Picking up the telephone can work wonders, giving you a chance to bounce ideas around until one sticks, but more often than not your first port of call will be to email the most suitable address on the ‘contact us’ page.
So, how can you give yourself the best chance of getting commissioned and seeing your article published? Over the years, we’ve helped our clients obtain valuable citation links on thousands of premium websites, an integral element in any successful content marketing campaign, so we’ve somewhat perfected the art of pitching articles that get the green light.
This is our best practice advice for constructing the perfect outreach email.
Stand out from the crowd
It’s important to see things from the other side of the fence. We all know what it’s like to receive an endless stream of emails flooding our inboxes. Where to start? How do you weed out the good from the bad, the ‘Yeah!’ from the ‘meh’, the ‘Wham!’ from the spam?
Busy bloggers and magazine editors are swamped with requests to publish content and review products, so real consideration must be given as to how you make your email stand out. The first question is, how do you get the editor of your desired publication to open and read your email? Next, how do you keep their attention and encourage them to take your pitch seriously?
Be honest, clear and concise
Being honest, clear and concise is a great mantra for the whole outreach process, so start as you mean to go on. Be open and clear from the outset; who are you, why are you contacting them and what can you offer?
Don’t sugarcoat or hide details, be upfront and tell the editor who you are and why you think they should be interested in what you have to say. Remember that most editors will be drowning in generic emails asking for their time, so you need to show that yours is worthy of their attention.
Below is an annotated screenshot of a poor example of outreach we once received from somebody offering to write for our blog. This is what to avoid:
As you can see, there are several potential sticking points that we’ve flagged-up, but it seems that this carefree approach is all too common, with an unwritten rule amongst digital marketing agencies that you have to pitch 100 websites to get five responses, which will land up with one article published. However, we’d argue that, by refining your approach and creating a more bespoke pitch for each site, your success rate will be much higher. Our selection process and approach to emails generally sees us publish one article for every five to ten sites we pitch.
Managing an outreach campaign can be a daunting task and using a templated approach to fulfill some elements of the process is almost unavoidable, but this doesn’t mean your emails should lack character.
Research… Research… Research…
To improve the effectiveness of your outreach activity you must thoroughly research the publications you are contacting; find out who the editor is and understand their content style, review recently published articles and spot a gap you can fill. By spending some time getting to know the publication you’re contacting, you’ll have a greater chance of communicating the content you can offer and clarifying why it would be a natural fit.
It all begins with the email subject line
The first thing the editor will see is the subject of your email. So how do you capture their imagination, get them to open and read on? It’s not an exact science – what works for one publication may not work for another – but by constantly testing and refining your approach you will get a flavour of what works for you.
We like to get straight to the point when contacting sites. We’re looking for the opportunity to publish editorial content, so we keep it simple with something like: Guest Article – 5 Fantastic Free Tools for Better Content Marketing.
So, ‘Guest Article’ gets straight to the point and the headline hopefully catches the eye, giving the recipient a clear indication as to exactly what we have to offer.
Top Tip: For further insight on writing titles that catch the eye, see our guide to writing great headlines for content marketing.
An example outreach email
We’ve conducted a lot of content marketing for law firms over recent years, so we’ll now outline a sample email that we might use for a legal client, in this case contacting a sports publication for potential editorial opportunities.
Let’s hypothesise that the goal is to reach out to a wider audience and target a community that might need legal advice in the sporting sector. The subject line might be something along the lines of:
Guest Article – Where to turn when a sporting injury changes your life.
It’s clear that we’re enquiring about a possible editorial submission on a topic that should be relevant to the readership.
The body text
Again, remember our mantra; honest, clear and concise. Editors are busy people and so are their assistants who might well be screening emails.
If you’ve passed the first hurdle and they’ve opened your email, now is your opportunity to go into more detail. But not too much; this isn’t the time to write an essay or even submit your article. A quick introduction, a summary of your intentions and a few suggested titles and synopses will be more than enough at this stage.
Engaging in dialogue and building a relationship with the publication is just as important as getting them to accept what you have to offer right away. You never know, your content may not fit their editorial schedule at this time, but by building a relationship you will get some insight into how they operate and what they might be looking for in the future.
Dear “Editor’s Name”,
Following our in-depth research of the publication we should know who the editor of the magazine/blog is, or we will know the deputy editor in charge of the section we are targeting. If we can’t find this from the website or their social media channels, we would recommend making an introductory call to establish who would be the correct person to contact.
I’m contacting you on behalf of Dan Pearce, Founding Partner of Example Law Firm.
Here, we’d insert a link to the law firm’s website, allowing the reader to easily check out the professionalism and legitimacy of the client. We quickly follow this up with what we do and explain why we are contacting the site.
ELF are experts in legal issues centred around sporting injuries, and we enjoyed reading your recent article, “The long road to recovery after a cycling accident”. You dealt with a difficult subject matter very sensitively and Tim’s story was motivational and encouraging.
In this case we are directly following up on a recent article the site has published. This is a great ice-breaker and shows that we have spent time studying their site and that we are engaged with their content. We then offer some follow-up or complementary article ideas that expand on the topics they’ve already covered.
I wanted to get in touch as Dan and his team have worked with many clients going through similar ordeals, and we would like to contribute a guest article that follows on from your recent piece. Our initial thoughts would be something along the lines of either:
1. Where to turn when a sporting injury changes your life.
Using case studies, this 800-word article looks at two individuals and the support they called upon whilst adapting their careers after a life-changing accident.
2. Who’s to blame? Legal advice following sporting accidents.
Advice on who to contact and the law around what does, and does not, constitute medical negligence in the aftermath of a sporting injury.
We like to keep the suggested article summary as simple and to the point as possible. A simple title is followed up by one or two sentences giving a flavour of the article.
Don’t overload the recipient with too much information. A brief synopsis is more than enough to whet the appetite. If they’re interested in hearing more, they will ask for further information. By this stage you have them engaged in conversation, and you’re onto a winner.
We normally have six to ten article ideas that we’re developing at any one time, each focused towards one of the vertical markets we’re looking to engage with. When sending our initial outreach emails we like to narrow down the titles and select only the most relevant for each publication. This helps the email to be succinct and easily digestible.
At this point in the email the reader should be clear on who you are, what your expertise is and why you’re contacting them. The article ideas should bring all this together to show what information you can provide in your proposed article(s). The more closely it relates to their publication and your expertise, the better.
After outlining our suggestions, we like to demonstrate the quality of our writing by adding a few links to our recently published work,
As you can see from our recently published work on Sporting Success and Fever Pitch. all our content is unbiased, informative and written to the highest editorial standards.
The above is a simple sentence which clarifies our editorial aims and includes hyperlinks to recent articles we have had published. These links should be regularly updated with your most recently published or most relevant articles, demonstrating you have the credentials to write for your target publication.
Now all you need to do is sign off, but remember to ask a question before you go.
Would you be interested in one of these articles for exclusive publication on your site?
You’re looking to encourage a response or build a relationship, so it’s imperative that you end with a question that needs answering. Do they want one of your articles or not?
When conducting an outreach campaign even a negative response is better than no response at all. It could be a flat out ‘No’, in which case you can cross the lead off your list and move on. It could be a ‘No… but your examples are good, try again next month’, which means you have made a good first impression and have a potential lead for the future. It could even be ‘No… but we’d be interested in something about…’ which is a response looking to collaborate based on your expertise.
We sometimes avoid the closed question, requiring a yes or no answer, and go for a more open-ended question to draw the editor into a conversation.
Which of these articles do you feel would be of most interest to your readership? Or perhaps you can suggest a different angle that would better suit your editorial calendar?
As mentioned above, there’s no hard-and-fast rules as to what works, so we vary our approach across different campaigns to see which delivers the best results.
The follow-up email
Of course the publications have the option of ignoring your email altogether. Whether they are merely busy or just not interested, it’s important to schedule in a follow-up email.
We send a series of follow-ups for every campaign and often get a great level of response at the second or third time of asking. Remember, you’re dealing with busy people and it’s easy to overlook an email, but it’s harder to overlook a reminder email along the lines of, “We contacted you 10 days ago and haven’t heard back”.
Once again, it starts with the subject line. Keep your email honest, clear and concise; tell them who you are, why you’re contacting them and what you can offer. But this time be even more concise.
Follow Up – Guest Article – Life after a sporting injury
We like to vary the subject line on our follow-ups, but the goal is still to be clear about our message. This is a very generic example, but it’s a variation on the subject line of the original email – sometimes trying a new title helps keep your communication fresh, while also triggering a memory of your previous enquiry.
Dear “Editor’s Name”,
It’s Magnus on behalf of Example Law Firm.
We start as we mean to go on by letting them know who we are and including a hyperlink to the client website, there’s no need to explain yourself again at this stage.
Did you have a chance to consider my previous email and our potential guest article based around legal advice for sporting injuries?
We quickly get down to business, reminding them that we have been in touch before, why and what we are offering.
You can check out examples of our recently published articles here and here, which should give you an insight into the quality of our output.
Again, we validate our knowledge by highlighting previously published examples of our work.
If you could let me know your level of interest as soon as possible it would be greatly appreciated.
So the follow-up email contains the same points as before but it’s shorter and snappier. It should be an abridged version of the initial outreach email, telling the reader who you are, why you’re contacting them and what you can offer.
Personally, I always follow-up by forwarding the original outreach email, only adjusting the subject line. This means the original content is still visible within the conversation.
If there’s still no response after a couple of reminders, we’ll revisit our research to make sure we have the correct contact information and consider varying our approach by calling the appropriate person or engaging with them on social media.
Occasionally, we’ll send a further follow-up after a couple of weeks, but If we still don’t get a reply we’ll retire the site from our immediate prospecting list.
Remember how research, site analysis and a good understanding of your audience will go a long way to enriching your outreach campaign.
Always remember to be honest, clear and concise throughout. Your goal is to communicate your thought leadership and experience in your sector.
There are no tricks or shortcuts to this process. Your aim should be to be upfront with who you are, what you have, and why your target should want your content. If you follow this advice, you’ll soon find that your outreach efforts become very effective, opening yourself up to targeted audiences within your sector and boosting your SEO with a growing portfolio of backlinks from authoritative websites.
If you have any questions or would like advice on managing your outreach campaign please do get in touch.
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