How We Increased Our Email Response Rate from ~8% to 34%

Posted by STMartin

It’s no secret that reply rate is the golden metric of email campaigns.

The reason is obvious. As opposed to open and click rate, reply rate tracks how many recipients were interested (or annoyed) enough to actually write you back. For guest blogging and email outreach, your reply rate will determine your campaign’s success.

We still believe that guest blogging is a great opportunity to improve your site’s link profile and brand exposure. However, the time-investment needed in prospecting/email outreach can leave you questioning its ROI.

It doesn’t often make sense to spend 3 hours prospecting and emailing different opportunities to get only 3 replies.

So how do you make all your prospecting and emailing worth your while?

Simple: Boost your reply rate to generate more “opportunities won” in the same timeframe.

The pain point: Time

At Directive Consulting, we rely on guest posting for our most valuable backlinks. 😉 With that said, four months ago our email outreach was still struggling at around an 8% reply rate.

This is actually around the industry standard; guest blogger outreach emails might expect a reply rate in the 5–15% range.

With the below template, we were sending out 20–50 emails a week and receiving no more than 2–4 positive replies.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

To make the system more time-efficient, we had to get our reply rate at least into the double digits.

The hypothesis: Value

To boost our reply rate, we asked ourselves: What makes the best online content so engaging?

The answer: The best online content speaks to the user in terms of value. More specifically, the user’s personal values.

So, what are these user values that we need to target? Well, to look at that we need to understand today’s average user.

Image source

As opposed to their predecessors, today’s savvy post-digital users value personalization, customization, and participation.

Our hypothesis was as follows: If we can craft an email user experience that improves upon these three values, our reply rate will spike.

The results: Too hot to handle

3 successful tests later, our reply rate has gone from 8% all the way up to 34%.

And our guest blog content queue is piling up faster than the lines at the mall the night before Black Friday.

In three tests we addressed those three values: personalization, customization, and participation. Each new test brought a spike in reply rate.

How did we do it? Don’t worry, I’ll tell you how.

3 reply rate tests (& a mini test) and what we learned

We started by stepping into the user’s shoes. Everyone knows that receiving random outreach emails from strangers can be jarring. Even if you’re in the industry, it can at least be annoying.

So how do you solve that problem? The only way you can: delight.

How we approached creating a more delightful and comfortable email experience took testing. This is what we learned.

Test #1 – The personalized introduction (8%–16%)

The first feature of our email we tackled was the introduction. This included the subject line of the email, as well as how we introduced ourselves and the company.

Here’s what it looked like:

As you can see, while the subject line packs some serious authority, it’s not very personable. And if you look at the in-email introduction, you’d see a similar problem.

Plenty of professional context, but hardly a personalized first impression. This user-experience screams BLOGGER TRYING TO GET GUEST BLOG OPPORTUNITY.

Now let’s look at the variant we tested:

Big difference, huh?

While all the same authoritative references are still there, this is already far more personal.

A few noteworthy differences in user-experience:

  • Subject line: Natural, single sentence (almost seems like the email could have been forwarded by a co-worker).
  • Name and title: The letterhead not only replaces a useless sentence, it supplies a smiling face the user can match the name/title with.
  • Creative/disruptive branding: The creative letterhead is a real disrupter when you compare it to any old email. It also gets our logo above the fold in the email, and actually saves space all together.

Packing all the context of the email into a single, creative, and delightful image for the user was a huge step.

In fact, this first test alone saw our biggest jump in reply rate.

The results? Our reply rate doubled, jumping all the way from 8% to 16% — above the industry benchmark!

Mini test: The psychology behind “Because” (16%–20%)

If that wasn’t a big enough jump to please us, we added on one more addition after the initial test.

If you don’t know who Brian Dean is, I’ll leave his bio for you to read another time. For now, all you need to know is that his “because” tactic for increasing reply rates works.

Trust me. He tested it. We tested it. It works.

The tactic is simple:

  1. Provide the exact context for your email in a single sentence.
  2. Use the phrasing “I am emailing you because…” in that sentence.
  3. Isolate that sentence as it’s own paragraph as early in the email as possible.

That’s it.

And this little change bumped our reply rate another 4% — all the way up to 20%. And this was before we even ran test #2!

Test #2 – Customizing/segmenting the offer (20%–28%)

Test #2 focused on customization. We had nailed the personalized first impression.

Now we needed to customize our offer to each individual recipient. Again, let’s take a look at where we started:

As far as customization goes, this isn’t half bad. There are plenty of prospective topics that the editor or blogger could choose from. But there’s always room for improvement.

Customization is a fancy word for segmentation, which is our industry’s fancy word for breaking lists into smaller lists.

So why not segment the topics we send to which editors? We can customize our email’s offer to be more relevant to the specific recipient, which should increase our chances of a positive reply.

Instead of a single list of prospective topics, we built 8.

Each list was targeted to a different niche industry where we wanted to guest post. Each list had 10 unique topics all specified to that blog’s niche.

Now, instead of 10 topics for the umbrella category “digital marketing,” we had 10 topics for:

  1. Pay-per-click advertising blogs
  2. Content marketing blogs
  3. Social media management blogs
  4. Software as a service (SaaS) blogs
  5. Interactive design blogs
  6. Search engine optimization blogs
  7. Agency management blogs
  8. E-commerce optimization blogs

Not only did the potential topics change, we also changed the email copy to better target each niche.

This test took a bit of time on its own. It’s not easy to build a list of 80 different targeted, niche, high-quality topics based on keyword research. But in the end, the juice was definitely worth the squeeze.

And what was the juice? Another spike in our reply rate — this time from 20% up to 28%!

Test #3 – Participating in topic selection (28%–34%)

We were already pretty pleased with ourselves at this point, but true link builders are never satisfied. So we kept on testing.

We had already addressed the personalization and customization issues. Now we wanted to take a crack at participation. But how do you encourage participation in an email?

That’s a tricky question.

We answered it by trying to provide the most adaptive offer as possible.

In our email copy, we emphasized our flexibility to the editor’s timeline/content calendar. We also provided a “open to any other options you may have” option in our list of topics. But the biggest change to our offer was this:

As opposed to a list of potential topics, we went one step further. By providing options for either long or short pieces (primary and focalized) we give them something to think about. They can choose from different options we are offering them.

This change did increase our reply rate. But what was surprising was that the replies were not immediately positive responses. More often than not, they were questions about the two different types of guest posts we could write.

This is where the participation finally kicked in.

(Chasing your first reply like Leo’s first oscar….)

We were no longer cold-emailing strangers for one-time guest posts. We were conversing and building relationships with industry bloggers and editors.

And they were no longer responding to a random email. They were actively participating in the topic selection of their next blog post.

Once they started replying with questions, we knew they were interested. Then all we had to do was close them with fast responses and helpful answers.

This tiny change (all we did was split the targeted list we already had into two different sizes) brought big results. Test #3 brought the final jump in our reply rate — from 28% up to the magic 34%.

After we had proved that our new format worked, then we got to have some real fun — taking this killer system we built and scaling it up!

But that’s a post for another day.

Takeaways

So what have our reply rate tests taught us? The more personal you are and the more segmented your approach, the more success you’ll see.

2017 is going to be the year of relationship building.

This means that for each market interaction, you need to remember that the user’s experience is the top priority. Provide as much delight and value to your user as possible. Every blog post. Every email. Every market interaction.

That’s how you triple reply rates. And that’s how you triple success.

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