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Inbound vs. Outbound? How about both?

Do a Google search for “inbound marketing agency” and you’ll be able to scan through a list of hundreds of agencies who all seem to be singing roughly the same tune. I think it’s safe to say that the market is a little crowded.

Assuming these agencies know that they seem to be undifferentiated from the other 699 or so agencies out there who are saying the same thing, there’s nothing really wrong with all this inbound action; we actually love inbound marketing. Inbound at the exclusion of outbound, however, is a marketing sin. Of course, “outbound marketing” consists of many things, but in this article we’re talking specifically about outbound email marketing.

We’ve been on a pursuit to discover the exact digital marketing approach that ensures real results for our marketing agency clients for the past twenty years. It’s been a long and interesting journey, and for the past handful of years, we have finally been able to predict an agency’s marketing success. There are many factors involved, but the right balance of inbound and outbound marketing is a critical one, and we’ve found that they share the same key number that determines success: 3,000.

Our agency clients who succeed in regularly generating highly qualified late stage leads have, on average, at least 3,000 prospects to whom they send outbound emails on at least a monthly basis, and add at least 3,000 words of a specific sort of educational content to their site each month.

One of the main reasons outbound email marketing matters so much for agencies is traffic. When I review the analytics for agency sites, I regularly see that the day they send their email blast out is the highest traffic day that month, usually by quite a margin. The typical (as opposed to the high-performing) agency gets between 20 and 50 unique visitors to their site per weekday–except for the day their email blast goes out. On that day, they often see a 200-400% increase in their traffic. It’s clear to me that the most impactful marketing tactic a typical agency employs on a regular basis is sending out their monthly email blast.

The problem is, even the boost they get from their blast isn’t enough to get their average monthly traffic up to the minimum level it needs to be in order to have a positive lead development impact. The average independent agency in North America has approximately 500 people on their email list, give or take 20%. For the sake of reach and volume, we recommend that you have 3,000 prospects on your list.

Why 3,000?

Since the email blast is an agency’s most likely route to consistently increasing monthly traffic, the size of your email list is a critical marketing metric.

Let’s say that the average agency gets 30 uniques visitors to their site per weekday, for a total of roughly 600 visitors per month (most agencies get very little weekend traffic). If that agency has a list of 500 email subscribers to whom they send two emails per month that enjoy an average 7% click through rate, they are increasing their traffic by 70 people per month.

The high performing agency that regularly generates leads through their site has an average of 100 unique visitors per weekday. Volume matters here, although it is definitely not the goal. 100 visitors per day means roughly 2,000 visitors per month. The average agency only has 600 visitors plus another 70 from their email efforts, at best.

There are two ways to increase this number, and you have to employ both to succeed: you need to both create more content, and increase your email list.

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A key metric we’ve observed is that an agency will receive roughly 17.5 visitors per month on average for each page on their site that has at least 500 focused, relevant, and unique words. Following our recommendation of adding 3,000 words of content to your site will most likely result in adding 5 new articles to your site per month. The average agency has 30 pages on their site. After one year of adding 3,000 words per month, you would most likely see your average direct traffic increase to ~1,580 visitors per month, since you will have added roughly 60 new pages to your site. This traffic is primarily comprised of inbound visitors who found you through an organic, non-branded Google search, and they are incredibly valuable.

That gets you closer to the target of 2,000 visitors per month, but there’s still a lot of ground to cover, one might even say it’s a big lift, but don’t reach out to your counselor just yet. We saw that the average agency might get 70 additional visitors per month. To cover the gap between 1,580 and 2,000, we need 420 more visitors, and the way to do this couldn’t be easier…sort of.

If you simply increase your email list from 500 to 3,000 and send two emails per month and average a 7% click through rate, you will get 420 visitors per month just through this channel, which, when combined with the proposed content volume, will reliably get your average monthly traffic up to 2,000 unique visitors.

The other great thing about regularly sending emails to your list is that you’ll find the recipients will become more receptive. The more often you send (within reason), the better the open and click-through numbers tend to be.

How to Get to 3,000: Earning or Buying

When you’re faced with the idea of increasing your list from 500 emails to 3,000 you have two options: you can buy them , or you can earn them. Let’s take a look at both options.

Many agencies have been told that outbound marketing is dead and has been completely taken over by inbound. I have two issues with this. First, I can’t think of a more offensive thing to say to the agency market, which primarily provides outbound marketing services to their client base and second, it’s simply not true.

Nevertheless, many agencies now believe that buying a list of emails is a purely evil act. This means that their only choice is to earn their way up to a list that is going to get the results of their email efforts up to a critical level.

For example, let’s say you’re not an average agency but are instead one of those top performers and you are getting 2,000 unique visitors to your site per month. And let’s assume that 3% of your total traffic (which is a fair estimate for high performing agency sites) converts, meaning they fill out a form and thereby get added to your email list. If you’re hitting these high performing numbers, and no one unsubscribes from your list or leaves their job, it would take you 3.5 years to organically build your list to the critical mass it needs to be to have the proper impact on your lead development efforts. That’s a long time.

Now, let’s come back down to earth and look at the real numbers for the typical agency. The typical agency has 600 unique direct visitors per month, and they don’t have an average 3% conversion rate, but let’s just be generous and say they do. At those numbers, it would take 11.6 years to earn your way up form a list of 500 to 3,000. That’s ridiculous. There is a better way.

Here’s the short, sweet, deal: You can, by the end of the day today (instead of 12 years from today), have 3,000 people on your email list. The harder part is ensuring your communications to that list are effective, but we can help you there. First, your agency must have true, unique, differentiated expertise. And, you must plan to share that expertise with this list through emails which are unique, educational, and relevant to your finely targeted audience. And, of course, your emails will need to clearly state your physical address and have an unsubscribe link. That’s the gist (assuming your target market isn’t in Canada), but if you want a deeper look into the topic of purchasing an email list, we’ve written about it at length here.

The hard part isn’t buying a list, the hard part is choosing to become a true expert that is narrowly focused on a specific market sector and then writing 3,000 words of unique, educational content about that expertise and sending it only to the right people. If you’re doing these things, complying with Can-Spam is easy. If you’re not, it’s impossible.

A typical high performing agency that embraces this model might buy a highly targeted list of around 4,000 email addresses (…even the 500 emails most agencies currently have contain few strong prospects, so you’re basically starting form scratch here). Once they get these addresses, we put them through a list cleanse process, which typically leaves them with roughly 3,200 addresses. After sending their initial round of emails, they typically have 0 spam complaints, and a few hundred unsubscribes, leaving them with a resulting list of just about 3,000 addresses.

The agencies we’ve coached through this process typically see extraordinary results from it, but we only work with differentiated experts who are committed to a rigorous and focused content strategy. Creating an extraordinary marketing platform for your firm that regularly generates highly qualified leads isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly attainable. I’m also not aware of any other effective agency marketing approach that’s easier.


If you’re interested in speaking with some great people about whether or not purchasing a list is right for you, we recommend speaking with an expert at Their list searching, vetting, and purchasing service is the best on the market and their peripheral business intelligence tools that come with your list purchase are considerable. 

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