Recently, i’ve been trying to better understand what constitutes ‘good outreach’ in an attempt to increase response rates and overall placements. Ignoring the quality of the actual content being outreached — which, I believe, will always be the number one factor — there appear to be three main components. These are:
1. Outreach targets: The quality of the contact list, e.g. relevency to the writer/site.
2. The Pitch: The language used in the initial email — subject line, copy, length of copy, link inclusion, attachment inclusion, etc.
3. Analysis and Tracking: Using software to monitor response rates and test different approaches.
Components one and three are both fairly easy to improve upon; you simply need to buy the right tools, and implement the right training and processes. Writing good pitches, however, is a far more difficult challenge, with success largely being determined by the personal preferences of your contacts.
What Constitutes a Good Pitch?
Anyone who has performed a lot of outreach will know that it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen on a given day. Sometimes you can send out half a dozen emails and secure a couple of good placements; other days you can send 30 and get no replies at all. Yet, whilst there’s certainly an element of luck involved, some people are undoubtedly more successful than others. This may be hard to measure in the short term, but if you compare people over a range of different projects then you’ll start seeing trends emerge.
Partially, this will be down to experience; the more you perform a task, the better you normally get at it; but interestingly this isn’t always the case, and the fact that most people improve over time doesn’t tell us why they improve. Thus, I decided to read Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini to see if I could identify any psychological principles underpinning success rates. The main points of interest are listed below.
A well known principle of human behaviour says that when we ask someone a favour, we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.
Takeaway — Always provide a ‘because’ in your outreach emails. What is the reason someone should run your infographic, or publish your survey?
The Rule of Reciprocation
We feel obligated to repay, in kind, what another person has provided or done for us. This feeling of indebtedness can be triggered by doing an uninvited favour, and we may be willing to agree to perform a larger favour than we received to relieve ourselves of the psychological burden.
Takeaway — Consider sending useful and relevant information over to a writer before you actually contact them. When you do contact them, they may be more likely to comply with your actual request.
We feel an obligation to make a concession to someone who has made one to us. Mutual concessions are an important part of socially desirable arrangements, as they ensure that both parties are not exploited.
Takeaway — If you ask for a second smaller favour after the first, then it’s more likely to be accepted. As an example, if a site doesn’t want to cover a piece of your content, ask if they’d be willing to share it socially.
Once we have made a decision, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently. One technique used in sales is the ‘foot in the door technique’, where they start out with a little request in order to gain eventual compliance with a larger one.
Takeaway — Asking someone to view an earlier draft of a project, or perform a smaller task such as social sharing, can increase the overall chance of compliance.
We determine what the correct behaviour is by observing others. When people are uncertain, they are more likely to use others’ actions to decide how to act. This is more powerful when we are watching people similar to ourselves.
Takeaway — If you’ve secured other placements then don’t be afraid of using them to provide credibility that a piece is worth covering.
We all feel pressure to say yes to someone we know and like. Often the mention of a name is enough.
Takeaway — If you receive a reply (whether positive or negative) consider asking the contact if they know anyone else who might be interested.
We like people who are similar to us. This fact seems to hold true whether the similarity is in the area of opinions, personality traits, background, or lifestyle. People can claim they have backgrounds and interests similar to us to boost compliance.
Takeaway — If you make an effort to show you know someone’s ‘beat’, you’ll have more success.
Although there are limits, we tend to believe praise and to like those who provide it, even if it seems false.
Takeaway — Don’t be afraid to complement a contact on their existing content or site. You may worry they’ll see it as fake, but that’s not necessarily true.
Establishing co-operation and mutual benefit can boost compliance.
Takeaway — Ensure that your emails are focused around the benefit you’ll be providing to the contact, rather than the benefit to yourself.
There is a natural human tendency to dislike a person who brings us unpleasant information, even when that person did not cause the bad news. The simple association is enough to stimulate dislike.
Takeaway — Avoid referencing SEO or anything else that may have a negative impact by association.
Opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited. Because we know that the things that are difficult to possess are typically better than those that are easy to posses, we can often use an item’s availability to help us quickly and correctly decide on its quality. Not only do we want the same item more when it is scarce, we want it most when we are in competition for it.
Takeaway — Don’t be afraid to pitch exclusives to larger publications, preferably for a few weeks only. Also don’t be afraid to casually mention you’re talking to other publications.