I Asked 235 People to Tweet My Article and All I Got Is This Cheerless Case Study

Joshua Hardwick
Head of Content @ Ahrefs (or, in plain English, I'm the guy responsible for ensuring that every blog post we publish is EPIC).
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  • Tweets 173
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    If there’s one “tactic” that’s being hyped-up to oblivion right now, it’s this:

    • Publish something cool.
    • Find “influencers” who’ve tweeted/shared something similar.
    • Reach out and pester them to tweet/share your post too.

    I’m sure you’ve all been on the receiving end of this. Someone emails you out of the blue asking if you can “tweet their article”.

    It happens a lot, but we at Ahrefs struggle to believe it works.

    So, with the aim of debunking (or possibly not debunking) this “tactic” once and for all, we decided to run an experiment and document our numbers.

    Here’s what we did:

    • We used this list of link building strategies as the target for the experiment.
    • We collected a list of 235 people who had tweeted similar posts before (49 of whom had done so in the last 24 hours).
    • We reached out (via email) to everyone on the list and kindly asked for a tweet.

    This resulted in a total of 23 tweets (that’s a 9.8% conversion rate), which brought 109 visitors in total.

    I’ll be sharing detailed insights and takeaways later in the post (keep reading!) but first, let’s talk a bit about the study.

    Why Did We Decide to Run This Study?

    Most existing “begging for tweets” case studies look at these two metrics to determine success/failure:

    • The number of people they persuade to tweet their post.
    • The percentage of people that reply to their “outreach” emails.

    For example, this case study by Matthew Woodward states that “a 30-40% response rate” means success.

    We believe this is a terrible way to judge success, as “tweets” and “replies” are vanity metrics.

    It really doesn’t matter how many tweets/replies you get, they’re completely worthless unless they actually drive traffic and bring leads.

    We, therefore, wanted to conduct a study that focussed on traffic + leads.

    If you’re wondering how we found exact traffic + subscriber stats from individual tweets, keep reading. I’ll be showing exactly how to do this later in the post. 

    Why we were skeptical about “asking for tweets”

    Let’s be brutally honest here: 99% of people you’re outreaching to know you’re reaching out because you want something from them.

    So, when they read your “outreach” email, they’re really just assessing three things:

    • Have you made a reasonable amount of effort (i.e. enough for them to waste any of their time on you)? Or are you blasting out non-personalised templated nonsense?
    • Are you interested in them at all, or is it just “me, me, me!”?
    • Is whatever you’re offering of any real value/benefit to them?

    Maybe I’m just paranoid/cynical/whatever, but I’m pretty sure this is the exact assessment process for most people (even if they’re not consciously aware of it).

    And here’s the right way to do it:

    1. Offer value up-front;
    2. Have faith that the norm of reciprocity plays out in your favour when you ask for something in return (e.g. a tweet or a link).

    But, when you’re reaching out and blatantly asking people to “please tweet this link” in your first email, it’s clear that you have no real interest in that person.

    This is why - in my opinion - “begging for shares” is a terrible strategy.

    Tim wrote a great article on how to do outreach the right way. Make sure to check it out: “I Just Deleted Your Outreach Email Without Reading. And NO, I Don’t Feel Sorry (2017 Revisited)”

    It’s Experiment Time!

    I’m not the first “marketer” to talk about this strategy.

    Matthew Woodward talked about it here.

    Social Media Examiner mentioned it here.

    And these are only a few of the mentions.

    So, I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel - I’m simply going to follow the same overall process laid out by other bloggers, which is:

    1. Find people who’ve tweeted something similar to the post I’m promoting.
    2. Reach out and share my similar post (from my blog).


    And the content I’ll be “promoting” for both parts of the experiment will be this list of link building strategies (from my personal blog).

    It contains 180+ strategies, spans 60K+ words, and took me 5+ months to put together. It should, therefore, be enough to impress almost everyone I reach out to.

    It will also ensure that content quality (an important variable that can often lead even the best strategies to “flop”) won’t be the reason this experiment fails.

    So, that’s the experiment in a nutshell…

    Let’s get started!

    How I Conducted the Experiment

    I’m going to walk through this process from start-to-finish.

    I’m leaving nothing out, so if you want to replicate this experiment, you should have everything you need.

    #1 - Finding the Prospects

    First, I Googled the phrase “link building” and sifted through the results looking for good link-building-related posts.

    I plucked out a few high-quality articles and added the URLs to a spreadsheet.

    Next, I pasted each of these URLs one-by-one into Twitter’s search. I selected “latest” to see people who had recently tweeted that post.

    I added any good prospects to a spreadsheet.

    I did this for each of the URLs on my list to build up an initial prospects list.

    This only found a handful of prospects, so I then turned to Ahrefs Content Explorer.

    I began by typing “link building” into the search and sorted the results by “Twitter shares”.

    This found posts related to link building that had been shared heavily.

    I sifted through the results looking for posts that were super-related to link building (and were actually good).

    I ticked the checkbox next to any appropriate articles and - when I had a decent-sized list - I clicked the “who tweeted selected articles” button.

    Content Explorer then showed me who tweeted any of these posts on a single page.

    It also showed the “tweet date”, # of followers, and a couple of other pieces of information.

    I filtered this initial list for tweets older than 24 hours initially using the inbuilt calendar.

    I then repeated the process filtering for tweets within the last 24 hours.

    This was done in order to study if timing will have a big influence on the results of the experiment. 

    Lastly, I exported the results to a spreadsheet and merged with my list of prospects from Twitter.

    #2 - Cleaning, Refining, and Finding Contact Information

    Because I wanted to reach out to actual people (rather than companies), I manually removed any company profiles from the spreadsheet.

    I also removed:

    • Anyone without a website on their Twitter profile (note: Ahrefs shows you this in the export).
    • Anyone with their Facebook/LinkedIn/About.me/etc. profile listed instead of an actual website on their Twitter profile.
    • Duplicates.

    I then split first and last names using a bit of Google Sheets magic. This made it easier to import the contacts into Buzzstream (a tool heavily relied upon by the “outreach team” at Ahrefs, and one we thoroughly recommend).

    Finally, I used the process from this post to find email addresses for the remaining prospects.

    I ended up with 235 emails.

    #3 - Adding and Sending Emails (Via BuzzStream)

    I added all the contacts to Buzzstream under a two new projects (i.e. one for those who tweeted in the past 24 hours, and one for everyone else).

    I also added a custom field, which held the information for the link they shared.

    I then sent everyone an email using this basic template:

    Subject: “[FIRST NAME], just a quick one…”
    “Hi [FIRST NAME],
    I noticed that you recently shared Brian Deans link building guide (this one) on Twitter.
    I’ve actually just published a huge list of 180+ link building strategies and, well, I thought you might be interested in checking it out.
    Here’s the link: http://www.theseoproject.org/link-building-strategies/
    Let me know what you think 🙂
    - Josh
    P.S. If you love it, please could you share it on Twitter? :)”

    A few other things to note:

    • I customised the intro so it referenced the actual link they shared. I didn’t just blast “Brian Dean” out to everyone!
    • Buzzstream automatically filled in the first name in each email using a mail merge (so all emails were “personalised”).
    • I included a “clicktotweet” link - I wasn’t too pushy about this, but wanted to make it as simple as possible for people to actually share the link.

    For those who tweeted in the last 24 hours, I changed the first part of the template to this:

    Hi [NAME],
    I noticed you shared Andrew Dennis’ post (via SEJ) about link building essentially equating to good marketing on Twitter earlier today.

    I sent 235 emails in total (thanks to Sergey from the Ahrefs outreach team for hunting down the right email addresses for the bounces!)

    It’s results time!

    Here’s a detailed breakdown of both parts of the experiment combined:

    • Emails sent: 235
    • Emails opened: 206 (87.7%)
    • Link clicks: 34 (14.5%)
    • Tweets: 23 (9.8%)
    • Replies: 19 (8.1%)
    • Out of office” replies: 2 (0.9%)
    • Unique visitors (from tweets): 109
    • Tweets that drove traffic: 5 (21.7%)
    • Tweets that drove zero traffic: 18 (78.2%)
    • Email subscribers: 15

    But, which part of the experiment performed better? The “old tweeters” or the ones from last 2h hours?

    Well, surprisingly, the results were almost identical.

    Here’s a spreadsheet with stats for each part of the experiment in isolation (if you’re interested). 

    Here are three possible reasons why timing didn’t play a big difference in our case study:

    1. Small sample size - 235 people is a relatively small number when it comes to outreach. If we were to reach out to 1000+ people, the results for the two parts would likely differ a lot more.
    2. Tweeted in last 24 hours” may be somewhat arbitrary - It’s highly likely that those who tweeted in the last 24 hours and those who tweeted in, say, the last week are much the same. Peoples’ memory of what they’ve read/tweeted doesn’t instantly expire after 24 hours; Most people will retain that memory for at least a few days. It may, therefore, make sense to repeat the experiment and change the line between the two parts to “tweeted within the last week”/“tweeted more than a week ago”.
    3. Marketers are sick of emails “begging for tweets” - Marketers receive these kinds of emails every day. This makes many super-reluctant to reply to or act upon them, regardless of timing. Results between the two parts may vary a lot more in other industries.

    But, excuses aside, it’s clear that the results from this particular experiment were poor.

    Almost 80% (that’s 4 out of 5) of the tweets brought no traffic whatsoever (i.e. they were completely pointless).

    It’s also worth noting that of the total 109 visitors, this one tweet was responsible for 105 of them:

    I’m still in the dark as to why that brought so many visitors. He only has around 2300 followers. 

    However, I believe the most telling stat is our “email to tweet” conversion rate at around 10%.

    Now, I’ve seen numerous posts over the years saying that 10% is a “good conversion rate” when doing outreach, but I disagree.

    Remember, if 10% are converting/replying, 90% ignored us altogether (that’s 9/10 people!).

    Here are a few reasons why I believe this happened:

    • It was a poor excuse to contact them - I think it’s pretty obvious that “hey, saw you tweeted something similar earlier, can you tweet this too?” is a terrible excuse for reaching out. It has a hint of desperation about it.
    • There was no value for them - My email was focused solely on my win, not theirs. It may work better to reframe the email to something like “I know it’s hard to keep your twitter followers engaged and entertained, so here’s a great article that you might want to tweet to out to them”. However, this psychological trick may come across as patronising to many.
    • People don’t remember their tweets - Although I did remind people of the link they tweeted in my email, generally don’t remember what they shared yesterday (never mind earlier that year). Because of this, many of the prospects were likely thinking “did I really tweet that?” whilst simultaneously wondering how I knew that information.

    I also believe that it was super-obvious the email was sent from a template.

    I asked a few of those who replied about this and they agreed.

    SEO folks are generally pretty aware that this is how things are done. I can imagine this converting slightly better in a different industry where people are less aware of automation tactics.

    Should You Ever Beg for Shares Like This? (Or is There a Better Way?)

    I wouldn’t advise anyone follow this “mass outreach for tweets” strategy.

    Here’s why:

    Tweets != Traffic

    Even if you manage to convince some people to tweet your post, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get any traffic.

    In fact, 99% of Twitter users are incapable of sending you traffic. If you’re emailing 100+ people asking for tweets, it’s likely that only 1-2 will send you traffic.

    This is because most industries only contain a few people (usually <100) with enough klout to send any worthwhile traffic via Twitter.

    It would, therefore, make more sense to follow the Pareto principle and spend 80% of your efforts reaching out to the top 20% (i.e. those with the power to actually send traffic).

    It took me countless hours to run this experiment and all I got was 109 visits from 23 tweets. Almost all of these visits came from one single tweet too (I got lucky, basically).

    That time would have been much better spent elsewhere, rather than “begging for tweets”.

    It’s a terrible first impression

    Nobody wants to receive one of these templated outreach emails and - if we’re being honest - nobody respects it.

    That might not be a problem if you’re working on a throwaway site. But if you actually want to build genuine relationships in your industry, this isn’t the way forward.

    Nobody wants to be asked to tweet

    Doing this just reiterates the fact that you don’t care about them. You care about you.

    Also, people aren’t stupid. They know how to tweet, and - provided your content is good - they’ll usually do it off their own back (without you having to ask!).

    If you ask for the tweet and they don’t want to do it, they probably just won’t reply.

    This is why we had a high open-rate (almost 90%) but a low reply rate. Most people didn’t want to tweet but chose to ignore the email rather than replying with “no”.

    If you really have to ask for something, ask for feedback instead. It comes off as much less needy and also gives the prospect a bit of an ego boost.

    What’s the solution? Should I Shun Outreach Altogether?

    Absolutely not.

    Outreach is essential and you should be sending emails to let people know about your content.

    Hint: Just don’t try to scale it too much (here’s why).

    If you actually want results, try this:

    1. Collect a list of outreach targets
    2. Research them and identify the people with the best reach
    3. Send them the most personalised email you can

    Also, make sure to use a better excuse than simply “you tweeted similar stuff before”, and NEVER ask for tweets/shares.

    Just ask for their opinion. If they genuinely like it, they will inevitably share it.

    You should also make the effort to read their blog (and possibly past tweets) to figure out what may grab their attention.

    If you can show in your email that you did your homework, chances are they won’t see you as ‘just another spammy outreach email”.

    This is the exact approach that resulted in this tweet a few months back:

    It’s worth noting that this single tweet brought me more traffic and subscribers than this entire study!

    Why aim for tweets? Aim for backlinks instead!

    We’ve just proved that most tweets are completely worthless.

    Therefore, we recommend going one step further and focussing on something that actually matters: backlinks.

    Backlinks have the power to bring traffic consistently and indefinitely.

    This is our focus at Ahrefs, and it works well.

    I reached out to Nick Churick (our resident “outreach guy”) and asked him to share some examples of his success in this department:

    Notice anything?

    That’s right, Nick didn’t ask for a backlink (or even a tweet) directly, nor did he focus his email around a link request.

    He simply asked for their opinion.

    This gave everyone an easy way to ignore this semi-disguised link request (if they didn’t like the post) without feeling guilty.

    However, many people added his link to the page regardless.

    Remember, anyone worth reaching out to already gets a tonne of these emails every day. They know what your intentions are.

    Be human, treat them with respect, and they’ll be much more likely to give you a link.

    We plan to replicate this experiment again soon, but instead of following the ineffective “spray and pray” approach, we’ll do it the right way and share all our results with you. 

    How I Found the Exact Traffic Stats for these Tweets

    OK, before we wrap this up, let’s talk about those traffic stats and how I found them.

    You may recall that I included a “clicktotweet” link in every single email I sent.

    This wasn’t only to make things easier, but also to track actual clicks on links shared.

    But, only a handful of people actually shared using these links. Most people chose to Buffer them or share via another link-shortening service.

    With these links, I couldn’t access direct traffic stats.

    So, here’s what I did:

    I setup a custom report in Google Analytics filtered to show the “full referrer” (i.e. the full referring URL). But, I chose only to include traffic from t.co domains.

    Why? Because Twitter actually routes every single link shared on the site through their own t.co service.

    Even if people share already-shortened (e.g. bit.ly) links, Twitter still sends them through their custom t.co service.

    By cross-referencing this data from Google Analytics with the actual t.co links people shared (which you can find by right-clicking on shared links and hitting “Copy link address”), I was able to see the exact traffic stats for each tweet.

    It also showed whether they converted to email subscribers.

    Let’s Wrap This Up!

    I’d like to finish this post with an important point.

    Everything I’ve mentioned here is based solely on my own experience in the “marketing” niche. If you’re in another “niche”, you may very well experience different - perhaps even more positive - results.

    If you’ve done similar outreach to this in any other niche, please, post your comments below.

    And if you fancy doing another case study in any other niche, give us a shout. We’ll gladly publish it on the blog!

    • Linking websites 61
    • Tweets 173
    Data from Content Explorer