I’ve been writing outreach emails for nearly 10 years.
Early on, I built a music app and sent hundreds of emails to record companies to request music licenses.
Later, it was all about link building strategies to grow the blog for that startup to hit 35k monthly visitors in one year.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about writing link building emails that actually get responses (and link placements).
Most importantly, I’ve learned that when writing emails, it’s not about punching the right keywords into a template. It’s about building a message that allows you to connect with prospects on a specific, personal level.
Below, I’ll break down the exact copywriting framework I use to write link building emails.
Let’s jump in.
How to write a link building email in 3 steps
Like writing a sales email, getting a response from a link building email involves writing a template that shows how the product or service you’re pitching benefits the recipient.
Some of it differs, though. Here are three steps to writing epic link building emails.
Step 1. Research your audiences
When researching your bloggers, we want to understand enough about them and their readers so we can jump into their shoes and read the template we write from their perspective.
When researching bloggers, I suggest finding an initial list of 5-10 prospects for your link building campaign, then asking the following questions about the bloggers collectively.
Question #1: What are the bloggers in this niche trying to accomplish?
For example, are they trying to sell something, raise awareness about a cause, or is it a hobby? List any high-level things you notice about the blogger’s behavior and content as it relates to accomplishing a specific objective.
Here are some examples:
- With our blog, we’re trying to get leads to sell our link building and SEO content.
- Spotify uses the articles on their artist website to promote different use cases of Spotify to musicians. They’re trying to get musicians to engage more on Spotify with their content.
- CNET is a new site and wants to publish content that helps them get lots of social media shares since, normally, news content is less SEO focused.
You can usually tell what they’re trying to do with their content by what they sell on their site. We sell services, Spotify sells music subscriptions where artist engagement helps drive sales for them, and CNET produces news and runs ads.
For sites that don’t sell anything, maybe they’re trying to promote a cause. This is usually something you can spot by researching the individual authors and contributors of a website.
Here are a few other types of content intent listed in our guest posting outreach article that you might come across and how to spot them:
- Sales intent – The content mainly exists for the purpose of selling a particular product or service. In this case, we want to draft email copy and pitch ideas that show sales potential for their business.
- Viral intent – This type of content is the clickbait stuff you see shared on social media sites. This is content that’s designed to pull traffic from social more than search and is usually published by news sites. The headlines usually follow some sort of story arc that’s designed to elicit an emotional response in the reader. If you can show them proof of social media performance of past guest posts, they’re in.
- Hobby intent – Some people just like to write a blog to share their personal stories. Bloggers that write content on these topics fall into a hobbyist bucket, and they are much more likely to respond to higher levels of personalization.
- Education intent – These are the best sites to work with because they’re often open to linking. They’re usually connected to a nonprofit and publish content for the sole purpose of helping their audience. Show them how you can help their audience, and they’ll let you in.
- Digital monetization intent – This type of content usually contains some sort of affiliate program or is published for the purposes of selling advertisements or some other digital product. If you pitch content ideas that help these people sell the products of the affiliate programs they’re part of, they’ll happily take your pitch. “Best of” list ideas containing their affiliate products are popular with these types of bloggers.
- Audience intent – Some niches are full of blogs with massive existing audiences where the sole purpose of their content is to serve their existing audience. If you find this to be the case, pitching content that’s designed to address very specific pain points for their readers is a great way in.
When you figure out what they’re trying to do with their content, writing a pitch becomes much more natural.
Question #2: What type of content do they write and why do they write it?
This question is similar to the above, but more focused on the specific content rather than the goals of the site overall.
Go through your list of bloggers and list the types of content they write on their blogs and what it accomplishes for them.
Here are some reasons sites might have for publishing certain types of content:
- “How to” articles to help readers solve problems related to their product/showcase their product to help drive sales.
- Deep, 5k-word guides that are used for content marketing and SEO.
- Opinionated political content to help them get more social media attention.
Knowing this mostly helps with things like guest posting, but it can give you an idea of what level of quality (in content and communication standards) your outreach targets might expect before they’re going to give you a link.
Question #3: What types of content do they commonly link to, and why?
Publishers have very different reasons for linking out in their content, including:
- Trigger emotion – They want to publish content that gets a reaction from their readers to trigger social media shares.
- Add storytelling context to their content – They want to use a link in a way that helps tell their story, such as leveraging external examples to make a point.
- Provide persuasive evidence – This is especially prominent in articles and pages that are designed to sell or otherwise convince a reader of something. Links to statistics and studies are a good example of this.
- Help their audience – Some sites legitimately just want to help their audience. These website owners are the most receptive to link building emails that actually make sense for their readers, so I’ve found that it’s best to cater outreach templates to audiences like this.
- Avoid having to write more – Many writers, myself included, link out to definition pages so we don’t have to over-explain stuff to readers who aren’t our primary audience. I write SEO content for people who mostly understand marketing and business, but may link out to definition pages to help readers who aren’t up to speed on the terminology.
While every blogger in any niche will likely have different reasons for linking out (or they’ll just ask for money), we want to get as close as we can to understanding this.
Once you understand the types of content they link out to and why, it’ll be easier for you to think through how you can make your pitch a fit.
Question #4: Why do people read blogs in this niche?
According to a survey from DEJAN, there are a number of reasons people read blog content online.
If we’re going to explain the value of a link to the site’s readers, we need to understand why their readers are consuming their content.
This may differ from the reason bloggers publish content.
For example, a site might publish content for traffic and sales, but the primary reason readers consume that content might be to learn.
There’s no perfect way to answer this question, but if a site performs well in the SERPs, looking at solution-focused keywords people might be using to find the site, such as “how to,” “tips,” or “ideas” keywords, can help.
For example, if we use Ahrefs to look at what “how-to” keywords Moz is ranking for, we can tell that people read Moz to learn about SEO basics.
Filtering for “tips” is also revealing of why people read SEO blogs like Moz. We can see things like link building, local SEO, and ASO tips.
If we understand why readers would be interested in a site, we can pair this with what we know about why publishers create content to see how these things cross over with each other.
Question #5: What are some of the common unaddressed pain points of blog readers in this niche?
The question above helps us explore why an audience might consume content from niche blogs, but it doesn’t help us figure out what problems they’re facing that still go unresolved.
These unaddressed pain points are important to understand because they’ll help us come up with better guest post or linkable asset ideas.
Reading through discussions on Facebook groups or Reddit threads is great for picking up on this stuff.
Just head over to the Reddit thread where the readers of these blogs might hang out.
So for us, that’d be the SEO thread.
Then just use the filters to look through some popular threads.
For example, after filtering for the most popular threads this month, I found this one about Wix with 72 comments.
In it, we can see that people are discussing the differences between Wix and WordPress, two different platforms where you can host your site.
There’s also lots of discussion on link building in this thread that showcases some current struggles of link building in SEO.
Reading through these threads before writing the email can give you deep insights into the audience of the blogs you’re reaching out to. These insights can help you write more compelling initial copy and handle common objections in the reader’s mind while they’re reading your email.
Step 2. Understand AIDA
In marketing, the AIDA model is a framework you can use to break down the customer purchase process into four stages:
In email outreach, here’s what each step does to your recipient:
- Attention – Catches their interest.
- Interest – Gets them more interested by connecting with them.
- Desire – Generates desire in your recipient by explaining what they get out of it.
- Action – Move your reader to take action (in our case, add a backlink or accept a content pitch).
Check out this interview with Neville Medhora for more details about how it works.
If you want to learn more from Neville, check out his copywriting course.
Everything you need to understand about AIDA to proceed is in the video above, so definitely take the time to watch it prior to reading on.
Once you understand AIDA, read on to see how you can use it to write effective link building outreach emails.
Step 3. Draft your email
Below, we’ll walk through how to write each part of a link building email using the AIDA model.
Capture attention with the subject line
The point of the subject line is to get the attention of your recipient in a way that makes them want to explore further, leading them to the interest stage of AIDA.
For guest posting outreach emails, this works as simply as using a formula like “Article Idea for [Their name or website name].”
For assets like infographics, we can use “[Topic] Infographic for [Their name or website name].”
For other outreach emails that involve asking for link placements on specific pages, I usually just use the title of the page or article since that’s what the email is actually about.
For PR outreach, simple subject lines like “Story Idea for [Their name or website name]” have worked well.
Each of these works for a few reasons:
- They briefly and clearly explain what the email is about in a way that’s aligned with their content intent (as explained above).
- It makes the recipient curious or interested enough to continue because they’re hopeful that this will be good for their website.
If you need some email subject line ideas for other use cases, here are some ways to create curiosity that you use for idea generation.
If you need specific ideas for subject lines, check out this list.
Generate interest with a personalized first sentence
If the subject line is successful in generating curiosity, then your recipient is psychologically primed for interest generation.
The way to gain interest in your prospect is to connect with them on a personal level and show them that it’s worth spending the time to read your email.
This is mostly because outreach targets are used to receiving spammy outreach emails that are entirely templated where there’s nothing in it for them, like this one:
Not only that, but for many website owners, when they follow through, they also get crappy guest post content that’s obviously written just for a backlink.
So just by personalizing the opening sentence of your email to the recipient, you can overcome their common objection of “Ugh, another spammy link building email from an annoying SEO person…”
For guest posting outreach emails or assets like infographics, this works well if you comment on something that your recipient is interested in, but in a way that showcases you know the subject matter. This way, they’ll perceive that your pitch will actually help their audience, which keeps them interested enough to read the rest of your email.
For example, it’s clear that Josh from Ahrefs is personally interested in taking data-driven approaches to things based on his emphasis about it as a point of differentiation here in his article about the best SEO blogs.
He also uses this phrasing in his other articles, like this one about anchor text.
So for him, personalizing based on something related to data, and pitching him a data-driven piece, would likely get a response.
For other outreach emails that involve asking for link placements on specific pages, showing that you actually read the article by commenting on something specific about it is perfect. This will hold their interest if they care about the specific page you’re emailing them about. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can know very easily before emailing them.
You can often look at the comments of articles to see if the author showed any specific interest in any one part of the article they wrote.
For example, in Backlinko’s link building strategies page, Brian literally lets you filter by his favorites.
The whole point of the first sentence is to hold their attention by connecting with them about something they feel strongly about. Sparking a positive emotional response with the way you personalize your first sentence will hold your prospect’s interest.
These examples of ways speakers capture attention might spark some ideas for you about ways you can open your emails since reading and listening are very similar.
Create desire with your pitch
The point of your pitch is to create desire so that, by the time you ask them to take action, they’re convinced.
Because of all of the spammy link building practices that exist today, this is primarily accomplished by proving you understand the subject matter of their website well enough to serve their audience.
In doing this, you don’t really need to know the subject matter to draft effective email copy. Understanding the terminology of your audience and exactly how they use it is often enough.
Most link building emails are focused on pitching assets. When this is the case, we can use a template like this:
I’m emailing you today because [We/I] [Built/Wrote/Created] this [article/tool/page] to help [Problem Description] by [How Your Asset Helps].
This works because it allows us to showcase our subject matter expertise with brevity and clarity in the value proposition of what we’re pitching.
The first few variables are easy, but when it comes to explaining the problem and how it helps the site’s readers, that’s where using the language of your recipients becomes important.
It’s not enough to put in some keywords that your recipients might know into the email. You need to use them in the same ways your recipients would expect you to as a subject matter expert inside their niche.
For example, in SEO, noobs say “backlink building” and pros say “link building” or “build backlinks.”
This isn’t something that’s easy for outsiders to pick up on, but when people say “backlink building,” I immediately notice their lack of expertise.
It’s not that “backlink building” is wrong, it’s just that the phrasing “link building” is more expected inside my niche when people speak or write about it.
If the same thing happens with your recipients, you’ll lose the interest you initially created and, rather than creating desire, you might create disappointment and won’t get a response.
With spelling and grammar being one of the top reasons people perceive emails as spammy, it makes sense that terminology might cause them to click the “report spam” button, further hurting your outreach efforts.
Here are a few things you can do to pick up on the terminology of a niche to fill in the template.
1. Explore Reddit threads to jumpstart your research
Reddit is great for getting insight into how people in very niche categories make use of certain terminology. For example, in this cybersecurity thread about what makes a good coworker, we can get some context for words that might be frequent for their niche.
I can gain further insight with some Googling about what all of this stuff is.
Using Reddit can help you connect with the unique pain points of your outreach targets based on what their readers might be saying.
Explore threads that your outreach target should explore and you can find ways to make your pitch touch on the emotionally intense pain points that are common in your recipient’s niche.
If you’re pitching out a piece of content that solves a specific problem, try to find some discussion about that thing exactly.
This will help you pitch the solution of your content toward a very specific pain point that it solves in the language your audience uses to explain it.
For example, if I’m going to pitch out a website vulnerability scanner in the cybersecurity niche, something I’m relatively unfamiliar with, I’d first need to understand what problem this tool is solving in the way cybersecurity people explain it.
This is often easy to spot just by reading the page.
If we use these as keywords, we can find Reddit threads talking about one of these problems specifically to dive deeper into the specific pain points the tool helps with.
We can use Google to do this quickly with a site: search.
In this cybersecurity thread, someone shared an article about how they dealt with Log4Shell, something we saw in the landing page copy.
If we scan the article and look for descriptions of the problem we’re trying to describe, we can use this to get ideas for our email copy.
So if we were to explain the tool above to a cybersecurity blogger, we might say something like “We built this tool to help users detect common web application and server configuration issues, including high-risk vulnerabilities like the most recently published Log4Shell CVE.”
This depends on whether or not the tool does, in fact, accomplish things as stated.
2. Product reviews
Product reviews can help you spot common pain points about products being used in any niche.
This works great when drafting copy to get your product featured in lists.
So if you’re promoting something like this free grammar checker from Writer, search for reviews of a paid alternative, like Grammarly.
For Grammarly, because it’s a Chrome extension, we can go to the Chrome Web Store and look at some of the reviews to find differentiators in our tool.
Detailed reviews like these are good.
When you find reviews, read through them to understand some common pain points about why people use the tool.
The objective here isn’t to find out why your solution is better than your competitors. You just need to find ways to explain, in your audience’s language, how the product you’re pitching will bring them from experiencing a problem to no longer experiencing it.
For example, this review can help us explain the tool in language users might be receptive to.
“We built this grammar checker to help people fix the small things they don’t even notice in their writing” might work when pitching a blogger or journalist who legitimately cares about their readers.
3. Examine why others may have been successful
Understanding why a link was placed on a website can help you understand why they might place yours.
To do this, you can find similar content pieces online and examine their link profile.
First, find some competing content online and put it into Ahrefs.
For us, that would be Neil Patel’s guest posting guide.
Next, click the number under “Referring domains.”
Open up some of the pages and read the text around the backlink.
While you do this, ask yourself, “Why did the author link to this?”
For example, the author of this Moz article linked to Neil Patel’s guest posting article because she wanted to help readers who might be new to link building learn how to do this.
AWeber referenced it for similar reasons.
Once you’re able to understand why people might link to your content, it becomes easier to tie the pitch to a specific pain point that drives desire.
Drive action with a…call to action (CTA)
If the recipient is interested and has a strong desire to take action at this point, you don’t want to kill it with complications.
Instead, keep it simple.
Your prospect is extremely busy and doesn’t have time to think about what they’re supposed to do next.
This is especially true if they suffer from decision fatigue.
So help them out by keeping things easy on them.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A simple question that allows them to type “Yes” or “No” is enough to help them seamlessly move to the next step.
So for guest posting, you can end your email with something like “Mind if I send over a few pitches?” or even “Mind if I send over a draft?” if you sent ideas in the initial email.
When pitching for link placement, our go-to CTA is always something like “If you like it, would you be willing to reference it on your page?”
I used the above framework to piece together some of our own early link building campaigns.
Here are some examples of emails that resulted in placements for previous campaigns we’ve run.
Example #1: Guest posting
Here’s an example of an email that helped us start a relationship with XaaS Journal to publish multiple guest posts on behalf of our clients.
Here’s why it worked.
1. The subject line is brief and interesting to our target
Our outreach target, Mike, is the founder of the website.
Being the founder, he likely cares a lot about the website and its content.
We can also see that the site is aggressively publishing new content with new articles going up every few days, which is a good sign they’d be receptive to a content-focused pitch.
All of these things factor together to make the subject line of an article idea interesting to our target. Like “Article Idea for Mike,” which we used for this one.
2. The first sentence captures interest with effective personalization
The first sentence of the email references an article they published by a guest author about protecting your company from compliance risks.
So if we read an article from a guest author, it would make sense to segue into a pitch about guest content.
Usually, I like to personalize my emails based on something the recipient themselves wrote, but this is fitting too in some cases. The reason it works here is because the founder seems heavily involved in the content creation process, which is evident by the small size of the team.
3. The pitch creates desire
The primary reason that the pitch “would you like to see some pitches?” works in this email is because of the personalization that we did before we sent it. We proved that we spent time on his site, so when he gets asked about a pitch, he’s primed to say yes out of being hopeful that we’ll deliver something good.
However, our pitch works in this situation mainly because we’re leveraging curiosity. The outreach target knows we looked at his site and knows we can write (because the grammar in the email is good).
With that, he’s probably interested to hear ideas he can use because coming up with content ideas is so hard for established sites who’ve already covered a lot of topics.
Some sites require something more specific in the pitch, but this worked for this niche.
4. The call to action is basic
When you write a call to action, you want the answer back to be yes or no. Don’t make the recipient think too much.
By asking if he wants to hear pitches, he can reply with something like “sure,” and that’s enough to move him through to the next step while keeping it easy on him.
Example #2: Infographic promotion
Likely our best infographic email ever is the one we used to promote the sales follow-up infographic for IRC Sales Solutions.
Here’s the exact email we sent that helped us get it published on Top Dog Social Media:
Here’s why it works:
1. The subject line is brief and reflects the interests of our target
During the initial research for this infographic, we found that many sites talking about sales were talking about following up with prospects.
This was evident by how many sites in the sales niche were linking to follow-up statistics and making points in their articles about following up.
Knowing that follow-ups are already of interest to our outreach targets in this niche, it makes perfect sense to write a direct subject line like “Follow-up Infographic for Top Dog.”
2. The first sentence is personalized to something she cares about
If we look on the website, we can see everywhere that LinkedIn is huge for this site.
Personalizing the first sentence based on a recent LinkedIn post that the recipient wrote makes a ton of sense here since she’ll likely be more receptive to this as a founder.
This type of personalization is good because it shows early on that we’re paying attention to the very specific needs of their website.
3. The pitch uses language that connects the infographic with the prospect’s needs
The website frequently mentions lead generation, so positioning the infographic specifically around that need of her readers and using the language “following up with leads” is perfect.
By explaining how the asset helps her audience with a specific problem, we were able to very briefly explain the value of the content asset to her readers.
Following up with exactly how it will help her readers creates even deeper desire. It has a similar impact to using the word “because” to persuade.
The famous copy machine experiment illustrates the psychology behind this perfectly.
In it, a researcher would spot someone waiting at the library copy machine and walk over and ask to cut in front of the person in line. The researcher made this attempt by asking one of three questions:
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”: 60% compliance.
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”: 93% compliance.
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”: 94% compliance.
The point isn’t to use specifically the word “because,” but to battle the default “why?” objection in your recipient throughout your copy.
4. The call to action is basic
Again, we just use a simple yes/no question here. If they have to write too long for a response or do any amount of thinking at all, you’re unlikely to get a good response rate from your outreach.
Example #3: Resource pages
During COVID, we worked with a healthcare company to promote their COVID vaccination locations across the country using resource page outreach.
We reached out to resource pages like this one that link out to places to get your COVID vaccine.
We successfully landed a placement in that CNET article with this email.
Here’s why it worked:
1. A basic, but personalized, subject line
Using the recipient’s name in the subject line is a good way to grab attention quickly, and the promise of speed in the subject line is good.
“Quick Question” works in some situations, but this is becoming common in outreach so people may start ignoring this type of subject line soon.
2. Brief personalization that shows we read the article
Referencing a very specific editorial decision here was impactful. From the article, we can see that the editor made a clear choice to reference the government’s vaccine finder tool early in the post.
From the early placement and surrounding text, we can see that this is an editorial decision because the text around the link is very helpful. The phrasing “if you want to…” makes it clear that the link is being presented as an idea that will save the reader from clicking around.
Basically, this personalization worked well because it references something the recipient cared about.
3. The pitch creates desire
The author of this page wanted it to be legitimately helpful to their readers. The outbound links to multiple resources and the careful placement of links makes this evident.
Because of this, a soft sell letting them know we have what their readers need is impactful. We don’t need to further explain the offering of a COVID vaccine in our pitch because the benefit of it is very clear throughout our culture.
4. The call to action doubles down
Normally, the call to action should be short and sweet. But in this case, it was beneficial to double down on the value proposition of the content.
This applies for the same reason mentioned above in the infographic email: to overcome the objection of “why?”
When readers are able to answer their own objections, they’ll draw their own conclusions. In this case, we walked the recipient to our conclusion so she had something to compare to her own.