Trevin Shirey

How One Bad Email Can Take Down An Entire Industry

3rd Apr 2013 SEO Blog 7 minutes to read

Lucky HorseshoeTrevin Shirey looks at the importance of checking every email that you send and understanding that each time you hit ‘send’ you are the voice of the entire SEO industry. 

 For Want of a Nail
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Email has become less a method of communication and more of a framework for getting things done. We set up meetings, broker business deals, hire people, create to-do lists and often-times run our lives through email. The monotony of using and relying on it so much can make us forget how important a single email can be, especially in the Internet marketing world.

Email outreach is a huge part of my job and I frequently send hundreds of cold emails per week to website owners, bloggers, media and the like. If you work in the Internet marketing field at all you can probably relate. I remember freaking out the first time I emailed somebody at a major website a few years ago. I probably took an hour to write and proofread a single email.

The other day I came across a post from an angry webmaster who reminded me of what it is like to be on the other side of those emails from online marketers. He first dealt with forum spam and is now dealing with massive amounts of link removal requests from SEOs. He has suffered a “maelstrom of crap, spam and hacks directed at our sites and our communities that took years to build” at the hands of SEOs. His frustrations should be troubling to all, but especially to those who work in the SEO field.

This author had put up with spam, hacks and annoying emails for years before finally writing about it on his blog. One single link removal request from an SEO finally pushed him to the tipping point and he decided to act by making his frustrations public.

Naturally, this blog post of his went viral. It was near the top of massively popular Hacker News, where it had 200 upvotes and over 90 comments, almost all of which lamented SEO and detailed their awful interactions with search marketers over the years. Discussion was rampant on Twitter,, Facebook and more. It was all very tough for me to read. I hate hearing the industry that I am so passionate about blasted by smart people whom I respect.

I kept wondering who had sent the final link removal request that caused all of this discussion I had been reading. Was it a spammer with bad intentions or was it the work of a business owner at their wits end trying to clean up their link profile? It wasn’t the first time that I’ve marvelled at the impact a single email can make in our industry:

– A marketer for JC Penney sends one too many paid link requests, upsetting a competitor who promptly contacts The New York Times who writes a story on the “Dirty Little Secrets of Search.” The article of course went viral causing a giant backlash against the SEO industry. We had several clients read the story and call in concerned about their campaigns. I’m sure we weren’t the only ones.

Wil Reynolds transparently wrote about how SEER mistakenly sent a guest posting inquiry to SEOmoz, causing him to write “It’s these moments in your company where you say…is this what I built?  Is this what I’ve allowed us to become?”

– UK flower company Interflora was recently penalized for publishing advertorials on blogs, newspapers and other sites. One successful outreach email was the piece of straw that broke the camel’s back, causing them to be massively penalized…but it didn’t stop there. Google also nailed the sites who posted the advertorials, including The Independent and Border Telegraph.

When you boil it down, all of these issues, penalties and stories were from hitting the send button one too many times. One Internet marketer acting on behalf of Interflora has managed to deal out massive PageRank penalties to over a dozen UK newspapers by being a little bit too aggressive with their strategy and outreach. Somebody who worked on the JC Penney account pushed a little too hard and created a firestorm that caused my own parents to wonder if I too was spamming the web. Wil saw his entire business flash before his eyes because of a single email mistake.

I understand the importance of scale when it comes to link outreach and business in general. Things like email templates, scrapers and mail merge are extremely helpful and save loads of time for SEOs. And businesses that fail to scale are never going to grow. But while scalability is important, it should always take a back seat to quality, especially when it comes to how we interact with others.

SEO is

You don’t have to work in SEO for very long to realize how big of an image problem our industry has. Terms like “snake oil salesman” and “scammers” should be very upsetting to industry professionals who work hard and ethically for our clients.

When each and every one of us sends out an outreach email, we’re not only representing ourselves and our respective companies, we’re representing the SEO industry as a whole.

Many bloggers and webmasters have never dealt with SEOs before and your next interaction with one could be their first. They’ve probably skimmed headlines and heard mostly bad things about our industry. We only dig a deeper grave when we send out generic, templated emails, act rude and unprofessional or take advantage of their ignorance. I can’t say I blame them for charging for link removal, refusing to answer an email or deciding not to publish a guest post when all of their interactions with SEO leave a bad taste in their mouth.

The beautiful democracy of the web allows any of these interactions to go viral in an instant. Your poorly researched outreach email can land on the front page of Reddit or HN just a few minutes after it hits the wrong person’s inbox.

Industry evangelists like Rand Fishkin, Bruce Clay, Avinash Kaushik and others do a great job of showing the value and ethics in real SEO. But their efforts are worthless when every personal interaction people are having with SEOs is a bad experience. We can make a dramatic impact on the reputation of SEO by doing quality, personal outreach. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Don’t spam in the first place

This should go without saying, but you aren’t bringing any value to the web through spamming. Spam kills communities, wastes money, time and energy and is threatening our livelihood. I’m sick of watching valuable communities die online because of spam.

Test, test, test

If you are sending out a large email blast, you better test everything several times. Make sure any variables that you are using are properly set up. Email people at a normal time of day — it’s both polite and will increase your open rate. Remember you are emailing people not just a list.

Triple check your email list

Scraping the web for emails can be a brilliant tool if used wisely, but don’t get lazy and email a list without first triple checking it. It’s very easy to pull in emails for competitors and other sites that you just shouldn’t be emailing with any sort of pitch.

Be real with people

While templates are useful, make sure to customize a large part of the email. Yes, it’s a time hog, but it’s going to provide far more long term value than a stock email without personalization. Read up on people before you email them. Actually strive to get to know them personally. You are emailing human beings, not magic link generating computers.

By taking a few extra minutes and genuinely caring about people, you can have more effective outreach while also work to repair the reputation of our industry that we are all so passionate about.

You don’t want to be the person whose one outreach email brings down an entire kingdom.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author so may not represent those of the Koozai team.

Image Credit
Lucky Horseshoe by BigStock

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