Link-Building Lessons You Can Learn From Your Inbox

I get way too many emails, just like all of you, and I probably delete 100 a day. I get all the sales ones, the newsletters, and the spam, but the other day I started to think about what makes me open an email and it’s two big reasons:

  1. I know the sender.
  2. The subject line looks awesome/intriguing/promising/like something I better answer or else.

Even when I open an email, I might still bail before reading all of it for, again, two big reasons:

  1. It’s not interesting enough or it’s too long to read.
  2. It’s obviously spam. To me, spam is anything that I didn’t ask for and don’t want.

Even if you aren’t using emailed outreach for link-building purposes, you can learn a big lesson here.

If you aren’t going to add something to someone’s life, he or she doesn’t want to hear from you. Period.

Let’s look at four types of emails you probably get every day and go through what you can learn from each of them.

Store Promotions

I am a huge fan (and my son’s middle school popularity meter has skyrocketed due to his amazing collection of Woot shirts, I’m sure) and of Pi Day (being a former mathlete) so I’ll showcase their Pi Day email here:


Their marketing copy is so funny and well done but this one really stood out to me since my son has a vast amount of Pi shirts (hey, he’s a math nerd!) The subject line was “Live and Let Pi(e),” which appeals to my love of puns and James Bond. I do admit to not always opening their emails but this one, I opened immediately.

Why did I open it? Well, I have to have my son prepared for Pi Day with a new Pi shirt of course. Their seasonal targeting was dead on, about a month before Pi Day (which is March 14 in case you’re wondering) so this came at the perfect time. If I’d gotten this email in January I’d have thought, “I’ll deal with that later.” I know their shirts are usually incredibly amusing, I buy from them frequently, and the subject line made it obvious what the email was about. I was sold even before I saw the product.

What are the lessons here? Keep your existing audience happy, make sure of seasonal relevance, and don’t be afraid to use humor in your marketing.

Emailed Newsletters You’ve Signed Up For

I am crazy about the site One Hundred Dollars A Month. This is the one emailed newsletter that I read every single day. You get a recap of the latest posts since the last update as well as a link to read more articles or search the site.


Why do I open these? The owner, Mavis Butterfield, writes about topics that interest me and she does a fantastic job of reshowcasing old content like recipes or relevant articles, so even if you missed something once, you have a good chance of seeing it later on. Her writing is very conversational, she always has good images, and she writes very topical content. The newsletter isn’t anything too fancy but it gets the job done. Mavis isn’t fancy so I like that she keeps things genuine. She has more than 37,000 Facebook fans so she’s obviously doing something right.

What is the big lesson here? Know your audience and cater to them with content that they consistently respond well to.

Services You’ve Subscribed To

Since we like to travel, I subscribe to Airfare Watchdog’s daily fare alert service.


They send me exactly what I want: fare info for the routes I’ve selected, along with other good deals because hey, you never know when you might decide to take off to San Diego or Duluth for the weekend.

Now, I don’t open these every single day for one very good reason: their subject line tells me what I need to know. “Greensboro Flights from $165 RT.” If I’ve been watching a route and it’s usually $300, the $165 would obviously catch my attention but usually I can get a general idea just from the subject so I still always scan that.

The lesson? Make your subject line either enticing enough to open the email (or click on the article) or informative enough that people still find value in it.

Unsolicited Spam Emails

Every day I got into my Spam folder in Gmail so I can see if anything that isn’t spam has been placed there. There’s always one or two but I also end up opening some that I shouldn’t, for a couple of reasons:

  1. They use my name and I’m terrified of not responding to someone I know.
  2. They mention my brand name and I’m a huge believer in covering all angles when it comes to my company.

That’s it really.

What’s the lesson here? Use a name, make a connection, or mention something in the subject that will hopefully entice the recipient to open the email. Oh, and don’t spam people.

(I don’t think you need a spam photo here. You know what I’m talking about.)

What Makes Me Automatically Discount Your Email?

Misspellings in the subject line.

Addressing me by the wrong name (I’ll never forget being called Kelvin), by “webmaster,” or by “Sir.”

Mentioning anything about how I need to ask my boss about something, since I am the boss. Know who you’re talking to.

ALL CAPS in the subject line or email address with the exception of the Papa John’s FREE emails (because you have to eat.)

A Mr. or Mrs. in the email address…I mean come on.

Putting my name or email address in brackets in the subject line.

A subject line that starts with Re: and I’ve never heard from the person before. Nice trick but we’re onto you!

A twinge of desperation. OPEN IMMEDIATELY! URGENT! RESPOND ASAP!!! Unless you’re telling me I just won ten million dollars hush up with that stuff.

Why Should I Care?

Now if you’re thinking “what does all this have to do with getting links?” I’ll tell you. The obvious answer is that if you’re using emailed outreach for link-building, you aren’t going to get a link if your email doesn’t get opened. There are other answers, though:

No one cares about content that isn’t beneficial in some way.

We’re all under the weight of countless messages both online and offline from people and businesses who beg for our attention so getting heard is difficult yet critical.

If you want someone to read what you’ve written, whether it’s an email or a piece of content, you have to stand out and earn it.

Related reading

SEO writing guide From keyword to content brief
Three fundamental factors in the production of link-building content
How to conduct a branded search audit
How to write SEO-friendly alt text for your images