In SEO and content marketing, non-sales people have to turn to email pitches to take advantage of business best practices. If this sounds familiar to you, maybe you've been there--asking for a link to your site, or maybe you've asked to write a guest post.
I know that I've been on the receiving end of many. And after reading a variety of pitches, there are some common practices that the more successful ones have in common. Here's what I can share about improving your chances in the inbox.
The best email pitch is concise and respectful of your reader. Since that leaves a lot of room for interpretation, let's look at specific examples of what to do.
- Include attention-getting, but not gimmicky subject lines
- Keep the email concise.
- Strike the right tone that makes people want to work with you.
- Give them reasons to trust you
- A sample email
Even if you think you don't have a sales bone in you, you can follow the guidelines we're laying out for you here.
I remember this advice that I got about potential customers: "Everything they see is good. There's really not a lot of bad. So with so many good choices, they have to start finding reasons to turn you down. Don't give them those reasons."
I'll be clear. This guide is not about sales emails. Those take copy variations, reliance on clearly stated benefits, and LOTS of testing. Usually the people who write sales emails are not the same as those asking for a link from another website or reaching out to offer a guest post.
This guide is for the second group. These are low-stakes requests that can turn into big payoffs. And remember that advice I mentioned? This is about not giving them reasons to turn you down.
Every point here is in the spirit of standing out in the inbox without being obnoxious about it. Because if your target is clearing out emails, obnoxious is an easy route to "delete." That's especially important with subject lines.
Since the goal of a subject line is to get them to open the email, it's tempting to get gimmicky with it. (But still, avoid these:)
- I've got something for you…
- An offer you won't want to refuse
- I promise you won't regret this!
The problem with these is that your recipient is probably in a position to get dozens of these emails daily. They use gimmicky reads as a signal to skip over it. And if they do open the email, they are annoyed. You don't want to start on that foot.
Get them to open your email out of the 10+ just like it. Don't insult their intelligence.
Try these approaches instead:
- Possible partnership?
- Guest pitch: [Topic] ← So straightforward that it's hard to ignore
- A link suggestion for you
- 2 minutes to consider my suggestion? (You'd better keep it short.)
- I'd love to write for you. ← I love this one! No surprise, it's from a writer.
In our post-clickbait fatigue, business professionals are weary of tricks and appreciate straight-forward snippets. You don't have to show your hand in the subject line. In fact, you might want to keep any topics vague until the actual email. Give them a sense of what you have in mind. "Guest pitch: Parenting Teens"
The subject line helps set the tone for your (first?) line of communication with the person you're pitching. By removing gimmicks from your pitch you show that you respect their time and consideration.
Keep your email concise. That doesn't necessarily mean short. A concise email gets to the point and covers the right amount of information to help your reader make a decision.
I came across your article "Why My Disaster of a Desk is my Best Weapon for Success" and enjoyed the points you covered…
Your introduction explains who you are and who you're with. That's it. Establish a simple connection that explains why you are writing to them. This isn't where you sell. This is where you explain:
"I'm David Hernandez with Alpine Paints. I saw your article on prepping a house before sale, and I wondered if I could offer a way to add to it. I have an article on curb appeal updates, and I think it would be a great fit. Would you mind linking to it?"
David would still add some details like the URL of the article and possibly an offer to help them with introductory description like we discussed in this "asking for a link" guide. But notice that he gets to the point quickly without making the reader feel like he left anything out.
In fact, one of my favorite examples opened by getting to the point, and then she added her qualifications.
I'm reaching out to pitch some content ideas for SpyFu.
I'm Chandra, a content strategist, and I've been featured on leading marketing blogs like…
BOOM! She opened with "the ask," and it works. She went on to establish her past work and even shared some ideas that she was prepared to write about. This was a solid pitch.
Later in the article, I'll cover the point of including examples. I think they make a positive difference and should definitely be included. In that section we will cover how to format those so that they don't overwhelm the entire email, making it look long.
Strike the Right Tone
In these pitches, you are ultimately appealing to the recipient to give you something: a link, a guest post opportunity, to join your affiliate group or be on their start-up podcast. A courteous and professional tone is best, especially when it feels as though you are authentically taking interest in them. That means:
If you are submitting a link suggestion, it doesn't help to say, "The link you currently have isn't very good." Instead, focus on what you can bring to their readers: "I noticed that you touch on summer activities. I have some similar tips that would fit well here and offer your readers some downloadable guides. Would you consider linking to that one?"
It puts your reader on edge when you tell them what they've done wrong. If they're defensive, don't expect a reply. Some of those snips aren't obvious, either. Some attempts at quirkiness come off as criticism, like this:
- I've tried reaching you, and you must be trapped under a rock… (Eyeroll. Delete.)
- You haven't signed up for our affiliate program. You must not want money.
- I haven't seen you post anything in a while, so I figured you could use help with a guest post! (So close.)
Do: Add a unique angle that you can help with.
"I saw that you're promoting photo editing tools. We aren't as established as some of the bigger names you mentioned, but we do have a free banner tool that our customers love for social media headers."
Write the email with details specific to your reader. This advice has been around for so long that it's almost easy to spot over-personalization. The point is to make the reader feel as though they aren't part of a bulk email process. It's not so much an ego-play as it is the sense that skipping your email won't matter. If they are one of 50 people getting the same email, there's no point in responding to you. However, if you lay it on thick, the reader knows that you're just using a technique, and it's lost its meaning.
These pointers will help you personalize your email without sounding formulaic.
Do: Show that you are writing to one specific person.
Mention the person's name and business, and keep it light. Avoid repeating either one too much in one email. The rule that people love to hear their own name doesn't translate as much in writing.
…But Don't stop there. Personalization is more than using their name.
Look at how their company references itself on their own page (or social media). Though our site is www.spyfu.com, we present ourselves as SpyFu. Having emails mention "the team at Spyfu.com" quickly reminds me that we're receiving a fill-in-the-blank form letter. Just phrasing it "the team at SpyFu…" would feel more authentic.
As I was writing this, I got an email that didn't mention us by name, but it still felt authentic and well-crafted:
"We’re looking for speakers who can competently discuss the state of SEO at our next virtual event in May, and since I use your software I thought I’d reach out to see if anyone at your company would be interested in speaking on the topic?"
And Don't: Stalk their personal social media for tidbits to drop in. (Yes, I've seen this more than once.)
"I am still chuckling over that incident with the frosting. I would have died!"
Some people tie their personal social media to their business, and you'd be perfectly fine to reference a recent post made over the last couple of days. If you are digging into their old posts or separate, personal accounts for gems, keep that to yourself.
And Don't: overuse templates.
Templates are great! Just choose your phrasing carefully. Intended to help speed up your outreach, these shortcuts stand out if they aren't done right. If a reader can tell that you are automating your personalization, it makes the personalization moot.
"I just read your blog, and wow I'm impressed with the amount of information included!"
This is vague enough to apply to any blog, but it lacks authenticity. It feels like it was written as a template, with no specific blog in mind. At least say what kind of information, and the issue is solved.
"I just read your blog, and I'm impressed with the depth of HR information included for small businesses!"
These mistakes usually come from a lazily-crafted template that is trying to serve ALL recipients. You might have a few different go-to emails on hand that you can choose for the situation.
Tip: Watch your formatting.
If you use an email body and paste-in the personalized parts like someone's name, make sure that the pasted part is the same font and size. If it's not, it calls attention to the fact that you're using a standard form letter. I like the "remove formatting" feature on email editors to smooth this out.
Give them Reasons to Trust You
I've assumed in all of these cases that your pitch is somewhat cold. If the person reading your email doesn't know you from the next name in their inbox, you've got to build a bit of trust.
Fortunately, these kinds of requests (e.g., asking for a link) tend to be for low-level commitments, so you can share your bona fides with small steps.
Are you asking them to join your affiliate program?
Include a snapshot of earnings from some of your other affiliates this past year.
Are you asking them to link to a page on your site?
Include the link and explain where you see it fitting in their article: "...would you list us in your list of college planning resources in your Senior Year Must Haves article?"
If you're asking for a link from a high-ranking page, you might be up against some competition. Another option is to include short stats about your site OR the page itself--whichever tells the better story. This might be your site's domain strength rating or the keywords that your page ranks for.
Are you asking them to switch a broken link with yours?
Keep this one simple. Tell them the article name, the old link (with anchor text so they can find it) and your suggested, relevant replacement. Keep it light, and let the helpful nature of your suggestion do the work.
Are you asking them to be a guest on your podcast or speak at your virtual event?
I actually love brevity here. Emails that don't pour out all of the projected attendance numbers are better. Tell them about the topic, and use the missing information to give them small, no-obligation reasons to write back and ask for details.
Are you asking to write a guest post?
Share your ideas. Show that you're aware of their area of expertise or even what is screaming to be covered on their site. I've accepted guest posts in the past, and I've set some aside for future use because they were too good to pass up. In every instance, the writer recommended content ideas.
Include links to some published pieces that you've written. Clean links (without obvious tracking) are best. This gives your reader confidence that they are following a link they can trust.
To keep these presentable and avoid bulking up the email, keep your examples tight:
- Aim for 3-5 examples
- List them in bullet form
- Keep your format consistent: List only URLs, single line each. If you aren't using a descriptive URL structure to make it clear what the topic is, list all titles and add the URL as a hyperlink.
Tip: If you must include tracking tags (e.g., spyfu.com/?utm_medium=email) try using a short link to mask them. Google and Bitly offer standard link shorteners, and I also recommend Rebrandly. It lets you customize your shortlinks to something more memorable like "spyfu.me/short."
Throw in an ultra-subtle bit of self-promotion
Here's an optional twist to use from time to time. Third-party testimonials are powerful sales tools. You can pull a toned-down version into your pitch in the oh-so-subtlest way. Just casually drop in the way that someone else recognized your skill or your connection to the targeted business.
"A friend passed along your article "How to Find a New Career in Your 40s" saying that she knew how passionate I am about teaching people how to develop their talents."
See how they bring in a subtle secondary testimonial? Even if it's made up, it's subtle enough that I like it.
Always include some tie-in.
I was surprised to read an email that just stopped after asking for a link.
"I just saw your mention of our friend (company name redacted), and I wondered if we could get a link too?" Normally, it's fine, but…
That was where the conversation ended. Not even a mention of similar expertise. If you're asking for something, it's up to you to make the connection between their business needs and what you can deliver.
Now Write It
This seems like all of these tips would amount to a lonnnnng email, but we're holding to the rule of length. Be concise. You can nail all of these tips in an easy-to-skim, cover-all-the-bases email.
Here's what an email for a link request could look like:
I enjoyed your article on "Making Healthy Habits Permanent" for its well-thought steps and memorable pointers.
I wrote a piece on training for your first 5K (include the link) and thought it would be a great fit for your readers, especially in the "Take Your Running on the Road" section.
If you think that would be helpful for your readers, we'd love a link to the piece. I'd be happy to share your article with our readers, too.
Better You Fitness
The best emails are the ones that make me want to respond, and to say yes. In all honesty, the best emails have been the ones where I have no reason to say yes, but I respond anyway with feedback that they caught my attention. I have a file of well-written pitches that are so well done that I will check them first should my needs change from my original "no thank you." It's a foot in the door, and that's far better than "delete."
Take your chances, and ask. But avoid the things that make people stand out for the wrong reasons, and you'll increase your chance of getting that "yes." Good luck!