Do Short Outreach Emails Get You More Links?

Almost 4 years ago I released some data in a blog post, published on Moz, that looked at some outreach theories and how the numbers stacked up in reality. That was focused on blogger outreach in relation to securing guest posts, as anyone working in the space will tell you the landscape has shifted dramatically and a like-for-like comparison would have very little value.

Today I’ve got some numbers for you from our content outreach service which involves outreach to a wide spectrum of prospects to promote information-rich web pages and assets.

What’s ‘Publish Rate’?

You’ll notice in the charts below that we talk about Publish Rate. This is a metric we focus on internally, in essence it is the percentage of people contacted that convert into a live link. It is important to remember that a contact may not convert into a link for a number of reasons including but not limited to; a prospect isn’t interested, they want payment, we change our mind after speaking with the prospect, they change their mind after speaking with us. We are constantly looking to improve publish rates by tweaking our workflows and to date the factor we’ve found to have the biggest impact is in terms of content production – creating something that is truly worth talking about, if you have this then everything else slots into place if you know how to run an outreach campaign.

Why we don’t measure ‘Response Rate’?

A common question we get is What kind of response rate can we expect?, it is a perfectly valid question but not one I can easily answer. We don’t track response rate for two reasons; firstly, we have a flexible workflow so we might find ourselves using a different webmail system each time as we integrate with a client’s process for example. This makes it impractical to hook up any kind of monitoring tools or Buzzstream. Secondly (and most importantly), we find it to be a largely pointless metric because if you take an industry like travel, response rates can be really high (40-50% in some cases – I’ve run numbers manually before) but very few of those will actually convert to a link. This is because in travel for example, webmasters very often expect to receive payment for placements so they are quick to respond because in many cases they’ve got a nice little racket going fleecing the big travel brands.

About the data

  • Timeframe – The data below is taken from campaigns conducted during Q3 (July, August, September) of 2015
  • Industries – we categorized every campaign into one of six industries; technology, education, law, travel, health and finance. These are quite broad categorizations so please bear this in mind. I decided to make this broad so that we had more data for each category and to protect any clients in very specific industries.
  • Metrics – we ran all links through URL Profiler to obtain domain level metrics from Majestic. Our focus for the targeted outreach service is on relevance but it does make for interesting reading to see the levels of authority and trust.

Let’s get into the data…

1) How Long Should Your Outreach Email Be?

There is plenty of speculation on this topic and honestly I still believe that the answer is “It depends!”. Ultimately it comes down to the industry you are working, the type of asset you are promoting and the reason for your email. I found it quite interesting reviewing this across all of our campaigns for a quarterly period because it is clear that short works really well. The data shows that there is still a place for slightly longer emails but that you hit a point of diminishing returns so keeping things concise is essential.

Please note that we had no emails which fell into the 111-130 word range which is why there is no data for these groups.

Email LengthI don’t think there is a magic length to an outreach email, ultimately there are other factors which I think matter more; from targeting the right prospects to how good the thing you are promoting actually is. I do think the above highlights the need to get to the point, we all get a lot of emails each day. When preparing an outreach email make sure you are answering the questions of “why am I getting this email?” and “why should I bother reading on?” as quickly as possible.

2) How Does Publish Rate Differ By Industry?

We broadly categorized the campaigns we were working on into six different industries and I thought it would be interesting to average out the publish rates we observed across each area.

IndustryMy immediate thought when I saw this chart was that it almost flows in some order of commerciality so as to say that the more commercialized an industry is the lower the average publish rate is likely to be. It also reinforces my comment from the start of this post which looked at the challenges of link building in the travel niche, it is a similar issue that afflicts finance and health. All three of these industries see lower publish rates compared with education, law and technology which are all commercial sectors but, in our experience, have a great number of not directly commercial angles to explore.

3) How Does The Reason for Outreach Impact Publish Rate?

There are lots of reasons you might reach out to another website in the course of a link building campaign. For example they may have a broken link that you are suggesting they update, they might have previously published content on a topic that you are an expert on or they might have highlighted a piece of content which can be enhanced by the piece you are promoting.

We categorized each campaign into one of three types of reason; Broken Link, Related Topic and Related Information.

reasonUnsurprisingly perhaps, reaching out about a broken link yields the best publish rate. There is a very clear reason for the prospect to respond and do something about it. The data then pretty much goes in order of targeting; to reach out to someone who has written about something related or very similar to the content you are promoting is more of a sure thing than to reach out to a website which covers your broader topic area. Reflecting on this data, it is common sense that the more targeted a prospect is the better the publish rate is likely to be but I still think there is a place for more speculative outreach (within reason) because it widens the pool of potential link prospects and may mean links from places your competitors haven’t even thought of – even if that means working slightly harder to get those links.

4) How Does the Humble Subject Line Impact Publish Rate?

The subject line will have an impact on things like open rate and response rate but I wanted to pull some numbers to determine if it had a bearing on the overall process i.e. does adjusting the subject line have a big enough impact on the response rate to boost overall publish rate?

To do this we categorized all of our outreach emails by the type of subject line that they had. I don’t want to include examples of the subject lines we use because the last time I did something like this, very quickly we found the same tried and tested templates being used in outreach across the web. We categorized broadly as generic, specific and personalized.

  • Generic – didn’t include a topic keyword
  • Specific – included a topic keyword
  • Personalized – subject line customized to the prospect

subject lineAs with the length of the email, the effort you put into a subject line seems to hit a point of diminishing returns and based on this data it would suggest that a specific subject line i.e. one that indicates to the prospect that the email is about a topic that they care about, is the ‘sweet-spot’. Going to the length of customizing the subject line to the prospect would appear to be unnecessary. I think it is worth mentioning that another potential reason the personalized category percentage seems so low is that there is less uniformity so in these campaigns outreachers were given a framework but arguably one individual’s ability to craft a subject line will vary to another.

Overall my advice would be to craft a specific subject line as part of your email template but don’t go to the additional trouble of tailoring to each prospect, whilst I think the numbers for the personalized category above are probably a little on the low side (if we were to average out across the year or a larger data set we’d probably get a higher percentage publish rate), I’ve not seen any evidence that would suggest the extra effort will be rewarded.

5) How does a Typical Link Vary By Industry?

Although our targeted outreach service is focused on topical relevance over and above any particular metric, I think it is useful to reflect on the calibre of links that is achievable if you’re not “blinkered” by just the metrics. In purely metric terms, we do get some real showstopper links along with others that are more middle of the road but still valuable because they have been selected for relevance and authenticity. Every prospect we contact has been manually reviewed to ensure it meets our quality criteria but it is natural for there to be a diversity within your profile.

Link MetricsRather than present the average figures for our campaigns overall (which I think is kind of meaningless), I wanted to draw some comparisons between the industries that we work on. This highlights the need for campaign expectations to differ and explains one of the reasons I think as an industry we should move away from this focus on one or even a handful of metrics.

Please bear in mind that everything in this post is based on a relatively small data set; campaigns conducted by just one company over a three month period. I think there is some validity to the observations and in many cases the data would seem to corroborate what is generally regarded as best practice for outreach.

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