How to Write an Outreach Email That Someone Will Actually Read

November 9, 2020

If search engine optimization (SEO) is part of your startup’s marketing strategy—and it more than likely should be—you’ll need to build backlinks to your website at some point.

As Moz explains, backlinks are important to SEO because they “represent a ‘vote of confidence’ from one site to another” and are “a signal to search engines that others vouch for your content.”

One of the most tried-and-true methods to getting backlinks: sending a cold email that asks the recipient to link back to your site. If you’ve ever managed a company’s main contact inbox or you’ve run a blog, you’ve more than likely gotten hundreds of these. The majority of them are poorly written, confusing, irritating and just plain bad.

Bad outreach email

Building backlinks is a tedious process. And if you’re writing the same boring, robotic outreach emails as everyone else, you’re just making the process even harder for yourself.

Writing cold emails is no easy task. You’re asking a stranger to take time out of their busy day to do something for you. With the average person receiving over 90 business emails every day, it’s no surprise that the majority of cold emails get ignored.

Business emails sent/received per day. Image: Radicati Group (opens PDF).

But this doesn’t mean that you should shoot for one response for every 100 emails that you send. With the right approach, you can create engaging copy that will get people to take action and boost your link building efforts.

Below, let’s check out three actionable tips on how to write better outreach emails. Though these tips and examples are geared towards link-building, you can still apply them to other types of cold emails—like pitching yourself as a guest on a podcast, attempting to form a partnership with an influencer, or selling a product or service.

Make it hyper-personal, show humor and be relatable

The person you’re emailing doesn’t know you.

This means that you have less than 15 seconds to hook a stranger, build a connection with them, and get them to read the rest of your email.

To do that, your email must be highly personal. If you write something generic that could be addressed to anyone, the recipient will have no incentive to read it. They’ll assume that you’re another lousy marketer who’s out to waste their time.

A highly personalized email shows your recipient that your message is meant for no one else but them. It makes the person curious about what you have to say.

Think of it this way… If you were walking down the street and someone behind you shouted “Hey,” you would probably ignore them because they could be calling out to anyone.

But if someone called out your name, you’d definitely stop to check who they are because they’re addressing you specifically. This is exactly what happens when you write a highly personalized email.

Making your emails hyper-personalized can improve your likelihood of getting a response by more than 100%.

Image: Propeller

You’ve got to go beyond simply using the recipient’s name in the subject line or salutation—it’s not enough. Here are some tips on how to make your emails highly personal and build a connection with your recipient:

  • If you have a mutual connection, mention that person
  • Find something you have in common with the recipient and include it in your email
  • Congratulate your recipient for a recent achievement
  • Praise some of your recipient’s work and tell them why you liked it

When trying to build a connection with your recipient, be authentic. People can tell when you’re complimenting them for the sake of it, and this will reflect poorly on you (and hurt your chances of getting whatever you were asking for).

Only compliment your recipient when you’re genuine about it. Similarly, don’t lie about a common interest or mutual connection. This is manipulative—and it’ll hurt your future relationship with your recipient when they discover you lied to them.

Aside from making your emails hyper-personalized, you can also use humor to make your emails more interesting and relatable. A few different ways to incorporate it in outreach emails:

  • Use a funny subject line
  • Start your email with a joke that’s related to the content of your email
  • Use puns
  • Go visual. Add a funny image, gif, video or meme to your email.
  • Use a funny call-to-action

Just be careful not to go overboard with jokes—and obviously avoid anything inappropriate. And if you aren’t funny, this isn’t a good time to try to be.

Make the pitch less than 80 words

Once you’ve introduced yourself and built a connection with your recipient, get to your pitch. This is where you state your reason for writing the email—which could be anything from asking for a backlink to improve your site’s SEO, to pitching yourself as a podcast guest, or even inquiring about an open position.

Keep your pitch short and to the point—your recipient is a busy person. The longer your pitch is, the higher the chances they’ll stop reading halfway through it. Ideally, your pitch should be less than 80 words.

Returning to the backlink example: When making your pitch, note that most people won’t go out of their way to add a link back to your site or article simply because you asked. If you want to increase your chances of getting a link, you need to provide some value for the other website and their audience.

What this means is that you should not send out your outreach emails to anyone who happens to have a website or a blog. Instead, find websites within your niche that have content related to the content that you’re promoting, and then send your outreach emails to the owners of these sites.

In the pitch section of your email, explain how you came across their content, why you think that adding a link back to your content would be good for their site, and how the link back to your content will add value to the site’s audience.

For instance, let’s assume that you just published an article about the best ecommerce platforms, which you want to promote. You’ve also identified a resource article on how to make money online, and you’re trying to get a link back to your article from the resource article.

In such a situation, you could email the site owner this pitch:

“I was checking through the internet for resources on how to make money online and came across your digital marketing resource page. It’s a very great resource that has been very useful to me. Through your resource page, I have discovered new ways to monetize my blog.

I noticed, however, that you didn’t include any resources for ecommerce. I just completed an article on the best ecommerce platforms, and I think it would make a great addition to your resource page. You can check it out here:

Using this approach will put you heads and shoulders above others who ask for backlinks without showing how it will help the site owner and the site’s audience. This approach shows that aren’t just thinking about yourself, but about the other person’s audience as well.

Include a call to action to drive results

After making your pitch, don’t drop the mic. What do you want your recipient to do after they read your message? Make that clear with a call to action (CTA).

A CTA prompts the email recipient to take a specific action, which in this case is to link back to your site.

One mistake that a lot of marketers make with their call to action is to give the email recipient too many options. I’ve come across emails that say something like this:

“I’d really appreciate it if you referenced my article in your post. If that proves difficult, it would also be great if you shared the article on your Facebook page or your Twitter handle.”

This CTA is no good—it gives someone way too many options.

But isn’t this counterintuitive? Shouldn’t more options be better? After all, more options allow the recipient to choose whatever they’re most comfortable with.

The problem is that a lot of options create something known as the paradox of choice.

In a famous experiment carried out by researchers from Columbia University and Stanford University, the researchers set up a stand inside a busy shopping mall, where they offered different flavors of jam.

At certain times, they had 24 flavors of jam on the stand, and at other times they reduced the number to just six flavors. Their aim was to test which of the two setups would lead to more sales.

At the end of the experiment, the researchers discovered that 30% of those who were presented with six flavors made a purchase. For those presented with 24 flavors, on the other hand, only a paltry 3% made a purchase.

Source: Your Marketing Rules

Being presented with a higher number of flavors to choose from made it difficult for people to make a choice—and eventually most of them went away without buying anything.

This is the same thing that happens when you have a CTA with too many options in your outreach email. With different options to pick from, there’s a high chance that your email recipient won’t actually make any choice—so you won’t get that backlink you were hoping for.

To avoid this, your CTA should only have one option. They either give you the backlink or just ignore the email.

Examples of effective, non-boring emails for outreach campaigns

In the spirit of showing rather than telling, here are two examples of effective, non-boring emails that work well for outreach campaigns.

Source: My own email inbox

What makes this example a great one is that it keeps the conversation casual and fun. It also moves from the introduction to the pitch quickly to avoid wasting the recipient’s time, and provides good reasons why referencing the article will add value to the recipient’s audience.

Here’s another example:

Source: My own email inbox

This second example is highly personal. It takes the time to compliment the recipient about their recently published article, and flatters them even more by letting them know that you are now a fan of their blog. This builds a connection and makes them more receptive to your pitch.

Ready to write better emails?

With the three key tips we’ve covered, you have everything you need to improve your outreach campaigns and build a healthy backlink profile.

Here’s a recap of what you need to do:

  • Make the email hyper-personal, show humor, and be relatable
  • Pitch the value of linking back to your site in less than 80 words
  • Include a call to action to drive outreach results

Good luck as you set out to transform your campaigns and make real connections with people.

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Anastasia is a 3x serial entrepreneur with a deep passion for business models, career and digital marketing strategies.