How to Write Cold Emails that Build Links in a World of SEO Oversaturation

Cold email outreach will make or break your link building
Published on 
May 2, 2024
Updated on 
May 2, 2024
Posted in 

Even link builders have had no choice but to admit that the internet has become oversaturated with link building and SEO spam. 

If you run a website with even halfway-impressive domain metrics, the odds are you are getting unsolicited cold emails all the time. If you’re a really impressive site with high domain authority and a lot of traffic, you might be getting so many of these emails every day that you’ve had to let people know, “Please don’t send me link insertion and guest post requests!.”

Those sorts of pleas are getting a lot more common.

Or link insertions: 

These sorts of announcements are meant to try and dissuade people (i.e., link builders) from sending cold emails asking (sometimes even begging) for links. 

If you are seeing more of these types of messages, don’t get discouraged. Yes, some websites don’t want to be contacted at all, but there are a) still a lot of websites that are open to these kinds of collaborations and link building opportunities and b) are open to them under certain circumstances. 

In the below article, we’re going to show you how you can still have success with a cold email campaign in an era so oversaturated with automated, low-effort emails. 

We’ll walk you through: 

  • What a cold email is
  • Some of the prevailing cold email myths
  • How to take a relationship-building-first approach to link building
  • The anatomy of a good cold email for both guest blog posts and niche edits and how to make sure recipients are more receptive to a follow up email. 

What is a cold email?

A cold email is essentially unsolicited communication. 

Think of cold phone calls or snail mail marketing material that you used to get (or perhaps still do). 

A cold email is that in the internet era. 

The goal of cold emails is to capture the recipient’s attention without having first established contact or a relationship elsewhere. 

Along with content and good technical SEO, it is the cornerstone of your ability to build high authority backlinks. If you aren’t able to reach out to people in your niche or industry and propose collaboration, you are probably going to be stuck building (and paying for) very low quality backlinks. 

Unfortunately, the internet is awash in cold email myths and outdated tactics that promise results but fail to take into consideration just how fed up most website owners are when it comes to cold emails. 

Cold emailing myths

Let’s explore some of the myths surrounding cold email campaigns. They have to do with: 

  1. Personalization.
  2. Subject lines.
  3. Tone.


Just to be clear, we aren’t saying that the idea that you should personalize your cold outreach is outdated. 

Personalization matters a lot and it is a big part of how we, at dofollow, do our outreach. 

But, in the age of cold email templates and automation, personalization often simply means inserting a [first name] and [title] HTML tag into an email template in Hunter, or Snov, or Mailshake, or any of the other big email software. 

You’re told that simply by writing “Dear Joe, I really like your article on X Ways to do Y” is so much more personal and sincere than “Hi there, I really like your content,” that the recipient will be falling over his or herself to publish your guest post or link insertion. 

Wow! You went to the effort of running my domain, along with a hundred others, through an email scraping tool and uploading it to an automation software that then plugged my name into a cold email template? You must be different!

That’s not personalization. That’s a feeble gesture towards personalization. 

If you are playing a numbers game and just trying to hit a backlink quota, this might seem like an ok approach. 

If you’re after those really high authority, hard-to-build links that will impress Google’s PageRank algorithm, this style of “personalization” is not going to cut it. 

Subject lines

A common link building truism is that a cold outreach campaign is lost or won in the subject line. This is where most people are deciding whether your email is even worth opening, let alone responding to. 

Like the personalization trope, the insistence on “good” subject lines is also true in its essence. A poorly written subject line is going to get ignored and sent to the trash, almost without fail. 

A good open rate, according to Campaign Monitor, sits somewhere around 17-28%, depending on what industry you’re in. 

Some of the things that people continue to erroneously believe about subject lines include: 

  • Spam trigger words like “free” should be avoided at all costs. 
  • Open rate is the be-all
  • Shortness is king
  • You should always use a name in the subject line

Let’s address each of these, quickly. 

Myth 1: Spam trigger words are toxic 

It has been pretty much sacrosanct in email marketing for a long time that in order to avoid being sent to the spam folder, you have to avoid “spammy” words in your cold emails at all costs. 

This understanding of cold email deliverability, however, is based on the way older spam filters worked. 

Much of what determines whether or not your email actually ends up in a recipient’s inbox is your reputation. 

That reputation is largely based on spam complaints. If you’ve been reported a lot for spamming. 

If you’ve got a good reputation and have properly warmed up your inbox, you can go ahead and include words like “free” and other sales word so long as a) it’s actually relevant to the content of your email and b) you keep an eye on your inbox placement. 

If you notice an issue with the words or how often you’re using them, then you can cut back and regroup. 

The important thing to emphasize here is that there are legitimate reasons to include things like “free” and “sales” in a subject line, IF you believe the recipient needs to know about either of these features to get value from your email. 

Myth 2: You should be optimizing our subject line for the best open rate

There’s a tendency among SEOs and link builders to get very excited when they see their cold emails have a high open rate

And, for some email campaigns that don’t have purely commercial intentions, open rate can be a better metric to focus on. 

If you’re just trying to establish contact with someone, the fact that they’ve opened your email can be a good sign because it probably means they are going to be more receptive to future communication. 

If, on the other hand, you’re trying to drive conversions, then click, post click and conversion rate are the more meaningful numbers to measure. 

This is where calls to action in a subject line can be a good thing–again, providing your IP’s reputation is a good one. 

Myth 3: Short is king when it comes to subject lines

There is nothing wrong with a short subject line, so long as you are not sacrificing meaning and clarity. 

Your subject line should offer as effective a summary of the email as possible and, if applicable, provide a call to action.

If there is key information about the contents of the email (especially with regards to any action you want the recipient to take), then excluding that info from the subject line for the sake of brevity could end up being to your detriment. 

For instance, if you were offering a promotion that was only active for 24 hours, you would want to make that clear in the subject line. 


Is not as effective as 

The “if you order in the next 24 hours” part of the cold email subject line is critical information for anyone considering opening the email and taking action on the offer. 

The point of the subject line is to communicate the content of your message, not to minimize the number of characters you use. 

Myth 4: A name in the subject line is spammy

Usually, a name in a subject line is placed at the very beginning. Something like: 

The trick with using people’s names in cold email subject lines is that you need to vary your approach. 

It’s often better to change where you place a recipient’s name every so often, as well as change the general structure of a subject line as well. 

Familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes, and seeing the same subject line from the same company over and over, even if your name does appear, can easily make you feel like the sender is not really putting any serious effort into the communication. 

Now that we have addressed the common myths surrounding cold emails, let’s talk about how you can significantly improve your odds of a link building outreach campaign actually succeeding and landing you high quality links. 

Relationship building-first approach

At dofollow, we often refer to ourselves not as a mere link building agency, but as a relationship building one. 

Our link building efforts are built on having put in the leg work cultivating relationships with high quality websites that we can then place links on for our clients. 

These sorts of tactics have allowed to build links on some of the web’s biggest and most respected sites: 

One thing we’ve learned is that a cold email doens’t always have to get straight to business. The purpose of your cold emailing might simply be to make first contact. 

You could simply open up with a “hey, I really like what you do” or “I see that you are not open to guest posts or niche edits, but I was wondering if you would be open to any other kind of collaboration. I think there is probably a lot of audience overlap between our sites.”

When you write a cold email that offers up something genuinely insightful or thoughtful, you put yourself in a different category than the people who jump straight to asking for backlinks. 

Caveat: when you are just after the backlink

If the purpose of your cold emails is purely transactional and you don’t have the time or the inclination to develop something more meaningful, you want to ensure you are only reaching out to websites that are going to be receptive to your outreach. 

The best way to do this is to stick to sites that are explicitly asking for or accepting link building communication. 

You can do this by searching various search strings in Google. These include: 

  • [your industry or niche] + “guest post”
  • [your industry or niche] + “write for us”
  • [your industry or niche] + “become a contributor”
  • [your industry or niche] + “contributor guidelines”

If you were a law firm, for example, you might consider searching something like the below: 

What you’re doing here is instructing Google to filter search results by pages that specifically include those terms, which means any websites you add to your cold emailing list will be receptive to your guest blog post pitches. 

This type of cold email strategy is appropriate when you are trying to build a lot of backlinks at scale and are less picky when it comes to domain metrics. 

That is not at all to say you don’t have a well-thought-out editorial policy in place for vetting and filtering link building opportunities. But the best links almost always come from sites that aren’t openly accepting or soliciting link building opportunities. 

The anatomy of a good cold email

A good cold email in 2023 is one that understands just how many unsolicited emails your average website owner gets on a weekly and daily basis and tries to proceed with that in mind. 

It considers subject line tone and intentions; incorporates an actual interest in and understanding of a recipient’s website; and goes above and beyond when it comes to delivering value and proposing collaboration. 


A personalized cold email is one that not only addresses the person by their first name, but structures the value proposition in a way that is specific to their business. 

You can use a cold sales email template, but understand that people have gotten a lot better at quickly sniffing out surface-level personalization and dismissing it. 

Writing cold emails that actually hit home requires addressing a real pain point and demonstrating that you understand a person’s business, their content strategy and how a link to your website would improve their existing content and user experience. 

The biggest mistake that SEOs and link builders make is focusing too much on their own link building ideas and needs and not building a pitch around a partner site’s requirements. 

This is the kind of personalization that will get people’s attention. Simply mentioning a person’s first name and telling that you enjoyed a randomly selected article from the first page of their blog is not going to cut it. 

Complete and descriptive cold email subject lines

Writing cold emails is part art, part science, and a good subject line combines both. 

The effective ness of a cold email campaign is made or broken in the subject line. You need to ensure that you are sufficiently summarizing the content of the email, as well as letting the recipient know what kind of action they should take and the value they can expect to get from doing so. 

When it comes to link building, that means communicating SEO and UX value up front. 

This is especially the case if you are reaching out to a site that is not explicitly accepting link building offers. You might even be contacting someone that is explicit in their express disinterest in link building and link builders. 

If, on the other hand, your outreach is targeting people who are up front about their openness to things like guest posts and link insertions, then you can be a bit more direct with your subject lines. 

Easy-to-read and captivating

The content of your cold emails should be two things: easy-to-read and captivating. 

You want to use short sentences that are easy on the eyes (bear in mind that most email views come from mobile devices). 

Our experience, from years of HARO link building–which, while not entirely cold outreach link building, does involve quickly appealing to people who have no idea who you are–is that walls of text, even if they contain a lot of value, get ignored. 

The statistics are all over the place when it comes to ideal email length and how many sentences you should use and, to a large extent, it varies by industry. 

Captivating refers to a cold email’s ability to hook a reader with the first sentence. You need to be able to let an email recipient know what’s in it for them within that first sentence in order for them to continue reading. 

Short, succinct, not gratuitously ingratiating or over-friendly like so much cold outreach. 

A call to action

You want your cold emails to induce someone to action. 

Typically with link building, that action is to respond to you to further discuss what you are proposing. 

In the above email, a simple “let me know” is usually sufficient. You’re also subtly asking them to get in touch with you either way (whether they are interested or not). 

Grizzled site owners that get these sorts of cold emails all day every day usually won’t respond if they aren’t interested in the opportunity. Some might, but count on being ghosted as often as you’re responded to. 

Follow ups

Lastly, you want to make automated follow ups part of your cold email outreach efforts. 

Cold emailing success is very often a matter of perseverance. 

Always (always) give a recipient an easy way to unsubscribe from your communication. This is the best way to avoid being reported for spam, which could negatively impact the deliverability of future cold emails. 

In summation 

A lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of cold emails. Unfortunately, if you want to build backlinks, it’s just something you have to get good at–including dealing with rejection. 

It’s also important to understand that a large percentage of a campaign’s recipients aren’t going to be receptive to your communication. They might be curt or even rude about it. That is also something you need to learn to deal with. 

Building backlinks requires both a thick skin and well-honed processes, especially when it comes to cold emails. 

Get in touch with dofollow today, and let’s chat about how our years of experience and finely-tuned relationship building and outreach can help take your link building, ranking and organic traffic to the next level. 

Why Trust Us On SEO

Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.

Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.

While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.

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