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Chris Ainsworth Talks About Link Earning and Email Outreach

We are back with another awesome SEO interview.

This time, Chris Ainsworth was kind to share his SEO experience with our readers.  Without any further ado, here’s the interview.

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

So my name is Chris Ainsworth and I’m a senior SEO Consultant and Head of the Technical SEO team at UK based High Position. I joined High Position in 2007 in the role of SEO Specialist to help support the company’s growing client base so have over 8 years’ experience in SEO and digital marketing.

Prior to joining High Position I studied Information and Communications Technology at college before graduating University with a degree in Computer Software Development. Programming was always my forte throughout my education and I became fluent in PHP. In addition I had an in-depth understanding of web programming languages such as HTML, JavaScript and the CSS styling language, as well as having a strong knowledge of considerations such as server and htaccess configurations.

At the time my knowledge of SEO and web marketing as minimal, working on various joint marketing ventures, but it was the strength of web programming knowledge which caught the attention of High Position at a time when the company had need for skills in these areas to support various SEO processes.

It all snowballed from there really. My knowledge grew natural through the job, learning lots and developing my skill set through my peers, industry experts, seminars and so forth. And here I am today.

2. SEO in 5 years, what will change? Will backlinks remain the most important ranking factor?

Ah, the question on everyone’s minds! I think the core principles of search engine optimisation will remain the same with the core focus centralised on creating content that provides definitive value to the visitor. Of course technical optimisation techniques will continue to develop as search engines evolve, and general best practices will continue to change as user habits change.

I think Google will focus more on more on how websites deliver content to the user and how users interact with the content. Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea posted a couple of interesting blogs recently regarding patents Watch Time as a ranking signal and Click-Through feedback to improve rankings. I think these types of user signals as well as engagement metrics (bounce rates, times on page/site) will increase in importance as Google strives to yield only the best result for each search query.

I’m also going to go out on a limb here and say that I think Bing will become a more dominant force in the search industry. Make no mistake about it Bing are serious about gaining ground on Google. They’ve shown with Bing It On that they’re ready to go head-to-head with Google and although they’re not quite there yet they’ll continue to push it as far as they can. Bing are taking learnings from Google every day, we can see that in how their interface and offering is continually developing, becoming more and more similar to Google. They’re even beating Google at their own game on contextually relevant search on Android with ‘Bing Snapshots’ recently launching ahead of ‘Google Now on Tap’. Bing are really fighting for their share of the search market, so SEO for Bing which is often somewhat overlooked at present will become more and more important.

As for links being the more important ranking factor, I think relevance of content is already the most important ranking factor and will continue to be; but I do think backlinks will continue to be the backbone of rankings. That said I think there is much more to the picture than just backlinks, so links will be amongst subtle blend of influential ranking factors – much like we have today.

3. How do you do email outreach?

Unbelievably I still to this day hear people saying that email outreach is easy. Prospect a few opportunities. Grab a list of email addresses. Structure a vague email. Use an email marketing service such as MailChimp to fill in the blanks. Job done. If only that were true!

Those steps listed above are for those who want to perform scalable/bulk outreach with minimal effort. It can be effective if done correctly but it’s not an approach that I favour. If you want to follow that approach read something like Siege Media’s guide to blogger outreach.

In my opinion a successful email outreach campaign requires a dedicated strategy which is bespoke to each recipient – in other words be personal. Yes this means individually scripting a bespoke request to each recipient to pitch your content. This process is not about firing off vague “Dear [insert name], please take my content.” template style emails, but building actual working relationships with those who you hope to place content with. This approach can lead to far better results and often long-term affiliations.

Of course this is also by far the most time consuming approach but I definitely follow the motto that if a jobs worth doing it’s worth doing well!

Working for an agency, I usually keep the initial pitch short and sweet, introducing myself and my objective. I go on to provide a concise introduction of the client to demonstrate their expertise and worth to the readers of the recipient’s website. At this stage I generally don’t provide an indication as to the subject of the content to be published (which I know others would disagree with) as I see that as a bit too presumptuous and intrusive; but it depends on the nature of the pitch. For example when pitching/requesting a product review I may mention a few details in the initial outreach email, but the approach does often vary as I always strive to retain a personal approach. I’ll then await a response. Any subsequent emails will depend on the response received but it’s usually the second email in which I’ll commence negotiation about potential topic ideas.

This is all 100% dependant on the recipient. My approach always varies somewhat as it’s a bespoke outreach process but for me this approach is rarely unsuccessful.

For anyone interested in further reading I’d strongly recommend Omnicore’s definitive guide to blogger outreach.

4. Link building or link earning? How do you build backlinks in competitive niches?

I think there’s benefit to both approaches but to truly separate yourself from the competition I would lean more towards “link earning” as opposed to “link building”.

Link “building” generally insinuates somewhat of an artificial process to manually acquire links, often on readily available resources. You have to assume that if you can research and build links on readily available, and potentially widely used, link resources (such as industry listings, blogging platforms etc) then your competitors can mimic the approach thus levelling the playing field so to speak. Such techniques can form a good starting point, especially if you’re starting with a blank canvas, but they won’t necessarily signal independence.

What will set you apart from, or at least differentiate you from, the competitor is earning high quality links which your competitor cannot obtain or replicate.

The approach to link earning can take many different forms which will ultimately depend on your own individual circumstances, strategies and of course marketing budget as link earning will inevitably involve investment, time and dedication.

Methods of content marketing are of course one of the favourable methods of link earning which I’ll talk about in the next question.

5. What’s your favorite method to build backlinks?

You mean “earn” backlinks, right? 😉

As it stands I truly believe that using techniques of content marketing to leverage links remains one of the best methods, and is one which will stand the test of time. It’s probably the more complex and time-intensive method but if you can do it right you’ll reap rewards – rewards which will stretch far wider than link acquisition.

Content itself can take many forms from written or graphical content to video production or industry research to name but a few. The strategy deployed will depend not on your needs, but on the needs of your target audience.

To succeed you will need to identify a subject or area which will provide true worth to the consumer and use the appropriate method of content marketing to drive your content and your brand directly to that audience. We know from Google that YouTube searches relating to “how to” are growing 70% year over year therefore video marketing may form an influential consideration in your marketing efforts. As a quick example, if you can create a compelling “how to” style video, embed it within a detailed blog post on your own website and compliment it with marketing techniques such as traditional PR, social media marketing, email marketing and similar technique you may be able to leverage natural links both to your owned domain and to owned web properties, increasing social metrics, increasing customer and ultimately increasing brand strength. Even if your competitors already have a similar video you can do it bigger and better!

Of course that’s just one (simplified) example of many potential opportunities, but if you can create completing content and market it correctly your content, and more importantly your brand, will reap the rewards.

6. What type of backlinks are working best for you now? What links everyone should avoid?

The definition of “working” depends on your goals. Many of the SMEs I work with benefit massively from having a local search presence; therefore in these situation undertaking methods of local citation through manual research as well as submission to data aggregators remains a massively influential factor. Of course this relates more to NAP consistency than link building itself, however link acquisition is often a natural element of business citation. Likewise acquisition of links from location specific resources such a local authorities, local business directories etc can prove beneficial.

For those seeking a wider reach gaining authority links from high profile industry specific resources can provide valuable link equity and continue to provide benefit. Undertaking link building methods such as broken link building can be a useful step. And as mentioned briefly earlier, it can be quite straightforward to research and potentially leverage competitor links, especially if you’re building your link graph from the ground up.

In terms of techniques to avoid definitely avoid any form of automated link building. Avoid mass link building on low-quality or irrelevant web directories. Avoid large-scale guest posting strategies on jack-of-all-trades style blogs. Avoid comment spam. Basically avoid anything which can be seen as spam, now and in the future.

7. What’s your biggest SEO accomplishment?

Working for an agency I have worked with a wide range of businesses over the years from one-man bands to national and even global organisations, so the KPIs for success vary and my measurement of accomplishment also varies somewhat.

If I had to pick a favourite (as opposed to necessarily the biggest) accomplishment I would have to choose a particular SME for which I have been working with for a number of years. When the client came to us they were a relatively small organisation with a customer reach relative to their geographic location. Over the past 5 years or and through a blend of marketing technique, including SEO, we have helped to develop the company into what is now almost a national organisation, surpassing all initial client expectations and providing unquestionable ROI. The goal is to drive reach fully nationwide and potentially branch out into other countries in the not too distant future so there are exciting times ahead too!

In addition to that I’ve lost count of the number of brand which we (High Position) have helped to recover from various forms of manual action and algorithmic devaluation i.e. Panda related restrictions. On a case-by-case basis these accomplishments have help to yield great success for the various clients which we’ve helped. This leads nicely into the final question.

8. Have you ever had a website penalized? Did you recovered?

Working for a large SEO agency we have had many brands come to us over the past few years with a link penalty seeking our expertise to help remedy the situation.

A former colleague and I were influential in constructing the Penguin recovery process for High Position back in 2012. This was during a time when the industry was at a bit of a loss as to what to do when served with manual action as a result of unnatural links as it was a new scenario. So there was naturally a bit of trial and error involved but we eventually developed a process of link auditing, removal, disavow and reconsideration which continues to be extremely effective now.

I won’t delve into the in’s and out’s of Penguin recovery now but for anyone interested in further reading I have written a guide to manual penalty removal and recovery available via And not to self-promote too much but we have a case study here through which we helped achieve a 72.4% increase in organic search visibility following the successful removal of manual action against their site.

So that’s all for now. Thanks for having me. If anyone wishes to contact me please feel free to tweet me @chrisains, connect with me on linked in via or visit me at


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