How to actually get people to respond to your emails: the anti-tips.
One thing that really grinds my gears is marketers romanticizing outreach strategies. I see these conversations all the time: you absolutely must personalize every email and connect with every webmaster on a deeper level if you want to build the relationship necessary to get them to link to you; you can’t scale outreach; don’t use template emails. Not trying to act like Donald Trump here, but: WRONG.
In my opinion, no matter how well written your outreach is, there is only one reason someone will ever add a link to your site: because it makes sense to do so. Everything else you do or say to them is secondary.
Some situations may differ, sure, but as long as you’re not a complete jackass you can probably turn just about any email conversation into a link provided that first requirement exists. It absolutely has to make sense to link to you. And if it doesn’t make sense, no amount of email etiquette or clever positioning is going to work.
At the same time, before you can show someone why your link makes sense to include on their website, you need to get noticed, and more importantly, you need to get people to actually respond to you.
I did a quick Google search for articles with titles similar to this one, and they were all honestly almost the complete opposite of what I’ve found to work best for me – someone who has over 250 emails to send nearly every day.
General outreach tips.
- Keep it short.
Everyone’s got better shit to do than read your link pitch. Most of my emails are 2 or 3 sentences long.On the other hand, I’ve written several 800+ word emails, although all of those were written in response to questions or concerns from site owners. And I turned most of ’em into links.99% of my first cold outreach emails are about 60 words or less, though.
- Be clear and concise.
Ever had some old lady webmaster screw up a link and then you have to spend another 12 emails back and forth with her trying to get her to fix it? Assume every webmaster is that old lady, because even the ones you’re pretty sure are competent enough to insert a link onto their WordPress website will find a new and absurd way to screw it all up.I know the industry frowns on giving super specific instructions when asking for a link (“Let the webmaster decide what anchor text to use. It’s more natural!”), but it could mean the difference between a good link, a shitty link, or no link at all.
- Butter them up.
In my opinion, this is among the worst outreach advice. I think most people writing this post would suggest to find something on a website to compliment them about. And that’s how I was trained to do link building outreach. Don’t do that unless it’s 100% natural and you know what you’re talking about and can hold a conversation about it. Otherwise, it becomes painfully obvious what you’re doing, and it’ll hurt your chances of getting a link more than it ever could have helped if you even get one small detail wrong. Especially if you’re building links for a site in a niche you don’t know a lot about. Save yourself (and your client) the embarrassment.
- Spelling, grammar, format.
- Don’t bug them.
The quickest way to get someone to decline your link request (aside from your link not making any goddamn sense on the website you’re contacting) is to bug the hell out of them. That being said, I’ve gotten a few links after sending 12+ cold emails (I’m not exaggerating). That’s where positioning comes in though. If you’re going to go that route, you need to do it really, really well. In every such case, I knew that my link made sense for them to include and did my best to demonstrate that until they responded in agreement. So this can really go both ways, but your link still needs to be relevant in order for bugging someone to pay off.
- Use their name.
I know everyone recommends first and last names in email greetings, but personally, I like to go with just the first name. Probably doesn’t matter either way. However, in my honest opinion, if someone is going to respond to you, they’re going to respond to you regardless of whether you use their name or not (again, as long as your request makes sense and your email doesn’t completely suck) – it’s the rest of the email the matters.
- Be timely.
You want to be emailing people when they’re going to see it or have time to act on it. An email sent at 3pm on a Friday afternoon might get read, but it probably isn’t giving the recipient enough time to do what you’re requesting them to do, especially if they have other work to finish before the weekend.On the other hand, I have quite a bit of success emailing people on the weekends, especially if they’re a small operation. A mom & pop shop might have more free time to work on their website on a Sunday afternoon than in the middle of the week. However, an email to a government or university employee might be buried on page 3 of their inbox by Monday morning.
I know, you learned nothing from those “tips.”
Here’s the thing: no matter what kind of quality links you’re going after – whether you’re emailing a small personal blog no one reads (aka anthonyrandall.com) or someone at a .gov or .edu site – the fact remains that your job as a link builder is literally to spam people (I know, I know, you don’t call it that. And that’s an unpopular opinion for someone who builds “white hat” links to hold, but whether or not we’re spamming is not for us to decide. You don’t get to be an asshole to someone on the street and then deny that you’re being an asshole when they call you one. Same with being a spammer. If you’ve ever had someone accuse you of sending them spam – and every link builder has – then you’re sending them spam. Period.).
And sure, there are times when you’re genuinely trying to start a relationship with someone you’re emailing, but let’s face it: as a link builder, most of the emails you send to people are simple and quick requests and you may not have the intention of ever talking to them again after you get them to link to your site (or tell you no).
That might even be the case for the majority websites you contact (if it’s not, you’re definitely ignoring a lot of potential link opportunities). And if you don’t have any intention of maintaining a relationship with someone beyond your link request, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend the time crafting the perfect email. Especially if you’ve got a long list of people to email today. Maybe it only takes you 3-5 minutes to find something to compliment them about, write the perfect email, and proofread it, but if you’re emailing 50 people, that time really adds up. And it’s time which could be better spent finding more websites to contact or building content.
You might even be emailing site owners as a completely fictitious person (or “persona” as you call them in your team meetings) and if that’s what you’re doing, you’re really not above trying to “trick” someone into reading your email, responding to you, and (hopefully) linking to you. It’s fine if you use persona email accounts. I do it. For multiple reasons. For some clients, I might use my own name, personal email address or even Twitter profile and be as transparent as possible. For others, I may have no interest being associated with their industry, and I probably don’t want a few hundred people who I don’t know to know my name or anything about me. People are insane and webmasters are no exception. In fact, webmasters are among the worst people I’ve ever encountered in my entire life. I’ve had them try to get me fired because I emailed them (after one email!). Julie Joyce has had them threaten actual murder:
— JulieJoyce (@JulieJoyce) October 13, 2016
Like I said, there’s no shame if you want to use email personas. It’s probably even the smartest (and safest) way to go about it for a lot of clients. But if that’s the case, just realize that you’re already being pretty deceitful to every webmaster who isn’t a giant asshole, so you’re really not above any slightly shady strategies trying to boost your response rate.
You can be as ethical as you want with your link building, but none of it is going to matter if your emails aren’t getting read.
How to actually get people to respond to your emails.
Here are some sneaky little things that I do to get people to respond to me. They are almost the complete opposite of the tips I listed above.
These aren’t magically going to convince anyone to link to you. These are to help you stand out in an inbox and hopefully solicit a response. And I’ll admit, the are a little spammy. Nothing a quick apology wont cover, and most importantly, I think they make you look like you don’t send a couple hundred emails every day.
You’re still going to need to have a good website to offer and you’re still going to have to “sell” the link. But, used wisely, these can help you get your foot in the door:
- Misspell their name.
And then apologize for it in a follow up or in your next response when you get a reply from them. I’m not talking about completely butchering a name, or calling them the wrong name (doing that is a fast track to the trash bin, regardless of how relevant your link is to them), but something that could be played off as a simple typo such as missing a letter. Ex: Anthony Randal. It sounds silly, but it works. People notice when someone gets their name wrong. Misspell a name and then in your follow up to them own up to the mistake. You’re only human, after all.
- Quick follow up.
You want to stay on top of their minds. I’m not talking about following up with them the next day. Email them again literally minutes after your last email. You can send them a duplicate of the same email (so you can pass it off as an honest mistake again), or you can send them a completely separate thought like “Hey, I forgot to mention in my last email, _______.”I like to use an email tracking software to tell me when someone opens my email. And once they do, they’ve got about 5 minutes to respond or I’m sending another one.
- Purposely leave out information.
I like to say “Hey, I noticed you have a couple broken links on your website.” and not tell them what those broken links are. Any competent webmaster will probably respond to this. The best part about this is you probably don’t even need to actually know about a broken link on because most websites will likely have at least one. You can literally send that line to 100 different webmasters to solicit responses and then use Screaming Frog for each site as they reply.
- Reference your previous email.
Even though there was no previous email. Okay, maybe this one is a little evil. Just say you sent them an email “about 2 weeks ago” and maybe it landed in their spam box because you included a couple links in it or apologize because you suddenly noticed that it was in your Drafts folder and you actually forgot to send it. Ex: “Oops! I just noticed that I forgot to hit send on that email. I’m so sorry about that. I just wanted to suggest ____ for inclusion on your links page.” or whatever it is you want from them.If they ask, just quickly write up an email that you can pretend you already sent them and say “I’ve copy/pasted the original email below:”I don’t do this very much because it’s just as easy to write a good cold email and then give a genuine followup, but this little tactic works way too well.
- “Sent from my iPhone”
This is my favorite, so I’ve put it in the middle hoping it gets overlooked.Robots don’t have thumbs so they can’t use iPhones. Add “Sent from my iPhone” to the end of your emails, even if you’re sending from PC. This little line subconsciously tells the recipient that you’re a real (and probably very important!) person.Doing this only really works for short emails and if you’re including links in your emails, then it might not make sense that you’re emailing from your phone. I guess you could put “Sent from my iPad” to make it more convincing if done at the end of a long email, but I’ve never done that.I like to add this to the end of very quick follow up emails. Very simplified example:
“Hey, just wondering if you’ve had time to consider my last email?? Hope we can work something out!
Sent from my iPhone”
- Make mistakes.
Use your best judgement here. If you’re emailing someone who is an obvious professional then probably don’t write your emails like a complete idiot. Actually, don’t write your emails like a complete idiot no matter who you’re contacting. However, most websites are owned and managed by every day people, and in my experience, there are few industries who would completely ignore an email based on small mistakes.
My favorite thing to do with this is to add an extra ? mark to my questions, especially if used in a subject line. Maybe forget to capitalize an “i” in your email. Little things like that.
- Email the wrong person.
If you’re having trouble getting responses to your emails, the first thing you might do is check to make sure you’re emailing the right person. That makes sense. But it’s the opposite of this recommendation. Find someone else in the organization and ask if they know who you should contact about your request, even if you already know who the appropriate contact is. Or find the boss of the person you need to get in touch with and email them about your request. An email forwarded from someone they already know and work with will catch the eye of the recipient infinitely better than your cold attempt ever could.
- Font color.
Perhaps the most innocent tip I could think of. I noticed a couple years ago that when I changed my email text color to dark blue, I got more responses. This one is probably subconscious as well, but I’m not a psychologist so who knows.
Okay, okay. Yes, some of those tips are pretty shady. Most of my emails fall into the first set of rules, but when I’ve got a tough client or need to get a shit load of emails out in an hour, they are invaluable.
There are a couple of those tactics that I could use to send out 200 emails and then have an inbox flooded with responses that I could hardly keep up with. And if those tactics don’t work, then I still can send a more personalized or detailed cold email a week or two later and maybe that will get a response, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other.
Like I said, if your link makes sense, your link makes sense. Personally, I’d much rather spend my time finding more websites to contact than trying to craft perfect emails.