Successful content can stop at publish without an outreach plan in place. As marketers strive to rise above the saturation of content out there, a strong pitch ensures the hard work you’ve done in brainstorming and creation isn’t lost.

We’ve covered the basics of effective outreach, but moving into 2015 we’ve been testing a new method that has enabled us to increase our placement rate by 63% when doing blogger outreach. In this post, I’ll explain how, the benefits and why we think it’s working.

A Quick Note on Placement Rates

It is very hard to determine the average industry “placement rate” (e.g. number of email pitches sent / links earned). I attribute this to two reasons:

  1. Very few traditional public relations firms are transparent about this number.
  2. “Outreach” today involves so many different industries, content types and KPIs that it’s difficult to wrangle it all into one common percentage.

In research for this post, the most realistic number is from a Mozinar citing a 2012 study by Buzzstream and iAcquire. In this study they found the average placement rate hovers between 4.5-4.8%.

While it would be nice to have data a little more recent—as SEO and content marketing has changed a lot in the past three years—it’s my opinion that this number could still be pretty close to accurate.

Our Placement Rate


To determine how much we’ve improved since starting our new process, we had to figure out our baseline.

We took our seven most recently completed projects from before we started new email testing, a total of 750 emails. Surprisingly, the average placement rate of this group was at 4.6%, the “agreed” industry average.

We then took the most recent seven pieces of content promoted with our new process to the same industries, with a total number of 900 emails sent, and found that the average placement rate had now improved to 7.5%.

It’s important we note that both of these data sets were measuring results of direct outreach. These numbers do not include organic coverage or “viral” content. So while these seem like small percentages, in the world of manual outreach this is a massive improvement.

Our Outreach Process Before

Before we dive into the new process, it’s important to lay out what our previous method was like. After building our outreach list, a typical email from the “before” pile would look like this:

Subject: [CONTENT] for [WEBSITE]

Hi [NAME],

We created a [CONTENT DESCRIPTION]. We thought you’d be interested at [WEBSITE] because [REASON].

You can see it here: [LINK]

If you enjoyed it, we’d love if you considered sharing it. Thanks and let me know if you have any feedback!

Overall, simple and to the point—a desired pitch among journalists. For us, this template would achieve results and meet client goals. But with this one-step, one-way communication, the majority of our manual outreach would still sit in the black hole of inboxes. It left a lot of questions unanswered, such as:

  • Was this the correct point of contact?
  • Was our pitch intriguing enough?
  • Is our content the best fit?
  • Is their editorial calendar full at the moment?

So while we were achieving placements, we still wanted to test and see if it could get better.

How We’ve Improved

Our new outreach process originally stemmed from reading Brian Dean’s backlinking strategy post from 2014. With this in hand, we’ve modified the practice in a few ways—and we think the combined changes have made the biggest impacts on our placement rate than before.

This outreach method looks like this:


  1. A pitch is sent to the recipient, explaining in 100 words or less what the piece of content is and why we thought they’d be interested. This pitch does not include the link to view, rather says if they’re interested to let us know and we’ll forward along.
  2. If response is positive, we then forward them the link to the content. In addition, we offer to write a custom intro to support the post if needed.
  3. If there’s no response after forwarding the link, we follow up with the blogger if they’ve gone silent after 3-7 business days.

Not only has this new process yielded great results, it’s also allowed us to breakdown one pitch into multiple measurable outcomes. We’re no longer only measuring emails sent vs. links earned—now we can diagnose weaknesses in the process and improve upon them moving forward.

While many of these points may seem basic on the surface, what makes the combination powerful is that each step relies on the other in order to work most effectively. If any of the steps were used with the one-step process, they’d be significantly less successful. Together, they’re potent.

To show you what we mean, here is our “behind the scenes” data:

1) Improved Initial Pitch

The following are the basic email principles that good content marketers have been using for the past couple of years. The principles are:

  • An enticing headline
  • A brief, 2-3 sentence pitch
  • A link to view the content

What we’ve tested is if the third bullet is something that is helping or hurting our response rates. To do this, we changed our emails to look like this:

First email:


Hi [NAME],

We created a [CONTENT DESCRIPTION]. We thought you’d be interested at [WEBSITE] because [REASON].

Let me know if you’re interested in seeing it and I’d be happy to forward along!

Second email if recipient is interested:

Hi [NAME]!

Thanks for the reply, you can check it out here: [LINK]

If you decide to share it on your site, I’d be happy to write a custom intro to the post for you. Looking forward to your feedback!

Prior to changing this initial pitch, our average response rate was at 7%. Meaning for every 100 emails sent, we could expect seven replies from bloggers.

After this change, our average response rate increased to 15%. Keep in mind this is not placement rate, we’re still sending the blogger a link to content and nurturing it into a live post (more on that later).

Why We Think This Works

First and most simply: forgoing the link may be getting us past any auto-spam filters. But I don’t believe this accounts for the entire increase in responses as we weren’t getting frequent blocked email notifications before.

When trying to figure out why withholding the link was working for bloggers, we found this article quoting philosopher and education reformer John Dewey.

He explains the importance of interest—describing it as a “process of ‘catch’ and ‘hold’—first the individual’s interest must be captured, and then it must be maintained.”

While Dewey at the time was explaining teaching techniques, successful outreach should accomplish the same “catch and hold” mentality.

In an industry where even mid-tier bloggers are receiving 20-50 pitches per week, we’re not only catching their attention with a cleaner pitch, we’re also holding it by starting a conversation. We aren’t dumping something carelessly on their lap and running away. It’s possible this difference plays into their psychological process and an increase in placements.

2) Custom Post Intros for Better Post ROI

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 3.25.07 PM

This effort was originally suggested by Brian Dean as a remedy for infographics, which usually requires a paragraph to set it up. But we’ve also found this process works outside of just infographics, including other content types where visualizing the final post isn’t completely obvious to a blogger (e.g. quizzes, generators, illustrations, etc.).

But how many bloggers actually care about receiving a free written intro? Answer: More than you think. Of our sampling of projects using the new two-step process, almost half (48%) of bloggers who posted the content did so with a custom intro.

Another great component of the custom intro is that you have complete control of the copy and backlinks—allowing you to link back not just to that one piece of content, but potentially to the homepage or product page as well.

So if almost half of our placements are not only achieving a content specific link, but also a homepage or product page, we’re greatly increasing the ROI of our outreach efforts.

Before you start pitching, we recommend you have a handful prepared so you’re not derailing your workday when responses start rolling in. Here are some other tips to improve the value of your custom intro:

  • Keep the intro to ~200 words or less.
  • Write it with the blogger’s voice in mind.
  • If the blogger recently covered your topic, include a link back to that blog post (they’ll appreciate the extra effort).
  • Don’t try to force the copy to include a specific link as it will set off a red flag for the blogger.

Why We Think This Works

Plain and simple: your content is forcing itself into their editorial calendar. It’s not a bad thing—but the blogger never planned to write about your content. Instead of expecting them to add more work onto their schedule, support their needs by lowering the friction to publish.

I’ve written everything from 1-2 sentence blurbs to 500 word blog posts. Very few times have my intros been changed or modified, and only once has a blogger decided not to use it (in the end they wrote their own intro). Going the extra mile not only pays off for the blogger, but for your client as well.

In addition, offering the custom post intro in the second step supports user psychology. In the first email, it would feel desperate (“Please cover me, I’ll do anything!”). But in the second email, it’s simply a helpful add-on. Big difference.

3) Following Up When We Couldn’t Before

Getting back to the first point about improving response rates—just because a blogger replies “Sure! Send the link over!” doesn’t guarantee they’ll publish.

After forwarding the link along some bloggers may post, but some may end up never responding. This is when following up and nurturing a pitch is important.

We’ve perfected this by following up with bloggers who requested the link, but have been silent since. Why? Because they have already started a conversation with us, so the follow up is less invasive than the previous, one-step process.

Here is example data from three different projects:


As you can see above, for some projects the number of bloggers who actually posted the link can be half of who originally requested it. There will always be a number of bloggers who respond, view your content and decide it’s not a good fit. That’s ok, it’s about the effort you put in between the “response” and “placement” time frame that improves your outreach numbers.

Here is an example of an email that we typically send after their initial link request:

Hi [NAME]! Following up to make sure you received my last email below and if our [CONTENT] is still a good fit for [WEBSITE]. Thanks for your interest!

By utilizing this follow up, we’ve managed to close the gap between our response and placement rates by 1-2% depending on the project.

We recommend waiting at least 3-7 business days until following up. If they don’t respond after the first attempt, it’s best to let it go and move on to your next prospect.

Why We Think This Works

Remember in the old days of outreach when following up with a dead email was considered a huge no-no? With this new process, quickly pinging a blogger or reporter about their thoughts on the content keeps the conversation going a bit longer without adding any risk.

We’ve also found that even bloggers who don’t end up publishing will still respond, giving valuable feedback as to why they’ve chosen not to post our content (e.g. editorial calendar is full, not the right look and feel, etc.). This feedback is always taken back to our content brainstorming stage and allows us to improve the next time out.

Some Important Disclaimers

This is data from our agency client work, which may be vastly different from the work you’re doing. Here are some quick additional thoughts as to what else plays into this improvement:

  • We continuously learn from and try improve the content we create, which will always have significant impact on placement rate—so it’s possible the content in the second sample was better than the first, also contributing to an overall improvement.
  • The seven projects average about 117 emails each, giving us a total comparison size of almost 1,650. While a good amount of emails, it’s still a small sample size and difficult to A/B test. It seems possible that with a larger sample, our improved number will come down slightly—although we’re still confident there will be sustained improvement.
  • As stated before, both sets of data were a result of direct outreach. None of the posts in either data set went viral and we are only counting placements we earned from our emails.
  • All of these projects were for similar clients whose audiences are in content-friendly verticals (primarily lifestyle and consumer). It’s likely 7.5% is not a sustainable percentage for many other industries such as insurance or finance, for example.

We can’t guarantee adopting this same exact method will dramatically increase your outcomes or lead to a 7.5% average placement, but we do think it can be an improvement for those experiencing stagnant results.

Small Changes Making a Big Difference

Looking at our new process above, it’s evident that there are a lot of small changes accumulating to make this large improvement. Following up on occasion with bloggers or writing a guest intro here and there may not give you the same placement rate. But by tracking, measuring, refining and then repeating that process over again you’re getting much closer than before.

Secret recipes sold here.

Fresh out of the oven.