Pure White Hat Outreach Statistics

I recently realized I had a nice chunk of raw outreach data sitting around. It's a great chance to dig a littler deeper and see if we can learn anything.

I'm working with a decent but limited set of data, and I'm not a statistician, but that doesn't mean we can' take a look and maybe find something we can put in to practice to improve our marketing efforts.

Expectations & Limitations

Before we get started, it's important to understand what we're going to be looking at. This isn't going the be a perfect case study as this outreach was done without knowing the data would be analyzed. 

That also means there are certain data points we can't really look at. For instance, this was very vanilla outreach. No type of mass email service or software was used, so open rates were not recorded.

But, there is still a few interesting factors we can look at.

Design

This white hat outreach followed a very simple design. Here are the key elements:

  • This was pure cold email outreach
  • The emails were designed to grab a reader's attention with a topical linkable asset
  • The same linkable asset was used for the entire data set
  • Only websites with a resources/links page and/or a blog were targeted
  • Guest posts were offered/requested to sites that did not share the linkable asset
  • All unanswered initial emails were followed up on once
  • No links were paid for

Additionally, this was outreach done at the national level and was a local SEO campaign.

That pretty much sums it up. Subject lines were changed slightly from time to time, but there wasn't a big effort to monitor that. And, while all targeted websites were in the same general niche, there was some minor variations in the type of websites and businesses contacted.

Assumptions

Before looking into the results, we can make some assumptions about what to expect. 

My assumptions were:

  • Most links came from the initial email
  • Outreach through email was more successful than via contact forms
  • Link placement percentage would be in line with generally accepted 1-2%
  • Due to the lack of planning with the testing of the subject line, there won't be anything significant to take away about subjects

These are all pretty safe assumptions considering the simplicity and straight forward approach to this email outreach campaign.

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Results

Enough words, let's look at the numbers.

General Stats

  • Total cold outreach sent: 2835
  • Total new referring domains: 40*
  • Success rate: 1.4%

*Some guest posts had more than one link placed inside them , so I measured success by a new referring domain and not total links for a more accurate measurement.

Conversion by Contact Type 

  • Success when first contact was via email: 28 (70%)
  • Success when first contact was via contact form: 12 (30%)

First Contact Success vs. Follow-up Success

  • First contact produced a link or reply: 17 of 33* (51.5%)
  • Follow-up required for link or reply: 16 of 33* (48.5%)

*The number 33 was used instead of 40 (the total number of new referring domains), because it cannot be determined whether 7 of the 40 new RD's went live after first contact or after a follow-up.

Takeaways 

While I wish there was more to look at, such as email open rates and subject line A/B tests, we can still get some useful info out of this. 

First off, let's go back and see if my initial assumptions were correct or not - 

Assumption 1: Most links came from the initial email

  • Incorrect

It was very close to a 50/50 split on whether or not a follow-up was required. Almost half of the initial cold contacts received no reply.

This shows why sending at least one follow up is extremely important.

Assumption 2: Outreach through email was more successful than via contact forms

  • Correct

Reaching out via email was more than twice as successful as reaching out through websites that only had contact forms.

It's not enough information to decide if contact forms should be completely ignored. But, there is a good chance that a more focused study could show that reaching out via contact forms is not an efficient use of resources. 

Assumption 3: Link placement percentage would be in line with generally accepted 1-2%

  • Correct

Considering this was about as vanilla as it gets (no automation, minimally personalized emails, no paying for sponsored posts, etc.), falling right in the middle at 1.4% wasn't bad. It's lower than I like, but there were some really solid links built without the need to pay for them. That doesn't mean these were free. A lot of time went into it of course.

Assumption 4: Due to the lack of planning with the testing of the subject line, there won't be anything significant to take away about subjects

  • Incorrect

While I didn't only have an A/B subject line variation, there was still a very clear pattern starting to form. 

Subject lines without the word "Free" received replies and led to links much more than those that included the word "Free".

I can only assume "Free" led to a more negative/spammy feeling about the email, and it reduced the open rate. I didn't track that, so this is only an educated guess. 

Aside from the info I gained from looking back and comparing my assumptions to the results, one very clear data point emerged:

Doing something is much better than doing nothing. 

This was not a very sophisticated cold email outreach campaign. However, it still produced results that fell well within the generally accepted industry standards.

In Summary

Although this is a fairly limited and simple cold email outreach case study, it still gives us some very useful information. We learned that even basic outreach campaigns can produce results. 

In theory then, a more sophisticated approach should easily improve upon those numbers.

We also learned that contact via email is much more successful, and that following up on ignored initial contact is essential.

Lastly, I think we can see why many digital marketers are OK with paying for and building their own links. A pure white hat approach can be expensive. 

Creating linkable assets, researching websites and sending thousands of emails, and writing guest posts requires both considerable time and money. There are workarounds of course, like scraping email lists, buying email lists, and using mass mailers, but even that requires resources.

Lastly, the biggest takeaway is that whatever method you use to get your website more links, do your best to track the data. That way you'll know what worked and what didn't, and how to improve moving forward.