How To Build An Outreach Campaign And Get Your Emails Read

I got this question on Twitter recently and wanted to expand my answer into a post to explain a bit more about my thinking behind tracking down of niche sites.

@MarkoSaric Which site do you think is best to track down niche sites? Technorati is the one I use most.

My quick Twitter response was:

@katebarlow I use Google myself, probably the best way. When you find a good site then you can also see who they associate themselves with.

And now a bit of a longer and more detailed response for you all:

Why should I track niche sites?

If you are wondering what is the use of tracking down different sites there are several reasons for it. Knowing different pages allows you to figure out the situation in the field – what the best places are, who your competitors are, what kind of content is being produced, how are the projects monetized and what seems to be working very well. Tracking pages allows you to build a database of competitors, of potential authors to cooperate with, of sites that you want to comment on to build a connection and drive traffic back to yourself, of pages that accept guest posts and that you’d like to guest post on and much more. Some call this blogger outreach.

My process of finding niche sites is pretty simple and relies heavily on Google and Google tools. I do some Google searches, some Google Blog searches and I subscribe to some Google Alerts for relevant keywords I am researching. Google searches can also be subscribed to so you get an update in your reader when there is a new post published on the keyword phrases you have searched for.

In my search results I look through the top results and I click over to the interesting sites. I spend some time on the sites themselves, and potentially I subscribe to their feed or I follow them on Twitter. What I also look for on good pages is links. Links within posts, links in the sidebar, links in the different pages, links they send on Twitter, links of people they follow on Twitter and so on. Another useful tool in this context is Similar Sites. Just type in the URL of the page and you will get a list of relevant sites to that page.

Couple more very useful tools for finding influencers and other bloggers are BuzzSumo and Topsy which allow you to search for top performing content and see the influencers that have shared it.

Building a contact database

Some other sources of finding niche sites can be looking at who’s speaking at relevant conferences. Go to their sites, go to their social media profiles and see who they interact with. Who has a very engaging social media presence. Who has written books in the niche you are researching.

Always make sure to collect all the information you find and put them in your database. The database can be an Excel file or a Google Doc file where you list URL of the site, contact info, your notes and any other fact or metric that is important for you. This database gives you an easy overview of all the different sites you are targeting and makes it easy for you to send guest post requests, or go comment on their latest post, or even pitch them an idea.

A big part of this “outreach” process is getting your emails opened and read.

How to pitch bloggers

I get many emails. I get so many emails that even if and when the subject line attracts me to open the email itself, it still only takes me a second or two to scan through your email before deciding to hit delete or reply. I usually either hit delete or reply straight away as a tactic to keep my inbox as clean and as manageable as possible. There’s nothing worse for my stress levels than having an inbox full of unread emails and emails I need to reply to. Many emails that hit our inboxes are simply irrelevant or not so well targeted. Those get trashed instantly. Some emails I give a chance, but in many cases the pitches are just bland and not very interesting.

This always makes me think how best to compose emails when I am writing myself. How can I get my point across as simple and direct as possible? How can I get my emails opened? How can I get replies to my emails? Here’s a list of things that can you do and tips you should keep in mind to have a better chance of getting your blogger outreach emails read.

  • Subject line. Subject line is key to get your email opened. Think of it just as hard as you are thinking about your post headlines.
  • Be relevant. You cannot imagine how many emails I get that have nothing to do with what I am working with.
  • Mutual contact. Are you friend with someone that the blogger knows? Make sure to mention that or even better get the mutual contact to introduce you to each other.
  • Be short. Writing emails is like writing posts. People are busy and you must make it easier for them to understand what you are getting at. Be clear and concise.
  • Personal salutation. Many emails come without any personal salutation. Many even salute with a wrong name. You need to find the name of person you are contacting.
  • Introduction. If it is the first time you are contacting the blogger, make sure to have a very brief introduction about yourself and your work.
  • Be direct. Explain why you are contacting the person. Write why you choose to contact him out of all the other site owners. Tell what your goal is by connecting with the person.
  • Be specific. If submitting a guest post, make sure to list 2-3 potential titles. Make sure these are targeted to the content of the site, and try and get the feel for how the author writes headlines on his other posts.
  • Contact info. Close the email with a signature that has your contact info. Also include a link to your website.

These are the 5 tactics to get your emails read:

Tactic #1 – Email after lunch

Want your email to be read? Your best chance is to send it between 1.30pm and 2.30pm. You’ll catch your target at lunch, or better still, during that ‘post lunch’ haze. I used to work in magazines, and the advertising guys told me that the period straight after lunch was known as ‘prime selling time’. It was when prospects would be zonked in front of their computers, grateful for any distraction. Sending an email after lunch is a good way to get your message read.

Tactic #2 – Try being more fwd:

In 2008, while the world followed the 2008 US presidential campaign, I was keeping my eye on the email war being waged by the two sides. One thing I loved about both camp’s campaigns were the first-person emails. Each message would arrive with a short update, followed by a ‘Donate’ button. There’s heaps of lessons from that campaign, but here’s one of my favourites – an email from John McCain’s team that shakes the reader into the ‘now’ with a simple trick you can apply to your campaigns. This is an email forwarded by Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager. The message he’s forwarding is from Bill Bloomfield, McCain’s director of volunteers.

Notice the subject line? That email – urging Republicans to donate their time to cold calling voters – could easily have gone out alone. But by having Davis forward it, with his own personal memorandum attached, makes it several times more effective. It doesn’t even matter that Rick Davis isn’t a household name – just having somebody appear to ‘recommend’ the email convinced a lot of folk to read it. Next time somebody forwards you an email, notice how quickly it gets your attention, and think back to this tip. Can you think of anything you can ‘forward’ to your audience?

Tactic #3 – Keep email columns short

One of the quickest ways to make your emails more readable is to format your text in short columns. Writing in short columns makes your email magnetic to the eye. 70 characters is the maximum length a line of text should be. Sticking to this means your players don’t have to move their eyes so far across the page and back to read the email. It makes scanning faster and easier, and means your message is far more likely to be read.

Tactic #4 – It’s all about them

A real magic trick when you’re writing an email is to pile on the personal pronouns. What am I talking about? You, me, they, he, I, she, them, and him are all personal pronouns. It’s almost impossible to overuse the word ‘you’ in well-written copy. “Do you… Can you… Would you… Should you… Did you know..” Sprinkle personal pronouns across your copy to turn blunt, mass mailings into sharp personal communication.

Tactic #5 – Eat your own dog food

If you aren’t literally “in bed” with your material… it’s gonna show. Did you ever watch a TV show or read a book where the characters took part in something you’re interested in? Maybe a line in Friends mentioned hockey, a passion of yours. Or perhaps (if you’re British) a walk-on patient in Casualty was injured at a music festival you go to. I bet, in some way, it seemed phoney. When somebody claims to be part of something that you’re deep into yourself, it’s like running your thumb over a photocopied bank note.

It’s okay to fake it ’till you make it, but when you’re writing for a living, you need to make sure you know your onions. That’s because otherwise, what you write will be tainted by cliché, as scenes from half-watched film and snippets from folklore creep in. As human beings, we’re great at telling when something’s missing. The last thing you want is for your copy to sound phoney. At Google, nothing leaves the door until engineers have used it themselves for a few weeks. It’s a process they call ‘dog fooding’. Whatever your niche, if you’re going to succeed, start eating your own dog food.

On the road to higher email open rates

I am not telling that following these simple tips will always get your email read as the most important thing in most cases is to have something valuable enough for the person you are pitching. Many bloggers will get too many pitches and there usually needs to be something in there for them to get a reply. Quality content? New source of traffic? Good opportunity to make money? Having an interesting message and including the tips above will give you a higher open rate chance and possibly a reply.