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Link Building Outreach for Noobs

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Link Building Outreach for Noobs

Link outreach is the process of contacting other websites to ask for a backlink to your website.

For example, here’s an outreach email we sent as part of a broken link building campaign:

In this guide, you’ll learn how to get started with link outreach and how to get better results. 

How to do link outreach

Link outreach is a four-step process:

1. Find prospects

No matter how amazing your email is, you won’t get responses if it’s not relevant to the person you’re contacting. This makes finding the right person to contact equally as important as crafting a great email.

Who to reach out to depends on your link building strategy. Here’s a table summarizing who you should find for the following link building tactics:

As a quick example, here’s how you would find sites likely to accept your guest posts:

  1. Go to Content Explorer
  2. Enter a related topic and change the dropdown to “In title”
  3. Filter for English results
  4. Filter for results with 500+ words
  5. Go to the “Websites” tab
Finding guest blogging opportunities via Content ExplorerFinding guest blogging opportunities via Content Explorer

This shows you the websites getting the most search traffic to content about your target topic.

From here, you’d want to look at the Authors column to prioritize sites with multiple authors, as this suggests that they may accept guest posts.

The Authors column indicate how many authors have written for the siteThe Authors column indicate how many authors have written for the site

If you want to learn how to find prospects for different link building tactics, I recommend reading the resource below.

2. Find their contact details

Once you’ve curated a list of people to reach out to, you’ll need to find their contact information.

Typically, this is their email address. The easiest way to find this is to use an email lookup tool like Hunter.io. All you need to do is enter the first name, last name, and domain of your target prospect. Hunter will find their email for you:

Finding Tim's email with Hunter.ioFinding Tim's email with Hunter.io

To prevent tearing your hair from searching for hundreds of emails one-by-one, most email lookup tools allow you to upload a CSV list of names and domains. Hunter also has a Google Sheets add-on to make this even easier.

Using the Hunter for Sheets add-on to find emails in bulk directly in Google SheetsUsing the Hunter for Sheets add-on to find emails in bulk directly in Google Sheets

3. Send a personalized pitch

Knowing who to reach out to is half the battle won. The next ‘battle’ to win is actually getting the person to care.

Think about it. For someone to link to you, the following things need to happen:

  • They must read your email
  • They must be convinced to check out your content
  • They must open the target page and complete all administrative tasks (log in to their CMS, find the link, etc.)
  • They must link to you or swap out links

That’s a lot of steps. Most people don’t care enough to do this. That’s why there’s more to link outreach than just writing the perfect email (I’ll cover this in the next section).

For now, let’s look at how to craft an amazing email. To do that, you need to answer three questions:

  1. Why should they open your email? — The subject line needs to capture attention in a busy inbox.
  2. Why should they read your email? — The body needs to be short and hook the reader in.
  3. Why should they link to you? — Your pitch needs to be compelling: What’s in it for them and why is your content link-worthy?

For example, here’s how we wrote our outreach email based on the three questions:

An analysis of our outreach email based on three questionsAn analysis of our outreach email based on three questions

Here’s another outreach email we wrote, this time for a campaign building links to our content marketing statistics post:

An analysis of our outreach email based on three questionsAn analysis of our outreach email based on three questions

4. Follow up, once

People are busy and their inboxes are crowded. They might have missed your email or read it and forgot.

Solve this by sending a short polite follow-up.

Example follow-up emailExample follow-up email

One is good enough. There’s no need to spam the other person with countless follow-up emails hoping for a different outcome. If they’re not interested, they’re not interested.

Link outreach tips

In theory, link outreach is simply finding the right person and asking them for a link. But there is more to it than that. I’ll explore some additional tips to help improve your outreach.

Don’t over-personalize

Some SEOs swear by the sniper approach to link outreach. That is: Each email is 100% customized to the person you are targeting.

But our experience taught us that over-personalization isn’t better. We ran link-building campaigns that sent hyper-personalized emails and got no results.

It makes logical sense: Most people just don’t do favors for strangers. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen—it does—but rarely will your amazing, hyper-personalized pitch change someone’s mind.

So, don’t spend all your time tweaking your email just to eke out minute gains.

Avoid common templates

My first reaction seeing this email is to delete it:

A bad outreach emailA bad outreach email

Why? Because it’s a template I’ve seen many times in my inbox. And so have many others.

Another reason: Not only did he reference a post I wrote six years ago, it was a guest post, i.e., I do not have control over the site. This shows why finding the right prospects is important. He even got my name wrong.

Templates do work, but bad ones don’t. You can’t expect to copy-paste one from a blog post and hope to achieve success.

A better approach is to use the scoped shotgun approach: use a template but with dynamic variables.

Email outreach template with dynamic variablesEmail outreach template with dynamic variables

You can do this with tools like Pitchbox and Buzzstream.

This can help achieve a decent level of personalization so your email isn’t spammy. But it doesn’t spend all your time writing customized emails for every prospect.

Send lots of emails

When we polled 800+ people on X and LinkedIn about their link outreach results, the average conversion rate was only 1-5%.

Link outreach conversion rates in 2023Link outreach conversion rates in 2023

This is why you need to send more emails. If you run the numbers, it just makes sense:

  • 100 outreach emails with a 1% success rate = 1 link
  • 1,000 outreach emails with a 1% success rate = 10 links

I’m not saying to spam everyone. But if you want more high-quality links, you need to reach out to more high-quality prospects.

Build a brand

A few years ago, we published a link building case study:

  • 515 outreach emails
  • 17.55% reply rate
  • 5.75% conversion rate

Pretty good results! Except the top comments were about how we only succeeded because of our brand:

Comments on our YouTube video saying we succeeded because of our brandComments on our YouTube video saying we succeeded because of our brand

It’s true; we acknowledge it. But I think the takeaway here isn’t that we should repeat the experiment with an unknown website. The takeaway is that more SEOs should be focused on building a brand.

We’re all humans—we rely on heuristics to make judgments. In this case, it’s branding. If your brand is recognizable, it solves the “stranger” problem—people know you, like you, and are more likely to link.

The question then: How do you build a brand?

I’d like to quote our Chief Marketing Officer Tim Soulo here:

What is a strong brand if not a consistent output of high-quality work that people enjoy? Ahrefs’ content team has been publishing top-notch content for quite a few years on our blog and YouTube channel. Slowly but surely, we were able to reach tens of millions of people and instill the idea that “Ahrefs’ content = quality content”—which now clearly works to our advantage.

Tim SouloTim Soulo

Ahrefs was once unknown, too. So, don’t be disheartened if no one is willing to link to you today. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Trust the process and create incredible content. Show it to people. You’ll build your brand and reputation that way.

Build relationships with people in your industry

Outreach starts before you even ask for a link.

Think about it: People don’t do favors for strangers but they will for friends. If you want to build and maintain relationships in the industry, way before you start any link outreach campaigns.

Don’t just rely on emails either. Direct messages (DMs) on LinkedIn and X, phone calls—they all work. For example, Patrick Stox, our Product Advisor, used to have a list of contacts he regularly reached out to. He’d hop on calls and even send fruit baskets.

Create systems and automations

In its most fundamental form, link outreach is really about finding more people and sending more emails.

Doing this well is all about building systems and automations.

We have a few videos on how to build a team and a link-building system, so I recommend that you check them out.

Final thoughts

Good link outreach is indistinguishable from good business development.

In business development, your chances of success will increase if you:

  • Pitch the right partners
  • Have a strong brand
  • Have prior relationships with them
  • Pitch the right collaboration ideas

The same goes for link outreach. Follow the principles above and you will see more success for your link outreach campaigns.

Any questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter X.



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Why Now’s The Time To Adopt Schema Markup

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Why Now's The Time To Adopt Schema Markup

There is no better time for organizations to prioritize Schema Markup.

Why is that so, you might ask?

First of all, Schema Markup (aka structured data) is not new.

Google has been awarding sites that implement structured data with rich results. If you haven’t taken advantage of rich results in search, it’s time to gain a higher click-through rate from these visual features in search.

Secondly, now that search is primarily driven by AI, helping search engines understand your content is more important than ever.

Schema Markup allows your organization to clearly articulate what your content means and how it relates to other things on your website.

The final reason to adopt Schema Markup is that, when done correctly, you can build a content knowledge graph, which is a critical enabler in the age of generative AI. Let’s dig in.

Schema Markup For Rich Results

Schema.org has been around since 2011. Back then, Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex worked together to create the standardized Schema.org vocabulary to enable website owners to translate their content to be understood by search engines.

Since then, Google has incentivized websites to implement Schema Markup by awarding rich results to websites with certain types of markup and eligible content.

Websites that achieve these rich results tend to see higher click-through rates from the search engine results page.

In fact, Schema Markup is one of the most well-documented SEO tactics that Google tells you to do. With so many things in SEO that are backward-engineered, this one is straightforward and highly recommended.

You might have delayed implementing Schema Markup due to the lack of applicable rich results for your website. That might have been true at one point, but I’ve been doing Schema Markup since 2013, and the number of rich results available is growing.

Even though Google deprecated how-to rich results and changed the eligibility of FAQ rich results in August 2023, it introduced six new rich results in the months following – the most new rich results introduced in a year!

These rich results include vehicle listing, course info, profile page, discussion forum, organization, vacation rental, and product variants.

There are now 35 rich results that you can use to stand out in search, and they apply to a wide range of industries such as healthcare, finance, and tech.

Here are some widely applicable rich results you should consider utilizing:

  • Breadcrumb.
  • Product.
  • Reviews.
  • JobPosting.
  • Video.
  • Profile Page.
  • Organization.

With so many opportunities to take control of how you appear in search, it’s surprising that more websites haven’t adopted it.

A statistic from Web Data Commons’ October 2023 Extractions Report showed that only 50% of pages had structured data.

Of the pages with JSON-LD markup, these were the top types of entities found.

  • http://schema.org/ListItem (2,341,592,788 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/ImageObject (1,429,942,067 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/Organization (907,701,098 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/BreadcrumbList (817,464,472 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/WebSite (712,198,821 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/WebPage (691,208,528 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/Offer (623,956,111 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/SearchAction (614,892,152 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/Person (582,460,344 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/EntryPoint (502,883,892 Entities)

(Source: October 2023 Web Data Commons Report)

Most of the types on the list are related to the rich results mentioned above.

For example, ListItem and BreadcrumbList are required for the Breadcrumb Rich Result, SearchAction is required for Sitelink Search Box, and Offer is required for the Product Rich Result.

This tells us that most websites are using Schema Markup for rich results.

Even though these Schema.org types can help your site achieve rich results and stand out in search, they don’t necessarily tell search engines what each page is about in detail and help your site be more semantic.

Help AI Search Engines Understand Your Content

Have you ever seen your competitor’s sites using specific Schema.org Types that are not found in Google’s structured data documentation (i.e. MedicalClinic, IndividualPhysician, Service, etc)?

The Schema.org vocabulary has over 800 types and properties to help websites explain what the page is about. However, Google’s structured data features only require a small subset of these properties for websites to be eligible for a rich result.

Many websites that solely implement Schema Markup to get rich results tend to be less descriptive with their Schema Markup.

AI search engines now look at the meaning and intent behind your content to provide users with more relevant search results.

Therefore, organizations that want to stay ahead should use more specific Schema.org types and leverage appropriate properties to help search engines better understand and contextualize their content. You can be descriptive with your content while still achieving rich results.

For example, each type (e.g. Article, Person, etc.) in the Schema.org vocabulary has 40 or more properties to describe the entity.

The properties are there to help you fully describe what the page is about and how it relates to other things on your website and the web. In essence, it’s asking you to describe the entity or topic of the page semantically.

The word ‘semantic’ is about understanding the meaning of language.

Note that the word “understanding” is part of the definition. Funny enough, in October 2023, John Mueller at Google released a Search Update video. In this six-minute video, he leads with an update on Schema Markup.

For the first time, Mueller described Schema Markup as “a code you can add to your web pages, which search engines can use to better understand the content. ”

While Mueller has historically spoken a lot about Schema Markup, he typically talked about it in the context of rich result eligibility. So, why the change?

This shift in thinking about Schema Markup for enhanced search engine understanding makes sense. With AI’s growing role and influence in search, we need to make it easy for search engines to consume and understand the content.

Take Control Of AI By Shaping Your Data With Schema Markup

Now, if being understood and standing out in search is not a good enough reason to get started, then doing it to help your enterprise take control of your content and prepare it for artificial intelligence is.

In February 2024, Gartner published a report on “30 Emerging Technologies That Will Guide Your Business Decisions,”  highlighting generative AI and knowledge graphs as critical emerging technologies companies should invest in within the next 0-1 years.

Knowledge graphs are collections of relationships between entities defined using a standardized vocabulary that enables new knowledge to be gained by way of inferencing.

Good news! When you implement Schema Markup to define and connect the entities on your site, you are creating a content knowledge graph for your organization.

Thus, your organization gains a critical enabler for generative AI adoption while reaping its SEO benefits.

Learn more about building content knowledge graphs in my article, Extending Your Schema Markup From Rich Results to Knowledge Graphs.

We can also look at other experts in the knowledge graph field to understand the urgency of implementing Schema Markup.

In his LinkedIn post, Tony Seale, Knowledge Graph Architect at UBS in the UK, said,

“AI does not need to happen to you; organizations can shape AI by shaping their data.

It is a choice: We can allow all data to be absorbed into huge ‘data gravity wells’ or we can create a network of networks, each of us connecting and consolidating our data.”

The “networks of networks” Seale refers to is the concept of knowledge graphs – the same knowledge graph that can be built from your web data using semantic Schema Markup.”

The AI revolution has only just begun, and there is no better time than now to shape your data, starting with your web content through the implementation of Schema Markup.

Use Schema Markup As The Catalyst For AI

In today’s digital landscape, organizations must invest in new technology to keep pace with the evolution of AI and search.

Whether your goal is to stand out on the SERP or ensure your content is understood as intended by Google and other search engines, the time to implement Schema Markup is now.

With Schema Markup, SEO pros can become heroes, enabling generative AI adoption through content knowledge graphs while delivering tangible benefits, such as increased click-through rates and improved search visibility.

More resources: 


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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


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