The Art of Pitching - What's Wrong With Link Building Email Requests?

Oct 23rd

We've all, at some point, received the "request-for-a-link" email.

Such emails are useless, on a number of levels, the main reason being that the offer is lousy. However, such emails also tend to get the pitch wrong, so further limit the chances of getting the link. Getting the pitch right - the way the offer is described - is a bit of an art.

I've been looking back through the emails I've received and there are common characteristics displayed in those I ignored, and those I responded to.

There are two aspects common to all such emails, the offer and the pitch.

The Offer

The offer must be compelling. No matter how good the pitch, if the offer doesn't advantage the recipient in some way, then the sender is unlikely to receive a response.

Take, for example, the PR offer.

I receive a lot of these. They don't get read. Why? There's no advantage for me in doing so. There is advantage for the company that wants free coverage, of course, but not me. Unless the information is ground-breaking, and hasn't been circulated widely in the public domain, then the typical PR email "offer" is very poor. The offer is essentially this: "give us your time and effort for nothing so we can advance our cause"

Well, no. No I won't :)

But lets say the offer is to my advantage. Either I'm receiving some genuinely useful information, a good opportunity, or a good incentive. It can still be let down by the quality of the pitch.

The Pitch

Here is an email Aaron received recently:

Subject: About an Advertisement on Your Blog

Hellow.
I've recently created a software for automated social bookmarking.

Just wanted to ask, if it is possible to order a post about our tool on your blog, written by you ?
You don't even need to install and actually test the software if you don't want to, just mention that there is something out there that is worth using for seo purposes.
Here is a website: (removed)

Thanks.

There are a few obvious problems in terms of both the offer and the pitch.

  • "Hellow". The very first word is misspelled. This is unprofessional.
  • Does not include the recipients name. It's not personal.
  • Asks about advertising, then demands coverage, with no transition. What's in it for me? Where's the incentive?
  • Asks us to post about the software without trying it. Again, why would we do that? Our credibility would be at stake, for starters.
  • Domain misspelled. You'll have to take my word on that one, but it was :)
  • Does not have the senders name in the email. Again, unprofessional.
  • Their domain is a scrolling sales letter with no other content. Why would we recommend our readers, who tend to be very web-savvy, to such a site? We'd lose credibility.

Not only is the offer a poor one, but we can't take the pitch seriously either. It could have worked if they'd thought a little bit more about the offer, and pitched correctly.

How To Pitch An Email

1. Make It Personal

Imagine a telephone call where the caller launched straight into their message, but with time spent on social niceties. Even telemarketers make some effort to establish rapport.

The same goes with email. You need to know who you're writing to and address that person by name. Read their About Us page, read their site, Google them, get to know them. It can be a good idea to make contact with them, and build a rapport, some time before making your request for a favor. Try to pay it forward. Give them something first.

It's also a good idea to clearly outline a connection you have with the recipient, if such a fact isn't already established. For example, "I read your article "SEOmoz's Linkscape: Why the Backlash is Overblown" and wanted to ask you a question...." or "I was talking to a friend of yours, Aaron Wall, and he suggested I....."

2. Keep It Professional

Hi Arren,

I waas wanting too no if you would link to my site?

Spelling and grammar matter. No one expects William Shakespeare, but poor spelling and grammar screams "unprofessional". An obvious exception is when you know someone well. The better you know someone, the less the technical aspects of communication tend to matter.

3. Tone

If you don't know someone well, it is best to use a professional tone. Too conversational can come over as "not serious", especially in email correspondence. Remember, it's not like dealing face-to-face, where nuance, inflection, expression and gestures become important signifiers of meaning.

So keep it clean, clear, precise and professional. Be particularly careful with humor. What sounds like a joke to you may get lost in translation, especially if the person you're emailing is from a different country.

If in doubt, play it straight.

4. Message Title

So much depends on the title.

Put yourself in the recipients shoes. Like you, they're probably busy. They're focused on their own stuff. They might have an inbox that is full to bursting, and they're feeling a little guilty about not clearing it out. One more message is just one more problem they must deal with.

Then your message arrives.

In this context, how do you make sure your message desirable?

The trick with email is to make the title personal. Relate it directly to the recipient in some way. Arouse curiosity, praise people, describe a benefit, or pose a direct question. But put a personal spin on it.

A lot of email marketing strategy gets this wrong, particularly in relation to benefits. Titles loaded with benefits, such as ""Do You Hate Your Job? Discover Seven Secrets..." will be viewed as spam. Titles like that may work if you are in the spam business, but they are highly unlikely to work anywhere else. If you do use benefit statements, then try to personalize them.

5. What's In It For The Recipient

This is possibly the most important aspect in getting the recipient to act.

Outline the benefit to the recipient, and do so before they switch off.

Be concise.

Too lengthy, and it's unlikely the recipient will read to the end. A big block of text can be very off-putting. The first contact should be brief. You can go into detail latter. Think of the first email contact as a covering letter.

Try to offer them something of value. A discount code, a free trial, a free product. It should be something of real value.

Ok, so let's try and rewrite the email, using the guidelines. Note: the intent of the original email was a little ambiguous. It sounded as if the person who wrote it wanted a pay-per-post deal. However, SEOBook doesn't do those types of deals, so I've refocused on how it should be pitched, if the writer had bothered to first research SEOBook.com's editorial policy :)

New SEO Software Your Readers Might Like

Hi Aaron,

I'm a loyal reader of SEOBook.com, and I've written a piece of software that you and your readers might be interested in.

The software automates social bookmarking.

You can use the software to help build links and increase traffic to your site. If you'd like to try it out, here is a link to a free copy. I've included a recent case study showing how we took a site from 1,000 visitors to 4,000 visitors in less than a week.

I'd be very interested in hearing any feedback you may have.

Kind regards,

Joe Emailer

acme.com

Not perfect, but it only took one minute to write. I'm sure we can all agree that it is an improvement on the first one.

Aaron might even have answered it....

Published: October 23, 2008

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Comments

October 23, 2008 - 4:15am

Nice post - couldn't agree more. Sending a lower volume of well crafted researched link request/ pitch e-mails is a way better approach than the mass mail spray & pray technique.

I think it can also be sometimes good keep the initial e-mail a little ambiguous until you have developed some rapport with the person on the other end. This is to safeguard against someone potentially shopping you to the big G for "Link felony" offences.

October 23, 2008 - 5:52am

there is even an email that says something like

"we are not spamming, we are manually looking for links and we found your site"

October 23, 2008 - 6:40am

Hi Seobook Members One nAll ... Nice and knowledgeable in here init ... Yes its always a great time of year for link building and to be requesting swapping links with email posters I think the Trick is to outline the value of your request making it all about them then the Treat would be all about the benefits you both would receive by taking the necessary action of swapping links thats exacly what i'm consentrating on right now link~backs from my site check me out please you will be happy you did!

All my best to you and your keyword linking
Phillip Skinner

October 23, 2008 - 1:46pm

I just wrote a very similar post: http://www.semportland.com/events/how-to-f-up-at-online-networking/ . I think you were far too kind on the person who emailed Aaron :.)

October 23, 2008 - 1:49pm

Great post. It makes me think about all the reasons I stop reading link request email sometimes before I finish reading the entire request.

These are all great points. Right off the bat, if someone misspells our company name or has bad grammar, than I won't even consider.

No matter what, the most personal way of asking for a link is through face to face interaction. If this isn’t possible, make a phone call. Email is always my last resort for requesting a link. But when it comes down to composing an email, it better be damn good!

October 23, 2008 - 2:38pm

Great post, it's another print out for the office wall.

October 23, 2008 - 5:58pm

Put yourself in the recipients shoes.

That's probably the most overlooked part of the entire process and in my opinion, the most important part of it. It's funny how many people don't consider this when making requests.

October 23, 2008 - 11:50pm

I'm a new business and I'd given up on link building via the email approach. I too thought it a bit lame and I didn't wanted to be smacked with a spam block. But after reading your post... perhaps my approach was wrong. I'll be putting some more thought into my emails and rethink the email link building approach.

October 25, 2008 - 10:05am

"Nice post - couldn't agree more. Sending a lower volume of well crafted researched link request/ pitch e-mails is a way better approach than the mass mail spray & pray technique."

I agree, and somehow it reminds me of a book written by Seth Godin!

October 27, 2008 - 2:41am

Good food for thought.

I wonder what other incentives you all are using instead of cash, when requesting links? What's the most clever trade you ever heard of?

I once was offered by a marina to have my boat hauled out of the water in the fall:)

October 28, 2008 - 6:56pm

@josey "I wonder what other incentives you all are using instead of cash, when requesting links?"

If you're good at any SEO or online marketing, you could always offer your advice to help them with their site in return for a link.

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