How I Email: Brendan Hufford, Creator, SEO for the Rest of Us

Email is a non-negotiable part of everyday life. For some, it’s an unruly time suck, but enlightened email users have systems to ensure they’re not a slave to the inbox. We’re asking smart thinkers to give us a peek inside their inboxes, share tips, ideas, gripes, and everything in between.

Brendan Hufford believes that anyone can learn SEO. He has strong feelings about the “gurus” who try to make it complicated, which is why he is democratizing SEO know-how with his newsletter and #100DaysofSEO. Brendan graciously shared why he’s not so into Inbox Zero and offered some tips for SEO outreach.

What’s your daily approach to email? 

I almost never worry about hitting Inbox Zero. For me, it’s about being effective with my communication (and really everything in my business), not being “done.” Especially with something as Sisyphean as email.

My process generally looks like going through my emails in the morning, marking ones that need to be replied to with stars, and then coming back to them at a set time later in the day.

The degree to which I adhere to that process is entirely different. As somebody with both clients, customers, and teammates, there are a variety of times throughout my day when I have to make a decision as to whether I should read (or reply) immediately. For this, I’ve found great use out of the Eisenhower box.

Emails are either answered immediately, starred for later, forwarded to a teammate, or deleted.

What are your favorite email tools? 

Right now, what I’m most excited about is something that Bryan Harris is working on that is similar to Boomerang but only gives the options to send now, send at 5 p.m., or 5 a.m.. The options for 5 p.m./a.m. are meant to be so that they don’t distract people in the middle of the day. I love that it’s a tool that would not only help me manage my inbox (and replies), but help my team, clients, and customers as well.

Okay, let’s talk email and SEO. Most people reading this have probably seen or received those awful, spammy link outreach emails. Can you give us a few top-line do’s and don’t’s for doing effective link building? 

The advice that follows comes not only from sending out emails on behalf of myself, my projects, and my clients but also sending out thousands of emails as the SEO Director for Clique Chicago where we do SEO for everybody ranging from local window washers to global cycling brands and $90M venture-backed startups.

1) First, don’t ask for the link. Just… don’t.

2) Work on becoming friends before you seek out anything transactional.

3) Read The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes. Focus specifically on the Dream 100, define your dream customers/clients/partners and then pursue them earnestly.

4) Finally, create things worth linking to. I don’t just mean “great content,” but something that has a voice and a unique aspect that a reader can’t find anywhere else. In fact, I have a reminder of my calendar that tells me this every single Tuesday.

For content, I focus on some kind of original research, something well-designed, and a unique take. Connecting with people and sharing that content with them almost always results in links.

Share a story about a particularly memorable or life-changing email. 

Ryan Holiday writes:

“While you are looking for a mentorship, never actually use the word. Don’t ask anyone to be your mentor, don’t talk about mentorships. No one goes out and asks someone they’re attracted to be their boyfriend or girlfriend—that’s a label that’s eventually applied to something that develops over time. A mentorship is the same way; it’s a dance, not a contractual agreement.”

So for me, I think the most memorable email that I ever sent was to somebody who has become a good friend over the years. In 2010, I reached out to Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income and shared with him everything I’d learned from him and what I did to take action on what I learned. He went on to invite me onto his podcast to share more of the story. This kicked off a friendship that has allowed me to help champion the SPI community, join him on stage at his first event recently (FlynnCon) and become friends with somebody that is truly doing great things for the world.

Would you believe I’ve emailed Ryan Holiday [quoted above] with the same effect? I wrote for the Daily Stoic and Ryan helped me fund a class set of his books for the school that I worked at.

I’ll leave you with this exchange:

Never underestimate the power of email.