Seven simple rules for effective email communication and outreach
Communication is key to success in life. No matter your industry, field, career, day-to-day responsibilities, or duties, communication is integral to your success.
Email is the primary mode of communication in today’s digital world. If you can’t communicate well through email, you’ll struggle.
Benefits of effective communication
- Establishes trust, sets project scope, and defines expectations.
- Conveys and emphasizes the correct information.
- Enables both parties to be understood.
- Identifies team obstacles and facilitates problem solving.
- Ensures client, team, and personal satisfaction.
Your ability to present yourself well, communicate ideas, and pitch is fundamental to success.
Let me be clear:
Knowledge, skill, and integrity are vital to any business. But being able to communicate well is crucial in all aspects of work.
Good communication increases value, instills trust, builds confidence, resolves issues, reveals obstacles, and facilitates virtually every piece of an SEO campaign and relationship with clients, supervisors, and team members.
Communication is doubly valuable in link building, which requires one-to-one communication with other site owners in order to secure links. You need to effectively communicate WHY it’s in their (or their audiences’) best interest to link.
Here are my rules for effective email communication (and outreach):
- Use templates for format.
- Know your audience.
- Lead with value.
- Be clear and concise.
- Active language wins.
- Send complete emails.
- Follow up.
What is the goal of your email? Every single element of your email (subject line, structure, word choice) should support that.
1) Templates: how to format emails
Everyone has received terrible mass-produced emails with a template containing zero customization.
If I receive one more “Dear Webmaster” email…
Despite this, I fervently believe in the value of templates. Templates lead to systems and processes, which lead to well-formatted emails that are easy to read and understand (not to mention produce).
My rule of thumb for whether or not I use a template is:
- Am I sending multiple emails to a similar audience?
- Will I send a similar email in the future?
- Is there an optimal way to structure the information to convey my message?
The secret to a good template is list segmentation. Your template should be customized to your audience, leaving enough room for variance as needed.
Unless I’m replying to a thread or sending a unique email, it’s highly likely I’m using some form of template.
Even hand written emails follow a general format (AKA template). Think about the various emails you have to send every day. I bet there are a handful of general templates you follow, even if you’re composing each email individually.
Here’s an example of a template I use often:
This is what I use when I include a positive mention of someone or their company in a post. This helps me build a connection, alerts them to the fact they’ve been mentioned and why, and maybe even nets me a couple social shares.
Creating processes is key to effectiveness. This idea of optimizing shouldn’t be new to the SEO crowd
2) Know your audience
The most important rule of communication is to base the entire conversation around your audience.
Think about it:
How do you converse with a colleague? A supervisor? A client? A good friend? Your parent?
Style, tone, word choice, and mode of communication varies with each audience. It’s communication 101 – you need to structure the conversation that makes sense and is effective for that audience.
Here’s what you should know about your contact before drafting an email:
- Their communication style
- How often they’re pitched
- Your professional relationship.
If you send similar emails, regardless of audience, you’re communicating ineffectively.
3) Value-first Communication
There’s always a reason WHY you’re sending an email.
To communicate effectively, it should be clear why you’ve sent an email, and why it matters to the person you’re emailing.
It’s the last bit – why your email matters to your contact – that’s most important. Leading with this is how you establish value, and gain consideration.
You don’t need to write a long introduction about who you are, or why what you’re doing matters to the world. Lead with the value to your audience.
Why should they care?
The earlier you can answer this question in an email, the better.
When editing a template, my first step is always to move the “why this matters to you” statement to the top (or as near the top as possible).
Here’s an email pitch I receive often:
Here’s how I would make this email value-first.
Are you working to improve your sales and marketing bandwidth?
(custom line that speaks directly to the person’s position or the company).
At [redacted] we provide you with a bespoke B2B list for your prospective accounts, lead generation, and data management services, so you own the client while we do all the research.
We specialize in:
- White Paper lead generation.
- CRM Data Maintenance and accuracy.
- Market intelligence research.
- Market mapping and market assessment.
Let’s discuss how [redacted] can help you meet your goals.
Is it perfect? No – this isn’t my business so I can’t rework the message or positioning. Also, I’m not looking to purchase or outsource list building, so I’m the wrong audience.
However, this reformatted version leads with value. It doesn’t waste any time. If it’s not the right fit, they can move on right away. If it is, they’re more likely to actually read it and reply.
There should always be a reason WHY you’re sending the email.
Don’t bury your lede.
4) Clear and concise
The secret to good writing is liberal editing.
Write your email, then cut as much of it as you can. Then cut a little bit more.
I love to cut:
- Junk words: that, lot, thing, like, feels,
- Euphemisms: get the sense, to hear, to help, taking the time, let me know, look forward, the likes of, staying the course, etc.
- Adverbs: totally, specifically, fully, especially, etc.
- Improper pronouns: any unnecessary switching. Keep it first person as much as possible.
- Everything: if I can cut it, I will.
Don’t obsessively reread emails before you send them. Instead, cut everything until you KNOW there’s no junk left. Everyone will be happier for it.
5) Active voice is for humans
Active voice communicates the correct perspective and chain of events in email.
Email reports are especially reliant on active voice, as passive voice might misrepresent the work.
Passive language robs communication of cause and effect, making it unclear which action led to which result, and deemphasizes value in your email communication.
If you struggle with active versus passive voice, look for awkward phrasing and think about who did what. Make sure you’re not obfuscating the information, for any reason.
A few examples of passive versus active:
“The page was optimized by the SEO.” vs “The SEO optimized the page.”
“Eight links were built by the team across the month.” vs “The team built eight links this month.”
“Rankings have improved and search traffic has been increased by our combined SEO efforts.” vs “Our SEO efforts improved rankings and increased search traffic.”
Passive voice will undermine your tone, confuse your meaning, and weaken your position.
6) Include your pitch
Don’t pitch a request to pitch. Don’t do it.
It happens often:
The best case scenario is a “yes, send along a pitch.” That same response might have been your ACTUAL goal – a link, a publication, coverage, meeting, etc.
Don’t make life more difficult than it needs to be. Everyone is busy and everyone receives too many emails. Pseudo politeness isn’t going to increase the odds your pitch will be successful, especially if you follow rule #2 and only send emails when you have value to add.
The best emails answer any question in the initial email. Consider your audience and make sure you cover everything within reason.
7) Follow up – It’s polite
If you’re building links or sending promotional emails, you’re not doing your job if you don’t follow up.
It’s not rude to send follow up emails – it’s polite.
The follow up email is a good litmus test for the value of your email.
If you believe you have something of value to offer, then you shouldn’t be shy to send a reminder to ensure the person had a chance to review your email.
You’re actually doing them a favor by making sure they didn’t miss a reasonable opportunity. If you don’t feel this way, you haven’t refined your approach enough. You need to believe in the value of your message, the brevity of the outreach, the goals of your contact.
The upper limit I’ll send is four. The original, with three threaded messages.
This isn’t for contacts I have a clearly defined relationship with – only when I think someone truly is missing my emails and I have a valuable reason to be contacting them.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my third (or even fourth) email get a positive response. People are BUSY.
If you’re not following up with your initial email at all, you’re missing huge opportunity.