A/B Test: Should you ask permission before you request a link?

A/B Test: Should you ask permission before you request a link?

TLDR: Nope 🙂

Some link-builders have circulated a counter-intuitive hypothesis for years: Asking for a link in your initial email to prospects is too forward. It turns your prospects off, and reduces your conversion rate from an outreach attempt to a link. You’ll acquire more links per outreach attempt if you first introduce yourself and your topic, and ask permission to send the link to your prospect. You should only send the link if the person gives you permission.

If this hypothesis is true, and if the resulting conversion rate is meaningfully higher, then link-builders should use this technique, even though it requires more work.

The question is: Is this hypothesis true? We ran a randomized A/B test to find out.

Where did this idea originate?

That’s a great question, and I’m not sure what the answer is. However, here are a few places that you can find people mentioning this strategy:

How did we test it? (methodology)

We tested this hypothesis across 7 skyscraper email outreach campaigns. We structured each campaign similarly: we published an article to a client’s websites, and we reached out by email to link prospects that had linked to a similar article.

We divided each of the 18,566 prospects into either an “alpha” or a “beta” group at random.

  • We sent the 9,297 “alpha” (give ’em the link) prospects an initial email that introduced the article. We then showed them the link to that article, and we asked if they would consider linking to it.
  • We sent the 9,269 “beta” (ask permission to send link) prospects an initial email that introduced the article. We then asked for their permission to send the link so that they could consider linking to it.

We sent the same automated followup email sequences to both the “alpha” and “beta” groups after the initial email. (Essentially, we sent follow-up emails on a 3-4 day schedule if they failed to reply to the previous email).

When prospects replied, we responded to their emails using the same set of templated responses.

One difference, of course, is that some of the “beta” (ask permission to send link) group asked us to send the link, whereas none of the “alpha” group requested the link, as they already had it.

We checked whether or not we acquired emails in 3 ways:

  • Some prospects responded to say that they had added the link.
  • We checked Ahrefs‘ Backlink report
  • We spidered each of the pages on which we had requested a link using a third party crawler.

What were the results?

We acquired dofollow links from 86 different domains that had an Ahrefs Domain Rating of 15 or greater.

Distribution of Domain Ratings for Acquired Links

If you haven’t done non-incentivized link-building recently, you may be surprised that it basically took a little more than 200 emails to acquire a single link.

The alpha emails acquired 52 links, and the beta emails acquired 34 links. Stated differently, simply giving the link to the prospect up-front and asking them to link to it was 53% more effective than asking for permission to send the link before sending it.

And, when you think about it, that makes perfect sense. When you catch a prospect’s attention with an email, it’s crazy to think that you are just as likely to reacquire their attention a second time. Now, they have to take an action (reply to your email), and then wait an unpredictable amount of time before they finally get to see the article that interested them.

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