The Smart SEO’s Guide to Effective Outreach
This is not a blog post about tricks. If you are looking for someone to tell you to write in lowercase so that you “look more casual” or to pretend to be a lady so that more people will reply to you, you should go elsewhere. This not a blog post about guest post outreach, review outreach, or any other type of outreach. Mostly, this is not a blog post in which getting 5 responses for every 100 emails sent is considered success.
This is a blog post about communication theory, strategy, and tactics. This is a blog post about outreach execution driven by marketing goals. I will not help you create the perfect giveaway template, but I will help you create smart, efficient messaging that gets results. This is a blog post in which success looks like 20 responses and 15 links for every 30 emails sent.
- Defining Your Offer: What Are You Really Selling
- Finding an Audience via Smarter Prospecting
- Considering Gatekeepers: People & Algorithms
- Great Subject Lines
- Writing the Message
- Best & Worst Practices
Great Outreach Doesn’t Begin with Outreach
Sending outreach is only a small part of the outreach process. Your first step should be defining your offer. Your second, finding your audience.
Defining Your Offer: What Are You Really Selling?
Define your offer, be it a product, asset, or piece of content, by making an emotional connection with your audience.
“In the factory, we make cosmetics; in the drug store, we sell hope.” -Charles Revlon
There are a bunch of different ways to figure out what it is that you’re really selling and make the emotional connection you need to make. You can ask “Why?” five times. You can translate the 4 P’s of marketing into the 4 C’s of [customer-centric] marketing. You can do qualitative research, or you can just think hard. The point is, you have to figure out what needs and/or desires you are fulfilling with whatever it is you’re reaching out with.
It’s easy to imagine this with large brands. In the grocery store, Betty Crocker represents tradition, family, and everything that it means to provide your loved ones with a good meal. Online, Yelp! offers us the chance to discover new places, to mitigate risk of going somewhere we won’t like, and to offer our expertise and experiences to our community.
It might be as simple as delivering a blogger relief, because you’re relieving the burden of figuring out what to post about today. You might be offering that blogger something her audience will value and giving her a few extra minutes to spend at the park with her daughter. It doesn’t matter what that benefit is, you just have to recognize it.
Finding an Audience via Smarter Prospecting
This is where we as SEOs have a competitive advantage over other marketers. Now that you understand what you’re really selling, it should be pretty easy to figure out who will care about it. Maybe your answer is “young moms.” If you were an advertiser, you’d find a list of shows moms watch or websites they visit. If you were a PR person, you’d grab a list of family publications. You’d take a big group of media outlets, blast out a message, and hope that it hits the right people and sticks. But you’re not an advertiser or a PR person, you’re an SEO, and you can work smarter.
As an SEO, you can target your audience more deftly than “young moms.” Maybe you want young, hip moms who need to have their appearances validated. Build a query around “what I wore” and “mom.” Maybe you want moms with a couple school-age kids. Try “their first day of school” as part of your query. Throw in some more advanced stuff like “powered by blogger” OR “powered by wordpress” -wordpress.com -blogspot.com to find bloggers with their own domains. Run a Link Prospector report or a BuzzStream prospecting query, and qualify your list.
Now, instead of hoping your message sticks with a broad group, which risks wasting time, you can be confident that 99% of the people on your list will care about what you have to say. Instead of sending 100 messages and hoping for 5 links, you can send 30 and get 15.
Considering Gatekeepers: People & Algorithms
I sometimes see people run into problems when they consider only their end audiences and forget to consider gatekeepers. Your great content is only great if people can find it. As SEOs, we’re pretty good at building assets for our ultimate algorithmic gatekeeper, Google, but we sometimes forget to consider bloggers and journalists as the gatekeepers in outreach.
Obvious statement is obvious, but it’s easily overlooked. Spend a few minutes thinking about barriers to sharing that bloggers & journalists might have. If you’re offering a visual asset that isn’t embeddable, that means that a blogger would have to write a whole post about something just so they can add your link. That’s a lot of work on their end. Remove the barrier by spending a few extra minutes or dollars to make your asset embeddable. Maybe your product is related to a health issue that is embarrassing to some. Think about whether people will hesitate before sharing. Can you change your angle so that it becomes empowering instead of stigmatizing? Think about whether or not you’re offering something newsworthy. If you’re not, fix it.
When a blogger gets your outreach message, it will be easier for him or her to delete that message and not link to you. Sharing your content or your products takes effort. You should worry both about delivering something compelling and eliminating barriers.
Crafting Your Outreach Message
Honestly, if you have a targeted prospect list, your outreach matters a whole lot less. You don’t have to spend time convincing people of things, and you won’t need long intros. You can just get to the point, show them your awesome thing, and they will think it’s awesome and share it.
That being said, there are things you can do to increase your effectiveness. Here’s some data that comes from an analysis of more than 5,000 SEER outreach messages. The facts are facts, but the theories behind the effectiveness are based on my own opinion and experience.
Great Subject Lines
Our most effective subject line, by far, is:
[Asset] for [Blog/Website Name]
For example: Outreach Data for Cool Marketing Blog
It doesn’t include brand names, blogger first names, question marks, or emoticons. It’s a simple explanation of what’s inside the email.
Why it Works: Inbox Considerations
Most bloggers are only part-time bloggers. Many of them have their blog emails forward to their regular inboxes. This means that your outreach email isn’t just competing with other outreach emails, it’s competing with comment moderation notifications, messages from from friends and family, coupons and sale alerts from stores, social media requests, and the million other things that crowd all of our inboxes every day. By calling out that you’re offering something for their blog, you stand out from the noise and look helpful.
Why it Works: Attention to Detail
Most templates can easily pull first names and URLs. The key to this template is that it takes a few extra minutes to get right. It’s a subtle signal, but it’s one that matters to bloggers and business owners.
Imagine reaching out to Wil. Would you use seerinteractive.com? Seer Interactive? SEER Interactive? It would probably be best to simply use SEER, because that’s what most of us use when we talk about it. Using SEER (in all caps like that) would be a quick and easy way to demonstrate that you know who we are. The bloggers and business owners you’re reaching out to deserve and appreciate that same respect.
Why it Works: Priming
I agree with Rand that the most effective CTA is asking the blogger to “share” instead of link, but I think we can leverage priming to make sure that share happens as a link on a blog. If you ask a blogger to share, and she has Twitter on her mind, it’s likely that the share will be a tweet. If he recently looked at Facebook, it’s likely to be a FB post. But, if you’ve set the stage with the blog name in your subject line, then… you see where I’m going with this.
When it DOESN’T Work: Journalists
Sending a PR-style pitch to journalists is a little bit different. For them, a compelling fact in the headline works much better. Why? Their inboxes fill with pitches every day. They assume that you are offering them something for a story, so calling that out in your subject line is wasted space. For journalists, you can stand out by getting to the point. Have news that’s so relevant, so compelling, that they would be stupid not to read your email and write about your brand. (Bonus points if you can use a meaningful statistic in that subject line.)
Writing Your Message
Our most effective messages are short. Seriously short.
2-3 sentence outreach FTW.
— Emma Still (@mmstll) June 28, 2013
The basic formula is:
Hi [First Name],
[Brand] [thing brand is offering]. [CTA].
For a guest post, it looks like:
Hi [First Name],
[Brand] would like to contribute an article about [topic]. Is this something you’d be interested in?
For an infographic, it looks like:
Hi [First Name],
[Brand] created an infographic about [topic] that has some interesting stats, like [interesting stat].
I’d love for you to consider sharing it with your readers.
For a review, it looks like:
Hi [First Name],
[Brand] would love to send you a [product] for [Website/Blog Name]. You could use in a review, a photo, whatever you think would be best for your readers. Let me know what you think?
There are absolutely occasions where longer messages make more sense, but, for the most part, shorter is better.
Why it Works: Mobile
Think about your own email use. Think about how often you look at email on your phone. Think about what happens when you open a really long email on your phone. Do you read and respond right away or do you save it for when you get back to your computer? Do you actually get back to it once its marked as read or does it drift into the inbox abyss?
Now think about how good it feels to reply to an email and get it out of your inbox. Think about the sense of accomplishment and relief as you inch toward Inbox Zero.
Shorter emails are more likely to be the ones that people address quickly.
Why it Works: Simple Call to Action
Look again at the calls to action above. For a lot of them, we just ask “Is this something you’d be interested in?” All it requires is a yes/no response. If they say “yes,” you get buy in and can then follow-up. If they say “no,” you can pivot and offer something else.
For the “I’d love for you to share this” CTA, notice that it doesn’t even require the blogger to email you back. You have given them permission to go ahead and share, and you’ve saved yourself from long chains of follow-up that tend to be time-consuming for little additional reward.
When it DOESN’T Work: Complicated Offers or New Products
If you’re offering something complex, a longer message might be required. You might need to share a few more facts to make your point. You might need a few sentences to explain yourself. That’s fine. As long as each sentence in your email adds value, it can stay.
Best & Worst Practices
There are two major mistakes that people make when writing outreach emails: sounding like a robot and not adding value. Luckily, there’s one easy solution: pretend like you’re writing a personal email to a busy person who you respect. When you write to a busy person you respect, you naturally sound more human and you naturally read and re-read your email to double-check that it makes sense and is worth that person’s time.
With that in mind, you should be set. Unfortunately, many of us get wrapped up in old/bad outreach advice we’ve read over the years. I’m going to use the last part of this post to dispel some traditional outreach “words of wisdom.”
Using People’s First Names
Look at some of the recent emails you’ve sent to your friends and colleagues. How often do you use their first name outside of the greeting? You don’t. Normal people don’t use names in emails, in chat, or in casual conversation. It sounds creepy. I would never email my friend Hillary and say, “I really need somebody to watch my dog. Hillary, what do you think?” I would say “Hey Hillary, I need somebody to watch my dog on Saturday. You game?”
Thanking Someone for Reading Your Email
Please, please, please don’t thank someone for taking the time to read your email. Why? First, it sounds a little pathetic. You should be confident that your email is valuable to them. If you’re not confident that your email is valuable, you should rethink the strategy or rethink your prospect. Second, it distracts from the point of your email. Every sentence in your email should contribute to your message’s goal. All that BS filler stuff just draws attention away from the point you’re actually trying to make and that link you’re trying to get. Third (and most importantly), thanking someone for their time just wastes more of their time.
Leave out anything that resembles the sentence, “I see that you write great articles about [topic] on your blog!” Seriously, leave it out. If it’s super obvious OR if it isn’t true, it doesn’t belong in outreach.
Why? Let’s say you’re writing to Rand Fishkin, CEO of Moz and expert inbound marketer. Imagine including the line “Hey Rand, I see that you post lots of interesting videos about inbound marketing on the Moz.com blog!” Seems a little silly, right? Kind of makes you sound like a n00b, yeah? Compare that to “Hey Rand, Here’s an inbound resource I thought you might like.” That would both show that you know what Rand’s speciality is and be valuable to him. It would also make you seem more professional and personable. Win/Win/Win/Win.
Telling Someone to Email or Call You if They Have Questions
Throwing in a “Feel free to call or email me if you have questions” usually isn’t needed in outreach. Why?
- Bloggers will automatically reply if they have questions. You don’t need to waste space offering it.
- By bringing up them having questions, you suggest to the bloggers that they should have questions and that what you’re asking for is more complicated than it actually is.
- Your message should be simple and clear enough that people won’t have questions.
- Adding that extra sentence distracts from your real CTA (and getting the link)
Over-complicating Your Message
You don’t need to be fancy. You don’t need tricks. People respect simplicity and honesty.
For those of you that love processes, here’s a checklist for all of the above:
1. Define your strategy
- Figure out what you’re really selling
- Identify why people will and won’t want to share it
2. Find an audience
3. Do Outreach
- Write like you’re writing to someone you respect in real life
- Make sure every single sentence in your message adds value and contributes to your overall goal (which is usually a link)
- Have a simple, single call to action
- Keep it short
- Use proper names just like the blogger does (e.g., call us SEER Interactive and not seerinteractive.com)
- Be yourself. Send messages that you’re proud to put your name behind.
I’m @stephbeadell. Let me know what you think.