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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.

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  • Dave

    Just wondering…did you ever try to ask if they could give their opinion about / their 2 cents to your piece in progress in the first mail ? Having good results myself with that technique 🙂

    • Hi Dave! Right now we keep our initial pitch as lean as possible—focusing on what the piece is/why it’s a good fit. We certainly end the pitch with a “Looking forward to your feedback!” to invite responses.

      To address your “in progress” point, all of this outreach was conducted after a piece of content goes live. But that’s great that you’re taking the time to engage media during the content creation process!

  • Great stuff Caroline, and I am usually a carmudgeon with internet marketing posts 🙂
    I kind of reached a similar conclusion with outreach on LinkedIn via InMails! Breaking it down is key it seem.

  • Congrats on improving your results, it’s always good when outreach experiments start paying off.

    I’m just chiming in to mention something in regards to the tip on writing custom intros. The screenshot you’ve used belongs to a placement achieved by my team during one of our campaigns but we didn’t use that technique as that’s not how we work at all.

    It’s quite hard for me to educate our clients on our outreach approach sometimes so I wouldn’t want one of them to read the article and believe that we control what journalists write when featuring our infographics.

    We’d prefer that you didn’t use that screenshot to demonstrate your point, seeing that we didn’t do it in this way and would respectfully request you remove it if it’s not too much trouble. Otherwise, if you could add a disclaimer to the screenshot explaining that, we’d really appreciate it.

    My two cents: Even though this might be something that works for you guys with bloggers, I wouldn’t recommend approaching a journalist telling them what to write as it will certainly blow your chances of getting a placement/building a relationship.

    • Hi Gisele! Thanks for the feedback and great work on that placement—we really admired the infographic and the article as a whole. I appreciate you reaching out and understand your point—we’ve removed the screenshot.

      I agree that the custom intro approach should be done delicately based on blogger vs. journalist, but I wouldn’t rule it out entirely as beats and outlets can be vastly different. As you can see from our templates above, we simply offer an intro to set up the post if needed. If the blogger/reporter accepts we write something (leaving edits entirely to their discretion). If they plan to write it on their own, we drop the subject and allow them to craft their story.

  • Awesome insights Caroline. I’m big fan of Brian Dean’s approaches as well. May I ask if when you’re doing outreach on behalf of a client, are you sending from a ‘SiegeMedia’ address or a newly provided client email address?

    • Good question! All of these projects were done using client email addresses. We’ve used our Siege emails for other projects/clients when their email provider isn’t available, just not for any of these projects in this study.

  • This is fantastic Caroline. Thanks for sharing, I love how the emails are not selfish and focus on a benefit for the blogger.

    Do you use a CRM and do you track when emails are clicked?

    • Thanks Luiz! We do not use a CRM or email tracking system for outreach—this is all counted manually. Currently our email volume per project isn’t at the size where that would be necessary.

      I’ve even found PR firms that pay for a media relations software (like Cision or Meltwater) don’t use their email feature and instead prefer to send separately. Keeps the conversation less robotic and easier to personalize.

  • Great post Caroline.

    Curiosity gets the better of most people 🙂

    Regarding follow ups you might find this study by YesWare interesting although I can’t believe some people go as far as 10 follow-ups!

    Another thing that increases conversion for me is trying different emails / people from a website. Also if I’m not getting a response via email sending them a message via Facebook/Linkedin/Twitter increases response rates. Thankfully there is no sensitive spam filters on social media such as email!

  • Great post Caroline, love the data/information shared. Seriously awesome.

    I had a question regarding the initial outreach. Do you follow up if there’s no response to the initial request?

    I noticed in the post you mentioned that if they responded requesting to see the link it gave you a good excuse to follow up. So the only time you follow up is if they request to see the link and then go silent? And then only once?

    As both a blogger and someone very experienced with manual outreach for link building (placement) it’s been my experience that follow up is an absolute must. Multiple times.

    Very easy to send a quick, to-the-point email (as you noted in the post) following up. A few follow ups spread over the course of a couple weeks has almost never ruffled feathers in my experience, and even then a quick apology should be enough to smooth it over.

    Genuinely curious about your own experience. Thanks!


    • Hi Cory! It’s not an approach we use often—but that’s reassuring to hear you’ve been getting great results from it and as a blogger yourself find it appropriate.

      May be something we start doing more often for specific bloggers we believe are a very good fit for our content, but perhaps not to the entire list. Thanks for the tip!

  • This is really interesting, great to see Brian’s post having some real-world application.

    I’m curious if this method, particularly the custom intro, works when you’re trying to link-build to a blog post or “wow post” to use Brian’s terminology.

    Obviously if you want them to post an infographic or other visual medium it makes sense, but do you have a different approach when asking them to link to your article?

    • Hi Dom! Good question. Since most of the content we create for clients is outside of a copy-only blog post, we haven’t used this method on such content. I’d be interested to see if anyone else had insights to how this outreach method (or a variation thereof) would work.

      That said, if I was pitching blog posts my knee jerk reaction would still be to try this method first.

  • Daniel Carrington

    This might be a silly question but I have a question about the link. Are you referring to an article already written that is published online or is it in a Google doc and unpublished. I’m just confused on the actual content piece. The rest sounds like a great approach! Thanks for the tips!

    • This post is referring to content that is already live—therefore the link is to view the content on a client’s site. Thanks for asking!

  • Simon Trainer

    Hi Caroline – Some niches lend themselves to creating epic content more than others. Do you ever struggle to come with the awesome content in the first place?

  • Roland

    Nice Post Caroline! I believe that method could work well with infographics though with articles i’ve had many bloggers rejecting the idea because the don’t want to publish something that is already published. My approach is to suggest that my client is an expert in their field and that they’re willing to share some of their expertise with the blogger’s audiences. I would then either suggest a few topics and ask them to choose one they’re interested in sharing with their audiences ( this way they know that the content is written strictly for them ) or propose one hot particular topic. ( In Sydney , at some point, people were travelling overseas to get dental treatments and that was a hot topic in the dental industry so i had success covering this topic on behalf of a dentist client of mine ). A few other things have worked for me: – Following up on the initial pitch. i’ve had some success with that since some of the emails would go unnoticed or in their spam folder. I would be interested to know if you’ve had bloggers requesting payment ? and what do you think about going down that route? I’ve noticed that this saves a lot of time, gives you more control over the anchor text/links and also you can request publishing the article on the blogger’s social networks. ( The content will still be editorial and not advertorial ) and you can also build a database of bloggers that you’ve worked with so you can use for other clients if they fit the same niche. Thanks again Caroline, Keep Rockin!

  • Andres

    Great post Caroline. A few question: Did I understand correctly that you send out the same message template to all your prospects. You just insert the name but you didn’t change the reason?

    • Hi Andres! The “reason” would definitely need to change based on the blogger you’re sending to. Maybe it only varies slightly, but I would recommend personalizing each email as much as possible.

  • hey guys
    seems like you have stole the content from backlinko because he has revealed the same tactic in his post called guestographics. Am I right or am I right ?

    • Hey Shaurya, you’re wrong. We clearly cite Brian Dean (Backlinko), in this post, and fully credit him. We actually had Brian share this post as well for similar reasons. Brian had a great strategy and we clearly give him credit for it here.

  • Kuba Kzz

    Great read Caroline! Can I ask which tool you guys use for outreach? Buzzstream, Pitchbox, any email marketing tool or simply Gmail and some plugins for templates?

    • Thanks Kuba! We use Buzzstream to manage outreach, but at the time of this article we were actually just using Gmail/Excel documents (!!!). Our team was small, but since then we’ve more than doubled in size and using a tool like Buzzstream was necessary to help manage all the projects happening at once.

      • Kuba Kzz

        thanks Caroline 🙂

  • This was an amazing article. Loved the stats, scripts, reasoning etc. Great writing all around! This is definitely bookmarked.

  • I dont if you are still gonna reply to this old post but I am still gonna try. My question to you is does asking the blogger if he needs a custom intro works for text based content on your blog or works with just visual posts like infographics and all?

    I am going to publish a really great post in my niche ( atleast according to me) but I am not sure how to get links for it.

    • It definitely works best when you have some kind of sharable asset. Doesn’t have to be an infographic, could be a few custom images, custom photography, etc, that makes it easier for them to post. Hope that helps!

      • hey Ross
        Thanks for replying. No it does not have imagery of any sort. It is a blog post where I share 32 apps and website to save money for “industry”

        How can I pitch for such type of post. I plan to reach to linkers of similar ideas, people in money related industry but how do I get links from my industry which is not related to money at all. Any ideas ?

  • Purushotam Saini

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