Best Blogger & Influencer Outreach Tools in 2017
Lewis Parrott - June 7th 2017
Email outreach is the heartbeat of white hat link building.
And, as a result, there’s now an abundance of different outreach tools on the market all clamoring for your attention.
Some great. Others, not so much.
But if there’s ever an area of marketing where using a specific tool can skyrocket your results, it’s outreach - and that’s why it’s imperative you know what to look for when selecting an outreach tool.
With so many to choose from, it can be hard to see the wood from the trees. And while there can be some crossover between these tools, there are differences you need to be aware of if you’re going to be doing any kind of white hat link building.
Before we can derive which tool you should choose, we first need to understand what the outreach process actually involves.
So, let’s go back to basics for a sec.
The 3 Phases Of An Outreach Campaign
If you’ve ever ran an outreach campaign to build white hat links, you’ll know it essentially breaks down into 3 phases.
PHASE #1: Link Prospecting
Before you can do any outreach, you first need to have some outreach targets lined up and ready to go. This phase involves finding potential link opportunities, scraping contact information and preparing everything for the second phase.
PHASE #2: Email Outreach
Once you have your list of prospects complete with contact information, it’s time to reach out. This phase involves setting up your campaign - including writing your emails, scheduling auto follow-ups and, most importantly, sending the emails.
PHASE #3: Relationship Management
When prospects start responding to your outreach, you shift into the third phase. This phase involves handling replies, tracking relationships and sometimes even segmenting contacts.
Of course, we can break these phases down even further but this is what we get at the most basic level.
All 3 phases play a key role but not all are equally as difficult to execute assuming you have the right approach, coupled with the right tools.
(Don’t worry, we’ll get to all that shortly)
What Does An Outreach Tool Actually DO?
Truth is, there’s really no definitive answer. At a bare minimum, an outreach tool should allow you to carry out phase 2, outreach (duh).
There is, however, a lot of confusion around this question.
Not all outreach tools are limited to phase 2 functionality. Some incorporate all three phases, and these are what I call all-in-one outreach tools that includes the likes of BuzzStream, Ninja Outreach and Pitchbox.
All-in-one outreach tools not only help with outreach, but many also work as a full-blown CRM with built-in prospecting functionality as well as relationship management.
Like I said, it can be confusing especially when you consider that not all CRM’s can be used for prospecting and outreach either.
This is what leads some companies to refer to themselves as a kind of hybrid - like Ninja Outreach.
The first thing you need consider is what the different tools have to offer and how they may (or may not) be useful.
All-In-One Outreach Tools
All-in-one outreach tools give you the complete package by accommodating all 3-phases of email outreach.
Most are supercharged CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools with additional outreach functionality under the hood. They allow you to prospect for targets, scrape contact information and, of course, manage relationships.
Anyone could argue all these things are GREAT for email outreach, so why the hell wouldn’t you opt for an all-in-one outreach tool?
Well, I’ll tell you...
By incorporating every functionality needed for all three phases of outreach, these tools usually become the jack of all trades, master of none.
For starters, most of their in-built prospecting tools are pretty weak.
Secondly, these tools usually aren’t much better at scraping contact information.
As it stands, there’s very few (if any) all-in-one outreach tool on the market that can really handle that first phase at scale. At least not effectively.
Where all-in-one tools excel however, is in the relationship management aspect.
Even though it does require a lot of upkeep, all-in-one outreach tools like BuzzStream are excellent for managing and growing meaningful relationships.
You get access to robust relationship tracking, in-depth contact information and individual link metrics for every prospect and their website.
On top of that, there’s no need to build complicated spreadsheets in order to do it, everything is baked right into the tool itself.
I would argue data validation is not rocket science in Google Docs and does the same thing with drop down menus and auto color coding :D
Examples of All-In-One Outreach Tools
Dedicated Outreach Tools
Dedicated outreach tools are laser-focused on phase 2, often backed by raw sending power and the ability to scale.
As a result, many offer extremely useful features like mail merge and automatic follow-ups without being overly complicated or clunky - not to mention much more affordable.
What’s inherently missing with dedicated outreach tools is the phase 1 and 3 stuff. In order to prospect for outreach targets and find contact information, you’ll need to use some elbow grease and a mix of other tools in conjunction.
But as we’ve already explained, this is actually a good thing.
If we can build much better prospecting lists using a slightly more manual approach, it surely makes sense to take advantage of that.
As for relationship management, most of us use (or should be using) Gmail, the largest and most powerful email service in the world. And with the myriad of free CRM extensions available for Gmail, you can manage relationships right from your inbox.
The free Gmail CRM, Streak.
The catch with using dedicated tools - as I’ve already alluded to - is that it forces you to combine several other tools and strategies for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.In other words, it has a steeper learning curve.
Examples of Dedicated Outreach Tools
Which Type Of Tool Should You Use?
You might say I’ve already made a strong case for dedicated outreach tools, and I’d be inclined to agree.
But in reality, it’s not always the best choice.
A more appropriate question would be to ask yourself, what it is YOU actually need from an outreach tool? From that, we can begin to derive which is right for your own purposes.
Obviously, our goal here is to build white hat links, but as is usually the case with online marketing, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
(It’s a British expression, I don’t actually skin cats. I mean, I don’t even own a cat. But if I did I wouldn’t do anything like that. Probably.)
Before we can really answer this question, it’s important to understand what you actually need from an outreach tool in the first place.
The Answer Is In The Approach
With the divide of outreach tools and all-in-one outreach tools, we’ve also seen a divide in the approach taken by link builders.
The way I see it, you fall into either one of these 2 camps:
- Sniper approach
Better for optimizing links / prospects ratio
- Shotgun approach
Better for optimizing links / hour ratio
Knowing which camp you belong to is crucial because it dictates both your overall strategy as well as the type of tools you should be using.
The Sniper Approach To White Hat Link Building
The sniper approach is how SEO’s traditionally build white hat links.
It’s a very meticulous, very targeted style of link building designed to optimize your links per prospect ratio.
The key ingredients for this type of approach is having a high level of personalization with a focus on managing and developing relationships, something that all-in-one outreach tools are particularly good at.
While this seems like the logical approach, the trade-off is time.
For every additional minute spent on finding the perfect prospect and crafting the perfect email, you could have multiplied your sending power by taking a leaner, more efficient approach.
The question really comes down to whether or not that trade-off is worth it, and we’ll talk more about that in a minute.
The Shotgun Approach To White Hat Link Building
The shotgun approach is the complete opposite to sniper in the sense that it allows for both speed and volume.
It’s a very lean, very data-driven style of link building designed to optimize your links per hour ratio.
It’s less about building relationships and more about applying the minimum effective dose by reaching out to as many qualified prospects in shortest possible time - something dedicated outreach tools are particularly good at.
Of course, that’s not to say building relationships isn’t effective - it’s incredibly effective but this approach allows you to streamline your outreach and focus on the people who are already receptive.
Be careful, though. This often leads people to a “spray and pray” approach, and we certainly don't advocate mass, blind outreach. That doesn't help anyone.
Regardless of which approach you take, you still need to qualify prospects before reaching out.
Which Approach Should You Take?
Again, you could argue I’ve already made a strong case for the shotgun approach, and again, I’d be inclined to agree.
But it’s still not always the best choice. Ultimately, it ties back to you and your needs.
At Authority Hacker, we’ve adopted the shotgun approach for the large majority of our campaigns because the number of prospects we uncover for all our sites combined is in the hundreds-of-thousands.
With a pool that size, it doesn’t make sense to optimize for prospects over time. Not only would it take years to reach out to all of them on a case-by-case basis, but it would also be dumb.
This is a hypothetical comparison using the same number of prospects, but it’s a good representation of what you might expect from each approach...
# of Prospects
We may acquire more links with the sniper approach, but we also spend significantly more time on each campaign.
Let’s see what happens when we level the playing field...
# of Prospects
The numbers really speak for themselves.
Of course, this whole thing only works on the basis we have a large pool of prospects in the first place.
If we were in a tight niche and prospects were limited, that’s a whole nother’ story.
In that case, we’d want to optimize our links per prospect ratio - which would make the sniper approach a better choice.
Now there is a lot more to this argument that isn’t in the scope of this article, but Perrin wrote a beast of a post covering ‘Pareto outreach’ more detail.
Do yourself a huge favor and read it if you haven’t done so yet.
Outreach Tool Must Haves
At this stage, you understand the different types of tools and what they have to offer, as well as how they should tie into your overall approach.
Before we get to the tool reviews, let’s kick it up a notch and talk about what you should actually be looking for in an outreach tool.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of hype around flashy featured marketing tools these days and it’s easy to get sucked in by gimmicks.
When it comes to outreach tools, there are really only a few key features that will move the needle and once you know what they are, you can make better buying decisions.
Note: there will also be a comparison table for these features at the end
Prospecting & Contact Scraping
Before running any outreach campaign, you need prospects. But more than that, you need to find contact information for each of your prospects.
All-in-one outreach tools, like BuzzStream have this functionality baked right into the software.
Buzzstream’s Discovery feature for finding influencers
Importing URL’s for contact info scraping in Buzzstream
As I mentioned before, dedicated outreach tools aren’t built for finding prospects or contact information. Instead, they leave it up to tools that are specifically designed for that purpose.
And if I’m honest, I was a bit reluctant to include this as a “must have”, purely because it’s a lot more effective to use dedicated prospecting and contact scraping tools.
That said, it’s still far less efficient than using an all-in-one outreach tool.
Maybe your preference is to find prospects, pull in contact information and run an outreach campaign all from a single tool... even if it is less effective. And that’s fine.
So while I will make a comparison here, I want you to keep in mind that you always have the option to use (better) dedicated tools, regardless of the results below.
Prospecting & Contact Scraping: Showdown
One-click sending (or automated sending) allows you to batch send emails to multiple prospects with a single click.
Now, this might seem like an obvious “must-have” but it’s something you don’t get with many all-in-one outreach tools.
Instead, you’re forced to click send for each individual prospect which could run into the thousands for a large campaign. Not fun.
Send and go to next contact in BuzzStream
While this does allow to you to personalize before sending, there’s really no reason it should be mandatory.
Being able to push a button to start a campaign with hundreds, or even thousands of email addresses is a huge time-saver that offers massive scalability.
One-click sending in MailShake
In fairness, this will be less important if you’re using the sniper approach because personalization is such a big factor.
That said, it will still feel like an unnecessary grind at times. Since switching to a one-click platform, I’ve honestly never looked back.
One-Click Sending: Showdown
Personalization & Mail Merge
“Reaching out” for links isn’t a new concept.
SEO peeps have been doing it for years, using the same regurgitated outreach scripts and structures you see plastered on almost every marketing blog in cyberspace.
Some folks get dozens, sometimes hundreds of these emails a day and they all follow the same predictable patterns. So if there’s one thing that’ll take your placement rate to the next level, it’s some good ole’ fashion personalization.
Any good outreach tool will allow for large scale personalization using something called mail merge.
This can work both internally, and externally.
While many all-in-one outreach tools give you the option to import, the idea is to manage personalized data inside the tool using an internal database.
This is great if you’re using the sniper approach where contact management and relationship tracking is critical for success.
But if the shotgun is your weapon of choice, the benefits of using an internal database quickly evaporate.
Adding, updating and managing personal information for each prospect is often the most time consuming part of any outreach campaign.
When you’re focused on scaling up, personalization needs to be as streamlined as possible - which isn’t usually the case with these CRM-based tools. (Remember, jack of all trades, master of none.)
Dedicated outreach tools - on the other hand - are designed to use an external database. Most commonly, spreadsheets.
This is SO much faster because spreadsheets are incredibly lightweight, versatile and easy to manage.
By leveraging those attributes, even a simple outreach tool can become your secret weapon when it comes to scaled link building.
Some integrate directly with Google Sheets and others require you to upload a CSV to import your data. Either way, using an external database will shave hours off your workload.
Ultimately, what you need from an outreach tool in this regard will largely depend on which side of the fence you sit.
Pitchbox is by the far most advanced outreach tool for personalization. Not only does it allow you to use merge fields, but it also allows for conditional logic based on the values within those fields.
Campaign & Contact Management
When you’re working with potentially dozens of campaigns each month, it doesn’t take long before things can get a little out of hand.
This is one the biggest benefits of using outreach software over a mish-mash of spreadsheets and email clients.
Being able to create and manage campaigns as well as track relationships is incredibly valuable, and it’s not something every tool gets right.
For example, Mailshake is excellent for campaign management, but falls flat on it’s face when it comes to managing and tracking relationships.
A tool like BuzzStream -- on the other hand -- not only offers sophisticated campaign management, but also puts emphasis on managing relationships across campaigns.
Campaign & Contact Management: Showdown
If you’ve ever had an outreach email land in your inbox, your immediate reaction would fall into any of these three buckets:
- Spam. I’ll just ignore / delete it
- Seems legit, I’ll come back to this later.
- Yep, I’ll add the link and reply now.
Too many link builders rely on bucket #3 to land placements and and just accept the rest as no-go’s. BIG mistake.
Any outreach manager with a degree of experience knows, the fight is in the follow-up. Sending a second - and sometimes third - email has a huge impact on how your prospect perceives your first request.
You’d be amazed how many prospects fall into bucket #2 and are actually willing to give you the link, providing you give them that extra push. And as crazy as it sounds, a well-crafted and timely follow-up even has the potential to move prospects from bucket #1 to bucket #3.
But here’s the kicker:
Not all outreach tools treat follow-ups the same way. In fact, there’s a distinct and significant differences you need to be aware of.
- Some tools provide follow-up reminders
- Other tools provide automatic follow-ups
Like I said, these are not the same by a long shot and even the most popular outreach tools gloss over this fact.
Reminders Vs Auto Follow-Ups
Follow-up reminders are just that, reminders.
You get a notification that someone hasn’t replied in X amount of days, and it’s up to you to go in and manually follow-up.
Follow-up reminders in BuzzStream
Sure, you can use a template, but it’s still lacking in the efficiency department.
Auto follow-ups do all the legwork for you. During campaign setup, write multiple follow-ups, specify the number of days to wait and if a reply hasn’t come in, the tool will take care of it.
Without going all “sales-copy” on you, this is hands down one of the most powerful features of any outreach tool.
Auto follow-ups in MailShake
Not only does it save a huge amount of time, but it also gives you an instant conversion-boost if used it properly.
These seemingly similar features are actually worlds apart when you factor in how much time you save by automating your follow-up emails. It’s insane.
For me, this is one of the biggest things to look for in an outreach tool regardless of which approach you decide to take.
Reminders & Follow-Ups: Showdown
Tracking & Reporting
For me, outreach isn’t a science - it’s an art.
Open rates, reply rates and placement rates will vary massively depending on your niche, the type of campaign you run, the templates you use, and your ability to form mutually beneficial relationships.
Finding that sweet spot is often about testing the waters, looking at the data, and making intelligent decisions based on what’s working, and what’s not.
But unless you track you s***, you’ll never know either way.
A good outreach tool will track things like:
- Link clicks
And of course, you should expect a reasonable standard of reporting to go with it, otherwise, what’s the point?
A snippet of MailShakes excellent reporting features
Now, I want to caveat this by saying not all campaigns should undergo rigorous tracking.
In fact, unless you're specifically running a split-test, it's almost always better to disable tracking altogether to improve deliverability.
Tracking & Reporting: Showdown
The level of tracking and reporting you get with Pitchbox is frankly outstanding. Not only do you get super detailed stats on your campaigns, but you also get a complete breakdown of your team’s performance.
Outreach Tools Comparison Table
So now we’ve covered the crucial features to look for when buying an outreach tool, we can start to see how popular tools stack up.
The table below compares some of the most popular outreach tools on the market today.
Prospecting & Scraping
Tracking & Reporting
All-in-one / Sniper
Dedicated / Shotgun
Still Not Sure Which Tool To Buy?
You can interpret that comparison table however you like, but there’s one thing we didn’t include, which is still important.
For some, keeping costs down is a priority, and choosing a tool that ticks the right boxes without being super-pricey is a better option.
For others, having access to the best possible tools for getting the job done is the only thing that matters, regardless of price.
So we thought we’d give you our personal recommendations, based on which of those categories you fall into to.
Best ‘Value’ Outreach Tool
Whether you’re a penny-pincher or just on a tight budget, there’s more than one option when it comes to outreach tools.
Buzzstream is a great all rounder that will serve you well when it comes to sniper-based outreach.
Regardless of the somewhat “average” score this tool received from our testing, Buzzstream is still a very affordable outreach / CRM that gets the job done.
If you’re really stuck for cash, you can’t get much better than the free plan with Gmass.
Despite being capped at 50 emails per day, there are almost no other limitations. It even includes auto follow-ups which isn’t part of the mid-tier premium plan.
Best ‘Premium’ Outreach Tool
For some people, it’s all about having the right tools for the job… regardless of cost.
Ninja Outreach compares itself to Buzzstream in many ways, and it’s hard to argue with the result.
Starting at $69/month, this outreach tool offers several ‘automated’ features that are seriously lacking in Buzzstream.
Pitchbox is a large scale outreach machine and prices itself accordingly, starting at $195/month.
This thing includes practically everything you could ever need for end-to-end outreach with a very team-based focus to keep everything super-streamlined.
Outreach Tools Review
Now that you have a grasp of what to look for in an outreach tool, it’s time to look at some of your options in a bit more detail.
The following tools have been thoroughly reviewed in a separate post, but I’ve included a short and sweet version to give you an idea of how it fared.
Note: we will continue to update this page as we publish more outreach tool reviews.
BuzzStream is an all-in-one outreach tool with a strong focus on building relationships.
For a long time, this was the tool of choice for most SEO’s and bloggers looking to spread the word about their brand and build some white hat links.
Even to this day, despite the new generation of dedicated outreach tools making a claim for the top spot, BuzzStream is considered one of the best on the market when it comes to team-based project and relationship management.
What We Liked
BuzzStream comes with a Chrome extension called the BuzzMarker which proved to be useful on several occasions.
Firstly, it allows you to add contacts on-the-fly by clicking the extension icon directly from a target site. Secondly, it automatically scrapes contact information and gives you the option to add your own personalization elements for outreach.
We also liked Buzzstream’s robust filtering system allowing you to filter based on prospect-level SEO and social metrics.
What We Didn’t Like
Again, there were few bad things to say about this tool because it’s probably one of the best all-in-one outreach tools on the market.
The obvious one is the lack of auto follow-ups, which is a massive time-saver even for sniper-based outreach. (Although I do know they’re currently working on implementing this)
If we had to pick out a couple more things to mention here, it would probably be the weak social search tool and the occasional bugs in the BuzzMarker Chrome extension.
Ninja Outreach is primarily a sniper-based outreach tool, though it does have plenty of features that would allow for a more shotgun oriented approach.
The guys behind Ninja Outreach seem to market their software a direct competitor to Buzzstream, and it definitely has an edge over the more established outreach tool despite coming into the market at a much later time.
What We Liked
Even though Ninja Outreach offers a very relationship-focused outreach platform, it still includes some automation features that allow for scalability for anyone who chooses to go that route.
I was also a fan of the prospecting tools, taking advantage of both search engines and social media platforms to find relevant targets in any niche.
They also offer a free chrome plugin that’s always on hand if you happen to stumble across a promising site, allowing you to scrape and add contact information to any outreach list with just a few clicks.
Lastly, I have to mention the support. The support team runs on intercom, providing what I would call a “semi live-chat experience”, and even though I didn’t always get an instant reply, I was always impressed with the quality of the responses I got back.
What We Didn’t Like
For me, the biggest issue with Ninja Outreach isn’t even related to what it can do, but how it actually feels. Simply put… it’s clunky and confusing.
I’ve personally seen this tool go through several iterations when it comes UI/UX, but for this reason alone, I think they have a long way to go before I’d feel comfortable using it for everyday outreach.
Aside from that, I felt the reporting could use some attention. Compared to the level of reporting you get with other outreach tools on the market, Ninja Outreach offers very little campaign data to sink your teeth into.
Pitchbox is an outreach tool built upon a complete end-to-end outreach platform.
Unlike other sniper-based tools, this one is aimed at companies with the capacity to run large scale campaigns, delegate team members, and drive each phase forward in an outreach style “production line”.
While it’s not the most affordable option in comparison to the more mainstream tools on the market, Pitchbox is, in my opinion, easily the most complete in terms of what it can offer.
What We Liked
Pitchbox is such a comprehensive platform that I won’t be able to do it much justice in this mini-review, but I’ll give it a go.
The first thing I loved about Pitchbox was just how systematic everything is. Not only is each phase of outreach broken up and delegated, but it’s done in such a way that allows for large scale outreach without the risk of “bottlenecking”.
The keyword-based prospecting and internal contact scraping functionality was excellent. In my testing, it got more than an 80% success rate when it came to finding email addresses for my contacts.
Personalization is also taken care of using merge fields, but Pitchbox takes it one step further with conditional logic. This allows you to create single outreach templates that adapt to each individual prospects based on merge data.
Finally, I have to mention the reporting. This thing offers the most detailed reporting you’re likely to find with any outreach tool on the market.
What We Didn’t Like
With such well-rounded tool it’s hard to target any one area for this specifically.
That said, Pitchbox is so focused on a larger, team-based outreach approach, that it’s virtually off limits to solo bloggers or small teams. (Besides, you have to qualified before you can even use the tool.)
Not only that, but this by far one of the most expensive outreach tools out there, with higher tier plans coming in at over $1,000.
So while I really enjoyed playing with Pitchbox and seeing some of the awesome things it can do, the reality is, it just isn’t aligned to the majority of webmasters who use outreach tools for link building.
GMass is a dedicated outreach tool that hit the scenes in August, 2015.
It was created by Ajay Goel after becoming frustrated with the lackluster email outreach tools available. Everything else was sucky, overly-complicated or part of a much larger product.
He wanted something super-simple, but also super-powerful. So he built a lightweight Gmail application designed to send emails scale, without all the fuss.
GMass was an immediate hit for folks doing any kind of mass outreach and has amassed (see what I did there?) a user-base of over 26,000 in just over 1 year.
What We Liked
GMass plugs straight into Gmail which makes everything from setting up a campaign to handling replies all possible from your inbox.
It supports mail merge in combination with Google Sheets which is great for personalization at scale. You also get your usual tracking and reporting features as well as the ability to request a custom tracking domain to improve deliverability.
The campaign settings pack a decent punch, giving you the options to suppress email addresses used in previous campaigns, reuse past email content and set conditional auto-follow ups without too much trouble.
As for development, there are constant updates being released to improve the tool and the developer is very responsive to the community’s requests. Always a good a sign when investing in any tool.
What We Didn’t Like
Although I can see the appeal of having the tool plug straight into Gmail, it essentially means GMass has no dedicated user-interface.
While that might not be a problem for some, I feel like the benefits of having a user-interface (when done right) outweigh the simplicity of this approach. But again, that’s just me.
One example to illustrate my point is the lack of preview options available. In order to preview your individual emails before sending, you have to save the campaign as a draft which means you also have manually send them one-by-one afterwards.
As for ease of use, I wouldn’t say GMass is a difficult tool to get your head around, but it will require a bit of tinkering to fully understand what it’s capable of.
MailShake is another dedicated outreach tool that was originally part of a suite of tools developed by Sujan Patel and Colin Mathews.
The tool recently underwent a rebrand - with a name change from Connector to MailShake - after they found it to be the most utilized tool in their offering.
Now a standalone tool, MailShake offers a clean, simplistic user-interface with all the key features needed to scale your outreach. Those include mail merge, auto follow-ups and even live campaign managment.
What We Liked
MailShake offers a very clean and user-friendly interface which was a nice change coming from GMass.
It supports mail merge using a CSV (no Google Sheets support) which again, is great for personalization at scale. You can trick everything from opens to replies and even clicks, also triggering follow-ups based on those conditions.
The tool does a good job at handling duplicates by removing them from campaigns automatically and the unsubscribe list helps you suppress emails globally which is a nice touch.
It also features a library of prewritten templates for different types of outreach - including link building. And you can of course add your templates to the library which is something I use a lot.
What We Didn’t Like
There wasn’t a whole lot to say on this side, but I’ll give it a go.
Probably the most significant is not being able to set a custom tracking domain, but when you consider how few outreach tools actually implement this feature, it’s hard to point the finger.
It also doesn’t integrate with Google Sheets which I know some people like about GMass. For me, the few extra seconds to download a CSV is negligible.
Finally, the unsubscribe lists are a bit more manual than how GMass handles it, in the sense that you have to build the list yourself instead of pulling on past campaigns to build a list on-the-fly.