Blogger Outreach: “To Be (anonymous) or Not To Be (anonymous)?”

Over the past year or so there has been a shift in practice from traditional link building techniques to link “earning” or link “acquisition” through content marketing and guest blogging – this trend has gradually gained momentum throughout 2012, helped in no small part by Google’s Penguin updates which penalised sites found to be practicing “spammy” link building techniques.

Since Google has always been so big on content, and since it became clear that contextual, content-driven links are particularly powerful, the practice of guest blogging gained in popularity and became the subject of the majority of SEO-related blog posts and videos throughout the year.

The importance of finding authoritative, relevant blogs which are there for user consumption rather than simply to house links became increasingly important.

Towards the start of the year, Google introduced authorship markup to enable blog posts to be linked with the author’s Google Plus page, leading to the concept of AuthorRank and the possibility that an article on a relatively low-authority blog could be given more prominence in search if written by someone that is seen to be particularly authoritative elsewhere. It also enabled the author of the post to have their Google Plus picture appear next to the page in Google:

Outreach and Anonymity
Working at a digital marketing agency and acting on behalf of your clients as opposed to working in-house, the question often crops up as to whether it’s best to be up front about who you are and why you are getting in touch with a blogger, or whether to use an alias created specifically for the client you are trying to post on behalf of.

Historically SEO’s have been known to be very careful about whether or not to work under their own name, and it seemed to be common practice to work under a fake name or even a fake Gmail account to carry out any link building activities. I have no doubt that the reason for this practice was to cover the tracks of shady link building tactics, and I can understand why (in the past) some SEO’s would have worked this way… this is not what I am questioning.

Imagine I have client that sells gardening equipment, and I find a really high quality gardening blog – it’s updated on a regular basis, carries a strong domain authority and is clearly maintained by a community of avid gardeners. They accept guest posts, and I decide to get in touch to find out whether they’d be interested in publishing an article on the subject of “air pruning”.

Now, do I get in touch from my work email address, my personal Gmail address, or from a Gmail address I have created for my client ([email protected])?

Personally, I would always opt for the upfront and honest approach from my work email address… something along the lines of:

“Hi there.

I just came across your blog and I notice that you accept guest posts. I work on behalf of (client) who are a (leading UK supplier of ‘X’, for example) – I look after their online marketing and I wondered whether you may be interested in a post on the subject of ‘X’?

All the best, and I’ll look forward to hearing from you”

I have a pretty good success rate with this sort of email (enough to continue using it at least!), but I wonder whether I would have more chance of a response or more chance of having my article taken seriously if I had led the blog owner to believe that I was an expert in the field, or an employee of the company itself.

I have had a number of responses from bloggers saying that because I am working on behalf of a client, they consider the article/post to be “advertorial” and they would therefore charge (and I assume if they were following protocol, nofollow the link!). Could I have avoided this problem by emailing from a fake Gmail account and presenting myself differently? I know the article is going to be of a high standard and of high value to their users regardless of who the blogger thinks I am, but by being honest with them, am I creating an unnecessary barrier between myself and the blogger?

Author Bio’s
When sifting through the hundreds of low-quality blogs that exist within any given niche for the genuinely high-quality quality blogs, one of the features that I always find to be a good indicator of quality is if posts are accompanied by an author bio or snippet (these are often linked to the author’s Google Plus page via the authorship markup) – some blogs will even insist that you supply an author bio along with your post.

The issue of anonymity arises here as well, but in a slightly different way… Do I post as myself? Anyone that reads this article giving advice on gardening will soon learn that I’m not an expert gardener if they click on my Google Plus link or if they search for my name, so the post will lose it’s authority.

So how about posting as the client? I could do this, but Google’s authorship markup doesn’t allow for brands to use the rel=”author” tag (the author must be an individual), so it would need to be an individual member of staff that works for the client – but what if they leave the company to join a competitor, and then use their Google Plus page to promote their new company over their old company? Perhaps I create an alias for use only by that particular client – give them administrative access and use that alias for all guest posts I arrange for the client… but that contravenes my ‘up front and honest’ approach.

In Summary
I think that if you’re working agency-side, the issue of whether or not to stay anonymous is a complex one, and it may in fact be that it should depend on the situation, who you’re contacting and who the client is (and whether they have a preference).

For me, using an alias or a fake email account feels shady, regardless of whether it’s being done for genuine reasons, and from a moral standpoint I would be hesitant to take that approach. I’d be interested to know what approach other agency workers take. Please leave a comment below.