The 3 Rs of Working with Bloggers
A massive part of any Off-Page SEO strategy involves working with bloggers in order to get high quality backlinks from their sites. The better the blog, the more valuable a link will be from them – passing on all-important link juice and social signals.
But big, influential bloggers are inundated with requests from agencies and brands all the time, and many of them blog professionally - so there's a lot of pressure to stand out from the crowd when contacting them, and to offer something unique and worthwhile in exchange for their time.
In most instances, we pride ourselves on being able to say that the unique and worthwhile "something" we offer bloggers in order to get them to link to us is our content – usually in the form of guest posts. We're a creative bunch, and come up with some great ideas that make bloggers want to work with us again and again, and usually it works: we get high quality links back to our clients sites, and the bloggers get some really good content that they might otherwise have had to outsource and pay for – win/win.
However, there are industries where providing a blogger with an amazing guest post to put on their site might not be the best way to go. Often we come across personal blogs that depend entirely on their writers thoughts and opinions – a guest post wouldn't be an attractive thing to offer these types of bloggers.
Its worth mentioning here that Google is fast clamping down on posts marked as "sponsored", where a blogger might have got products, discounts and so on in return for posting about a brand and linking back. There have been recent instances where this has resulted in negative consequences for both brands and bloggers. Naturally then, this is a tactic were keen to leave behind. With this being the case, what can SEOs offer to these bloggers to get them to link, or even to convince them to host our content when they wouldn't usually?
What do the bloggers say?
I thought the best way to get the answer to this particular question was to go straight to the horses mouth. I contacted a few of the UKs most influential fashion and lifestyle bloggers – who asked to remain anonymous – and had a bit of a chat to them to find out how they thought bloggers could best work with SEO agencies.
First off, I asked everyone what they thought about being approached directly by brand vs. an agency – does a brand.com email address give more credibility? Overwhelmingly, the response was "no". Bloggers understand that many brands work with agencies and know the reasons why – but they mentioned differences in the kind of contact they get from each; agencies are sometimes pushy, and brands can be more focused on building a long term relationship with a blogger.
One of the bloggers I spoke to specifically mentioned that they hated the term outreach, so lets stop using it!
"If I'm getting an email from a brand or agency to ask me to work with them, it should be the start of a relationship – even if that relationship is only a week long while we figure out the details. A lot of the emails I get are really impersonal or even if the person has actually read my blog, they mention that theyre doing "blogger outreach" for their client which is a term that really turns me off – like I'm just one of hundreds they happen to be sending an email to that day."
Personalisation (or lack thereof!) in emails was a hot topic, actually:
"Bad emails include ones which aren't personalised for a start. If you can't take the time to learn my name, which is not only on the site but also constitutes my email address, then it shows bad form. If an email looks like it could have come from software then I won't reply. Good ones – when folk send tailored emails, offering me tailored opportunities, have clearly shown an interest in my site (for example, stating that they too are fans of Hadley Freeman), and sound like real people rather than a piece of software or a template with removable/insertable names."
And others also picked up on the "relationship building" theme:
"A lot of brands or whatever, that contact me for collaboration view [do] it as a one-time thing and that annoys me. If you're coming directly from the brand, maybe I'd like to do something with you in the future. If you're an agency, you definitely have other clients I could work with, and either way I have blogger friends I can introduce you to if you're smart about the whole thing. Don't just disappear into the sunset the second my post is live! Say thanks, have a chat, leave a comment and email me a few weeks later to see how its going."
That point is definitely something I agree with and something I've found really useful when working with bloggers. It really pays to keep in contact every now and then to see how they are, if there's anything you can do for them, to say you liked their most recent blog post and so on.
And it works the other way round, too. For some of the best blog-links I've ever got, I didn't even ask them for a link until a good few months after I first made contact. I emailed a few times to introduce myself and have a chat, left comments on their blog, gave them SEO tips for their blogs and then asked them if they wanted to work with my client.
What makes a blogger link back?
The second question I asked was around what would make a blogger link back to a site; obviously the holy grail of SEO is to get people to link back to us because they want to, not because we ask them to – so this information is fairly crucial! Answers I got were varied, and included examples – but all of them had a common theme – bloggers all appreciate being provided with something they couldnt easily get themselves.
"When I work with a brand, I want a creative project, easy communication and a little patience! I think sometimes they forgot blogging is not your full-time job, and so I really appreciate it when a brand or agency are considerate and kind. Offering something interesting is a good idea – one brand made me a custom bag from my own photograph - that was pretty cool!"
"Great photography. Editing photos is a pain so anything that takes less time than an outfit post to put together is fantastic."
"Images are something I do not do particularly well with and some of the best emails I've had recently have seen me receive personalised infographics (including a picture of and a quote from me) by one leading travel company, and high quality exclusive images – even just Polyvore illustrations or compositions made on Photoshop would have been too time consuming for me. These are things I'm happy to host on my blog as I believe that the brand and I both benefit from such collaborations."
"I'd be after something I personally couldn't create myself – whether it's due to the brand being able to provide me with information or a quote on a subject I don't have much experience in, or being able to create images that my word-centric mind couldn't conceive, these are things which I'd be more likely to accept."
One of the bloggers pointed out that it's not always being offered something that makes them want to link:
"Theres a girl at one agency that emails occasionally –she usually points me in the direction of something on one of her clients blogs that she thinks I'll like, or a competition she thinks I might want to enter and I always share that stuff with my readers if I think they'll be interested in it too. I also make sure I always link to her clients and email her to tell her."
What makes you recommend a brand or agency?
This obviously ties into the last point about how crucial relationship building is! And on that note, my final questions were about what would make the bloggers recommend a brand or agency to friends, and what would make them want to work with someone again:
"A positive working relationship I've received from the agency. I always try to keep it professional because you never know who they'll forward your details on to."
"Great communication and a considerate manner."
"I just think it's really important to know that you might hear from them again once the post has gone live! Everyone wants to be considered for as many projects as possible, but a lot of brands disappear after they've got what they want from you. If someone went silent on me for six months I wouldn't want to work with them if they did get in touch again."
The Three Rs
This information has been really interesting and useful for me to re-evaluate the ways in which I should be working with bloggers. It seems that it all boils down to what I've dubbed the Three "Rs":
Build a relationship with the blogger instead of just doing basic "outreach".
Once you're ready to ask them for a link, make sure you've got a reward– something they can't do/get themselves – to offer them.
Keep that relationship going! It takes hardly any time, and you never know when you might need each other again – or you might get recommended to other bloggers.
Hopefully, following the steps above will result in great links, happy bloggers and happy SEOs every time!