The link building world is in a constant state of evolution. New tools are continually introduced to the market, with SEOs ready to discover what works best. Our outreach team at Modernize recently found ourselves in this position. In need of a new email automation service, we were eager to explore and test out new tools to see what improved our overall outreach system.
Modernize is in the home improvement space, and we focus heavily on energy efficiency and green living — thus, we target lots of green blogs, solar websites, etc. Our aim at Modernize is to be a resource for homeowners and provide quality content so homeowners can make informed decisions when it comes any home improvement project.
When faced with this task of changing our email automation service, we were pleasantly surprised to come across a more effective tool. This recent switch drastically increased response rates and ultimately our number of attainable back links. In an effort to help other link builders increase reply rates, I wanted to detail our process of switching from Get Response to Pitchbox, and how we eventually increased our response rate by 187% in only one month’s time.
The original setup: Get Response and Infusionsoft
Our link building strategy has two main parts that work in conjunction to generate links: our initial outreach email sent via Get Response and our marketing automation built in Infusionsoft. Both parts are essential to our outreach strategy; however, with time we had realized Infusionsoft was working great, while Get Response was causing us some trouble.
To begin, we take the list of prospects we’ve assembled and upload them into Get Response. Next, we craft our initial outreach message using a Get Response template. Each email used similar messaging, although we swapped writing examples based on the vertical we sent to. For example, green websites would be sent samples of our content on “How to Save Energy at Home This Winter” and “Why Solar is Always a Good Investment.” Home decor bloggers were sent our sample content on “Trendspotting: Home Accents in Neon” and “Great Sources for Temporary Wallpaper.”
For each response, we’d create a record in Infusionsoft that contained their basic information, including their first name, the source, email, website name, Domain Authority, and Page Authority. We also place each contact within the appropriate status in the 10-point sales sequence we created.
Here’s each step in that sequence:
- Not Interested: The contact isn’t interested in having us contribute content.
- Interested: When an individual is interested in learning more about what we are doing. They may ask questions like “What’s in it for me?”, “What is in it for you?”, “Do we have to pay for content?”, etc.
- Negotiation: When they’re interested in hearing article topics. We usually pitch 2–3 article topics for them to choose from. We also leave the option open for them to suggest ideas to us.
- Article Requested: When we’ve agreed upon an article topic and it’s now time for our content team to write the article.
- Article Sent: The article is completed and sent out to be reviewed.
- Scheduled: Article is scheduled to go live.
- Won: The article is published and live on their website.
- Paid: There’s a fee for posting an article.
- Lost: If a contact had at one time expressed interest and was moved into the sales sequence, then changed their mind (ex. they did not like the article), we classify them as “lost.” The biggest reason for moving a contact to lost is that we simply never received a response back, even after a series of follow-up messages.
- TTYL: When the individual is interested but would like to discuss at a later date.
Example contact in Infusionsoft
Example contact placed into marketing automation within Infusionsoft
We place each record created in Infusionsoft within our marketing automation. If a prospect doesn’t respond within a week, they get an automated follow-up. The messaging varies dependent upon where they are in the sales sequence. Each stage has a series of 5 follow-up messages. If after 5 tries there’s still no response, we move the contact to “Lost.”
Snapshot of 2 stages of our sales sequence built in Infusionsoft
Problems we experienced with Get Response
As we standardized the process, it was clear that Get Response had drawbacks. With Get Response, you’re required to use one of the pre-made templates when sending out a bulk email. We tried to make the template look as “real” as possible. However, the best template we found offered a cupcake-yellow background and unusual centering. As one would expect, our initial email looked very spammy. Furthermore, the “From: email@example.com” at the top was a dead giveaway that the email was automated.
With this process, you cannot set up automatic follow-ups to those who do not respond or open the initial email. It’s essentially a one-and-done deal. Therefore, if a prospect didn’t respond to our initial email, we would have to manually export the list, craft a follow up template, and send an entirely new message. Needless to say, this was not a viable option for the volume we were striving to reach on a weekly basis.
Why we made the switch
When making the switch from Get Response, we had certain features we were in need of that the new tool we tried, Pitchbox, was able to fulfill. These included:
- Follow-up messaging: After the initial email is sent, we wanted the ability to create two unique follow-up messages for those that that do not open the first email, second email, and so on.
- Lots of personalization: The ability to personalize each email with website name, first name, etc. Pitchbox syncs each website with their Facebook and Twitter, giving us the option to quickly access their social media if we feel the need to mention their latest article or social media post within the outreach message.
- Synced with Gmail: Our message will be sent through our own Gmail accounts; therefore, it’s a real email that doesn’t come off spammy.
Pitchbox templates, including the initial message and two follow-up messages
Setting up Pitchbox
Our first step when setting up Pitchbox was to connect our outreach email to the account. After we synced our account, we crafted the first outreach message. Minus a few changes in wording, we essentially used the same message in Pitchbox as we had used with Get Response. The pitch read:
Over time, we tested different subject lines and discovered our highest-performing subject line was “quick question about: domain.com” that had an average open rate of 60.19% across all verticals.
Next, we went ahead and created the follow-up messages. We wanted the follow-up messages to look as realistic as possible, and therefore used the following message as our first follow-up. The idea was to make it seem like we were replying to the last message we sent them.
Here’s what the follow-up message looked like:
The last follow-up message followed in the exact same form:
We decided the optimal wait time between follow-up messages was 4 days. This gave us time both to respond to all emails and to follow up close enough to convey a sense of urgency.
Our next step was composing the outreach schedule. Pitchbox sends one email out every 3–4 minutes; with multiple campaigns running at once, it was essential to create an outreach schedule that could handle a large volume of emails. Therefore, our outreach schedule sends out emails every day of the week, 7am until 8pm specific to the recipient’s time zone. We also added another outreach email that helps to split up the volume of the emails.
Now we could send out two emails every 3-4 minutes, not just one. With Get Response, we did have the ability to send out emails all at once, therefore we could test different times of the day to see what works best. Since Pitchbox sends via Gmail, we don’t have the luxury of testing different send times.
Tracking our emails with Bananatag
Pitchbox provides you with awesome analytics, specifically related to response rates. It can differentiate between the different replies, such as an out-of-office response versus an actual response back. It also looks at the opportunity age and accounts for the amount of responses over time. Get Response didn’t have analytics on responses, but it did have analytics on opens and clicks, which Pitchbox does not currently have (though it’s a feature they’re adding in the future). Our weekly reporting focused heavily on response rates as well as open rates, so we needed to find a solution that would track the open rate and click rate of our outreach emails.
After researching our options, we discovered the email tracking service Bananatag. With this tool, every email sent through Pitchbox is given a tag that tracks the interaction.
Individually-tracked emails found in Bananatag
For reporting, I’d simply export all tags and do a VLookup in Excel to compare email lists sent with the tags Bananatag has tracked. From there, I’m able to find the open rate and click rate for each campaign.
The hard numbers speak volumes
It’s clear in this case; the numbers tell the story. When we were using Get Response as our email automation service, our average reply rate was 16.55%. The accept rate of an individual expressing their desire for an article was 5.32%. When we made the switch from Get Response to Pitchbox, our average reply rate increased by over 187% to 47.44%. The accept rate increased as well: it’s at 7.35% and continues to steadily increase over time.
We also saw a positive increase in open rates of the initial outreach email. With Get Response, the average open rate was 49.59%. With Pitchbox, the average open rate is now 54.76%.
Reasons for the overall increase in performance?
It’s safe to say the switch in email automation service was the reason for the overall increase in response rates and accept rates. We hypothesized that the main reason for the overall increase was the legitimacy of the initial email. Because it’s sent through gmail, therefore looks like (and is) a genuine email. There aren’t any weird alignment issues or off-colored backgrounds — just a good, ol’-fashioned email that looks as if I crafted each one individually. The follow-up messages are also another big reason for our increased reply rates. With Pitchbox, we increase our chances of getting a response with the three message we send, unlike the one chance we got with Get Response.
How could the process be improved?
Moving forward, we really want to test different types of messaging, specifically related to the follow-up messaging and the outreach schedule. Currently, the two follow-up messages we use in our campaign are sent out every 4 days. We’d like to test this and see if we should narrow that time from 4 days to 2, or possibly extend the time in between follow-ups from 4 days to 7. Testing our messaging is also vital to improving the process. Are prospects losing interest too quickly because our message is too long? We plan on A/B testing this in the future, using our original message and a shortened version.
When faced with the task of changing our email automation service, we were pleasantly surprised to have not only improved upon the tools we use in our link building process, but ultimately increase our reply rates drastically — by 187%. Have you had your own success with any particular outreach tools? Share your tips in the comments!