Tracking in Tout May Hinder Link Building Efforts

At SEER, we’ve been testing Tout for a few months. It is a simple yet powerful email tool. Unfortunately, some of the features of Tout may actually be counterproductive in link building outreach and get your messages caught in SPAM filters.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Tout allows you to speed up your template emails (while still allowing much needed customization) and tracks email views and clicks. I used Tout for one small outreach project back in June, but got a lower than expected response rate, 3 out of 19 emails, about 16%. We decided to tweak the message and try again; the response rate was even lower, 1 out of 18 emails sent. That’s about 6%.

So I tried a small test of outreach the old way, using the exact same outreach message from the second round with Tout. Of 7 emails sent manually (2 were through web forms), I got 3 responses. That’s about 43%.

Manual Outreach had a much higher response rate than Tout

This is one small test, but still worth investigating further.

Now consider those numbers with this screenshot of a test email I sent to my personal email address. (No this wasn’t the actual outreach message.) Example of Phishing Warning in a Tout Email

If you’ve ever used email marketing software, this is probably familiar. The URL redirect used by Tout to track clicks added to your URLs can set off a phishing filter in some email clients if you use the actual URL and not anchor text. Here’s a further explanation of phishing and email marketing.

It’s worth noting; the first outreach language didn’t have URLs in the body text, but did have a URL in the signature line. The second outreach language had URLs in the body text and the signature line.

If you use Tout, are you still wondering why you didn’t see this when you dutifully checked your message before sending? Not every email client shows phishing warnings like this – and Gmail doesn’t. This same email showed up without the phishing warning in my iPhone. On the flip side, some email clients or people with very strict SPAM filters will block it all together.

Why Tracking Isn’t Good for SEO Outreach

SEOs Use URLs - In SEO outreach, you are of course trying to get links! So your email outreach is almost always going to include the URL of your website, and may reference a URL on the individual’s website where you want a link. Imagine if you received an email that links to your own site and see that phishing warning – REPORT SPAM & DELETE.

Anchor Text Links Can’t Be Copy/Pasted – You can avoid the phishing warning with anchor text, which is another common element in link outreach. With anchor text right in the message the recipient can simply copy and paste. However, if you copy and paste from a Tout email, the link will go to, not your client’s website.

If it Looks Like a Link, Tout Makes it a Link - I also tried to make this work by making sure the message was text with no links, but if it looks like a link (http:// or www.) Tout turns it into a link with tracking.

Text that looks like a link is turned into a link with Tracking in Tout.

You might be able to find outreach language that avoids the phishing problem with a non-www link as seen above, but I don’t think it’s worth it. Tout still has value in other situations, but may not be the best choice for link building. If Tout came out with a feature allowing you to turn off link tracking, then it would be worth revisiting.

If you think the convenience and speed makes up for the fact that some emails will be labeled SPAM, remember that an increase in SPAM emails could get you blacklisted.

So if you don’t want to use Tout, remember there is still the Canned Responses Lab in Gmail. You have to give up fancy tracking, and it takes more effort to evaluate A|B testing on messages, but at the end of the day, it’s about getting responses, and getting links!

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Michelle Noonan
Michelle Noonan
Sr. Lead, Digital Measurement Solutions