Outreach is hard work, sometimes so damn hard that we wish it were true that great content really did promote itself. Those of us who live in reality know better: great content only promotes itself if you’ve got an audience to start with. Building an audience means getting exposure in high profile places, and building juicy links for visibility in search. All of that takes relationships, and relationships start with outreach. So just how do you get an influential stranger to trust you on the internet?
1. Get the Psychology
There’s no ignoring psychology when you are doing marketing of any kind, and when you’re dealing one on one with people in the idea marketplace, things can start to get even harder, since it’s not nearly as easy to play the numbers game. These six principles from Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Influence can work wonders:
– Reciprocity – Things are give and take. People prefer somebody to owe them something than to owe somebody else something, whether we’re talking about money or compliments. If you start your outreach efforts by offering something of value with no catch, they will be more willing to return the favor with a gesture of their own.
– Commitments – If you can earn a commitment of any kind in your outreach, you are much more likely to earn bigger commitments later on. This means it’s usually much better to ask for a very small commitment than even a moderate one. It doesn’t much matter what that commitment is. Getting an actual commitment in your outreach, no matter how small, dramatically improves the chances of follow through. It’s also easier for us to commit to something in the future than it is to do it right now.
– Authority – You’ll want to drop subtle hints of your authority into your outreach whenever you can. It’s not that humans are psychologically programmed to follow people with authority no matter what. It’s simply that authority comes with implicit trustworthiness, especially on subjects that you are an established expert in. One of the best ways to demonstrate authority is to link to a particularly valuable piece of content. More on content here.
– Social Proof – This one can be more difficult to implement during outreach than most of the others, and it is probably best bundled in with authority. If you can point to other authority figures that you have worked with in the past, without being blatantly obnoxious about it, you can demonstrate that working with you is socially acceptable, and possibly a positive move.
– Scarcity – This one can be very powerful but you need to tread lightly. Humans do have an innate fear of loss and a strong interest in rarities, but scarcity is also an overplayed tactic. Countless ads warn you “not to miss your chance,” and to “call now before it’s too late.” In outreach, convincing a blogger that their opportunity to work with you is a rare one can be very difficult, and I’d advise against doing it unless you strongly believe it to be true.
– Liking (Rapport) – Rational or not, we are quite simply more likely to do business with somebody that we like. This is not only the foundation of content marketing, and much of marketing in general, it’s a crucial part of outreach. Draw attention toward your similarities and away from your differences, don’t get too formal (depending on who you reach out to), and have fun. You honestly want people to like you as a result of your outreach, especially when you’re dealing with bloggers who don’t advertise guest post opportunities or anything similar.
2. Don’t Waste Time
By this I don’t mean “just get to the friggin’ call to action already.” I mean don’t waste time on outreach that isn’t worth the trouble.
Pick your targets wisely. You don’t want to waste time reaching out to somebody who is never going to work with you, and you don’t want to reach out to somebody if the exposure and links aren’t going to be worth the trouble.
For qualifying the worth of the outreach, use our tried and true mantra: “would I build this link if it were no-follow?” If not, the amount of work necessary probably isn’t worth the payoff, especially not in the long term. Focus on sites with social activity and audience behavior that will result in referral traffic and secondary natural links.
Determining whether or not you’re reaching out to somebody who will never work with you is harder, and I don’t believe you’re doing real SEO unless you are rejected on a fairly regular basis. Look for evidence that they have worked with others in the past. Not necessarily guest posters; in fact, it’s probably better if they haven’t. Just look for collaborative projects they’ve worked on. Take inspiration from the work they’ve done before, and approach them with something mutually beneficial.
3. Business Up Front
One of the most common mistakes outreach professionals make once they start to focus more on rapport and relationship building is to save business for last. This seems like a good idea, because it’s easy to convince yourself that business up front is going to scare away prospects.
The reality of the situation is that they already know you have an agenda. If you approach them with compliments and generosity and then ask for something in return, they’re only going to feel manipulated.
You want to do all of the relationship building stuff, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re so slick they won’t smell the agenda a mile away. Start your emails or social messages with a single sentence that, at the very least, foreshadows the business implications. Too much up front will only scare them away, but nothing at all will either leave them suspicious, or feeling manipulated once you finally “pop the question.”
4. Understand Choice
As humans, we like having choice, but we don’t like being forced to make decisions. Anybody who’s dealt with just a few too many questions from the waitress knows that some decisions are best left to others. We have an inherent bias toward the “default” choice. This is why restaurants highlight particular menu items with special fonts and photos.
The default response to an unsolicited email is to delete it. If you want to improve your results, you need to substitute that default with one of your own, if you can.
The default choice should be very easy. And yes, I recognize that adding a single link to a single blog post on a site sounds “easy,” but it’s not easy enough, not when you consider the business implications. Think back to the importance of commitments, even small ones. Give them the option of a very easy commitment, or a slightly larger, more preferable task. They’ll be more likely to see the easy option as the default, instead of just deleting the email, especially if you’ve offered them value and given them a reason to reciprocate.
5. Killer Subject Line
Emails don’t get opened unless the titles give the user a reason to open an email from a stranger in the first place.
Priority number one here is to get their name into the subject line. Would you trust that an email from a stranger without your name in it was hand written just for you?
The second priority is to give them some context. If you can mention somebody that they know or admire (especially if they recommended contact in the first place), this is ideal. The context should give them a reason why you would want to contact them.
Finally, you want the subject line to be unique. It doesn’t have to be outright bizarre (although with the right contact this honestly can help), but it should be very intriguing, not boilerplate, and personalized to them. If you mention something in particular that they have worked on, this can be a great way to pull this off.
As if; we all know the learning process never ends. But these five principles will put you miles ahead of most outreach communications if you master them, and you will see results today if you adopt even one of these principles that you weren’t using before.
Anything to add? We’d love your feedback on this.