The Email Outreach Strategy That Builds Relationships + Boosts Backlinks With Ian Cleary From Razor Social [AMP 091]

Do you open your Inbox only to see several emails asking for the same thing? To link to someone else’s content? Instantly, you move them to the Trash folder. Email outreach can actually work and complement your inbound marketing efforts. But your emails need to not be anything like the random ones that you throw away. Today, we’re talking to Ian Cleary of RazorSocial and OutreachPlus. He is an amazing inbound marketer, who has discovered that complementing inbound tactics with outbound email outreach can help you build relationships, increase brand authority, and boost your backlink profile. To do it well, you need to think about personalized connections, providing value to them, and starting small. Everything you will learn about email outreach from Ian is pure gold. It works, and it can help you reach your goals.

Some of the highlights of the show include:
  • Definition of Email Outreach: An email outreach tool helps you reach out to subscribers, a new audience, a smaller audience, or a group of influencers
  • Send highly personalized emails to promote content or generate leads
  • Benefits of email outreach include building your brand, driving relevant traffic to your site, promoting your content, and growing your authority
  • Cold email outreach works by with highly personalized, relevant, and very targeted emails
  • Provide something of value; deliver brief, quality content
  • Conduct research to make sure you are reaching out to the right target audience
  • Don’t think about selling, but about starting a conversation
  • Ways to find influencers and build relationships, develop relevancy
  • Following Up: Send two emails and then stop; don’t be annoying or damage relationships
  • Outreach Criteria: Look for opportunities to engage and interact with Websites with a higher authority to get valuable links
  • Tactics that work to complement outreach efforts include getting onto social media, sharing content, and looking for opportunities to interact; when reaching out, reference conversation, interaction, or piece of content
  • Highest converting outreach for Ian is guest posting; invite people to be a part of the blogs you’re writing
  • When getting started with email outreach - start small, build the skill, and get better at it over time to be successful
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Quotes by Ian Cleary:
  • “I've done a lot of outreach reaching out to people to build relationships, to build links to my content, do a lot of promotional content.”
  • “I think nowadays, you need to do inbound and outbound–it's crucial to do both. Email outreach is where you're reaching out by email.”
  • “I say do a small number of emails, highly personalized, and very targeted. Do your research to make sure it's very relevant.”

The Email Outreach Strategy That Builds Relationships + Boosts Backlinks With @IanCleary From @razorsocial

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Nathan: You get into work and check your inbox. At the top of that list, there are a few emails that read exactly the same. "Hey there, I love your content. I published something similar, will you link to my stuff?" and you subsequently trash all of those emails. Here's the thing, email outreach can actually work, and you can use it to complement your inbound marketing efforts. The key is to not have your emails feel anything like the random ones, from the random people, from the random brands, you just delete it from your own inbox. How can you do that? Ian Cleary is the mastermind behind RazorSocial and OutreachPlus. You’ve probably seen his work in INC, Entrepreneur, The New York Times, Forbes, or even on the CoSchedule Blog before, and for a good reason. Ian is an amazing inbound marketer. He's discovered that complementing inbound tactics with outbound email outreach, can help you build relationships, increase brand authority, and boost your backlink profile. To do it well, you just need to think about personalized connections, providing value to them, and starting small. That’s what you're going to learn today on the Actionable Marketing Podcast. I'm Nathan from CoSchedule, now let's learn all about email outreach with Ian. Nathan: Hey, Ian. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. Ian: Thanks, Nathan. I'm delighted to be here. Nathan: I'm delighted to have you. Ian, just to kick it off, tell me a little bit about yourself, RazorSocial, and what you've been up to with OutreachPlus. Ian: Sure, no problem at all. I'm Irish as you might guess from the accent. I'm based in Dublin. I started RazorSocial about six years ago initially as a social media tools blog. The reason I started it is because I want to do something international, I didn't really have a good idea, so I thought well if I started a blog, and start building relationships with people internationally, things will happen, and I eventually built a business out of that. At the starting point I looked at the top 100 social media influencers in the world, and I started building relationships, and going to conferences, and then the traffic started building, and growing. Over time, that evolved, and I started doing more around content marketing and then I built a consultancy in the training business out of that. I thought, “Well, I have all the skill in terms of build up. I've helped so many other businesses. I'd love to build a technology product.” Because my background before RazorSocial, I had 15 years working in technology. It sort of made sense the technology, and the marketing background to mix the two together, and that's when OutreachPlus was born, which was late last year. We launched it as an email outreach tool. I've done a lot of outreach reaching out to people to build relationships, to build links to my content, do a lot of promotional content, and I just wanted something that made that a lot easier and that's what OutreachPlus helps with that. I've done a lot of outreach reaching out to people to build relationships, to build links to my content. Nathan: I would say you're doing an awesome job at building those relationships. I'm in the United States so we're definitely talking you today. Ian, I'm wondering with email outreach, that’s something that you just mentioned like, how would you define email outreach? Ian: I supposed the way you look at inbound and outbound marketing is, inbound, you're in your office waiting for visitors to come to your website, and they buy our products and services–and that's all brilliant. We love when that happens. I'm an inbound marketer. I love that side. The outbound side of things is where you're reaching out to an audience. I think nowadays, you need to do inbound and outbound–it's crucial to do both. Email outreach is where you're reaching out by email. It may not necessarily to be your subscribers, through an email marketing tool, you will generally reach out to your subscribers. Whereas in an email outreach tool, you're reaching out to possibly a new audience, or a smaller audience. It could be reaching out to a group of influencers, and I want to send highly personalized emails that doesn't look as if it's coming from an email marketing tool, or I want to reach out to people that I don't know that I want to promote content to, or I want to generate leads. That email tool helps to personalize all those emails. You can send highly personalized emails, track all the results, automatically send the follow-ups if there's no initial response. You just end up getting higher conversion rates and better responses using it. Nathan: That's really interesting. What might be some of the other benefits of email outreach? Why would I prioritize this into my strategy as a marketer? Ian: If I looked at the list of things we would use email outreach for our customers, for a guest posting, if you want to reach out to a group of blogs looking for a guest op, post op opportunities because that helps build your brand and also drive relevant traffic back to your site and grow your authority. You might want to reach out to influencers to get them included in your content which helps promote your content again. As a new business, you might be reaching out to grown leads to your business. Not everybody's going to come visiting your site, you're going to have to reach out and to generate those leads. For PR, if you're reaching out to journalists on a regular basis, you want to be able to track all that outreach and remember who you emailed, what they said, what they responded, so then when you reach out the next time, you know who to reach out, who gave you a positive response, or who said not interested now but may be interested in the future. There's a whole range of things there that are relevant for that. I suppose the key thing is, I'm not using the email marketing tool, OutreachPlus connects into your existing email tool. Like I said, it allows you to send very personalized email, so it looks like a one-to-one email to the person, that's why you get better response rates. Nathan: I think that's really interesting because I think as marketers, we probably all receive those emails where it's like, "Hey, I loved your stuff, link to my really bad content." How would you approach that, Ian? Let's just say you actually have published really good stuff, or you are using email outreach to find those influencers, how do you make cold email outreach actually work for your business? Ian: You just have to be a little bit smarter. I don't send 1,000 emails to people, I don’t advise the customers to do it. I say do a small number of emails, highly personalized, and very targeted. Do your research to make sure it's very relevant. The majority of cold emails I get are people that will talk about products that I have no interest in, my audience has no interest in, and they'll pitch me blog posts that are just not relevant. If I look at CoSchedule, and I see that you allow guest posts, well I'm going to thoroughly research and I'm going to probably interact with yourself Nathan for example. I'm going to interact with you on LinkedIn, I might interact with you on Twitter, I might comment on your blogs, and I'm going to really analyze what sort of content you need, and then I'll do the outreach. I got an email the other day from somebody that said, "Hey, Ian, I love your stuff, I've been reading it for a long while. I noticed that there's three keywords that you don't rank for that your competitors rank for. Would you be interested if I pitched a couple of blog posts based on those keywords, and by the way, here's some authority sites I've written before." For me, I'm thinking, “I want to know what are those keywords, one of those keywords.” I thought it was an interesting approach to it. Just being a little bit smarter, rather than go on, "Hey, I like your blog. I want to write on it. Here's three articles." You need to do research, it needs to be relevant, targeted, and you need to be smart with that outreach. Nathan: I really like that approach, actually, because it's almost like positioning the what's in it for me as like the receiver of that email. He's going to be providing you a lot of value with those three keywords he wants to target for your content, right? Ian: Yeah. That's what I'm thinking all the time. “How can I provide value?” I'm not looking to get something, “Can I provide something valuable?” Because most people struggle with content, not having enough content. The problem is, it's the quality of the content. If you can show that you can deliver quality content, it's much easier. Nathan: Awesome. Since we're just talking about those emails specifically, I am sure you had some experience with this, what sorts of advice might you have for writing effective outreach emails? Ian: It is doing the research upfront to understand exactly that you're reaching out to the right audience. Because a lot of times, the email is reaching the wrong target audience. You start off with the right target audience. In the emails, you try to offer value in the emails and keep them relatively short. People don't like long, detailed emails, and make sure they're personalized. Reference something like, for example, if somebody has just won an award or something, mention that in the email so you know specific. What I'll do with OutreachPlus is, say for example, we have 20 people, I'll have all the details in the spreadsheet, I'll bring them into OutreachPlus and OutreachPlus will automatically create all these emails for me. But before I send them, I look at each individual one. Then I'll look at their website, or I might even follow them on social and see what's up with them, and then I'll add that into the emails. Now it's very personalized. They know it's no generic email, it's personalized directly to them. That really helps in terms of getting better response rates. I'm always thinking value. I'll give an example, we want to generate leads for OutreachPlus, so do you reach out and go, "Hey, buy my product." What our approach is, one of the tools we're building is a link building tool, and I know CoSchedule are great for building, the Headline Analyzer is a similar approach, we've built a free tool to identify broken links on your site. Some of our audience in the SEO world would use that because they need it on their day-to-day business. When we reach out, that's providing something that's useful and valuable, and it gets us into a conversation. I'm not thinking about selling. I'm thinking, “Can I get into a conversation?” If I get into a conversation, I can always say, "By the way, would you be interested and have a look at the tool or what are you using at the moment?" I need to open the conversation with something of value. That's particularly important for something like lead generation, because it you don't want to start off with a pitch. It's going, "I have something of value, are you interested? Great." And then we can move on from there. Nathan: Yeah, I love that approach. You know Ian, I think I almost jumped a gun here. What if I’m thinking that email outreach is something that I should be doing but I don't even know how to find these influencers to reach out to. What tips might you have for finding the sorts of people that you could start building relationships so that you have that relevancy right away? Ian: Yeah, it's funny actually, I'm just publishing a post on OutreachPlus today saying, “How to find influencers in a niche.” Nathan: Perfect timing. Ian: Two and a half thousand-word post with all the details. There's various ways. You can start off by going, pick one influencer, if you find them on Twitter, and then find out who they're interacting with on a very regular basis, and they're typically other influencers. You can use a tool called Twitonomy and that shows me who that person is interacting with on a regular basis. I can go to a tool called Group High. Group High is a research tool and it has hundreds of millions of people in there. I can research, and put in my keywords, and it will produce me a list of people related to that topic, and I can start my research in there. I can go to Google and start searching for the keywords that are very relevant for my business. I can start reaching out to people, look at authority websites there, and the people behind that. There's just so many different ways of finding the influencers. But that post sort of summarizes 14 different ways of doing it. Nathan: That's awesome. We'll make sure to link to that in our show notes for this episode too. Ian, I'm kind of wondering too, I think we've all received these sorts of emails, people who found us, we get the one email and we maybe just ignore it but then people start to follow-up with us. I'm kind of wondering if you might have some advice with that. How many times should you follow-up with someone without being annoying? Should you follow-up at all? What sort of advice might you have for following up with email outreach? Ian: That’s a good question. If you look at the stats, they will say that if you send six or seven follow-ups, you end up with higher response rates overall. But I ignore them stats because it can be damaging sending too many follow-ups because it just becomes annoying. I actually don't care if eventually you get better results by a lot of follow-ups, I prefer to send about two follow-ups. I send the initial email and two follow-ups, in that stage, I'm going to stop. Because I reckon, if I've sent three emails over the space of two weeks, at that stage, it's too late. What I'll do is send the first email, then I'll send a second email which will include the first email and say, "Hey, I know things are busy." Somebody sent to me the other day. The first email was, "I'd love to include you in a post. Will you provide some information?" I didn't get back to them. The follow-up email a few days there was, "Hey, Ian. I'm looking forward to your contribution. I can't wait to get it." The email was below so I felt bad, so I have to respond. That was a perfect follow-up. The third follow-up I think should be a different approach where you come up with a completely new email with a different angle but I give up at that stage. I don’t care if the fourth email, sometimes I'll get additional responses because I just don’t want to annoy people. I think three is plenty, at most. Nathan: I almost think, if you haven’t received a response after so many, that could even be damaging to building a relationship which is kind of your goal with outreach, am I correct in saying that? Ian: Exactly. Because if I'm reaching out for a lead generation, or link building, or guest posts, if I get a refusal, I want to leave the door open so I can go back again in the future. I want to impress people with my outreach, initially. Make sure it's good, relevant, and targeted, so I can go back in the future even if the opportunity isn’t there now, it might be in the future. That's another reason for not sending too many follow-ups because you don't want them to remember you in the wrong way. Nathan: Absolutely. Ian, something you kind of mentioned was, obviously you're after building relationships, you've been doing this from the very beginning. I'm kind of wondering what might be some of your outreach criteria for who you're going after. What sorts of metrics are you looking at or how does this play into your overarching strategy that way? Ian: I'll give you an example at the moment with OutreachPlus, it's a relatively new site so the authority of the site is low. I would look at the Moz Open Site Explorer which gives me a number out of 100 rating by website. Anybody can look at that tool to see what that number is. When you don't have a lot of good valuable links coming into your content, that number is going to be quite low. I'd look for opportunities to engage and interact with websites with a higher authority. I'm looking for authority sites that might be 50%, 60%, or 70% or above, and I know I'll get good valuable links. For example, CoSchedule is a very valuable site with a high authority, so even just in the show notes, linking back to me is going to be a valuable link–that's one way. That's going to drive incoming traffic over time. I had said earlier on, it's not a case of inbound and outbound, you need to do both. I'm reaching out promoting, but then I'm also creating content so that traffic starts building up as well. The domain authority is one of the key things I'd look at as I'm building relevant links back to the site. Nathan: That's awesome. Ian, you’ve been mentioning that inbound and outbound should complement each other really well, and one of the questions I have is maybe, what sorts of tactics have you seen work really well for complementing your outreach efforts? Ian: With outreach, people talk about cold outreach, I don't even like the word cold. Nowadays, there are so many different ways to connect with somebody. If I reached out to you Nathan, we know each other, and we've interacted before so it's so much easier. It's so much more likely to get a response. I'd say, get onto social media, start sharing that person's content, start looking for opportunities to interact through social, maybe connect on LinkedIn, and now when you're reaching out, you're referencing a conversation, or an interaction you had, or a piece of content that you genuinely enjoyed, and you're mentioning that. Then it becomes more conversational unless you get into the conversation. Do try and get some interactions on other platforms as well when you're doing the email outreach. Nathan: Excellent. Something else I had kind of been wondering too was, just some examples here, what did your highest converting outreach look like, or what was your process there for influencing a really high converting outreach? Ian: I suppose the guest posting works best for me in terms of posting high quality articles on other sites and getting links back. That's building up the authority and driving more traffic. That drove a lot of traffic at RazorSocial and I'm following the same principle with OutreachPlus. With our RazorSocial, I built a good business because of that. Without outreach, I'm getting success rates of 70%+ but I'm not doing it to brand new sites. I'm reaching out, connecting with people, and I am interviewing them, or I'm inviting them to be a part of the blogs I'm writing, and then I'm looking for opportunities to write at that stage. They know of me, they've come across the content before, we've interacted somewhere, and then I provide something where I know that their audience would be specifically interested in this type of content, because I can show that previously this type of content worked on the site. When you do it that way, then your outreach is generally very successful. I do very little of the reaching out to high authority site and nobody's ever heard of me. If you're putting the effort building your brand, and interacting, and building that relationship. I go to conferences to meet these people to build a relationship then when you're reaching out, it's completely different. Nathan: I think that's an amazing advice. Ian, I'm pretty sold on this idea, let's say our audience that’s listening right now, they're sold too. What might be some of your best advice for someone just getting started with email outreach, where should they began to be really successful with this tactic? Ian: I would say with email outreach is to start small, with a small number of people, and really personalized the emails. Invest the time and doing the research, and then as you start seeing results, then you can start looking at different things. You might go, “Well, I'll start off and I'll look for some guest post opportunities, or I might try and build some links, then I might do some lead generation, and then I start interacting with influencers.” It's really to start small initially with a small number of people. It's not a case of going, “I'm not interested in 10,000 emails and very poor response rates, and some hits.” I prefer a much smaller list, more targeted, if you're starting off, just keep that list really small, reach out to 10 people, and start getting results, and then you can build on that over time. Nathan: I love that. Start small, build the skill, and get better at it over time. Ian: Absolutely. Nathan: Alright. Ian, that looks like it's it for us today. I just want to say thank you so much for being on the podcast. I learned a lot about email outreach and I hope everyone else did too. This was an awesome episode, thank you. Ian: Thank you very much. By the way, if anybody is interested in OutreachPlus, on checkout, if they use the word CoSchedule, I think they'll remember that, they'll get at a 20% discount on any of the plans on OutreachPlus. Nathan: Awesome, thanks for passing that along. Ian: Thanks for having me. Subscribe to the Actionable Marketing Podcast
About the Author

Nathan is the Head of Content & SEO at SimpleTexting. He's a demand generation enthusiast, content marketing advocate, and team player. He enjoys spending time with family and friends, running ultra marathons, and canoeing in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota. Connect with Nathan on LinkedIn.