Email outreach is a big part of SEO and networking online.
The general strategy involves emailing a website, blogger or journalist with the end goal of receiving a backlink to your website.
Some of my biggest online wins have come as a result of ‘cold emailing’ someone.
But traditional outreach has been covered thousands of times by other sites already.
I wanted to try something different.
And when I say different, what I really mean is:
I wanted to try a strategy that I raved about a few years ago, but in reality I had nowhere near enough data to make a judgement on.
You may be aware (but you’re probably not) that I ran a different online marketing blog a few years ago.
On that site, in my frantic mission to gain recognition as quickly as possible — I was young, working full-time and had big ambitions — I came up with a strategy that I dubbed ‘Comment Collection’.
I had to take a 10 minute break after including that screenshot but I’ve still not managed to stop cringing at my younger self.
The idea of Comment Collection was to find people that had commented on other websites and then ask them to come and leave their thoughts on my post(s) too.
Simple enough, right?
22-year-old-me had the following theories about the strategy:
A few years on, I can only laugh at my desperation to do something others weren’t doing.
*This idea must be up there with the worst SEO strategies of all time.
There are a thousand better things you could do to your website to improve engagement that Google would see and reward you for. It also doesn’t scale.
Despite the above:
I still thought the strategy had some legs for growing an audience, so that’s what I wanted to test by re-trying this out.
After all, ClichéWebsite is brand new. It would be nice to get audience boost early on.
If someone commented on a post, it’s usually because they usually liked it or found it useful.
Because I covered the same niche to other websites people were commenting on (whilst also trying to provide advice in a different style) there would be a good chance they might like my stuff too.
All I had to do was let them all know.
When someone leaves a comment they can usually leave their website address too. You can then find their site and their contact details from there.
After contacting people, if a recipient liked what I was publishing then they might want to subscribe. This is directly growing my audience.
If they really liked my content, they might share it with their audience on social media. This indirectly attracts other people to subscribe.
The same can be said for backlinks:
The people I reached out to may want to link to me as a result of me contacting them. It’s a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless.
If they did drop me a backlink, it may lead to other sites finding and linking to me.
Younger me (ergh why do I hate that guy so much?) used to confidently boast that this strategy was ‘stealing an audience’.
Maybe it is stealing…but I’m not so sure.
After all, the site you’ve targeted still has their audience after you do this.
You didn’t take anyone that subscribed to you, you just also have them.
In niches like online marketing there is more than enough space for co-existence.
The best content in this industry isn’t churned out. It takes time and effort. With more people sharing high quality information, subscribers get to see the type of content they enjoy more often.
One of the worst parts of younger me’s exclamations to have found the best new strategy the world has ever seen was that I’d hardly even tested it.
I’d probably emailed 100-200 sites and received a few comments as a result.
I wanted to make sure that I emailed enough people this time round to get a much clearer picture of whether this strategy was worthwhile.
So, I went and found around 3,000 sites that had commented on a few big sites in my niche.
I struggled to decide whether I should publicly name the sites I tried this strategy on. I have ultimately decided against it.
The main reason I’m not sharing them is because I do not want people to continually bombard the same audiences that I did. It’s not fair to the commenters or the site owners.
I have already linked to the websites I targeted within other pieces of my work to ensure they’re credited with the backlinks their great work deserves.
Some of you reading this may have received one of my outreach emails. I request that you respect the sites in question by keeping them to yourself.
When I say ‘I went and found around 3,000 sites…’ that’s not strictly true.
It’s work that I asked my excellent Virtual Assistant to do.
I really have no idea why some people out there hide away from the fact they sometimes use other people to assist with their projects. I have no problem admitting I use a VA to help with my outreach and I also use freelancers to help me with other tasks, too.
For those of you that aren’t in a position where you can hire people to do these tasks:
I used to do all of my own outreach. I used to do all of my own everything.
You can do these things even with limited time — OK, it would take a while to contact 3,000 sites — I just choose to make myself more efficient now that I’m fortunate enough to be doing this sorta stuff full-time.
Anyway, back to the execution of this strategy.
My VA opened a range of posts from popular industry websites and then added every commenter’s website he could find to separate outreach lists within BuzzStream.
I then wrote a template that he could use to send to these people:
Critiquing myself, I think the email is a little long, lacked personalisation and I probably should have referred to myself as ‘Luke Jordan’ rather than just ‘Luke’ because personal brand.
The line about being easily offended would put a few people off, but that’s exactly what I wanted to do: I didn’t want people to click if they definitely wouldn’t like my stuff.
I’m not sure if I should have kept the “if you did like it, drop a comment or a share on the article!” line in as it’s often better to just send content and not request anything in return, but I did include it so that’s that.
The next step was for my VA to send this template to everyone, customised to their name (if possible) and the site they’d commented on.
The total number of websites we contacted, out of the 3,000 or so in our lists, was 2,620.
The number of clicks the campaign generated was I don’t know.
For some reason I didn’t use tracking so that I could see how many clicks the emails received. Oversight.
Despite not having concrete evidence…I don’t think it was very many.
I can make educated guesses based on my Analytics data and I’m going to say it was around 250 clicks, so around every 1 in every 10.5 people we contacted ended up viewing the article.
That result is on the low side for sure.
As my email requested comments and shares, I guess that’s really how we should judge the success of the outreach here.
How many comments did I receive as a result of the outreach?
Well, whilst some of the comments directly refer to the outreach, not all do.
To add to this, because this site doesn’t allow users to comment their web address due to the fact I only link out to sites I’ve personally vetted, only a couple of sites left their website name.
I can only make my best guess again here and it appears to have been around the huge number of 10 comments generated.
Showing how poor this result is, 10 is the same number of people that replied to the outreach emails to say they’d charge me for a guest post on their website — something I’d not even asked for — along with the price.
As for social shares, there appears to have been 4 tweets (yes, 4) that weren’t from me.
Analytics data shows that I’ve received 25 visits from Twitter to the post, although I tweeted it myself so some (or maybe even all) of those will have been been generated by me.
I can see that the post received 82 visits from Facebook — I shared it on my own Facebook but this was a few days prior to outreach beginning, so I think I can discount whatever small influence I have from the statistics here.
I can see a single click from Pinterest, a site that I didn’t share on myself. One whole view, get the fuck in.
Comment quantity was low, shares were low too…how about attracting new subscribers?
I wasn’t holding out much hope.
It appears that around 30-40 people subscribed as a result of the outreach and shares generated by it.
I love the fact that I now have extra subscribers, but results — as they were for the whole project — were way lower than I’d have anticipated.
Results were abysmal.
…But perhaps there was something I could salvage from all of this.
When I started, I also had a non-quantifiable goal of building a few valuable relationships.
If people liked my style and they also had a similar website then perhaps we could interact and become mutually-beneficial contacts.
The emails did manage to allow me to have some great conversations with some like-minded people.
I even managed to score a backlink — completely by chance — to my niche site from one discussion.
However, despite the above…
I think we can safely say this strategy isn’t what I’d once hoped it would be.
I highly doubt I will ever try this again and I don’t recommend that you do either, but here are some of the things I could have done better anyway.
Because I only targeted the commenters from a small range of websites, it could be a factor that those websites didn’t share a close enough audience demographic to my own.
Perhaps if I’d tried a greater range of sites, I might have been more likely to land in the inbox of one or two people that could have made a big difference to the results of this project.
For example, if I got infront of a few pairs of eyes who had large audiences themselves and they liked my stuff, they might have been able to kickstart a bit of momentum in terms of sharing and amplification.
Also, a reasonable percentage of the commenter’s we contacted were businesses. If we’d made a greater effort to only contact individuals then success rates could have improved.
It’s easy for me to see some obvious improvement opportunities to my outreach template in hindsight. We also received some feedback along the way, too.
One of the main things I missed was major personalisation. The template was almost identical to every single recipient, other than changing their name.
I’m also not sure about saying that we’d seen that they’d commented on an article from a certain website. Whilst this would work well for people that commented recently, it would also appear slightly weird to those that had commented quite some time ago.
I do like the fact that the email seemed like a human actually sent it (which he did) when compared to the majority of robotic emails I receive on a daily basis.
We did receive some compliments for the approach from recipients.
I decided not to chase anyone up on this project. Follow-ups can result in positive results, but as it seemed highly unlikely to be profitable I just didn’t want to waste more time and money on it.
The post I sent people to was my 9,500+ word huge case study — and it stated it was this long in the email.
Perhaps sending them to a post that was less daunting to a casual reader, or removing the word count, would have resulted in more positive results from the project.
This is the type of thing you can (and I should have) split tested by sending slightly different content to one half of the outreach list.
I missed out on getting totally accurate results from this because I didn’t correctly track certain things such as clicks within outreach emails.
Whenever you try out any strategy, it’s vital that you’ll be able to accurately identify what results (if any) were generated.
Clearly the results from this project were far from ideal.
But it’s not just the poor results that make me dislike this tactic that I once (for some reason) raved about.
Whilst we were sending the emails, I was always conscious of one major thing:
What would the website owners think of me contacting their audience?
It’s in the public domain but I imagined they still probably wouldn’t be too happy.
I honestly wouldn’t mind if someone did it to me (on my previous sites that did/do allow comments) but I can see why some might dislike it, so it made me worried the whole time we were sending emails.
This obviously isn’t the most unethical tactic of all time, but something just didn’t sit right with me.
I felt it was the right decision to email the site owners to explain what I’d done.
It turned out that they’d all already seen what I’d been doing anyway.
I received some critical but constructive feedback from those people.
For those of you that have followed my stuff for a while, you will know that I always want to do things in a fair and honest way.
I don’t think this approach quite fit that bill.
…And even if it did, it didn’t generate the kind of results that would have anyone wanting to repeat this in the future anyway.
Sometimes ideas fail.
I wrote all of this up because I made a promise that I wouldn’t be another site that only shared success stories. I’m here to share everything I can.
I hope you found this interesting and useful in some way.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.