Ask an SEO – Blogger Outreach Expert Ryan Gibson

by Martin Harrison

Ryan Gibson, Link Acquisition & Outreach Manager at AsiaRooms (Part of the LateRooms Group) provides some fantastic insight into current trends in outreach and what it takes to run a successful campaign.

Over the past few years, it has become increasingly difficult to stay under the radar of Google’s algorithm, which is becoming more and more adept at detecting and penalising what it classes as ‘paid’ links. Long standing tactics such as directory and article submissions have become less and less effective, meaning that SEOs have had to look at new and diverse ways of acquiring links.

With the exception of sidebar links, blogs have remained largely unaffacted by these changes, meaning that these links are increasingly sought after.

In the last couple of years, the concept of ‘blogger outreach’ has emerged. As the title suggests, this involves reaching out to bloggers and offering them exclusive content, products, or payment in exchange for a feature and usually a link or two.

I asked Ryan Gibson, Link Acquisition & Outreach Manager at AsiaRooms (Part of the LateRooms Group) and founder of the excellent Generation Y Working to discuss his role, some of the current trends in outreach and what it takes to run a successful campaign.

Q) Hi Ryan, could you maybe start by telling us a bit about your background and how you got into SEO and outreach?

A) Firstly thanks for the interview opportunity guys, really appreciate it. I’ve been in SEO since I left University. I was basically majorly prepared and secured a job as a digital marketing assistant before I graduated. PPC and SEO was therefore thrust upon me and I soon realised I was way more passionate about organic search.

Since then I held a global SEO role for a worldwide electronic components company where I successfully build their outreach program. This consequently led to my opportunity with AsiaRooms, where again I have worked on building their blogger engagement strategy. So far so good.

Q) What does the team look like in your current role? Do you work with any external agencies?

A) The team is made up of five members and that covers SEO & community. My manager is Head of SEO and community and oversees this from a transactional and community perspective. The community has been launched from scratch as has the team which is a hugely exciting project to be part of.

There’s myself as the link acquisition & outreach guy, a head of SEO & community, a community manager, editor and a travel writer. All of the work is done in-house, apart from outsourcing some content creation if we are overstretched.

We are a young team and everyone has vast travel experience so it’s really awesome to be involved.

Q) Could you tell me a little bit about the process of finding prospective blogs, are there any specific tools that you use?

A) Sure, no problem. There are so many different techniques I use so I’ll just name a few of my favourites. Buzzstream is my blogger relationship management tool and is a must for all outreachers.

Search operators are also widely used, and you can find a ton of blogs by using these. You will find that a lot of key bloggers link to one another on their ‘links’ page, so using a search operator to identify these pages, scraping the pages with the Google Chrome plugin ‘Scrape similar’ followed by importing to Buzzstream can pretty much get the ball rolling.

I’m a huge fan of attention to detail. As a blogger myself, there’s nothing worse than receiving a crappy blanket or formal email for outreach. Read about the blogger, immerse yourself in their material and then send an email based on what you see/read. Sure you can have a small pitch within the email but make sure the bulk of it is personal. Bloggers don’t spend hours on their website to receive a crappy blanket email. It’s insulting their art and it’s degrading to the SEO industry.

Simply measured also have a twitter follower analysis tool where you can download the followers and URLs of someone with your niche. Load these into Buzzstream and you’ll have a fantastic list of prospects in minutes. Finding prospects is easy, it’s the engagement part that can be difficult.

Finally, Twitter as a link prospect tool shouldn’t be underestimated. You can quite easily find a few hundred link prospects by following someone within your targeted industry and then using the ‘Who to follow’ option on the online interface.

Q) A lot of brands are creating their own dedicated sites for outreach, do AsiaRooms have one of these?

Yes, we have also opened our AsiaRooms Community to guest bloggers, they are the guys who are travelling and have stories to tell. We happily link out to their website and social profiles. Having that relationship and having that influencer as part of your community can only be a good thing. That’s the way we see it.

Q) My Blog Guest is probably the most widely known outreach platform, but there seems to be more and more of these springing up. Are there any that you particularly recommend? Any hidden gems out there?

A) I’ve personally stopped using My Blog Guest as I haven’t found anything to note recently. I still find Blogger Link Up to have the odd gem but they are largely inundated with crafty SEOs who have purchased dropped domains and want to fill them with content. The best advice I can give is to create the core list yourself and use Blogger Link Up or My Blog Guest to facilitate when the barrel is dry. Don’t just place on some crappy blog for the sake of it. That’s glorified article marketing.

Q) What do you find is the most successful way of contacting bloggers. Is it emails, phonecalls, social media etc?

A) Email & Twitter in my opinion. I have a ‘travel’ orientated twitter account which I use to engage with bloggers. I always start with an email and if a blogger hasn’t responded I may give them a nice nudge on Twitter. I only approach bloggers whose content I like too. I have to be interested in what they write and not just their site’s authority. We are trying to build a community and relationships, not just a scatter gun approach.

I also use Skype too. I want bloggers to know that I’m genuine so a lengthy discussion on Skype can be the difference. Face to face meetings also work. I recently took a trip to World Travel Market in London and met a number of bloggers in person. You’d be surprised how many brands do not do this.

Q) In your experience, what is the biggest carrot for bloggers, is it exclusive content, products or payment for a feature?

A) The majority of travel bloggers are savvy to the competition between companies and know that payment is a viable option. Paddy Moogan did a great study on this recently.

I found with my previous role that products were a great draw and it’s the same with my current role. We always want reviews of our accommodation whether it’s positive or negative and we’ve found bloggers are happy to write great content in exchange for a couple of nights stay in some of our accommodation. We never pay for content placement as a piece of content should be placed based on the quality of the content and not the payment.

Accommodation reviews, however, are a nice carrot for the blogger and ultimately produce worthwhile content while still harbouring search benefit.

Q) Is it fair to say that bloggers are becoming more and more SEO savvy, and therefore placing a higher premium on the links that they provide?

Sure. I think there’s a savvyness and there’s also some misguidance that any content produced by a company should be ‘sponsored’ and should command the same fee. I don’t agree with this. I could produce a piece of diamond content which acquires natural links for that blog, is socially shared and offers huge value. This content should not be pitched side by side with a 350 word, link-ridden piece of garbage.

Q) If you are offering content to a blogger, how do you go about producing this?

I’m not a fan of the ‘Create content and try and place it anywhere approach’. This is not content marketing, it’s essentially article marketing 2012. If you are offering content to a blogger then this should be discussed by both parties. Blog content needs to be worthwhile to the site and its target audience. If it doesn’t do this, then it’s content for the sake of gaining links and that’s not what outreach should just be about.

Q) What are your standard tenancy terms for your blog posts, is there a particular length of time that you insist on?

When placing content I expect the piece to be placed permanently and that’s my intentions when striking the agreement. We are continuously on the lookout for guest bloggers for our community and we have the same agreement. As long as our community is live and the content has been accepted then it will stay online.

If you start pulling down content or having 12 month ‘link placements’ and renewals then we know this is not a natural link process.

Q) What SEO tools do you use/recommend?

Plus many more, but these are my staple.

Q) Rand Fishkin recently predicted the decline of anchor text as a ranking factor, do you agree with him?

Of course. Anchor text is far too easily abused. I think a significant bearing will be placed on authorship and there will be a battle to have ‘specific’ authors guest post on your website.

Q) And finally, who’s your favourite ‘SEO Rockstar’? 🙂

I don’t really have a favourite but there’s a few blogs I read regularly. The SEOMoz guys are always on point and James Agate continues to produce great advice. Paddy Moogan also has written some great tutorials on Buzzstream and as an avid user of the tool these have helped me significantly.

Who’s next?

If you’re an SEO and you’d like to feature here, drop me an email.

Martin Harrison

Works at Copify