Linkbuilding Outreach…Setting yourself up for success with the right toolset

Linkbuilding outreach  – building relationships, selling content concepts, lateral thinking and the dozens of other things involved – it has to be one of my favourite things about being an SEO.

Some days it can be pure frustration though – nobody getting back to you, posts going live that have broken links, bloggers breaking their promise of getting your post up before he leaves for Thailand for 6 weeks etc etc etc. No doubt you all have your own tales of outreach frustration.

One of the ways to maximise your outreach efficiency (and the number of good days you have) has to be through selecting the right tools for the job. In this post I will run through a number of the tools which I have used and in many cases continue to use, but rather than lump them all together I have decided to break them up according to who they are most suitable for.

The solo link hustler

It is my belief that anyone working individually i.e. you are building links for your own sites, working as a solo consultant or are the only in-house outreach guy/girl has very different software needs to that of a team of people.

You’ll probably find some of the tools discussed later in this post complete overkill – destroying your efficiency and the ROI of your campaign.

The Outreach Crew (2-5 people)

My categorisation of a few individuals collaborating to do linkbuilding. A fairly small team that need a robust set of tools to keep them organised without overdoing it on the admin front.

The Enterprise Outreach Team (6+ people)

A large team of linkbuilders, potentially spread across multiple locations with numerous individuals targeting a variety of niches and hitting different targets for the same website.

Very often, paying for tools isn’t a problem but the real key to successfully running an operation like this is organisation – to avoid pestering site owners multiple times, to make best use of relationships already established and to ensure no toes are trodden on.

12 of the best outreach tools

This list is by no means exhaustive however it does cover many of the tools which I use and have used in the past. As you might expect, there are some tools which could be used by all of the ‘types’ of link

A toolset for the solo link hustlers

  • Google Docs – get organised

First things first – get organised. Use Google Docs to create a spreadsheet to keep track of your campaign. You’ll know what fields you need but the aim here is to have a centralised database to refer to when you are prospecting, following up and evaluating performance (make sure it is usable for client reporting too if applicable).

Colour code it and make a commitment to your own sanity to keep it up to date. If ever I’m building links solo, I always have it setup as a series of progress bars, filling it with colour as the next stage becomes complete (topic agreed >> content accepted >> post published etc)

  • Blogger list builder – find prospects

This is a little free tool I built within Google Docs which scrapes the web and builds big lists of relevant blogs and websites that can be evaluated and contacted. Click here and make a copy for yourself.

  • Email Research Tool – get their details

Far from being automated (but it’s free), this solution from Buzzstream allows you to enter a prospects details and it will generate a series of search queries to help you track down their email address. Think of it like a semi-automatic contact finder – and suitable if you can’t seem to find their details anywhere on the website.

  • Gmail Canned Responses – get in touch

Very useful for templatizing your outreach emails. There are definitely parts of your email that you should write almost from scratch each time but there are certainly large chunks of your email (like who you are, who you represent and what you are offering) which can be templated. Gmail’s canned responses functionality is incredibly useful for making the process of emailing all those prospects as painfree as possible.

Conclusion

The tools are free and many of them will take a project to a certain point but are really only capable of handling relatively small campaigns as many of these tools have limitations and there is still a fair bit of legwork to be done.

A toolset for the Outreach Crews

Once you start adding people to the linkbuilding equation (even just another person), things become a little more complex as you don’t want to tread on eachother’s toes and you certainly don’t want to be duplicating work.

Here would be my setup if I were running a campaign with a small team…

Raven - get organised

Nearly every sales exec in the SEO software business has tried to tempt me into playing away with their software – and whilst I’ve often had a look around, I’ve remained loyal to Raven Tools the whole time. At the moment and for the foreseeable future, Raven is our software of choice here at Skyrocket SEO.

So how can it be used for an outreach campaign – well for small teams, it is a god-send, here are just a few of the great things it can do:

  • Task/project & account management – if you were so inclined, you could use Raven to track an entire project and give a client read-only access so that they can view progress without you having to send over a spreadsheet.
  • Team messaging – save all the emails, communicate with other team members from within Raven, really useful feature.
  • Link manager – keep track of progress using the link manager. If you have enough team members, you can have one person queueing link opportunities, another person making contact and a final person chasing up or fulfilling requests, the relationship status toggle means you can see at a glance who you still need to contact, who you haven’t heard from and which link is live.
  • Site Directory – how much you get out of this feature very much depends on how much you put in. If you run an agency (or handle multiple projects) then having a search of your private website directory can be like fishing in a barrel – these are opportunities that know who you are and they’ve been useful to you before.

Boomerang – email like a pro

Boomerang is one of those apps that once you start using, you wonder how you ever actually functioned without it. Boomerang has many uses in business – chasing up sales prospects for example is one way I use it – but it is a very powerful outreach tool as well. Here are just a couple of the things Boomerang can do for you…

  • Send emails later – if there is one thing out about outreach, it is that timing matters. Not just what day you send but also what time. Rather than burning the midnight oil to hit up people in different timezones, why not use Boomerang to send that intro email at a time when it’s going to land at the top of your prospects inbox.
  • Boomerang that email – never forget to follow up with a link prospect again, have Boomerang remind you that you didn’t receive a response from your intro email.

Boomerang is very reasonably priced and works with Gmail as well as Outlook. For further reading, take a look at this post on scalable link outreach with Gmail’s Boomerang

Scrapebox – find prospects in next to no time

I am the first to admit that Scrapebox seems like a pretty shady tool since it appears that the main purpose of the software is to harvest URLs and then ping them or faciliate large scale comment ‘spamming’ – I’ve nothing against people doing this and if it is working for them then good luck to you however it just isn’t my style.

What I will use Scrapebox for however is finding guest post opportunities and building lists of blogs effortlessly. It is like the industrial-strength version of my guest post opportunities tool. My suggestion if you are going to use this tool for your outreach campaigns is to have one person operating this and building lists of prospects which are then being fed into your outreach engine to be sorted, contacted etc.

You can also use Scrapebox to find email addresses although I often find this isn’t necessary as proper outreach in my eyes involves a manual review of a site where it is usually just as quick to make a note of the contact details whilst you are there.

For further reading, try this post from Andrew Breen on SEOROI

Conclusion

Many of these tools wouldn’t be out of place in an enterprise situation, scrapebox for example (if used correctly is very powerful). All 3 tools are very reasonably priced for what they offer and it is a case of getting out of them what you put in, if you use them all to their full potential you’ll quickly find outreach a lot more fun and a great deal more productive.

The next section of this post looks at tools which are generally speaking only necessary in a large-team scenario because anything less and it is either overkill or you’ll find yourself overwhelmed.

A toolset for the Enterprise Outreach Teams

Asana - effortless productivity

Asana is a relatively new web and mobile based project management app. It is free for up to 30 users and it is superb. It has quickly become a firm favourite here at Skyrocket SEO and not without good reason; it is so intuitive, fast and useful.

Asana is a great tool for any kind of project management or collaboration and it is also a really effective outreach workflow system.

Cluster your people to have individuals prospecting, evaluating, contacting, delivering (content) and so on. Asana can help faciliate this process as it can become the central system for all this.

Asana as an outreach workflow app:

  1. Setup a workspace for each client
  2. Create different project folders for each stage of the process (evaluate, initial contact, write content etc)
  3. Team members can then create a record for each prospect – do what they need to do and add notes as applicable
  4. They can then move that prospect to the next stage in the process and assign it as a task for the person responsible
  5. The activity feed then makes it easy for a manager or fellow team member to see what’s going on – a paper trail without killing the trees.

Buzzstream for linkbuilding – get organised & productive

Buzzstream, in the right situations, is a fantastic piece of software that helps teams to scale the building of quality relationships for links. I decided to include this in enterprise section because although it would be usable for an individual or small team, Buzzstream really comes into its own when used by medium to large sized outreach teams.

Here’s why:

  • Create a workspace for each client or project – everything stays organised and your team won’t suffer death by spreadsheets.
  • List segmentation – tag prospects and assign outreach niche-focused individuals for maximum effectiveness
  • Email dropbox – you can CC Buzzstream into all emails so that everyone knows what’s going on. You could also use it to spot check your team to make sure outreach is being conducted how you would like
  • CRM for linkbuilding – with a shared contact database to ensure there’s no duplicated work, Buzzstream also creates a contact record for each prospect so you are fully in the picture without having to keep a load of notes or have a really good memory
  • Track Twitter conversations – as outreach campaigns become increasingly social, the ability to track Twitter conversations right from the Buzzstream dashboard is one of its most powerful features.

Mentionmapp.com – connect with the influencer’s circle

Mentionmapp.com is a free service that allows you to visually map the close connections of the person you are looking to reach out to. I included this as an enterprise tool because very often the time it takes to be reaching out to the outer circle and the innter circle of the influential individual is pretty time consuming which potentially puts it beyond the reach of most smaller teams or individuals looking to scale their linkbuilding outreach efforts.

A caveat to this is that of course if you spot an individual that would be an ideal candidate to reach out to but perhaps they are a little unreachable, then mentionmapp is a very smart way to find your way onto their radar.

It is probably a case of understanding whether the time you invest in reaching the individual is worth the payoff – that’s your call to make.

Ifttt.comto create the persona

It seems the inbound marketing world has gone crazy for Ifttt (If this then that) the free service which allows you to connect multiple channels to automate actions when certain things happen. E.g. If a new post is published on Skyrocket SEO, then tweet a link to the post.

From a linkbuilding outreach perspective, Ifttt is very useful for semi-automating the creation of a industry-specific persona to help with the receptiveness of the individual you are reaching out to. You could curate the best industry content by combining the RSS feeds of all the thought-leaders in the space and set it to add a link to the post in Buffer which would then schedule the update for both Twitter and Facebook. You could then compliment this automated feed with some human interaction.

Again, I filed this one under the enterprise section since the time it takes to setup personas for all the individual industries you may be looking to target – even very small businesses sometimes have multiple industries they are looking to target.

1 tool absolutely everyone should use…

To finish I would like to recommend Linkstant.com (built by Rob Ousbey and Tom Critchlow) – a tool suitable for all types of linkbuilder. This nifty, free app allows you to discover new links immediately which means you can see when someone publishes the content you sent them (giving you and your team a buzz) and it saves you having to check the site or chase up only to find they’ve already published your post.

Another key reason to install Linkstant is that it allows you to see when people randomly link to you which means you can look really proactive and reach out to them to thank them for the mention – giving you an opportunity to do more together if applicable.

*Linkstant requires installing a small snippet of code so it won’t always be possible to use it on client projects if you find it difficult to get code implemented or if you are working on behalf of another agency for example.

Image credit

10 Comments

  1. avatar
    Paul January 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Great post, would agree with all of these (especially GDocs and BuzzStream) and I hadn’t come across Mention Mapp before.

    I would also recommend the ‘scraper’ plugin for Chrome, it lets you scrape links from Google search queries straight into GDocs! Pasting the results into a GDoc spreadsheet setup with the SEOmoz API is also great way of getting additional insight without using up your script allowance.

  2. avatar
    James Agate January 18, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    Cool I hadn’t seen the scraper Chrome plugin but there again I’m more of a firefox man myself!

    Mentionmapp is fairly new to me also but I love it…

    Thanks for your comment

  3. avatar
    Anthony January 18, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    This is brilliant James. We are doing link building and outreach over the next couple of weeks for one of our new clients so you couldn’t have posted this at a better time. Happy days :)

  4. avatar
    Anthony Trollope January 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    Apparently we don’t use enough tools for outreach! Thanks James for opening my eyes to all these awesome tools.

    Interesting you speak so highly of Raven. As you know, I’m an avid fan of the folks over at Moz and use their web app for almost all of our SEO tasks. I find their campaign facility amazing. Having compared the two, would you say there are some distinct differences in the two? Example: Moz recently released their own social media app, I find this useful for outreach prospecting but it might lack some of the finesse of the Raven toolset?

    • avatar
      James Agate January 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

      No problem Anthony!

      In terms of Moz vs Raven – well Raven is more of a complete tool in my eyes… they take the view of adding as many features as possible then polishing them up once they are there.

      I’ve always found moz to take the opposite view and they only release something once it has been polished which in many cases is too late (if that makese sense).

      Raven’s link management tools (and ability to assist us with outreach) just makes them our #1 choice.

      We pay for moz too and use their campaign app alongside OSE – mainly because we like lots of data and also to make comparisons.

      • avatar
        Anthony Trollope January 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

        Thanks, James. Very helpful. Might look to give Raven a go after I’ve explored all the other free tools you’ve recommended here.

        By the way, how do I get my picture next to my name like others?

        • avatar
          Anthony Trollope January 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

          Ignore me. I figured it out. Gravatar :)

          • avatar
            James Agate January 21, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

            Haha great – Gravatar is pretty cool once you’ve got it setup :-)

  5. avatar
    John Abrena January 23, 2012 at 1:46 am #

    Hi James,

    Awesome post here! This just proves that it was never wrong in mentioning you on my previous post as one of the SEO people that people should follow this year.

    Right, about the post. Haven’t tried most of the tools you mentioned, besides Gdocs and Boomerang (in which I totally agree on their usefulness). I really wanted to try Raven since even my boss says it’s good. Currently, I’ve tried/seen Garret French’s Citationlabs link building tool. Have you tried it as well? Need to try ifttt and mentionmapp too.

    Anyway, thanks for compiling this. Will use it as a resource for my team’s campaigns. Again, great job!

    • avatar
      James Agate January 23, 2012 at 11:51 am #

      Thanks for your comments John – much appreciated :-)

      I think CitationLabs from Garrett French is going to be one of “THE Tools of 2012″ – I hear many people love it and I have certainly found it useful although if I am being honest, I haven’t incorporated it into our regular workflow just yet.

      James

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