The gripes among link builders are plentiful, but they’re also deserved. There’s the pitifully low success rate. The hours logged crafting personalized outreach. The potential brand damage from an unrequited link ask.
Part of the problem is leverage. The majority of outreach takes place from a position of weakness. When our success rate is low, we try to compensate with sheer quantity. And if quantity is a fundamental part of your strategy, your outreach can end up looking a lot like this:
Brand scarring en masse
Intuition might tell you that Twitter offers little relief in this vein. If you’re tweeting under your company’s account, you’re no longer merely a brand representative with an email signature. You have the added clout of your brand to strengthen your success rate, sure; but you also take on all the responsibility that goes with it—each tweet, highly visible, carries with it the stigma of effort. And there is nothing quite so unsexy as effort.
As a dual fire SEO/Social Media Specialist here at WordStream, with the keys to both our social accounts and our link building tools, I was in a position to run a unique experiment—just how powerful a link building tool would Twitter make? Would our followers condemn our efforts? Would I be annexed back to the thankless, gif-less terrain of email?
With a goal of scoring 10+ quality links, I entered the Twittersphere, gripped it, and ripped it. Here’s how I fared.
Methodology: Finding Link Outreach Targets
Before getting into the results, I should explain how I went about prospecting for link opportunities. My weapon of choice was Ahrefs, a comprehensive SEO tool with tons of firepower.
The method itself wasn’t all that complex. The name of the game was unlinked mentions—the “low hanging fruit” of the link building game. Basically: who on the web had mentioned WordStream without linking to us? Ahrefs’ Content Explorer did nicely for this kind of excavating:
Sort for domain rating, highlight unlinked mentions, set a time segment, and saddle up. Unlinked mentions are “low-hanging” because the writer has likely used one of your site’s resources without linking to it. So while you’re not offering the writer data that their post might benefit from, you’re actually offering them something far more in demand:
Authority. You’re policing your unlinked mentions, but you’re being polite about it. Your outreach copy reflects this: you’re expectant, but you’re expectant under the pretense of gratitude. That’s how I did it, anyway.
Here are the 12 methods I used to maximize my link-building success rate.
1. Include a Link AND an Image in Your Outreach Tweet
If I was wary of Twitter before my first outreach attempt, I was hooked after it. It was like betting on a football team Week 1, winning, then thinking you have the inside track on that team the rest of the season. Invariably, you don’t. But maybe, false confidence be damned, you’re on to something.
The blog was from vWriter. A Domain Authority of 42. Still honing my Twitter outreach copy, I tweeted this:
A couple of Twitter’s benefits immediately unveil themselves here. For one, Steve Shaw (the writer of the post) has a little over 1k Twitter followers. He gets, typically, one to two engagements per tweet. I’m willing to bet Steve is far more likely to engage meaningfully with a Twitter mention than he is an email. Especially one with the subject line, “Great post, Steve; Mind Linking?”
In terms of ease of use, Twitter has a clear edge. Mr. Shaw needed merely to click anywhere on the tweet to access the post, then edit it.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking link outreach isn’t advertising—it is. A link is far more clickable with an image, even if your target audience generated it.
2. Offer Something in Return (And Listen to Your Targets)
Mr. Shaw was nice enough to not only give me a link, but give me the benefit I’d offer in exchange for a link (a social share from our own account) moving forward.
Laziness is among the few reasons a person would refuse exchanging a link for a social share from an account with a lot of followers. I’d incorporate this offer into my next two tweets.
3. Mix Outreach in with Organic Tweets
My excitement with Twitter as a link building tool, and with social shares as an offer, was quickly tempered by my next two (failed) attempts:
One thing to mention here: so long as you start your tweet “at” someone, it will not show up in your followers’ feeds (unless they follow you and the other account). There’s little danger, therefore, in appearing spammy if you conduct a bunch of outreach in a short amount of time. I do recommend keeping it within reason, though, and wedging outreach tweets between organic tweets—the “Tweets and Replies” section of your profile houses all your activity, and can be viewed by anybody.
4. Share the Hell Out of High-Quality Link Acquisitions
My fourth tweet put me back in the money, and back on pace (about) for what would ultimately be my success rate:
The added bonus of bagging a big fish like BigCommerce—which has a domain authority of 88—is that when you ultimately share their post, you’re likely to get a fair bit of engagement. Don’t be afraid to share these posts multiple times.
5. The Last Thing Your Target Reads Should Be Your Offer
(Forgive me if that sounded formidable.)
My fifth tweet was yet another success, and while the haul was considerably smaller—a Domain Authority of 22—I was beginning to feel as if I’d found a groove:
No white whale, but again—I felt like master of my domain (a silly and ill-advised pun):
A suggestion: always end your tweets with an offer. I realized after the above tweet that the last thing my targets were reading was the link ask. Ideally, your targets should leave the tweet feeling as if they’re receiving something, not being asked for something.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Slide into Your Leads’ DMs
After a Blog Which Shall Not Be Named proved a non-starter (you were busy, I understand), I stumbled back into success with Cloudways. This one proved interesting, as it took a bit of jiggering:
What happened here was either a miscommunication, or a deft catfishing. The “You’re Welcome” was a response to our display of gratitude for Cloudways mentioning us in their post. They seemed perfectly alright with leaving things at that, until we hit them with the animated gif (the club of choice in nobody’s outreach golf bag). Once they had us in their DMs, they succinctly moved the discussion to email, where, after assuring a link-for-share exchange, we discussed other potential ways to collaborate. We chose not to move forward, but with the right suitor there could have been ample opportunity for guest posting, social sharing, etc.
7. Be Meticulous
The Cloudways exchange had me riding on cloud nine. In cruise control. An unfortunate ghosting by another Blog Which Shall Not Be Named did nothing to dampen the mood. I was still 4 for 8. Then this happened:
Mr. Lolk wrote a guest column for Search Engine Journal, and was mentioned (with SEJ) in my outreach tweet. One of the many benefits of building links on Twitter is that you can (attempt to) get the attention of the writer and the website in one succinct message. Unfortunately, before I sent this tweet, I had a lapse in page scanning. Two things to remember when scanning a page for an unlinked mention:
1. Make sure the post hasn’t already linked to you in anchor text other than your brand name.
“The 25 Most Expensive Keywords in AdWords via WordStream,” for instance, would still show up as an unlinked mention for the content search, “WordStream.” An easy way to get around this is to use a browser plugin like SEOquake to scan a post’s external link profile. If your site doesn’t appear there, you can safely ask for a link.
2. Make sure the writer of the post either still has a role at the publication, or still has access to the post.
In this case, Mr. Lolk was never on SEJ’s staff in the first place. But it’s good practice to check out a writer’s Linkedin page, or do a staff search on the website to make sure the above “effective outreach” criteria are met.
8. Explore other Mediums
Another non-reply after the misstep with SEJ had me feeling a bit discouraged. The link that got me back on track came from an unlikely source:
The world of podcasts. Podcasts are a great place to acquire links—those on SoundCloud come juiced with a powerhouse Domain Authority (95), and as you can see, they are incredibly popular in the Twittersphere.
9. Get Personal
Not too much to say here:
When your founder is Larry Kim, unlinked mentions abound! One small thing: when you’re dealing with 140 characters, there’s no reason to skimp on personalization (i.e., addressing a writer by his first name). Twitter is really the ideal medium for tiny, personal touches.
10. Go After Outdated Posts with Fervor
Using our name in the title and not even a courtesy link. For shame, Optimizely!
Kidding. Takeshi Young was nice enough to trade a link for a share, and he is an example of an author whose LinkedIn page required a quick scan before link outreach could safely begin. This blog was written back in 2015, so he very well could have moved on from Optimizely. This acquisition should also be a reminder not to sleep on outdated posts: the older they are, the more link equity they stand to contain.
11. Live in Your Mentions
Yet another advantage of leveraging Twitter for link building is that you’re fully immersed in your social community while you’re trying to acquire links. So while the theory that higher visibility equals higher potential for brand damage is not invalid, I’d say that, if you’re smart, it’s much more likely something like this happens:
The more active you are in your social community—the more you live in your mentions, liking and retweeting and commenting—the less likely you are to miss a link opportunity like Mr. Gudema’s, and the more likely you are to get mentioned in the future. Louis mentioned that we got “shoutouts” in his post. If that was an attempt at getting us to engage, it’s bait we happily took.
12. Link-for-Link Exchanges Come with a Bonus Social Share
Our race to 10 links—and our grand Twitter experiment—came to a close with somewhat of a social bang:
Because this exchange was link-for-link, ProofHub’s marketing manager took it on herself to share our updated post on her personal LinkedIn page—a page which has a massive following, and which, consequently, earned our post 38 likes, and thousands of eyeballs.
From an efficiency standpoint, this experiment was a success: a 48% success rate is pretty damn good. Building links from posts where our site was not mentioned—a process which would have required an offer of, say, a social share and a relevant resource/piece of content—would have obviously presented more difficulty, and reduced the success rate. I ran one such outreach campaign in May, via email. It resulted in a 4% success rate. Ew.
But to say that the results here were watered down because the links targeted were “low-hanging” would, I think, be missing the point.
If you’re going to forego sheer quantity as a strategy—which, I think, anyone should—building links becomes more about maximizing opportunity. Success rates are painfully low. No opportunity should be wasted to build leverage on your side of the interaction. Combining the power of Twitter with unlinked mentions seems like a good place to start.
About the Author
Gordon Donnelly is a college hockey washout, failed poet, and all-around oxford comma enthusiast. He's a sucker for: fly fishing, mudslides, well-structured SEO podcasts, and the dwindling half-light of Clery's basement.