I’ve always thought that being good at Digital PR & outreach was not necessarily something you could teach. Sure, you can point people in the right direction; you can give them the materials that will help them become better at it. But can you actually teach outreach success?
For me there are so many variables:
- The way we write
- Our personalities
- Our ability to deal with rejection
- How tenacious we are
- How inquisitive our general nature is
Below you will find a ‘Get The Knowledge’ section which brings together some of the finest blog posts and resources on outreach.
Immediately after that you will find the tools section (by default, I have tried to include only free or low subscription rate tools so that anyone can use them, budget be damned – although I have included one more expensive tool that we use at Boom).
We actually use a combination of the paid tool and some others from the ‘No Budget’ section (although I’ve personally used them all at some point).
Get The Knowledge
A Couple of Guides From People Who Actually Know What They Are Talking About
Gregory Ciotti covers it all here. Not only does he base his work on actual psychological studies but he also backs them up with real life examples and includes a 9-point process that anyone can follow. It’s by far one of my favourite posts on the subject of outreach.
She doesn’t write that often, but when she does you should listen to Gisele!
The Dedicated Peter Attia Section
Peter doesn’t blog anymore which is a bit of shame. He found a formula for writing posts about outreach that have stuck in our industry and now has the best collection of posts out there – with real examples of success. It is this that sets them apart and why he has his own little section in this post.
I encourage you to read all of these posts several times – they serve as a great introduction to outreach:
There are a bunch of great posts out there that will help you to understand how you can apply some simple psychology techniques to your outreach emails (or now that you’re familiar with Peter’s approach; tweets, videos, Facebook message etc.). The too-smart-for-his-own-pants Matt Gratt, has covered some of the best outreach psychology over the years.
Here is a selection of his greatest hits:
Visual and Video Guides
Are you the kind of person who likes something visual? This instructographic (we’ll role with it) from the guys over at Portent is great for printing out and sticking next to your screen or keyboard. It is succinct, looks pretty and acts as a great reminder. Get it here:
Are you a video person? Check this video out from someone called Rand. I hadn’t heard of him before, but he seems pretty smart and also has a very nice beard:
As someone who gets a lot of emails, especially from people in our industry, it gives great insight into what makes Rand open and reply 😉
You should always take these kinds of studies with a pinch of salt but I thought I would add them in here anyway:
How Not To Do it
Why I Deleted Your Guest Post Pitch (With Awful Outreach Examples) – by Koozai Mike (that is his real, full name!)
The Book Section – For People Who Like To Read Books
Yes, I have read these books and I have applied what I learnt to outreach that I have conducted 😉
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
Persuasion: The Art of Influencing People by James Borg
The Random Section At The Bottom
Of course not all posts are going to fit nicely into a little box that I create. With this in mind, here is the section at the bottom that houses all the bits and bobs – the odds and sods – that you should cast your eyes over if you get a chance:
So, onto the…
Don’t forget kids, tools do not make you good at outreach; they only help you to streamline your processes and share your data.
We aren’t all lucky enough to have big budgets for posh outreach tools. I’m in no doubt that they are worth their weight in gold once you have a small team, but if there is only a few of you it can be hard to justify the cost.
That doesn’t stop you from writing great outreach though – that is down to you and your team. It also doesn’t stop you from getting organised and having a solid process in place either.
If you are working with no budget, here is what I recommend:
For me, Gmail is the easiest email service for conducting outreach. The plugins and add-ins for Outlook and Yahoo just don’t compare (see below for some of the settings you may want to adjust). It isn’t going to cost you anything (for now – don’t be evil Google) and allows you to organise things in a logical way for outreach. I will try and include screenshots along the way, but with some blurring for obvious reasons and occasionally with accounts that are not the newest (I don’t do as much outreach as I once did!).
I wrote about Yesware some time ago and you can get a more in depth review here.
In a nutshell, Yesware is a sales tool that can easily be used to aid your outreach. It can track emails so that you can see if they have been opened or not – not for stalking purposes of course 😉
If someone has opened but not replied, you can make a note to get back in touch. If a number of people don’t even open a particular email you can adjust your subject line (or indeed the kind of sites that you chose in the first place).
Wayne is an evil stalker and will never have any friends in the industry – fact!
You can also quickly and easily set up templates to aid with your outreach. Now we know that templates for early on in the outreach process is a no-no, but further down the line you may want to use them to save time, for example:
- Got a guest post accepted? Have a template to thank the blogger, letting them know that you are going to check it out and share it socially.
- Doing some broken link building? Same thing applies. Have some templates for further down the chain.
- Doing outreach for an infographic? Have ‘thank you’ templates that you can use for any occasion!
- Following up with someone who hasn’t opened an email? Have a template for that as well.
When you enter the web app you can get stats on tracking and open statistics as well as info on how successful certain templates are – which is great for those second and third emails that you send out that can be more successful than your initial email.
Yesware is free for a hundred opens, which is fine for smaller outreach campaign. It is also handy that this is per email accounts, so if you happen to have more than one gmail, well… 😉
If you haven’t seen it before, it’s another free Gmail plug-in that allows you to ‘boomerang’ certain messages back to the top of your inbox (like a reminder). You can also schedule emails to be sent in the future (great if you have an idea at a unsociable time when a person is unlikely to answer an email).
The basic plan is a little short on credits but the personal plan is more than reasonable. Once you start using it, you will find it is an invaluable way to keep your outreach organised.
If you choose not to use Yesware (although that is unlikely once you have given it a spin), you will find that Canned Responses in Gmail Labs is a good work-around for the kind of emails that require a quick template (as mentioned in the Yesware section above).
It allows you to create a number of templates that you can quickly access when you are responding to emails from Gmail. Having not used this in a while I have been and checked where it’s at these days and found it’s still available in Gmail Labs (which Google have hidden quite well).
To access Gmail Labs go to ‘settings’:
Find the tab for Labs:
Then navigate to Canned Responses and enable:
And then start adding some!
Labels are one of my favourite ways of organising Gmail and are especially helpful in outreach.
They can be accessed in the settings section above that houses the Labs tab. You can also edit them on the fly in the Gmail interface.
Once set up, you have an organised inbox that looks a bit like the one below – the names have been blurred to protect the innocent and some of the labels have been blurred because they pertain to specific clients. Hopefully you will get the general idea:
Setting labels for what suits you is very easy. I tend to have different relationship stages:
Accepted, Declined, Under Review, On Holiday, Failed
You could also set them up based on content:
Guest Post, Infographic, Content Outreach, Broken Link Building
The possibilities are endless and allow you to be incredibly organised.
If you have a little (or no) budget, you are still going to want to keep a track of the work that you are doing. For me the best option is Excel (although Google Drive makes sense if you have multiple people updating the same document).
I haven’t used Excel for this part of the process for some time, so I can’t give you screen shots of an example.
When you have some budget it makes sense to streamline the process a little. For me the focus here should be:
- The ability to share all contact details and history across a team
- The ability to see who and when you have contacted people
- To speed up the process of reaching out to people (not necessarily templates!)
The tool that I always recommend for this is not necessarily that expensive (and it scales well with your business).
At Boom, we primarily use BuzzStream for our outreach efforts and have nearly all the team as members on the system.
Over time we have used their custom features to make it fit our way of working and find that the project organisation is great for segmenting down different parts of the project (contact outreach, infographic promotion, social outreach and so on).
Again, for client confidentiality I have had to blur out some of the details. The following screenshot is from a project where we are loaning bikes out to commuters.
As you can see, it allows anyone connected to log in and see exactly what is happening with any given project across the entire client base.
Of course on its own this wouldn’t justify the cost of BuzzStream as you can easily recreate this kind of thing in Google Drive. Where BuzzStream comes into its own is with some of the other features that it has. Here are some of the functions that we use the most often:
Auto discovery of contact info: BuzzStream goes out and tries to find the contact details that are related to the site. It doesn’t get it right all of the time and you have to have a real life human check that the details are correct (which is how we prefer it anyway) – but it sure saves time.
Further contact discovery: Within BuzzStream you can actually send it off to search Whois contact information. We have found this particularly helpful with link removal. If you want to know more about using BuzzStream for link removal I have covered that in this post.
Copy sites between projects: When a new client comes on board it can be incredibly helpful to be able to take sites that you have successfully gotten links on before and move them across to a brand new project. This will give you a leg up on getting some quick links from relationships that you’ve already fostered. It is incredibly important that you get everyone tagging sites in the same way early on when building lists in BuzzStream. Multiple tags for sites that cover technology for example (tech, technology, Tech, Technology) can mean a big clean-up project – trust me, it’s epic.
Checking prospected sites quickly: BuzzStream allegedly spent three to four months coming up with the name BuzzBar for this feature. It is an incredibly quick way of checking sites and adding notes and details to a site profile. You can read more about that feature here.
Notes in templates: Buzzstream has the ability to keep templates (and track their success) – although I suggest using templates wisely and sparingly. What BuzzStream does elegantly is bring the history of what you’ve added, what colleagues have added and other pertinent details. Here is an actual screen shot from one of our records (usual blurring for obvious reasons):
There are a million other reasons that you might want to bring BuzzStream into your outreach process, here are just a few:
- It plays nicely with Link Prospector, Followerwonk, Ahrefs, Moz and other tools
- Multiple users can work on the same accounts without banging into each other
- It houses all of the websites that you have researched and contacted
- It keeps track of templates you may have used and their success rate
- If needs be, you can work remotely with other people with very little friction
Hopefully this has given you some insight into how we do outreach at Boom and the materials and tools that we recommend if you are just starting out or looking to improve your processes.
When putting this list together, I tried to make it as accessible to everyone as possible – free or low subscription rate tools, affordable books and resources and guides that were free and didn’t require you to give away your email address.
The one thing that you are never going to be able to buy is the ability to pick up and run with the character traits that are integral to getting the most from your outreach. Can you train for successful outreach or is it something unteachable? I’d love to hear your thoughts.