Do you remember the community-building concept? If you’re a regular Site-Reference reader, then you should. We’ve been drilling the point home for months now. In a nutshell: for a webmaster, SEO has become much bigger than simple linkbuilding, data analysis, and keyword hunting.
Now, it’s been elevated to an art form.
You must carefully juggle a myriad of responsibilities – social media management, marketing, industry analysis, site architecture…. The list could go on for days. The most important part of a webmaster’s SEO efforts, however, is outreach. This harkens back to the community-building discussion we’re had so many times before.
Marketing your website today is all about creating a tightly-woven network of peers; like-minded webmasters in your niche who will cite your work often and help you build your online reputation though glowing word-of-mouth. Do enough outreach, and you’ll hit the point when scoring search engine traffic begins to plummet lower and lower on your list of SEO priorities.
Sounds nice, eh?
But wait – there’s more! Eventually, you won’t need to pound the virtual pavement to get your peers to plug you on their websites. They just will. As long as your content is adding to your community’s discussion in a meaningful way, they’ll begin to cite you naturally as a true authority in your niche. And you will link to your peers as well. The link love will simply flow.
But let’s back up for a second.
To make all that happen, you need to get the initial outreach out of the way, which means poking around your niche to discover who’s who. How, though, do you jump that first hurdle? How do you make first contact with a webmaster that you respect? What should you say in your “meet-and-greet” email?
Never fear – Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz has a diagram for that.
His latest Whiteboard Friday video tackled the issue of “outreach etiquette,” and as someone who receives dozens of outreach emails every day, he had quite a bit say on the matter.
The Guts of an Outreach Email
Rand says he gets outreach emails about all sorts of things. Some want a hand from SEOmoz with their business development. Others try to convince Rand to get down and dirty and make a shady paid link deal with them to promote their sites. Most, though, just want a shout out on SEOmoz or a little content-sharing love.
Whatever the motive, says Rand, the email itself is ultimately what will make or break the deal. He gets thousands of these things, folks – the guy’s got the goods on the formula that works.
It doesn’t matter whether the email is a winner or tossed in the trash – most follow a similar format, according to Rand. Each begins with a salutation, then launches into an introduction. From there, the sender typically asks for some kind of favor. Following that is an offer to do something in return. Finally, each ends with a close and a signature. According to Rand, the trick is saying the right things in each of these sections.
Avoiding Common Pitfalls
Let’s start with the pitfalls – things that cause Rand to stop reading and press “delete” right off the bat. First, he says that getting all formal with your salutation is a major dealbreaker. Instead, keep it simple and personal. It’s really important to get this right – if you use a general greeting like “Dear Webmaster,” you shouldn’t expect a response any time soon.
Don’t send out one-liners asking for something right away, either. You need to cushion the ask with kindness and familiarity. If the webmaster doesn’t know you, yet you straight up ask for something out of the blue anyway, do you really think you’ll get a response? That’s not how it works in the real world, so our online etiquette should mirror how we interact when we’re face-to-face.
Standing Out From the Crowd
Rand offers up a few suggestions for standing out from the crowd. First, he says you should get a little cozy in your intro. Prove that you follow the person’s activities (but not so much that it appears stalker-esque, of course). Mention somewhere they’ve been or something they’ve recently done or accomplished online – you’ll illustrate that you have a genuine interest in them and their happenings.
That’s the real trick. If you can establish trust in that first sentence, then your recipient will be much more likely to read the remainder of what you have to say. Side note: don’t get too long-winded. Remember that many of the webmasters you reach out to likely field a large amount of emails every day, so keep it as brief as you possibly can.
The Call to Action and the Giveback
If you’ve established a healthy, personable intro, the call to action should be a piece of cake. Keep it brief as well – really brief. Just spit out what you want instead of tiptoeing around your request. Simply ask for the link or the share or whatever it is you’re after. And – whatever you do – don’t ask for multiple things in one email. That’ll just scream ungratefulness.
Finally, whatever you do, you must include a “giveback.” You can’t expect something for nothing, as they say, so end with an offering of your own. Rand says that it’s perfectly acceptable to flip the order and include your giveback before the call to action. I personally prefer this order – I think webmasters would be much more receptive to you if you mention what you’ve already done for them before you ask for something.
Close With a Bang
Close on another personal note. Include a joke, a snappy ending, or something that once again demonstrates you follow the webmaster’s online life (at least the public part). Finally, sign your name to the email so the webmaster knows what to call you. If you don’t, you may not get a reply simply because the webmaster is unsure about how to address you (or even what your name is).
If you can get all these elements right, your chances of success will go through the roof. Make sure you email webmasters from time to time with encouragement or simply to check in – don’t email with requests every single time you reach out to someone. Once you find your rhythm, you’ll begin building relationships with peers in your niche faster than you can shake a stick at. That, my friends, is how to become part of a community.
Postscript: I hope Rand’s ready for the onslaught of well-worded emails coming his way!