When it comes to marketing, we all know what the holy grail is: visibility.
Without visibility, nobody sees our content, becomes aware of our brand, engages with our product… I could go on forever.
From an SEO perspective, link building through manual outreach is one of the foundations of increasing your organic visibility.
The problem is that everyone approaches link building the same cookie-cutter way and expects to get results that send their keyword rankings through the roof.
How do I know this?
Because I, too, was once there.
It wasn’t until I stopped reading and started really thinking about how I engage with people that I was able to truly reap the benefits of the hard work that manual outreach takes.
Finding the Flaws in Our Strategy
“Why is link building sucking all of my time and energy with minimal results?”
That’s the question I kept asking myself during the first 3-4 months I started the outreach process for both myself and my clients.
While that metric is close to the industry standard for engagement rate, time is more valuable than ever when you’re running a lean operation.
I thought I’d done my homework by reading through a multitude of articles detailing “The Best Link Building Outreach Template on God’s Green Earth,” and I believed that I would run a successful operation by following the gospel of these templates and replacing [name] and [article title] in an email template.
Boy, was I wrong.
We were sending out anywhere from 20-30 emails every week and receiving about two or three responses back (and they weren’t always positive).
It was at this point that I knew something needed to change, so I went back to the drawing board.
Clearly, we were struggling to get people to answer our emails, so the question we had to answer was: How can I get the person on the other end of this email to care?
We broke down our strategy piece by piece to understand the flaws of each section.
Flaw #1: We weren’t being personal enough
In our previous emails, we’d been reaching out and attempting to establish a relationship as an agency “on behalf of” a corporation.
Often times we found that no one wanted to deal with a third party that they assumed possessed no real relationship to the content which they were promoting, regardless of how true or false that assumption may have been.
Most of the outreach emails that contained this flaw were either met with crickets, or a “we’re not accepting [link strategy…you name it] at this point in time.”
After being continually frustrated by this roadblock, I decided to go out on a limb and ask my clients for a branded email that I could do outreach from. I figured it had to be better than sending an email from my “firstname.lastname@example.org” address.
I was right—we saw a nice little uptick of 5% in response rate, which was good…but not good enough.
Flaw #2: Our emails were too long and irrelevant to the reader
Another big issue we decided to test was email length. In our early emails, there was a whole lot of “talking just to talk.”
If I’m being honest, my emails sounded like that person at a party who keeps rambling on and on and eventually entirely forgets what their initial point was.
Don’t be that person.
A quick and simple introduction about yourself and your business—or the business you’re doing outreach on behalf of—will suffice.
Including a link to the site, either when you first introduce yourself or in the signature portion of the email, will enable the recipient to click through and check out the site if they want more information.
From a relevance standpoint, most outreach templates will tell you to either 1) pitch how great your content is, or 2) give some sort of ego boost to the person on the other end so they’ll like you more.
I went right into trying to tell the recipient they were cool, while also fitting all of my initiatives in one email, to kill two birds with one stone.
Yep, bad idea.
After trying that strategy and falling so flat on my face that I looked like I’d been 12 rounds with Mike Tyson, I had a revelation.
What if we talk less about what our content is and more about how it can help them?
Testing this change resulted in our biggest improvement of a 15% increase in response rate! All I had to do was contextualize why they should care who I was and why my content may help their readers in some capacity.
While a 15% increase in response rate was amazing, it led me to believe there was more where this came from, and maybe even more room for optimization.
Flaw #3: We gave the recipient too many options
“Always Be Closing” is a common salesperson mantra, so why shouldn’t we apply that to simpler transactions like outreach emails?
I would typically end my emails with some sort of contingency in case the editor or site owner decided they didn’t like or want to use my content: “If you don’t want to post it, a simple share on Facebook or Tweet would definitely help!”
What do you think happened most of the time? If you answered either “they shared my content” or “absolutely nothing,” you’re right!
Once I started offering the option of doing something other than posting my content to their site, that immediately became the default option. If I couldn’t demonstrate that I had a strong belief in my content, how could I expect anyone to want to display it on their site?
How I Increased My Link Building Outreach Response Rate by 300%
So what was this mind blowing final act that got us from a 30% to a 40% response rate?
A simple closing sentence with a very pointed and desired effect.
Would you be interested in [piece of content] showing [topic description]? If so, I can send it right over to help inform your readers as quickly as possible.
Not only did responses to my emails come quicker, but they came with a definitive answer to the single question that I was asking.
Want to know the best part?
We were actually able to develop a somewhat templated approach for this section, reducing our time spent on the outreach even further.
With this simple, effective change at the very end of the email, we were able to put the cherry on top of our optimization process.
So I know you’re thinking, “Alright cool, how do I become an outreach rockstar and surpass a 40% response rate?” Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!
After analyzing the crucial flaws in our outreach process and optimizing accordingly, here are my biggest tips for increasing your link building outreach response rate and seeing immediate results:
Tip #1: Develop a Brand Persona
We’ve continually talked about manual outreach being akin to building a relationship, so which sender would you trust more: “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org?”
I’m willing to bet you chose “email@example.com.”
That’s because it’s much easier to gain the trust of your email recipient when you’re reaching out from an established, branded email address.
Notice in those email addresses I chose “person” and not an inanimate object like “team” or “info.” The person on the other end wants to know they’re talking to a real person who has taken the time out of their day to craft the outreach email.
I also worked under the assumption that having a branded email to associate with the company would provide the email with additional clout. If I’m associated with an expert or thought leader in the industry, it may give the recipient a stronger reason to consider my message and content.
Authority Builders did a similar study in which they were able to increase their reply rate by 268% by switching to a branded email address with a formal signature block instead of a generic gmail address.
Tip #2: Personalize Your Outreach
This doesn’t mean just saying “Hi, [name]” or stroking the recipient’s ego.
Try to derive some sort of positive emotion out of the recipient on the other end. It could be something witty or emotional, or something that will help you to make a human-to-human connection with the reader of your email.
Just a couple of examples we’ve used in the past:
- Is the freshman 15 still a thing? Honestly, I don’t know about you, but when I was in college, it was more like the freshman 30! [For a guest post about healthy eating as a college student]
- Of the 1.1 million seniors that let their life insurance policy lapse, $112 billion is left on the table. Could you imagine letting our parents or grandparents give away free money?! [For an infographic on the benefits of selling your life insurance policy]
Tip #3: Provide Value to Your Reader
Include context clues. Why should the recipient of your email care? How is the topic relatable to them or their readers?
For example, I once included outlandish facts like “Did you know, chickens are being tracked via blockchain technology!?” (I even got a response that said, “you had me at chickens on the blockchain.”)
It was an attention-grabbing sentence, designed to get them to read further, and since most of the recipients responded to that single portion of the email, I’d say it did its job.
Tip #4: Make Your Email Concise and Easy to Read
Keep your sentences short and sweet.
Use paragraph spacing generously, while bolding or italicizing the specific points you’d like to drive home.
Nobody wants to read an essay, but a well-thought-out email that’s strategically structured can be the major difference between a response and the dreaded trash button.
Tip #5: Always Be Closing
Close your email with a single action for the recipient to take. Avoid trying to kill two birds with one stone, as often it’ll end up with no stone being unturned.
Make it clear what you’re looking to get out of the outreach email, and if it blossoms into a relationship long term, perfect!
Just remember, the more options a recipient has, the less likely your preferred outcome is achieved.
Here’s a look at the results of one of our most recent link building campaigns using the new email format.
While the tips above will help you succeed in optimizing your link building outreach strategy, I cannot stress enough the value of projecting a natural tone, even if you’re still using a structured or templated approach.
Remember, you’re not just building links—you’re building relationships.
This means being okay with spending a little bit of extra time crafting that perfect outreach email, knowing it may improve your effectiveness 4x.
It’s surprisingly intuitive how effective the method becomes once you reshape your thinking to be as concise as you can while providing value to your reader.
That, my friends, is how you go from being a digital wallflower to the life of the party.
Cory Young is a Digital Marketer with 10+ years experience developing SEO and Paid Search strategies for Fortune 500 companies. Cory is the founder of BCC Interactive, a digital marketing agency in Philadelphia, PA that specializes in developing strategies to help businesses grow through organic search.