2013 has been an interesting year, but one of the biggest shockers for me was how many people gave SEER kudos for doing outreach from our SEERinteractive.com email addresses. I was completely shocked that this was considered "brave" because in my eyes it was just honest, but time after time people said: “wow I love the fact that you do outreach from your email addresses and not with personas.” So join me this year in ending this practice. If you or your company is doing this it's okay, but let's start putting it to an end.
Sending emails from someone you are not and creating some sort of a "persona" is dishonest. At some point we did try it, but found our mother's lessons ringing in our ears in that the more that you lie the harder it is to keep track of those lies. Fake email accounts for different people, Twitter accounts, etc, should stop. Instead, just be you.
This is why SEO continues to be a step-child at the "real marketing table" for so many companies. When marketers find out that part of our strategies are to create persona's either for ourselves or for our clients, people think let me get this right, so you get my links via outreach by being someone else? As recent as December 2012, this was mentioned on popular blogs (Quicksprout and Moz) as successful tactic to deploy.
Some people took it as we needed to hire more females while others took it as if I should act like I'm a woman (and put a good looking photo as my profile). Either way, I think most PR folks would have an issue with this because if you have something of quality to pitch to a publication, the difference in who it comes from could matter less.
I know it sounds simple and I thought we were all doing this, but I was surprised to see how many are not. Let me share with you all the UGLY, the bad, and the good so that you can learn from some of our trips.
The Ugly - YOU CAN'T HIDE
You are now on blast. Bad outreach has your name attached to it, and you’d better believe we have sent bad outreach.
So there you have it. People will look to "blow you up" for doing bad outreach and now you can't hide behind firstname.lastname@example.org. Now it is you, it’s your name, and your company's name is all over it. How do you protect yourself from this happening? Well, you can't 100% because it is a risk of being in this business. So my recommendation is to get your insurance right, or read "the bad" below to see the next step you need to take.
The Bad - YOU probably have the wrong people
For a very long time, SEER would have people seeking outreach as a tactic to "scale" and not a method to build and cultivate relationships. When you approach outreach from the core place of how many people can I reach out to in as short a time as possible, you are starting from the wrong place 99% of the time, even if it works. One of our former teammates was so adamant about scaling outreach that he used a scaled outreach tactic to trick the whole team into responding, and it was an amazingly powerful test, it worked VERY well against seasoned SEOs. If done right, even to the most seasoned SEOs it can work. So if you make decisions based on scale, it can work. I'd rather make a lower margin on our service offering and invest in individuals building “real” relationships, and I'm glad to see how many people are SEER are with me on this. Steph did this great piece on outreach (read it, it's worth it).
This piece from Dana outlines the good and bad outreach she has received as the result of being a fashion blogger over the years.
Back in 2005 I started hiring marketers over scale-seeking SEOs, thinking that someday link building would have to become something bigger than just blasting emails to people, but instead adding value in a pitch. As I look back I can see that it was the right move, as now that "content marketing" is all the rage I don't find myself re-training SEOs who only think of scale first, which is a major cost to the business and to clients. Instead it’s just a minor pivot for folks who think of marketing. I think it took me until 2011 to make the tough calls around the folks who just couldn't pivot, and from that point on it took a lot of time training and re-training, only to see them never truly get it.
I even remember back to an SEO we hired who on their second day said something along the lines of “wow, you guys focus a lot on outreach and relationship building over technology.” To that, I proudly said...YUP! Someone who can understand value, how to articulate value, and to be persuasive is more valuable at the marketing table than to someone who is 100% technical looking to scale. Even to Aichlee who heads up all of our technical SEO and wrote the most popular post EVER on the SEER blog! She has a Masters Degree in creative writing and has won fellowships for her poetry over the years.
Technical SEOs can pitch to SEOs, but a technical SEO who can understand value, writing, and pitching can pitch to CEOs, SEOs, and Journalists alike. The proof? Well Aichlee got links from PBS this year.
That is super important.
So many things revolve not around scale, but around people; this decision is NO different. Putting the right people on your team and cutting bait on those who can't is KEY! Also look into books like Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, and Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness to name a few get you thinking about psychology. This list by Paddy Moogan is a great place to start to help train your team to "think differently.”
Buy a bunch and put ‘em on shelves for the taking.
In this last year, we have landed links of clients from the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, the NHL, PBS, and the list goes on and on. It amazes me and we all want to get them don't we? Well, that point brings me to the Bad #2.
The Bad #2 - Once you fix the people problem, have you fixed the content problem?
It’s not remarkable to just be yourself; that isn’t commendable. I still am shocked to get kudos for doing this at SEER. Its an expectation here. I believe its an expectation in order to get a seat at the marketers table and you now have to add something of value to people you pitch.
So if you look at your team and say, they get it! I'm pumped to have them doing outreach from our company's email, and they represent us well and now you need to make sure the content you are pitching actually has value to the recipient! I have found that the more scalable the SEO was in how they did outreach the more likely they were to produce low-quality content and assets. Think about it. Their world view on outreach is to do it as quickly as possible so that when you take that to asset building, what do you think they'll do? Do it as cheaply as possible, that's what they’ll do. Let's use oDesk for everything… oh no. :(
Cheap assets will be seen a MILE away, real bloggers and journalists, are looking for assets that will really add value to their readership.
The Good - Relationship building FTW
So we’ve gotten through the Ugly, and the Bad, but lets talk about the Good. The glory.
You prove that you walk the walk, you build better and better assets, so now let me show you what can come from this: RELATIONSHIPS!! Guess what happened after we got a ton of links from our how do they make money asset. Media covered it, which allows me to reach back out when I have a similar assets that they might be interested in. From there you start building a book of contacts whom you can reach out to and who will actually want to hear from you.
For our SEOs, you have a new value proposition; you don't have to worry about "what happens after you end a project?" Now, you don't have to worry about when a project ends. The "persona" dies, and so does the relationship. You can still do outreach to these people from "your company" and this builds VALUE for you in sales and pitching. You now can reference not only the links that you got, but the fact that you have relationships with journalists. You ask them from time-to-time what they are interested in and you can help craft assets that they are game for, allowing your client to jump right in with relationships that other SEOs might not have.
When you hire the right people and part ways with the wrong ones, you’ll automatically worry less about shitty outreach going out.
So guys. It’s 2014. We are competing with PR firms in some ways and we need to start earning a seat at their table. To do that follow these steps:
1. STOP outreach for new clients from fake accounts
2. Look at your team. Ask yourself if you have the right team. When you tell them to do outreach from their accounts, are they relieved or scared?
3. Remember that you might need to work on training for 12-18 months to get well- meaning folks up to speed.
4. Build content and assets worth marketing.
The results are awesome:
Major benefits in the sales process when you can reference / leverage relationships. Feel better about your work, and the fact that you can be honest. No more worries about accidental mail merges.