link.

Julie Joyce: Right.

Mark Lindquist: Usually I've already gotten the link. If I'm getting on a call with someone, it's because we have a relationship, we've exchanged a handful of emails and there's an opportunity for both of us to help each other out. 

Julie Joyce: Well I guess we will have to end with that. We've been here an hour, which always amazes me when we come to the end.

We have lots we didn't cover. I'm sure you guys would be happy to answer any questions on Twitter if anybody reaches out. I certainly would as well. 

I appreciate everybody joining us. It's really nice that everybody participates in the chat and helps us socialize this. We had a lot of great answers here.

Mark Lindquist: Thanks for having me.

Carrie Rose: Thank you.

Julie Joyce: We will see you guys in another month.

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