7 Reasons Outreach Campaigns Fail

Editor’s Note: At Skyrocket, we also operate a stable of our own website properties. This means we sit at both sides of the table when it comes to outreach. We frequently see a number of mistakes that individuals, companies, and agencies make when it comes to link building outreach campaigns and so I reached out to Sean Markey to put together a piece which looks at each of these common mistakes and how you can avoid them.

1) Not Enough Automation

Automation is a game changer for conducting outreach campaigns. There are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to setting up a successful campaign: researching sites, collecting contact info, sending emails and replies, tracking, and so on.

Making Mistakes

Even with the most perfect manual system in place, to err is human. Mistakes happen. Maybe you forgot to respond to a prospect that showed interest in sharing your content, or maybe you forgot to send out your second and third follow-up emails. Using automation will help reduce mistakes

Surprisingly, reducing mistakes isn’t automation’s most valuable benefit.

Saving Time

You could take your list of 250 prospects and send them a personalized email one at a time, plus three follow-up emails if they don’t respond.

But who wants to (or has the patience and focus to) send 1,000 emails by hand?

The good news is, you don’t have to. Automation can help!

Outreach campaigns are a numbers game. Yes, you can do things to increase your success rate, such as personalize the emails, do good research, and follow other best practices. But really, only X% are going to respond to your email, and of those, only X% are going to be interested in seeing what you’ve got to share.

Outreach campaigns generally need scale to be effective.

Here are some tools that can help you automate the process, to achieve the right level of scale:

Prospect Research Tools

These tools scrape LinkedIn to help you find the right person at a company, and get that person’s email address:

These tools allow you to enter known information (website, name) and get email addresses: 

Email Apps

These tools allow you to send emails, automate follow-ups, and track your campaign data:

Those are just a few of the available tools you can use to support your outreach efforts.  Do your research on the pros and cons of using each: my intention is not to recommend, but provide a starting place to find certain kinds of tools.

Editor’s Note: At Skyrocket, we mainly rely on a lightweight setup of Boomerang for GMail with some manual prospecting to help prompt follow-ups and provide canned templates for us to customize.

2) Too Much Automation/Not Qualifying Prospects

It’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Too much salt, too much sugar, too many hours spent binge watching three seasons of Orange Is the New Black.

When it comes to automation, it’s definitely possible to use too much. Specifically, using automation when you should be doing the work by hand.

No need to figure this out on your own, though. Here are the things you should NOT automate:

Which prospects to reach out to

Let’s say you’re doing an outreach campaign targeting Zoos. You load your list of keywords into Buzzstream and have it run a search. It returns hundreds of results.


Time to extract contact info and start your campaigns, right?

Not so fast…

How many sites in your results don’t belong? The top 10 results for the keyword “zoo” contain results like these:

zoo SERP example

There’s no reason to waste your time, the contact’s time, your reputation, and earn a high spam score for reaching out to sites that are clearly outside your target.

When it comes to finding which prospects to reach out to, it’s a better use of resources to do it the right way, and pass a discerning eye over the results.

Aggregating Prospect Contact Info

The most important part of a successful outreach campaign happens long before you send the first email. Getting the right contact info for the right person will see not only a better response rate, but a better outcome of your goal (which, in this case, is to have an influencer or related site share your content with their audience).

What you don’t want

To end up with an email list full of addresses like:

In most cases your email is not reaching the right person, and your message may not be read at all.

The best case scenario is to find the email address of an actual person—someone you think will be open to hearing from you.

Better if your to contact list looks like this:

…and so on.

Avoiding The Honeypot

Never heard of the honeypot–also known as a Spamtrap? It is basically a shared system of identifying and universally banning spammers. Email providers like Yahoo! use this list to help manage spam by not letting any email from the blacklist through.

Here’s a tidy explanation from CampaignMonitor.com:

• Your sender reputation will be damaged, causing bounce rates to increase, and as a result your percentage of delivered (to the inbox) emails will decrease.
• Our IP address may be added to a blacklist database, which means deliverability for your other clients (and our other customers) would also be affected.
• If you hit a spam trap operated by an ISP, such as Yahoo! or AOL, that ISP could permanently blacklist your whole domain.
• If you hit a trap operated by an anti-spam organization (e.g. Abusix, Spamhaus, SpamCop) delivery of your emails to all ISPs and companies who consult that organization’s database will be affected because they use that information to filter incoming emails.

You want to maintain the integrity of your domain and email service provider, and not get on an industry-wide blacklist.

How do you avoid this?

There are several ways, but the one that best applies to outreach email is to make sure your contact list is relevant and specific. You won’t make this happen by automating email address research.

3) Not Using a Framework

There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel every time you start a new campaign.  There’s years and years of data available if you’re just starting out.  If you’re a veteran of several campaigns, you have a vast pool of experience to draw from.

What’s worked previously?  What hasn’t?  You can use these as a starting point for your campaigns.

In building on these experiences, don’t be afraid to test!.  If you’ve got a substantial prospect list, run some tests and develop an idea of what appeals to certain types of prospects.

Split test your template and implement the winning results.  Study the data of the successful campaigns–is there an insight you can draw from the results?  Maybe sites that post everyday are more receptive to one kind of message; maybe reaching out to sites with resource pages respond more to another kind of message.

Even though you have automation tools at your fingertips, outreach is a science and an art, not a frozen pizza you can set a timer for to check only when it dings.

You’ll see more positive responses and build stronger relationships if you take hold of the data and improve your outreach game with it.

4) All Prospects Created Equal

Let’s be hypothetical.

Say you’ve got a marketing blog, and you’ve created a knockout infographic on A/B testing. You’ve put in the time, and created a great list of prospects. You’re loading them all into your email automation software to send out your meticulously crafted email.

You notice one of your prospects is Dharmesh Shah, founder of Hubspot. You remember reading a post from him last month about the importance of A/B testing, and how not enough good marketers employ it.

And yet, you load up your meticulously crafted email template and move on to the next prospect.

What’s the problem here?

You could have tweaked your email template to be more interesting to one of the most powerful voices in the marketing world. You could have increased your chance of having a receptive ear bent to your message.

Instead, you (hypothetically) sent the same message to all prospects, regardless of their comparative value.

While your outreach emails should be as personalized as you can make them anyway, recognizing that some of the prospects you’ve researched potentially have more to offer you and putting in some extra work is worth it.

Sending a one-size-fits-all email is a big mistake.

5) Not Sending Personalized Emails

While I glossed over this point in the last section, I want to come back to it and make sure it’s included.

Not sending personalized emails is a huge reason outreach campaigns fail. If you own your own business, or—at the very least—website, you’ve probably gotten an email that starts with:

“Dear Sir/Madam”

You don’t need to read any further to know that a) the person sending this wants something from you, b) they don’t respect you/your time enough to even find out your name… there’s really no reason for you to keep reading.

“Dear {name}”

Oops, didn’t properly set up the automated emails correctly. I’ve received several emails like this, and they’re usually not worth my time.

Take the extra time to personalize your email. If you’re playing at a high level, you’ll not only get the name right, but will be familiar enough with the subject to write one or two sentences that build some quick (but not cheap) rapport.

6) Not Being Careful

This is something everyone has messed up. It only takes one instance of sending an unfinished template to make you double and triple check your list and your emails before hitting “send” forevermore.

The time it takes to send a test email is worth it. That little bit of time can help you catch things like:

  • messing up attribute tags, i.e. {name} or {website}
  • sending the wrong version of an email
  • sending the template (“Hi {name}, I was reading {your site} and…”)

Those are just the obvious ones.

Reaching out to an influencer with whom you hope to build a beneficial relationship is a lot like the first day of school: first impressions matter. A lot.

Take the time to check your spelling, your list, your links. Don’t get this wrong.

7) Damaging Your/Your Client’s Reputation

I try to never send an email I would be embarrassed by if it were made public. This is doubly true if I’m working on behalf of a client. Being sneaky, or pushy, or anything else other than polite and respectful is a recipe for failure.

This is a short section, because there’s not a lot to say. Don’t use misleading subject lines. Be up-front about why you’re sending an email. Do things in a way you’d be comfortable if other clients or competitors found out about.

From the many campaigns I’ve done, I can tell you that doing an outreach campaign is all about building relationships.

Based on my experience as both a sender and receiver of these emails, I tried to give clear reasons why outreach campaigns fail in the hope that you can learn from these mistakes, and make use of the info.

Remember, the most important thing when doing outreach:

It’s all about the links 🙂 I jest of course. Don’t forget: outreach is the opportunity to develop relationships that have value far beyond a one-time arrangement.

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