Let me start with a confession: I’m not a journalist… but I play one on the Internet. Over the last three years, I’ve built up a byline that includes outlets like Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fast Company, The Next Web, Huffington Post, Success Magazine and Lifehacker.
On top of that, I’ve earned guest spots at a host of top-tier marketing blogs like Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs, ConversionXL, Unbounce and Copyblogger.
However… shameless self-promotion is not what this article is about. Nor is it about my own personal success at crafting outreach emails that opens doors, although we’ll touch on that. Instead, what I really want to focus on are the outreach emails I get. Why?
Because nearly all of the outreach emails I receive – emails pitching stories, products, press releases, articles, reviews, and partnerships – are jaw-droppingly terrible. And this isn’t just anecdotal; the big-picture data paints an equally dismal picture.
Last year, a collaborative study by Moz and Buzzsumo – Content, Shares, and Links: Insights from Analyzing 1 Million Articles – concluded:
50% of the 100,000 randomly selected posts had 2 or less Twitter shares, 2 or less Facebook interactions, 1 or less Google+ shares and zero LinkedIn shares. 75% of the posts had zero external links and 1 or less referring domain links.
While there’s no magical formula to crafting the “perfect” outreach email, there’re at least ten common reasons that might explain why nobody’s responding.
1) They’re too long
“Less is more” is sort of a golden rule for all online communication. For outreach emails, it’s even more crucial. According to the 3-5-7 rule of email copywriting, you have all of three seconds to get someone’s attention, five seconds to draw them in, and seven seconds to compel action.
How long is “too long”? No hard-and-fast rule for length exists, but normally what I shoot for is three to five paragraphs… at most. Anything longer and I know my chances of getting a response decrease dramatically.
As proof of just how golden brevity is, after nearly a year of pitching Huffington Post with lengthy outreach emails listing all the other places I’d published, the email that finally opened the door for my first article had just one line in the body:
2) They’re too formulaic
“Less is more” isn’t just a vital principle when it comes to length. It’s equally vital when it comes to volume: i.e., the number of emails you send out. As Sujan Patel points out in How to Craft the Perfect Outreach Email:
Nothing will get your emails deleted faster than sending messages which are obviously automated or that say “I sent this to 200 people in 10 minutes and all I changed was your name.
Formulaic emails are inhuman and do nothing to build an actual relationship with the person you’re reaching out to. Instead of resorting to copy-and-paste methodologies, add personal touches that go beyond inserting the person’s name and whatever blog post caught your eye.
For instance, my first guest post for Copyblogger came down not to a question of quality or relevance, but whether or not I was “a good dude who deserves a chance.” Here’s the back and forth between Jerod Morris – who at the time was Copyblogger’s editor – and Demian Farnworth:
3) They’re too dense
The only time more is more in an outreach email is when it comes to white space. Nothing stops me in my tracks quite like a visually crowded email composed of giant blocks of intimidating, densely packed text. Consider how hard it is to scan this real email I received a few weeks back:
It might sound superficial, but a simple way to get your emails read more is breaking them up into short, often-times single-sentence paragraphs and then bold or highlight the key question you want a response to. Making your emails easy to scan substantially improves readability, aesthetics, and impact.
4) They’re too self-centered
Marketing your skills and accomplishments is one thing. Assuming the world revolves around you is another. According to Neil Patel: “When you write any outreach email, always write it from the perspective of what’s in it for the person [you’re] emailing.” Sadly, the vast majority of outreach emails I get are glaringly self-centered. They’re dominated by first-person personal pronouns – I, me, my, us, we, and our. Just look back at the previous example and count up how many times the first-person appears and how dominated the email is with self-centered claims. As a result, your emails end up coming off as little more than…
Stand out by detailing how your contribution will benefit their business or publication and why they should pick you over your competitors.
5) They’re too vague
Remember, you’re not just trying to win the attention of an influencer via outreach emails. You’re competing against a host of others who are trying to do the same thing.
Few things frustrate editors, journalists, or thought leaders as much as getting an outreach email, reading the whole things, and being left with the burning question, “So what are you asking?”
Stop being ambiguous about your intentions, motivations, and expectations. Instead – before contacting anyone, figure out exactly what it is you want. Then, be glaringly obvious about your ask.
Also key on this front is sticking to one ask per communication. Don’t cloud your intentions with multiple requests like:
- Check out my article.
- Review my product.
- Comment on my post.
- Share it with your followers.
Not only does this choose-your-own-adventure format obscure what you’re asking for, it also comes off as pushy. “My least favorite emails made demands instead of expressing appreciation,” writes Adam Grant, the bestselling author of Give and Take. One email. One ask. Keep it simple. Keep it humble.
6) They’re too scared
At the other end of the emotional spectrum, avoid sending emails with any variation of the following sentences:
“I’m so sorry for taking up your time.”
“I know you’re busy and I’m sure you get emails like this all the time.”
“If it’s not too much trouble, I think you’d really like to cover a story my company and I are working on.
“I realize it’ll be a lot of work on your end, so I totally understand if you’re not interested.”
“Our company isn’t very big, so I don’t want to give you the wrong impression about our market share or social reach. But just in case you’re interested in talking with me, please email me back or schedule an appoint on my calendar app. If it’s easier, you can also check out our Facebook page to get more information.”
“Oh, and one last thing… if you’d like to try out the product – which I’m not sure if you will – you can create a free account here and just let me know what email address you used to sign up.”
The problem here is twofold. To begin with, it violates the last rule: it’s too vague. Even worse, it’s dripping with insecurity. Being overly deferential isn’t a sign of humility. Instead it indicates that you’re unsure and scared: two qualities that don’t make for an enticing outreach email.
Meekness is as ill-advised as arrogance. So, never minimize your experience and expertise. Believe in your cause, your courage, and your creativity; only then will others believe in you too.
7) They’re too formal
For outreaching-killing reasons seven and eight, there’re two extremes to avoid. On the one hand, outreach emails are not cover letters, so lighten up! To achieve maximum impact, pretend that you’re talking to someone you met for the first time at a conference: be respectful and yet conversational; professional, and yet fun; unassuming and yet quirky.In other words, write the way you talk.
Chiefly this means getting rid of inhuman jargon like “synergy” and “joint venture collaboration.” In fact, check out Forbes’ Jargon Madness gallery for a full run-down of all the words to avoid.
Image Credit: Forbes
8) They’re too informal
On the other hand, being too informal can be just as bad. Trying to act like you already know the person you’re reaching out to just because you’ve read their work or follow them on social media is creepy and off-putting.
This happens whenever somebody emails me a “picture they loved” from my Facebook page to try and break the ice.
Another hallmark of informality is going for the “ask” too soon. As mentioned above, don’t underestimate the power of building a genuine relationship, even if that relationship starts by commenting on posts and dropping mentions on social media.
Instead of being frighteningly chummy from the get-go, take the time to earn trust. Eventually, you’ll reach a place when it’s okay to chat about life, use a few emoticons, and maybe even solicit for favors. Until then, dial it down.
9) They’re too irrelevant
A lot of posts about crafting effective outreach will tell you that sending cold emails is a big “no, no.” Forget about all that. Cold emails are fine. It’s not temperature that matters; it’s relevance.
While almost all of my guest spots in the marketing niche have been the direct result of introductions from friends, I’ve cracked the door at Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Business Insider, and The Next Web all with cold pitches.
Well… that’s not entirely true. The truth is – when I’m trying to get pieces published – I never send “pitches.” Instead, I send a complete article tailored with plenty of crosslinks, written according to the site’s own editorial guidelines (most notably, word count), and built directly on top of subjects and keywords I know the site cares about.
All of this goes directly to relevance. What’s more, the magic of complete articles is that they actually make the editor’s job easier instead of harder. The same thing goes for sending outreach emails aimed at getting press coverage or reviews.
10) They’re too wrong
It’s normal for an extra “e” to slip into a “theree” every once in a while. However, typo-ridden emails not only distract from your core message, even more ominously, they reflect on your work ethics. Errors immediately raise questions about your credibility, your skills and your diligence.
Unfortunately, while most of us do an excellent job of proofreading what we post and publish, we drop the ball when it comes to what we “send.”
The best thing to do is invest in a proofreader. Whether you hire somebody or just have a trustworthy friend makes no difference. What does make a difference is getting another human being to look at what you’ve composed. If you’re fresh out of other humans, then try reading the email backwards one sentence at a time. That’s a copy editing trick I picked up from Copyblogger’s current editor-in-chief, Stefanie Flaxman.
Worst of all are outreach emails that get the facts so wrong they show you didn’t actually research the person you’re writing. For example, just last week I got this cold email from a marketer who will remain nameless:
On the plus side, it was conversational, short, had just one ask in it, and struck a nice balance between formal and informal. So why did that email turn my stomach? Because I was actually one of the “60 top marketers” in the lineup for that event itself:
Image Credit: Content Promotion Summit
Are you guilty?
Email outreach is not a set-it-and-forget endeavor. And there’re no perfect formulas that work 100% of the time. However, there’re at least ten common reasons that just might explain why you’re struggling to get people to respond: They’re too…
Avoiding these pitfalls won’t unlock the keys to internet stardom, but they will go a long way at increasing your chances of connecting with the right people at the right time and in the right way. What do you think?