How to Do Outreach for Your Startup Like a Boss
So you’re a startup? I know what you’re like.
You’re lovely to work for when the going is good, and a terror to deal with when crisis-mode begins (which is most of the time, right?).
The biggest weakness of most startups I speak to is a lack of process.
They say they don’t need them. They’re “scrappy” and “agile”, they say. I only hear “disorganized”. All the precious creative juice you’re using to put out fires would be far better used on the edges of your business – on developing new strategies, building powerful relationships, and making the most of new opportunities.
Online outreach especially needs a proven process to get results. Doing it sporadically is like throwing a few sparks at a wet log. You’re not going to build a roaring flame of positive press and white hat SEO unless you decide on a method and put the people in place to keep the machine ticking over.
It’s worth it.
Effective outreach gets you:
A powerful professional network of people with influence
Social-proof from being featured and mentioned in prominent places
Sustainable, low-risk SEO
Exposure to larger and more varied audiences
Becoming known as an up-and-comer or a thought-leader
Do outreach the right way, and your business could go from obscurity to industry-wide acclaim in a few short months.
The process can be broken up into four main phases:
Try not to outsource this stage. You should understand enough basic SEO to make intelligent decisions about where and how to deploy your resources.
Your two main targets will be:
The niche, where you will find useful keywords.
The types of links you want, and where you want to be featured.
There is so much low-hanging fruit with this stuff, I hardly know where to begin.
Top ten lists, monthly round-ups, alternatives-to-posts – people love this kind of content. What’s more, the people who you mention in these resource pieces tend to love sharing them with their audience.
Lay out a map of your city, place a cup over your location, and trace a circle around it. Lift it up, and you’re looking at hundreds to thousands of small-time bloggers and online journalists. Most will be hungry and eager to be pitched. The fact that they’re local means their links will give you a solid boost in Google’s new location-focused algorithm updates.
Online press publications tend to be very high in domain authority and trust in Google. There are two ways to get in:
Become a contributor. Connect with editors, research which kinds of posts work well with their audience, and pitch them content that matches up with that.
Write press releases and syndicate them through channels like PRweb.
Reclaiming brand mentions
Using a tool such as Brand24 or BuzzSumo, you can automatically scour the web for mentions of your brand. Whenever you find one that isn’t linking to you, suggest it to the webmaster. Include the link HTML in the email, so they hardly have to think about it.
Guest posts, infographics, presentations, even animations if you’re feeling generous. Online publications are desperate for content because, unlike print, there is an infinite amount of space to fill, and the site with the most content win. Another excellent strategy is swapping content with sites of the same industry. Relevancy is as important for SEO as it is for user experience.
- Keyword research
- Opportunity research
Once you know the niches you’ll target, and the types of links you want, it’s time to blow up your keyword database with as many micro-niches as you can find.
Example: You’re a new e-commerce store focusing on swanky men’s footwear. These would qualify as micro-niches for you:
- Leather shoes
- Dark leather Italian loafers
- Canvas casual loafers
- Camel penny loafers
- Men’s leather sandals
The list goes on, and on, and on. Soon, your micro-niche keyword database will be large enough to find the opportunities around them.
For opportunities, use search operators in Google and/or tools like BuzzSumo to find the people in these niches. The types of people you’ll want to contact depends on the types of links you’re going for.
A critical step to finding good links is to target sites who are trusted by Google. You can vet sites for free with these two tools:
Moz.com can check a site’s Domain Authority. Target those with DA 20 or higher.
SEMRUSH tells you how many keywords they have ranked in Google. They should have more than 30.
Some sites only post nofollow links, which means Google’s bots can’t go through them to find your site. That’s not good. Always check that they have dofollow links.
Use the Chrome extension NoFollow to check a site’s link quality.
Email is the most effective way to get through to people.
Find people’s direct email addresses using:
Here comes the human part of the process.
The way you reach out will be different depending on the type of link. Editors of the Huffington Post might take some warming up on social media before you pitch to be a contributor. Webmasters with a broken link, however, will just need a short email with the info they need.
The rules of thumb when connecting and pitching:
Keep it short, and don’t make them think.
Figure out what they want and provide that.
The response rate for an email can easily double if you cut out the fluff and make it succinct. People are busy. Reduce how much they have to think by working out the steps they’d have to take in order to agree to your proposal, and remove as many as you can for them.
Include the full HTML for your link.
Add your guest post at the bottom of your email, instead of an attachment.
If you ask them a question, keep it yes or no.
Figuring out what they want will take some empathy. What keeps them up at night? If they’re an editor of a big publication, finding new reliable writers is a big concern. If they’re a small-time blogger, getting mentioned in your popular resource post would be a dream come true.
Save a ton of time with a little automation
I’ve wanted to write for Followup.cc for a while now. Why? Because their email automation tool has been a huge time saver for me.
As with everything, I follow a process (without losing the human touch). I learn the timezone of the potential partner and schedule my email to arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday at 11am. Another good time is 4-5pm. It’s when people tend to dive into their inbox.
I then set up auto-followups. It’s rare that a cold email gets a response on the first go, and it’s not because the receiver is irritated. It’s because they’re busy. Life and work is swirling around them as they read your pitch, and they’re a slight hesitation away from forgetting about it forever.
Followup.cc lets you do all this, plus tells you when they opened your message and how many times. You can set up notifications for their activity, do you know when to followup with a call if you need.
A clean process and a tool like followup.cc can take your outreach results to another level.
This step is not always necessary, but it’s common enough to need a mention.
Having a team that handles content is critical to scale this process. Content creation can take as much time or even more than keyword and opportunity research. It’s not just grunt work either. You’ll need a creative machine churning out useful, attractive, topical content if you want to make a splash in your industry.
Guest posts have become extremely common in online outreach, and there’s good reason. They’re highly effective when done well.
So why stop there?
Use Infogr.am to create quick infographics that others can embed in their own articles.
Use Canva to turn an ordinary photo into a promotional asset for a brand’s Instagram campaign.
Propose an attractive guest-presentation, which you can put on SlideShare for a quick and easy embed code.
If you’re using Chrome, use Screencastify to capture a super quick screencast tutorial, upload straight to YouTube, and include that in your article.
Anything that will delight your potential partner by delighting their audience is game.
At the end of your outreach process, after all, is a delighted new partner who will hope to hear from you again.
The Only Thing That Scales
Startups have no excuse. With tools like Asana, HackPad, and the suite of Google Office apps, any repeatable technique can and must be put down in writing, and handed off to someone else so you can think about bigger things.
Testing, refining, and writing down processes is less exciting work than whatever “crisis” is around the corner, waiting to take all your attention. The problem is, it’s the lack of processes that makes those crises so common. It’s hard work, but you’re already working hard.
It’s time to get your methods down on writing so that you can focus on what startups are built for…