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Show Me The Links 2.1: Live chat and Q&A with the best link builders in the business




Julie Joyce: Hi everybody. Welcome to season two of SEMrush Webinar series, Show Me the Links. Last time we were doing like one topic and we would have a variety of guests, but currently, we're gonna do an ask us anything. So, a free for all for the guys we have on today, which I'm very excited about.

I have Debra Mastaler, So I'm super honored to have her. And Garrett French, I'm sure you all know him.

Well, do you guys want to just introduce yourselves to everybody? Debra, you wanna start with this?

Debra Mastaler: Sure. Hi, I'm Debra Mastaler. I have a link building company called Alliance-Link. I have been in business for 18 years with Alliance-Link. Just unbelievable how much time and how fast it goes by. I specialize in media outreach in the way that I build links, so that's kind of where I come from and my angle on most things.

Garrett French: I run Citation Labs and another agency called ZipSprout. Both of them are link building citation labs. General, we do have a specialty, I guess in building links to money pages specifically. And then on the ZipSprout side, the specialty is local, but with a key emphasis on sponsorships.

So sponsoring local events and local organizations and not just for links 'cause there are a lot more benefits with sponsorships than just the links themselves.

Julie Joyce: The first question is actually about local links. If you wanna take that it's, can you rank well locally if you don't have local links?

Garrett French: I think it's definitely possible, but I think you could rank better if you have links. It's gonna come down to what does the competition look like, and okay, also I'm not a local SEO... if your local is tight or if it's tightened up and you've worked with someone who knows what they're doing, I think you could definitely rank without local links. But you should get links. You should be careful.

Tips for Successful Email Outreach

Julie Joyce: Okay, thank you. So, how do you make your outreach stand out today considering all the emails we all get every day? How do you get those emails open? Debra, do you want to start with that one?

Debra Mastaler: I have always found in using email outreach that a couple of things make a difference. Generally, one, if your email comes from a person instead of a company, we seem to have better open rates. If your subject lines include the name of the person you're mailing to, if I have a subject line it would be six or eight, 10 words long and it would include the name of the person, the guy or girl that I'm sending the email to.

I think having a point of commonality sometimes too in email lines or subject lines helps. You can very succinctly make it known that you're sending something on someone else as a recommendation that the other person knows.

Then I stay away from some things like stupid words. I'm talking about things like confirming and condemning; negative words. Sometimes using the word awesome, it can also be a turnoff. The last thing I'd say is I tend to send emails for outreach campaigns midweek; Tuesday and Wednesdays seem to work better for me than the rest of the week.

I happened to know that people sit at their desks and check their emails either first thing in the morning or at lunchtime. So, know and understand when your email rates were being open. You'll wanna test them and watch and take all of that into consideration.

Julie Joyce: Garrett, you have anything for that?

Garrett French: Yeah, so... when we're emailing, we're trying to learn if we can give somebody a free article. With that in mind, the other kind of a constraint or reality is we're typically focusing on publishers who are overlooked by the majority of SEOs, so people who don't get 100 emails a day asking if they can publish on their sites.

What we've learned there for this type of audience is that we actually have to be pretty transactional. The more we try to be elaborate about how awesome we are and how this piece of content is gonna change the lives of their audiences, the more we confuse people and so the response rates go down. I would definitely say, one, if possible, if you're not getting responses, maybe look for other publishers.

Could be one thing you could try doing because, especially if you're getting started, it's hard to fathom how many emails and how many pitches a given publisher is likely to be getting a day. It's a lot. So, trying to think about who is less likely, who is a publisher and who is less likely to be getting emails could be a useful direction.

And then two, just make sure your pitches ain't confusing. How do you know that? Well, one is you're not getting any responses. Two, is people seem actually confused when they respond. I know this is really basic stuff, but this is just what we've learned on our end because we're not necessarily going after what we call the 1% of publishers who are the people you've heard of. We're going after everybody else who people haven't heard of generally speaking.

So, definitely succinct pitches. Making it clear what we want the person to do or what we're asking them, kind of marketing 101 stuff really, but just that's how we do outreach.

Julie Joyce: Yeah. I mean I think it's basic, but it's, like Deborah said, just the timing of it. That's something that I don't always think about. I'm thinking like I gotta get a great subject line.

Debra Mastaler: It makes a difference who you're sending an email too. If you're sending, in my case, mostly to media types, media types tend to surprisingly, depending on the time of day it is, they're on their office machines, but a lot of people are on their phones. So, if your subject line doesn't really capture their attention, they're gonna either delete it right away or save it for later. I really think that that's subject line thing is pretty important.

Garrett French: Agreed.

Julie Joyce: We got a good question from the chat. Does anybody use Pitchbox or anything like BuzzStream, and if so, what are some things you would advise on how to use those tools to get a good response?

Debra Mastaler: I do use BuzzStream, and what I like about those tools is that they really help you stay organized and they help keep you reminded about who you sent to and you haven't heard from somebody and you can follow up again. It helps you qualify and quantify when you have a lot of email that's going out.

How Important is Domain Authority when Building Links?

Julie Joyce: Is it more important to get high DA links that are not relevant to your industry or is it better to get low DA links that are relevant? And everybody likes to talk about the domain authority. What do you guys think about that? I guess you could use any metric, you could substitute for DA.

Debra Mastaler: Oh good. 'Cause I was gonna say, I don't use the Moz tool and the Moz tool is the only one that assigns domain authority or DA. So, I don't really know since I don't use the domain tool.

I think when you're looking for link partners, you wanna find link partners that Google deems relevant and really the only way to know what Google thinks is to look at the search results. So, you'll put in your terms and pages come back and you should try to get links from those pages that are being shown for those terms.

And really since Google does not use that metric in the way that they calculate the way a page ranks, I can tell you that the search results are the best.

Garrett French: I'd add to that that I agree. Look for relevance first 100%. The cases where I've heard people go in for DA over relevance or higher DA over lower DA with relevance is if it's more of an affiliate play, or we're not really in this for the long term. Like, we just wanna build some links are built some rankings for a while.

The more relevant you can make the link, the more natural it's gonna feel, it's going to stand the test of time, it's gonna stand the test of the quality rater. The other parts in this should be kind of guarding against our competitors. I would definitely say go for relevance and ignore DA.

Is Broken Link Building a Good Tactic?

Julie Joyce: So, we have a question about, do you have a lot of success with broken link building?

Garrett French: I still love the tactic. It's rarely a great fit for a website. It's a great fit if you're in the mental health space or in any kinds of spaces where the links or resource pages were traditionally and still remain a collection or an aggregation of the information about mental health.

One is like suicide prevention or addiction or PTSD. All of these types of mental health issues have huge bodies of linkers. So, if you're working in these kinds of spaces, and you have content that's relevant to these kinds of topics, or if you can create it and it's on topic enough for your brands, then it can work.

You have to have some flexibility around how you're gonna connect the dots unless your focus is on human health issues or safety-related things like house safety, fire, tornadoes, horrible, usually the darker areas of human life, the human condition. That's where you find the most broken link building opportunities.

I think it's case by case and I think really you need to have a process with it where you're checking once every six months. You need to do it. I would look every quarter, maybe just see what's newly broken. Is this an opportunity or not? It's just what you're gonna do all day if you're the in-house link builder, the SEO Person. But it's not something that I would necessarily expect to build long-term campaigns around.

On the unlinked mentions, it's easy to send a couple of hundred emails, but yeah, the response rate is low. Honestly, what you're doing is you're creating a task for somebody that's already busy. That's all it is. This is why an unbroken link pulling side, someone's much more likely to update a suicide prevention link that's gone dead than they are to link to an update, a mention of anything.

The farther you are from human wellbeing, the less likely you are to get a link with broken link building. In my experience, in my opinion, there's gonna be people who have figured out other tactics or approaches. And please, say where you found it to work. I'd love to hear.

Building Links Outside the U.S.

Julie Joyce: Okay. Well, we have a question, Debra. Somebody was just asking if there's a difference in how we build links in the U.S. versus in other countries?

Debra Mastaler: I was very surprised at how different it is between the way that we... I guess the mindset they have in the United States and what's in Europe. A lot of it is also regulated by legislation. It is harder in some of the European countries to attract and to get links just because of the, I guess whatever their FCC rules are over there versus ours. That honestly, those types of tactics, and I don't know if we want it to get into all of this, but it's kind of detailed.

The premise, the basic principles that work in link building in the United States, they work anywhere. Anywhere you go, any country they work in. But you do have to watch in some of the European countries about linking back and forth. They're better about putting their disclaimers on what can and cannot be done by country.

But overall, the principles are the same. Outreach is the same, trying to get media links and so forth. But overall, there are some differences with the countries, with how people link back and forth and what they can do and what they can say. It's been an education.

How to Get More Visibility and Links to Industry Reports?

Julie Joyce: We do have a really good question that somebody had asked earlier about a thought leadership report on transportation trends and technologies. So, think about that. What are some link building techniques to increase authority and visibility on an industry report?

Debra Mastaler: That was from the young lady, Paige, I think from Energy Systems.

Julie Joyce: Yes.

Debra Mastaler: Yeah, that was really interesting. I actually took a look at her report and what she has. What this company did is they created a 168-page report, which you hear that a lot about creating evergreen content and case studies and white papers and so forth. They did a superb job of breaking down the table of contents. They're like an association or a governing body if you will in the transportation system industry.

We talk a lot about scale in link building and people want to know about scale. How can they scale? Repurposing content is... in my opinion, the number one way to increase scale and in a document like that, what you can take out of it by topic and reuse it, repurpose it, just makes that scaling process all the greater.

So, into that Paige, that's what I would do with your document. I would make sure that it goes out to all of the industry media outlets that you possibly can. I'd also take advantage of that board of directors that you have on your website. You have some very impressive people on your site in the board of directors and each one of them is a CEO or a COO of a company, which means if you include a quote from them or ask them for a quote, their PR people are gonna push that which in turn helps push your study.

The report could have used some data visualizations and some graphics; more than what you did. So, take that piece of advice and in each one of those chapters, create more graphs and just embellish out your content and start sending them out as individual articles. The last thing I'm going to say is that all those people that are on your board, they have blogs I noticed, and they have news outlets. Start backlinking all of those sources and see who's linking to them.

So, take a look at who's linked to them and see if you can put them into a list and reach out to them also with your study. If I was a link builder, I'd be all over that, if I was working on it.

Are Scholarship Links Helpful?

Julie Joyce: Okay, moving on a little bit. What do you think Google thinks about scholarship links? I still get a lot of clients that want to do this. They want to offer a scholarship and have people link back to them and it's not really that relevant to anything. You guys think that's still a good tactic or do either of you even do that?

Garrett French: We still periodically see people requesting it. I don't know what it does. I don't know that it necessarily provides value or doesn't provide value. I've had a lot of folks say, "Hey, wouldn't it just be really easy for Google to look and see if the inbound links say the word scholarship in the URL or in the title and we just ignore that." Sure.

Does your scholarship help you get more customers in some way? I don't know how it would, but then... are you genuinely trying to give back to you an audience? Are you gonna do a press release around it? Is it specific for a city? There could be some ways to freshen it up a little bit and get some visibility around it.

If that's all you're doing, I wouldn't expect it to have a whole big impact. I still think, do it if it's a relatively low cost and you help out a student, a couple of thousand dollars. Should it be really considered a link building tactic? Nah. I never recommend it. If you're doing it, make sure you're doing other things too it's what I would say.

Julie Joyce: Right. Debra, what do you think about this?

Debra Mastaler: I'm not a fan of doing one-off stuff. So, all the stuff like scholarships and sponsorships and all, it's usually a one time gig and a lot of times those links will disappear because the event is over so they redirect the page somewhere else.

For me, it's not anything. Like Garrett, I don't think you should not do it. I mean, if you can, it's easy and you have it set up and you have a pathway already put to who to send it to; that's one thing.

Building Links in Controversial Industries

Julie Joyce: I kind of agree with that. Now we have a question that we had discussed earlier because I think it's very interesting about industries where some people might not be comfortable with them. There is a website that apparently helps sex workers retire easier or it gives them tools to maybe say get out of the industry or something like that. It can be an industry a lot of people, they don't really like it. You could say that about a lot of industries. We just wanted to talk about how can you build links for that kind of a site where some people are uncomfortable with the premise of it?

Debra Mastaler: As link builders, we get asked a lot about adult industries and other industries similar to that. For me, here's the thing. If there's a Wikipedia page on the topic, then that means that there is interest in the topic and that means that there are resources and external and internal resources on it.

If you type that in, you will find that there are quite a few pages on Wikipedia about that subject. There are sources on there that you can go to and backlink and look at where they are linking to and who is linking to them from a media standpoint and also from a human interest standpoint.

Julie Joyce: I think you will be surprised when you find that. The second thing is about the adult industry, and any industry for that matter, there are awards that are given to any industry, it doesn't matter, how to tie your shoe industry. Somebody's given an award out there.

Debra Mastaler: Absolutely. That's everywhere. So, I would advise you to go to any site that issues awards, any kind of award, and look to see who's covering those awards because awards are usually only done to garner attention. That means that somebody is giving them attention and covering those awards. Take a look at who's doing the awards in those industries and you will find media outlets to cover content, especially in human interest content.

My last piece of advice is, and this is for anybody, anywhere. Monday through Friday, the stock market is open, businesses open, crazy presidents are tweeting, their life goes on Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday; kind of quiet in the media world.

So, if you are creating media and you want something to go out, you will have an easier time getting your foot in the door with a journalist if you recommend that it could be run on the weekend or it could be run in some content or some section of a paper or a magazine that's focused on the weekend and you will get your foot in the door that way. Promise you it will happen.

Also, cable news channels. Cable news channels are one of the most overlooked and underrated new sources out there. They are constantly looking for fodder. So, regardless of where you are, they go out there and most, 99% of news channels, both local and national, have a website. Look into getting into those elements first. Build your way up before you try to go to the Wall Street Journal with your content.

The other piece that might work well is if you have any data around what these pathways look like post-sex work. How are people kind of adapting to life afterward? What do people go into?

If you have any data around that, you've got a treasure trove, especially if you can get it localized. I would definitely look at what do we already know? What do we specifically know? I think there could be some opportunity from that type of information as well.

Why You Should Always Pitch Unique Content

Julie Joyce: Yeah. Good points from both of you guys. I'll give you another question that we had submitted. Let's say you've got an article and you want to submit it to a bunch of sites that have a lot of articles on them. Do you submit the same article? Should you try to bury it? What should you do? And would you be worried that maybe that article site might outrank your own?

Debra Mastaler: Five different articles would probably be a better bet than having one article to five sites is what I would say. I think the five people that you give the content to might not be happy that somebody else has the same thing. So, you might not ever get back there again. I wouldn't do that. I would definitely do five unique articles to five different folks. To answer the question, I don't think that changing titles is enough.

Garrett French: Don't send duplicate content to multiple publishers. Then, make sure that each piece provides value all on its own that's different from the value that the other. So, you wanna say different stuff also.

How Do You Scale a Link Building Strategy?

Julie Joyce: Well, let's go back to the scale question because we did talk about it. It is difficult to scale a lot of these tactics that we've talked about and it's difficult for my agency. People ask, "Can you take on a hundred more links in a month?" And of course, I can't. And they seem irritated that I'm not able to do that.

Debra Mastaler: It's hard and it's gotten harder as the algorithm changes constantly, making it harder for that reason. I know the algorithm changes and what-not and I know that we like to think that they change because we're wonderful SEOs, but the reality is life changes and there's so many pages coming in and pages going out and pages being linked to. It's quality control for these folks.

So, scaling is really hard. Scaling content is even harder because most of the time when people scale content, they send it away to be mass produced. Honestly, I don't know how you can do that except within the case we talked about earlier with the young lady that had the study that you were able to break down and use multiple pieces of that content.

By the way, we're talking about media outreach, not public relations. Public relations is something totally different than media relations. You're talking about the content end of it, the design end of it, there's just so many different elements that go into link building and the kinds of content that you can put out there.

Having a lot of different kinds of content that you can create from one post helps you scale that cost. Infographics, if you look at that very simply, if you have a big infographic and you start cutting it into sections and using those sections as a piece of content and embellishing that, is scaled to a point.

Scaling content massively, it's difficult. It's really, really difficult because you lose the quality factor. The quality factor is what drives paid links, frankly. I don't know how you can really do it en masse and do it well.

I think it's better to focus on creating a couple of big pieces and then looking at ways to reuse them and different tactics to use them than trying to create tons of little posts and sending them out there.

Julie Joyce: I like the idea, like you said, of reusing content and having something big. But Garrett, have you found any success and trying to get more links? Because that's what it seems our clients want from us specifically.

Garrett French: Yeah, it depends on, I think there are scalable tactics. We talked about scholarship link building. It's not scalable forever, but it's repeatable. You have a scholarship page, you've got the funds set aside and you can execute on it. That's a very easy thing to train.

If you're going to really try to do more, first of all, you need a tactic that genuinely scales. You need to be working. If you're an agency, you need to be thinking about what are most people trying to get links to and where do they want a lot of volume? For us, the real work is how do we justify links in a guest placement so that they feel natural? That's where we have to do the most training with our editors is how do we help these links feel natural and not stand out?

I'll even tell my team members that story, it was like, "Hey, look, what do you really dislike doing? Really what that's about is how do you line up what you enjoy? And I presume that's gonna mean you're good at it and you're able to do it at a larger scale or a faster pace.

Debra Mastaler: Well, let me say this though... the number one tool to use in scale is your email. When you have collected email addresses because you because put collection points on all of your contents, like you have to put your emails in before the content will be shown to you, you've started to collect emails. If you don't have that, you can purchase them from someone. There are lots of ways to get emails and email lists.

Your email list is your number one way to scale because you're going to create something hopefully wonderful, put it on your site and you want to draw people to it.

You can set an email list, set an email blast. It will personalize the name of the person, you're Susie Q, and send it out. And then people will go to the content and look at it and hopefully link at it. That's the number one thing that you have to do with any link builder.

You should have email capture on everything you're doing and build out those lists so that you can send that stuff to people first without having to do a whole hell lot of work. That just makes sense.

One Link Building Tactic You Can Use Each Week

Julie Joyce: We had a question from Rebecca who basically says she's a one-woman shop. She knows link building is important. If she has time to do one thing in a week, what should she do or what should she not do? I do get that question a lot from people.

Debra Mastaler: I started off as a manual link builder just like everybody else because back in 2001, that's what everybody did. Or you submitted to the directories, one or the other. So, I am really big and really hot on using Google search results to tell me what to do and where to go.

If I put my keywords in every week, I take a look first to see where my site is in placement to who is ranking. But then the people that are ranking ahead of me, and especially the people that are ranking behind me, I want to keep an eye on what they're doing.

I can figure out the right way who's doing what just by looking at their backlinks, by throwing something up in Ahrefs or SEMrush or if you're using the Moz tool. I would take a look at these backlinks and I would have those reports run every week. To the person who asked earlier about the best reports, for me, the best reports out of the SEMrush a tool are their backlink reports.

Know who is linking into the sites that are ranking ahead of you and say a couple of spots behind you so that you can kind of keep an eye on what's going on. And after about three or four weeks of that, you will see patterns.

Julie Joyce: Good Idea. Garrett, you have anything? We got about 30 seconds.

Garrett French: Okay, I think it's gonna depend on how much is your client willing to actually do. If you have an active client, you could do a great job for them by sending them a list of people to email and like a template. Ask them to add this to this particular page or here's a sponsorship opportunity in your area that you should go do. But if they're not gonna do that and you have to execute on all the work, obviously there's a lot less ground to cover and so you're gonna have to do stuff that you can really pull the trigger on.

So, it's gonna come down to that particular client. If they're not willing to invest cash and link building or time in link building, then I don't know what to tell you at that point. Debra, how do you get free links?

Julie Joyce: Good. I like that idea. Well, thank you both so much for joining us. It's always so much fun.

Debra Mastaler: Bye, all.

Garrett French: Thanks, everybody. Bye.

Julie Joyce: See you. Thank you.

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