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500 Top-Tier Publishers Tell You What They Want from Content Marketers

Posted By Guest Blogger 21st of January 2015 Writing Content 0 Comments

This is a guest contribution from Kelsey Libert from Fractl.

The good news: Content is here to stay as a digital marketing powerhouse, giving marketers more opportunities than ever to tune their SEO goals for every stage of the buying cycle.

The bad news: The boom in content marketing has resulted in a veritable avalanche of email for publishers. In fact, some top-tier publishers receive over 300 pitches a day – more than 3x the email volume of the average worker.

What does this mean? Without placements that will reach the right audiences, the quality of your content is a moot point. Competition is tougher than ever in the inboxes of those who are calling the shots on publishing your work; only the best pitches will receive the attention of the most coveted sites. That’s why BuzzStream and Fractl collaborated to survey more than 500 publishers to find out how to break through the noise and improve your content promotion.

Pitch Perfect Subject Lines

The subject line is your first and most important opportunity to capture a publisher’s attention. Honing this one area of your pitching practice can mean the difference between a top-tier placement on HuffingtonPost.com, Mashable.com, or BusinessInsider.com – or weeks of fruitless pitching with your fingers crossed for some low-authority pickups.

Why is the subject line so crucial? 81% of publishers want email pitches, which means the inbox is your best avenue for earning their interest. 85% open emails based on the subject line alone, which means that knowing what they’re looking for will improve your odds of earning their attention. Our survey results tell us that the following six influencers have the most impact on your open rates.

1. Speak to Their Beat

The single most important takeaway from our survey might just be this: more than 60% of publishers told us that the best subject lines should be tailored to their beat. This means that you need to use that limited space to let them know that you both understand what they cover and have something relevant to share with them.

More than 50% agreed that you should do this by being both specific and descriptive. In a sea of hundreds of emails, publishers want you to get to the point. Tell them exactly what you have and why it matters to them.

2. Keep it Short

Once you’ve nailed down the content of your subject line, the next important step is to keep it under 10 words. Nearly 40% agreed that subject lines should be brief, making brevity the fourth most important quality on our list. 75% prefered subject lines between 0 – 10 words, and this range has an added benefit: keeping your subject line concise helps ensure that it won’t be cut off in inboxes.

3. Offer your Assets

Letting publishers know in the subject line what kinds of assets you’re offering will help them make a quick decision about whether they’re interested. If you’ve done your research on the kinds of assets the publisher typically embeds, this will work to your advantage; if you haven’t, you may lose their attention before they open your email. In our survey we learned some of the assets publishers request most:

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  • 85% want raw data. While they won’t publish the raw data, having quick access to your research information will help them verify your findings and explore their own interests more.
  • 65% want data visualizations. This includes infographics, mixed-media pieces, images, video, and interactive maps.
  • 19% want articles. If this is an asset you offer, be sure to take a look at the average length of the articles your target publishes to ensure your piece is in line with their preferred word count.

4. Entice with Exclusives

Publishers love to be the first to report on a hot story. Nearly half reported that they prefered offers for exclusive pickups over syndications, which means a subject line that includes the opportunity for an exclusive will earn extra attention from eager writers and editors.

Even though exclusives are a great incentive for publishers, that doesn’t mean that your content promotion strategy should end once the first placement has been secured. A good syndication strategy can protect you against a lackluster first print, or unpredictable variables like competition from breaking news or unfortunate headline flubs.

5. Establish and Maintain Relationships

65% of publishers feel that establishing a personal relationship before pitching is at least somewhat important. Once you do the legwork of getting to know a publisher’s work, making contact, and landing your first placement, don’t let that relationship flag. 66% said they’d also be more likely to open a future pitch if you reference your past relationship in the subject line.

Sending a publisher a quick comment every so often via email or social media is a good practice to keep your name and work familiar to them. But beware sounding overly friendly; publishers were quick to point out that they don’t appreciate phony tones in pitches or messages.

6. Avoid These Pitfalls

While you incorporate these best practices into your pitching tactics, be sure to avoid the pitfalls that will get your email deleted – or worse, earn you (and your company’s domain) a place on a publisher’s blacklist.

  • Double check your spelling, including the publisher’s name. 85% said they’d delete a pitch with bad grammar or spelling regardless of the quality of the content.
  • Don’t sensationalize your subject line. 99% agreed that subjects shouldn’t look like clickbait. Less than 20% said subject lines should be provocative or catchy.
  • Limit your follow-up. 87% told us that you can send one or two follow-up emails at most, but any more than that and you risk being seen as a spammer.

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Start perfecting your pitch by writing subject lines publishers want to open. Be specific, descriptive, relevant, and brief, and you’ll earn the attention of editors who want to amplify your content rather than delete it.

Want to see which verticals are pitched most – and least – along with more insights from this study? Download the free white paper on Subject Line Open Rates.

Kelsey Libert is a Marketing VP and partner at Fractl, a creative digital agency specializing in high-quality content creation and placement. Kelsey’s industry research can be seen on the Harvard Business Review, Inc, The Next Web, Fast Company, Contently, HubSpot, Marketing Land and Buffer.

About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
  1. It was always assumed that writing 1,000 word blog posts or webpages was the move toward getting better search engine rankings, as it was deemed to search engine spiders as “long-form content.” Has this rule changed?

    • Great point, DNN! Long-form content has always been and will continue to be a best practice for boosting your on-site SEO. This research mostly discusses influencer marketing, which is geared toward off-site content marketing paired with top-tier publishers (TIME, Huffington Post, etc). By pairing your content with the web’s leading publishers you begin building a natural high-authority link portfolio, which in turn boosts your organic rankings.

      Content marketing can be used for brand or product awareness (viral campaigns), for audience development (blog content), and even for sales conversion (e-books and whitepapers). The key to finding success with content marketing comes from first defining your goals, and the goals/needs of the customers you hope to target, and then carefully crafting your content to create a value-added link between your goals and the needs of your clients.

  2. Great post, Kelsey.

    You really pointed out my approach in #5 — personal
    relationship before pitching is at least somewhat important.

    Before submitting my guest post to most editors, I’d get in touch with them through Twitter or email first, asking if they’d be interested. Some respond, some don’t. Then I simply follow up with those who respond.

    Also, a simple subject line like [Guest Post: Proposed Topic] tells busy editors that you intend going straight to the point without wasting their time.

    I use this approach a lot and it works. In fact, I got two guest posts published on a well-known publication with it.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the research, Victor!

      #5 is my favorite, as well. Twitter is by far the best platform for networking, since most writers maintain a presence here and their public profiles enable you to communicate without a prior connection. In comparison, Facebook is a more private network for friends and LinkedIn is for professionals, so unknown communication here seems invasive.

      Another great practice is leaving thought provoking feedback on a writer’s blog post, which can stimulate an interesting discussion and get you on their radar as well.

      Glad to hear you’re practicing strategies that top-tier publishers value!

  3. Take #5 all the way to the publishing bank. Super tips Kelsey and if I ran with one I’d take 5. People will do stuff for folks once the folks become their friends. Friends open doors. In any area of life. The thing is, most authors are too darn desperate to build a friendship. Some see publishers as means to an end instead of as friends to be connected with. Build bonds. Promote publishers, help them and be of service to them and good old sowing and reaping will transpire as publishers and other folks will help you and will be of service to you.

    Thanks for the share!


    • This is very true, Ryan. It’s called “backscratching.” You scratch my back, I scratch yours. In the end, everybody is happy and our affiliate marketing clique is making money.

    • Great to see we have a lot of networking fans on this thread!

      When someone else is doing us a ‘favor’ or what they perceive as that (say, publishing our content), that person holds all the cards. We only gain leverage when our campaigns are of a high quality and drive traffic for that publisher, but not until then.

      This is why it’s important to network to get your foot in the door, and then nurture the relationship by delivering mutually beneficial content over time.

  4. Always interesting to know how to go about things and not waste time. My biggest takeaway from this is to nail the content to the site I’m pitching. The second takeaway was that research data is a big plus. 2015 will be the first year I consciously focus on guest posts at all. In the ultra-trail running and extreme exercise space there are heaps of sites that need good articles. With some of my other sites, not so much need and very high competition.

    • Cheers from a fellow New Jersey native, Vern! Looks like we both decided to settle in paradise.

      Ultra-trail running and extreme exercise sounds like a fun niche. Larger saturated verticals require more research-based content to stand out (ex: technology), so in a smaller space where you’re the expert, you might be able to get away with more knowledge-based content. I would suggest doing a mix of both, but leaning more on your knowledge so you don’t need a large research budget to start.

      Best wishes for your 2015 strategy, all signs point to you heading in the right direction!

  5. Contributed editorial has long been among my favored tactics in the Silicon Valley tech PR arena. Brands differentiate by demonstrating their very particular domain expertise. Engineers and technologists and the (unfortunately shrinking) trade editorial teams who serve them, are always hungry for informed content on how or why to do something. Engineers are in a continuing education mode throughout their careers.
    Persuading clients to apply this tactic verses self-publishing another white paper, can be somewhat challenging. When I point out the far greater credibility and reach of contributions compared with yet another white paper hanging on their site, minds often change. I’ve also had some success re-purposing and re-writing white papers as editorial contributions.
    One of the many benefits of digital publishing is not having to wait weeks or months for articles to appear, as we had to do before the www.

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