There are an infinite number of ways to connect with your target audience, but it’s no secret that email is still one of the most effective.

Whether you’re promoting a blog post or trying to land some quality links, it’s critical that you find creative ways to stand out from the competition and drive engagement with your message.

Thankfully, there are a variety of email psychology principles that can help us leverage the power of human behavior. 

And when combined with clever copywriting, personalized lines, GIFs or memes –  these sneaky little tricks will increase the likelihood that your audience takes action after reading your message.

Let’s dive in and explore 11 practical tips from cognitive science that can help make your email outreach more effective.

1. Confirm Your Audience’s Assumptions

When you send outreach emails, you’re not just pitching a piece of content – you’re pitching an idea. And that idea needs to fit naturally into the worldview of your customer. 

How do you know what that idea is? 

We all have a certain set of expectations, beliefs, and values that we bring to the table – and your receiver’s worldview is no different. 

Your outreach emails should aim to confirm those pre-existing assumptions by matching their expectations. A great way to start validating your audience’s worldview is to look at the other content they share and engage with. 

  • What type of language do they use? 
  • What concerns do they frequently address? 
  • How do they position themselves relative to their competitors? 

By understanding these factors, you can more easily match the worldview of your receiver and come across as a valuable resource – rather than a nuisance.

When we do link building outreach, we spend time researching the target, to read a bit more about their company mission, or we spend a few minutes looking at their content.

Remember, people are naturally skeptical of new ideas. So it’s important that you take the time to show them how your message confirms what they already believe.

2. Make It Easy for Them To Say Yes

The next psychological principle is what’s known as the “foot-in-the-door” technique. 

Put simply, this strategy involves getting your prospect to agree to a small request before making a larger one. 

For example, let’s say you’re trying to land a guest post on a popular news site. Instead of pitching them your article right away, you could start by asking if they’d be interested in contributing to an upcoming roundup post.

Or, if you’re trying to promote your infographic, you could begin by asking if they’d be interested in sharing it on social media.

The key is to make your initial request as easy to say “yes” to as possible. Once you have their foot in the door, you can then make your bigger ask.

3. Use Social Proof

As humans, we’re wired to follow the lead of those around us. It’s a survival mechanism that’s served us well over the years. But it also makes us susceptible to peer pressure and social influence. 

This psychological phenomenon is known as social proof, and it’s one of the most powerful weapons in your email marketing arsenal.

If you can find a way to show that other people are already doing what you’re asking, your target audience will be much more likely to comply.

For example, if you want someone to link to your website, you could mention that other high-authority or respected websites in your industry have already done so, or you can show the well-written guest posts you’ve published on those sites.

If you have an expert who would be involved in the creation process, or whose credibility will be attached to that content, make sure to use that. (just like we did in the example below.)

Or, if you’re asking for a social media share, you could include some screenshots of recent tweets or posts from people who have already shared your content.

People are much more likely to take action when they see that others have already done so. So make sure to highlight social proof in your email outreach.

4. Use the Power of Loss Aversion

Loss aversion is a well-documented psychological phenomenon that refers to our innate fear of losing something that we already have. 

In general, humans are much more motivated by the prospect of avoiding loss than by the potential for gain. And this phenomenon can be harnessed to increase the effectiveness of your email marketing.

For instance, you might mention in your email that the receiver stands to lose something by not engaging with your content. This could be anything from missing out on a valuable resource to falling behind their competitors.

Or, if you’re pitching a guest post, you could mention that  there is a specific content idea that they have not covered, but their closest competitors have – and they are losing out on traffic.

In the example below, I saw that a project management SaaS product had not covered this keyword, and suggested a content idea around this, while also showing them the screenshot from Ahrefs.

Loss aversion can be a powerful motivator, so make sure to consider how you can leverage it in your outreach email campaigns.

Just make sure to be subtle and believable.

Fake scarcity or being overly pushy are not going to endear you to your receiver – no matter how strong the underlying psychological principles may be.

5. Start With a Hook or Catchy Subject Line

The first few sentences of your outreach email are critical to getting your audience’s attention

Your goal should be to pique your reader’s curiosity and get them to keep reading all the way to the end of your message

If you want to take your pitch to the next level, start with a hook – also known as an attention-getter

You can use an attention-getter to introduce a problem, pose a question, or announce some startling data.

For example, you could start your email with a statistic like “Did you know that 9 out of 10 people never finish reading an outreach email?”

Or you could introduce a problem like “Are you tired of never getting responses to your outreach emails?”

Starting with a hook is a great way to get your target audience’s attention and keep them engaged with your message.

In fact, the hook can sometimes act as a replacement for a traditional “personalized line”, or it can be used in addition to it.

Just make it natural and don’t treat it like a sales pitch, or make it information overload. Keep in mind that your goal is to start a conversation, not close a deal. So focus on providing value and building relationships – and the results will follow.

Some other popular hooks include:

  • A controversial question: “Are you sure your outreach strategy is as effective as it could be?”
  • A personal story: “I used to have the same problem, but then I discovered that”
  • Something personal: “I’ve just read your last post on X. I think _____”
  • A testimonial/success story: “I’ve been using this technique for my outreach and it’s been working great!”
  • A warning or piece of info: “If you’re not careful, your outreach strategy could be doing more harm than good…”
  • A clear benefit: “By using this technique, you can increase your response rate by 300%”

6. Leverage the Power of Reciprocity

One of the most reliable triggers for human behavior is the reciprocity effect.

This theory suggests that people feel compelled to repay others for gifts and favors, and can be applied to marketing in a variety of ways.

For example, if you send an email to one of your customers offering a free resource or discount, they’re likely to respond by giving you something in return.

This can be as simple as sending an email to your list offering to send them an ebook or whitepaper for free.

Another way to leverage reciprocity in your outreach emails is to offer something of value first, before asking for anything in return.

For example, you could start your email by offering to share some data or insights that would be helpful to your reader, offering to give them a reciprocal backlink, or offering to share their content with your social media followers.

This sets the stage for reciprocity, and makes it more likely that they’ll be receptive to your pitch when you make it.

7. Build Trust and Credibility

While consumers are growing increasingly skeptical about brands, they’re still willing to engage with companies that offer trustworthy products and services.

The same goes for email outreach. If you want to increase the response rate of your emails, you need to build trust and credibility with your readers. 

Whether you’re asking for a share, a link, or a sale, it’s important that your readers trust you and believe that you have their best interests at heart.

There are a few different ways to build trust and credibility in your outreach emails, including:

  • Using a personalized approach: Personalized emails are more likely to be read and responded to than generic ones.
  • Focusing on the benefits: When you’re pitching something, make sure you focus on the benefits for the reader or their audience/clients, not just the features of what you’re offering.
  • Being transparent: Be upfront about what you’re asking for and why. Don’t try to hide your motives or trick your reader into doing something they don’t want to do.
  • Showing industry expertise: If you have already written for respectable publications in that sector, the brand is accredited by professional organizations, have relevant experts on the team, etc –  be sure to include them in your email. This will show your potential reader that there is some credibility and real sector expertise that can be leveraged. 
  • Building a rapport: This applies if you’re doing high touch outreach. Take some time to get to know your potential reader before you reach out. If you have mutual friends or connections, mention them in your email. If you’ve read any of their work, be sure to mention it and let them know that you respect their opinion.

Besides, try to avoid any language or behavior that could damage your credibility, such as making false promises, using pressure tactics, or being too salesy.

If you can build trust and credibility with your reader, you’ll be more likely to get a positive response to your outreach email.

8. Consistency Matters

When you’re first establishing a relationship with your customers, you need to do everything in your power to make the first impression a good one.

This means finding ways to be consistent with your messaging, design, and offer.

What does this mean in practice?

As much as possible, try to be consistent across every channel where you’re marketing to prospects, bloggers, or influencers. This includes your website, social media, ads, and of course, email outreach.

Your goal should be to create a cohesive brand experience that’s consistent across all channels. This will help you build trust with your readers and make it more likely that they’ll engage with your emails.

Even subtle markers like the email signature and your address being consistent with your actual address, having a social presence, will play a part.

It’s also important to be consistent with the frequency of your email outreach, especially when you are chasing down leads, seeing if a guest post is published or you’re waiting for them to get back to you on something else.  If you only reach out once in a while, your readers are likely to forget about you. But if you reach out too often, you risk becoming a nuisance.

9. Don’t Forget About Fluency and Recognizability

When it comes to writing your outreach emails, fluency and recognizability are two important factors that can help your message resonate with your audience.

Fluency is the ease with which we process information, and is heavily influenced by the reader’s familiarity with the language that you’re using.

To help increase your email’s fluency, try to write in short, simple sentences.

Avoid big, complex words that might go over your reader’s head, and use shorter phrases that are easier to understand.

Note: An exception to this rule might be if you’re writing to a highly technical audience who would appreciate the use of specialized language.

Recognizability, on the other hand, is all about how familiar your reader is with you and your brand.

If your reader is already familiar with you and your work, they’re more likely to engage with your email.

But if they’ve never heard of you before, you’ll need to work a little harder to pique their interest.

There are a few different ways to increase the recognizability of your email, including:

  • Using a recognizable sender name: If your reader recognizes your sender name, they’re more likely to open your email.
  • Using a recognizable logo or sender profile photo: Adding your logo or a profile photo to your email can also help increase its recognizability.
  • Including a link to your website: If you include a link to your website in your email, your reader can easily learn more about you and your work.
  • Social media content: If you’ve been active on social media, include links to your profile or recent posts in your email. This will help your reader put a face to a name and learn more about you.

By increasing the fluency and recognizability of your email, you can make it more likely that your reader will engage with your outreach.

10. Use Specific and Concrete Language

One of the best ways to make your email more readable and engaging is to use specific and concrete language.

Instead of using generalities, try to be as specific as possible when you’re describing your products, services, or ideas.

This will help your reader visualize what you’re trying to say, and make it more likely that they’ll engage with your email.

To make your language more specific and concrete, try to use:

  • Concrete nouns: Instead of using abstract concepts, try to use concrete objects that your reader can visualize.
  • Active verbs: Active verbs will help your reader visualize your message, and make it more likely that they’ll engage with your email.
  • Pronouns: Using pronouns can help your reader feel like you’re speaking directly to them, making your email more personal and engaging.
  • Specific numbers and statistics: Including specific numbers and statistics in your email can help you make your case and increase the likelihood that your reader will engage with your message.

By using specific and concrete language in your email, you can make it more likely that your reader will understand and engage with your message.

This is especially important during link building outreach, as we may be reaching out to targets who are unfamiliar with SEO, and language like “resource page”, “guest post” or other jargon. 

In those cases, you really need to be mindful to write in simpler terms and be very clear on how you can help. 

Let’s say you were reaching out to a community college about their resource page, rather than confusing them by trying to use a humorous subject line – you might want to simply use a subject line like “links for students enquiry”.

11. Utilize Humor

Humor is an incredibly powerful tool that can help differentiate your brand and engage your prospects.

One way to use humor in your outreach emails is to write something silly in the subject line.

And while a silly subject line might not be appropriate for every industry, they can certainly help make your outreach emails stand out and get your audience’s attention.

Another way to use humor in your emails is to inject a little bit of fun into the body of your message.

This could be anything from a funny story to a light-hearted joke.

Just be sure not to overdo it, as too much humor can come across as try-hard or even offensive.

By using humor in your email outreach, you can make your messages more engaging and memorable.

12. Remind People That They Have Free Will

Studies can back this up – when we give people the option to say “no”, we often find that they’re more likely to say “yes”.

The execution is simple. If we’re reaching out about our content, or we’re offering to guest write for them – remind them that they can simply say no.

We even like to put a small opt-out line at the bottom of our emails. Having an opt-out is a legal requirement anyway, but we like to incorporate some natural language, which reminds every recipient, they can essentially tell us to go away!

You even try it within your emails as well. A simple “no problem if this isn’t of interest”. What we find is that it actually makes us seem more human (and less pushy) by saying it like this. 

And this is a key reminder when it comes to email outreach (be it link building outreach or email marketing) – there is a human being on the other end. We can’t really “trick” them into working with us – we’re more likely to be able to build that relationship, if we just resign ourselves to the fact that they will make the decision themselves. Either they’ll work with us, or they won’t.

13. Send Emails Smartly

The more we can get ourselves in front of someone, the higher the probability we can interact with them.

So, have emails go out in a sequence of at least 2 to 3 emails. Don’t overdo it, and I would say set a limit of 4 emails, over the space of 30 days. 

If you don’t get a response at all (and not a lot of negative replies), it may have been that the subject line didn’t get their attention. After a few weeks, email that segment again but change up the subject line, and then monitor results. 

This is the way you should be doing email outreach – testing campaigns out, monitoring the results, and iterating your campaigns based on your findings. 

Even the time or day you send emails may have a bearing, depending on the industry, or type of targets you’re emailing. If you primarily are reaching out to the US market, keep in mind the time zone in relation to yours. 

If you hit the US a bit earlier in the day you may be ok, as they’ll see it when they get to the office in the morning. 

But, if let’s say you’re reaching out to a sector that traditionally doesn’t work in the morning (let’s say it’s the nightlife industry), then you might find they don’t reach the office until late morning/afternoon, and your email gets lost in the shuffle. 

Again, it goes back to testing and seeing how your campaigns perform.

The Bottom Line on Outreach & Email Marketing Psychology

Overall, effective outreach emails with these types of email psychology techniques, requires a bit of creativity and finesse

These outreach emails will require you to put yourself in your readers’ shoes and understand how they would react to certain messages

Once you are able to write outreach emails that resonate with your readers, you will be able to build a strong relationship with your readers

These outreach emails will help you build stronger relationships with your readers and help you build links – and ultimately, grow your audience.