In this episode, we discuss external linking and working as an outreach specialist. You will learn what it takes to be an outreach specialist and what working as an outreach specialist can look like.
Heba Said is a Senior SEO Specialist & Consultant. Heba is not only a brilliant SEO, she also gives back to the community by being a workshop facilitator with the #IamRemarkable program (a program which we totally recommend).
🧡 Many thanks to Heba for sharing her experience with us.
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Getting in touch with our podcast guest, Heba Said
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#WorkinSEOPodcast full transcript with Heba Said
Isaline: Hello, folks. It's Isaline, and I'm thrilled to record another episode of WorkInSEO Podcast, a podcast where we explore the diversity of career path in SEO. We interview amazing people to learn from them and help you find your way in your SEO career. I'm Isaline Muelhauser, SEO nerd and content strategist, founder of the SEO consultancy, Pilea.ch.
Today, I am joined by the wonderful Heba Said. Heba is a senior SEO specialist and consultant. Heba is not only a brilliant SEO, she also gives back to the community by being a workshop facilitator with the "I Am Remarkable" program. Well, if you haven’t heard of it, do check it out. I did it too, and it’s really good. Hey, Heba, and welcome.
Heba: Hi, Isaline. How are you? Thank you for having me.
Isaline: I'm great. I'm great. It's a wonderful afternoon here. Are you ready to do this podcast?
Heba: Yes. Let's do this.
Isaline: Okay. Today, I invited you because SEO is really a broad industry. When you're first starting in SEO, sometimes, it can be difficult to know what kind of role you wish to do, and what kind of specific figures you wish to work in. So today, in this WorkInSEO with you, we are discussing outreaching. So we are discussing, in particular, external linking and what it is to be an outreach specialist.
During this podcast, I hope that you will learn what it takes to be an outreach specialist, and what working as an outreach specialist can look like. Oh, my God, it's already difficult for me to say the words "outreach specialists." So, you need to help me there.
Isaline: Can you give our audience an overview of what you currently do and what it is?
Heba: Yeah. Currently, I'm working as an outreach specialist. It's part of SEO because we're doing a white hat link building. I know it's too much, but I'm going to explain everything. Being as an SEO, we tend to have links from other websites to our websites so that search engine can crawl them, and then refer them as high-quality websites because people are talking about us. Thinking of it as an influencer. So, if you're a person and you need to be famous, you start talking about yourself and then people talking about you. So, when people start talking about you, you're a superstar now, so you're famous. This is how link building is working for SEO. You need to make people talk about you so that the search engine can know that you're famous and people trust you and trust what you see. So you can rank afterward in the first page as an authority website.
Outreaching is like feeling this connection between two websites. I'm trying to figure out how can I make my client work a content that people find helpful and link it to their website. So, yes, it's like getting in touch with a lot of people so you need to be like super patient and super popular to a lot of people to connect to. And then, starting to talk to them about your services, or your website or your client, and tell them that we are having this break content that you can link to, or a great service that your audience might like so they can link from their website to your website, and so on.
Being white hat SEO is like, you don't have to pay for this. People need to do this freely without any payment required, or a link back, or anything. Because sometimes people are asking for returns if they are talking about you. This way, we get into a black hat SEO, or black hat link building.
As being outreacher, it's very fun if you're talkative, if you're super social, you love it. If you're a super popular, if you know, PRs or authors, blog posts to blogs site owners, if you know these people, then you might work as an outreacher and it's super fun.
Isaline: I see we have already lots of great information here. So we have the difference between white hat and black hat, which we might unpack later. And we have also the career path, like what kind of skills are important. You said being talkative and knowing people. But first, did you want to be an outreach specialist? Can you remember when you first heard about it and what is the story there?
Heba: I first heard about link building actually, that was back in 2011. Before getting into SEO actually. I was having this project. I was working as a virtual assistant for someone. And he wanted to give me a task of linking his page in forums and comments. And this kind of black hat SEO link building back there, it was very easy to do. It wasn't like spotted like today. This is how I started link building but I didn't know what it means. I just had a project, I did what he said, and that's it.
Then, two years ago, after being very expert with SEO now, an HR just communicated with me and he said, "Your profile is very interesting, and we would like to have you as an outreach specialist." I was like, "Okay, I might do this," because now I know what's link building is, and I know what SEO is. It fits together to being an outreach specialist. Especially, that he needed someone who can speak Arabic because it's a very global website and they needed someone to spread the word in the Middle East.
So this is how I started as an outreach specialist, by coincidence, by someone telling me that you fit. So I was trying out with it. He sent me this task and he told me, "You know what, you have to do this task and some interviews, and so on." And I passed them all. So it was like, "Okay, I have it in me."
Isaline: I love how everybody stumbles into SEO, and like nobody really planned it. What were you working before starting at this first SEO project? Or what did you study?
Heba: I was studying programming actually. I'm designing. And then, I started SEO by coincidence as well, because I wanted to have a remote job. Because I always believe that I can work from home. I love working from home. And I don't like this office idea. I left my job back in 2014, and by 2015, a friend of mine called me. She told me, "Heba, do you want to work remotely?" It was like, "Okay, if you have a job for me, I would love to." She told me" It's some kind of design and programming. I don't know, but my boss will call you." So, he called me, and then I realized that he wanted me to work as an SEO specialist. He told me, " I saw in your LinkedIn profile that you worked as a link builder before." I told him I just had one task. I don't know what SEO is. And he told me, "Are you willing to know SEO?" I said, "Yeah, of course. I would love to know." Back then, I wanted to learn everything on the whole thing. I started learning programming and then designing. And then, when he told me SEO, I was like, "Okay, I can try and work it out." He told me, "You're going to study, and we're going to pay you. You're going to have a client, so work with them."
So, it all started by studying and testing on my client what I'm studying. It was super fun because it actually worked. I realized that studying programming, and studying designing, and looking into the website as a user, not as an owner or as a programmer, whatever, it meant a lot in SEO because this is how search engine wants your website to be: to satisfy the user more.
I actually worked. I studied a lot. I read a lot. I get into touch with people who are professional in this career to learn from them more. I asked them a lot of stupid questions and worked because this is how we succeed. It's okay to begin from zero, and it's okay to realize afterwards that this is your place.
I never thought about SEO. Now, I'm super happy with my job because I think that all I've been through, my 10-year career in other careers were just like a beginning to reach this point. I gained skills from every job. And now, I'm using them all in my SEO career.
Isaline: I hear you were already in the tech industry and working with websites, and I really liked that you actually started with what I could call a corner of SEO with this idea of link building. And then, you actually just grabbed everything else that there was a to know. I find many people of us, SEO, we did the same. We started with something very small that we were doing. And then, step-by-step, by reading and talking and trying things out, we get to know further sides of the industry. To go back on the task of an outreach specialist, you said you were doing some white hats. Can you unpack for the audience, again, what is black hats and why it's not a good thing today to do that?
Heba: Search engine started to concentrate with SEO now. Whenever you do something like out of the guidelines, you're considered as a spammer or a black hat user. This is wrong because the search engine know that you're doing backlinking in the black hat method, which there are many. I'm going to discuss some of them. Paying someone to give you a link or link in a website that isn't relevant to your audience or your content, these kinds of links can harm your website. Because once search engines realize that you have quantity of links from kind of ways or websites, they are going to block your website from crawling and you're not going to rank. It's kind of hard to gain their trust again.
A white hat link building is going through it the hard way. It's like talking to people and convincing them that you deserve this link. That you don't have to pay them. You just have to give them the good service and the good content, so they can link to you without having to ask for any return.
It's hard. It's not easy. Most people in other cultures maybe ask for money, and they ask for a link in your website in return, and so on. But, this is how I would treat your need to be patient. You need to be patient. You can send up to a hundred emails, and you only get like three or four positive replies. So, this is how it works. White hat is not easy. You have to follow the guidelines of the search engine because this is where you want to rank. You want to rank in search engines, so you need to follow their guidelines. And actually, it's going to give you some more skills because you have to be patient on sending lots of emails. We can discuss later how you outreach actually, and how it's happened.
Isaline: Every week, I receive emails that ended up in my junk mail. About people telling me that my domain is really weak and that they have such and such a website, and that is going to be absolutely awesome for my conversion and everything if I pay them. That's exactly what would be black hats, right?
Heba: Yes, exactly.
Isaline: You mentioned some of the struggles, some of the challenges that you face about sending hundreds of emails and needing lots of patience to have answers. Can you give us more examples of what you can do to make the situation better, or how do you face being patient?
Heba: This is like one of the challenges the outreacher have. Because sending lots of emails and getting a reply in return is very frustrating that we kind of go through full ops. This is something that you need to do. You can't send just one email and wait for him to answer, and not falling out back. Because sometimes, like you said, they end up in the spam folder, or they're having some personal problems. They don't check their mail. Right now, we're having a pandemic all over the world, some people are not ready to open their mails, or their website, or reply to anyone. So, you need to be patient. You need to follow up, and follow up, and follow up. You need to follow up more than one time, and you need to be very nice and considerate. You don't have to push. So, you need to be a very nice person. And, you need to know who you're sending the email to. Usually, you don't just send an email, like you said, like "I have this website that you need to link to." No, it's not going to go anywhere for me.
You need to be very smart in how you offer your service or your website, and how you can convince this person to link back to you without convincing them actually. You start by, "Hi, how are you? I love your website. I read this in your website, and this is very informative and I love it. What about the services I have? It can be an ad to your content, and it's very informative for your users. So do you think you should give it a try and check out my service? And then, if you like it, you can link back to this page."
It kind of work like this. You need to convince the receiver that you're a good service that they can get used to, or they can use actually for their own. This is how it works. This is one challenge. I needed to check with you. There are some challenges like, in our community, it's very hard to find a contact for persons to send to. So, I go through social media, actually. I stalk people. Sometimes you need to be a stalker to know who is the owner of the website and who wrote this post. When I go through social media, I start by being nice again and sending them that, "I do this, and I like your website, and you have a very great content. What about adding this service and so on?"
Another thing, when they ask for money. You need to convince them that money's not everything. So, yeah, from here, you can start telling them that, "This is actually just not good for your website and it's not good for search engine. If you find our services is not knowledgeable or affirmative for you, it's okay." We don't have to pay anyone. This is the rule I'm going through for two years. I didn't pay anyone for my backlinks.
Isaline: I heard that in terms of skills important, there is a great deal of researching skills and sort of digging information, playing the detective, and the stalker. I heard there's also a great deal of being considerate and respectful and sort of friendly to the people. And, I hear also a great deal of patience to wait for the emails. And so, it's something that takes time to build, right?
I also feel that, you didn't mention it, but I think you must have a really organized way of dealing with your contacts because you must remember what you said to each person, when and when to follow up. So, you must be really organized, or how do you handle that?
Heba: Well, organizing with spreadsheet. This is a very old way. In SEO, we do everything in spreadsheets. So, organizing by spreadsheet. But actually, I'm using a tool. I'm not sure if I've mentioned a tool. Is it okay?
Isaline: Yeah, sure. Go for it.
Heba: It's BuzzStream. BuzzStream is a very good tool for outreaching because, like you said, I don't have to remember for follow-ups. I just set an alert, yes, and it's doing everything for me. I write a template, and I write my email, I write my follow-ups email, and I leave it for BuzzStream to go on and send emails after seven days or three days as I set it.
BuzzStream is very good with this. When I collect my data, I just collect them in BuzzStream, and it's in start working by sending email to each website, and the follow-up just go through. It's kind of tools are making our life easier in SEO, but it's very expensive I know, but it makes your life easier.
Isaline: Yes, I bet it's really helpful. Otherwise, it's a nightmare to remember everything and everyone. And also, discussing about outreaching and link building, so you have today the position of an outreach specialist, but you say do you think there are other type of positions possible in this domain of SEO? Like, can you specialize in only the researching part for instance? Or can you specialize more in the content part? Or can you tell me more?
Heba: Yes. You can specialize in content writing because it's very helpful for outreacher to have a content to outreach for. So, yeah, you can be a content writer, you can be an outreacher, and you can be an SEO extra specialist because it's the main thing for everything. Without keywords, I can't find my prospects. I need to know who I'm searching for, who do I need to contact.
There are many fields in SEO that's relating to each other you can't live without. I can play as an outreacher, without an SEO manager, without a content writer, without a social media specialist. We need everyone to work together to get what we want.
And there are PRs now. PRs are very good. PR, yes. They are the main thing in outreaching. They go through journalists, and they contact them. It's kind of off-site outreaching.
Isaline: It's true that very often newspapers have a good authority because they tend to be sort of the domain with lots of articles and lots of authority. And it's interesting because I knew that you can write contents that help the conversion. You can write content that helps getting driving traffic. But I didn't realize that of course, you can drive content for the purpose of outreaching and create a good piece that people would want to share, obviously, because it's awesome.
Heba: Yes, exactly.
Isaline: You yourself, do you also write or you'd rather do the getting in touch with people parts, and researching part?
Heba: I would love to! Actually, this is something I need to study because I want to write. It would be easier for me to write my own content. But right now, I'm doing all the outreaching stuff only. But I need to learn writing. If someone is writing good, he can be a very good outreacher. I would encourage them for it. I want to encourage myself to study writing because I guess it's there, but I'm just scared to do it at the moment.
Isaline: So is this the next step you see for yourself in your career, or is there something else?
Heba: Yes. I need to learn writing. It's very important for an SEO to know how to write, what they are doing actually. We have a lot of case studies in there, in your brain, that you need to give to people and make them learn from your mistakes or success. So it's very important to know how to express what you're doing into writing. So, yes, it's my next step. I'm sure.
Isaline: I'm pretty sure you'll be able to do it. From what I hear, you've already switched roles, and switched companies, and switched workplace. So nothing to fear here. I suppose also, we are all experts and at the same time beginners because there are always things that we know already and things that we don't.
Heba: We need to know, yes.
Isaline: Like, for me, outreach and link building.
Isaline: It's really about that I don’t know.
Heba: SEO is hard because it's changing a lot. Seven years ago, I say it was easy, so much easier. Now, it's starting to be technical, and people starting to learn Python, and like languages for automation. So, yeah, things are changing. I need to be updated, and you need to learn more. This is how I love SEO because every day I see myself like you said a beginner, not an expert, because I'm learning new stuff. I can learn from someone who just started SEO because you made the case study that I never tried before. So, yeah.
Isaline: And what advice would you give to someone hearing you would go like, "Hey, yes! This is what I'm want to do." Which step should this person take?
Heba: I like readings. This is what got me here. Read a lot. Read a lot of case studies. Follow people's footsteps, it's okay. And it's okay to do your own. You don't have to follow the rules from 1 to 10, no. Just think like a user and a search engine and do your job. Try it. Build your own website. Don't stop if you fail because sometimes, we go up and down. I had some drops in my jobs, actually. The same project that now is like 1000% succeeding. It's been like we had negative 70% somewhere in this fab.
So, yeah, sometimes there are some drops, some ups and downs. This is SEO, and this is for updates for it, from search engines so it happens. But you need to be there. You need to always think, and always try to replace your plans. You don't have to follow the plan, and then when it's not working, you just go through, no. Just change it, and do another plan, and start from zero again, and so on. Until you do it, until you succeed, until you reach your target. This is how SEO's working.
Isaline: I heard there are lots of readings and being flexible with changing the plans when it needs to be changed, and also following people, and also you mentioned while learning, keeping up to date. I like this idea of being humble that you mentioned, and being like, "Hey, I'm learning, and we are all learning and that's okay, actually."
I see that time is going really fast. This is actually funny because before we started this podcast, you mentioned that you are not really talkative. I can tell that you have an awful lot of things to tell and very interesting, interesting things.
Heba: Thank you.
Isaline: So if someone wants to keep up the conversation with you, where can they find you? Where can they get in touch?
Heba: I have a Twitter account. It's @hebasaidSEO. And I have a LinkedIn profile. You can always reach me there. It's Heba Said. I'm sure I get back to people instantly. I will be there.
Isaline: Perfect. I'll make sure to share the link in the description of the podcast and in the transcripts. There is now one last feature of the podcast that I really like to do at the end. It's the moment where we share the love. We either mentioned someone, or give a shout-out to someone, or just tell me who I should interview next. So it's up to you.
Heba: Shouting out for all the women in SEO. Actually, the Women in Tech SEO is very inspiring to our whilst. They help a lot, women like us, of course. And it's very, you know, like experts' community. I would love to hear from Amy Tillman. She's a local SEO. She's doing a great job, and she's not that famous, and I would love to hear more from her. This field is very difficult because Google is changing a lot of rules according to local SEO. So it will be interesting to hear her thoughts about this, and how she's doing her challenges.
Isaline: Oh, I love it. Local SEO. Actually, that was not yet planned. So, I totally love this idea. Thank you so much for your time, and for answering all of my questions and explaining all of these ideas and concepts. It was lovely talking to you.
Heba: You too, Isaline. Sorry for being talkative. I didn't know that I can talk this much.
Isaline: It's perfect. I love it.
This was our episode of WorkInSEO podcast with Heba Said. And we talked about outreach specialists, and what it's like, and what we do. If you have any feedback or any questions for us, you can reach us as Heba Said, directly to her Twitter. Or you can also reach me on Twitter. There is an account, @WorkInSEO, where you can ask your questions and, of course, give us a follow. So I'm looking forward to recording the next episode. Hopefully, also an episode of local SEO. Thanks a lot.
Heba: Thank you. Goodbye.