Let’s start with some perspective: Guest blogging works, if you know how to do it.
Like any marketing tactic, guest blogging is but one choice among many. Will it provide your business the kind of results you need to meet your own particular objectives? That’s a complex question to answer, and no less worth your consideration than whether tactics like PPC, display ads, press releases, email campaigns, affiliate programs, or any other marketing choices will help your business.
Each tactic requires certain steps to be taken and best practices to be followed in order to bear fruit. You can’t fake guest blogging any more than you can fake-grow a plant. Think about it like this: A farmer can’t take serious shortcuts, ignoring the biological requirements of her crops, then proclaim that farming “doesn’t work.”
The fact is, guest blogging can be an extraordinarily powerful tool for sending search engines (and prospects) signals about your credibility, relevance, and value, if you are willing to recognize what the process requires, rather than trying to shortcut it.
Luckily, guest blogging isn’t complicated. It really only requires two things:
- Effective outreach to build relationships
- High-quality content that site owners want to publish
Sounds simple enough, and in many respects it is. However, most content marketers and SEOs admit to doing less of it than they’d prefer. Why? Because simple isn’t the same as easy.
The Guest Blogging Landscape
Guest blogging has seen significant growth over the past few years, partly due to changes in SEO, and partly causing them, too. The trend of sharing original articles on other relevant websites is likely to continue, because it’s a solid, cost-effective way to market with content.
While Google Trends can’t tell us how many guest posts are published on a regular basis, it can tell us a lot about searcher intent, and it seems like more and more people intend to guest blog or to host them. We also know that it fights right into the middle of content strategy in general, and most B2B marketers, at least, intend to produce more content in 2013, specifically on blogs and “articles on other websites.”
But it takes more than brute-force effort to yield results in guest blogging. It takes insight.
Guest Blogging is Not Article Submission
When done properly, guest blogging is white hat SEO at it’s finest. When done poorly, it’s inefficient spam. Once upon a time, article directories made sense as an SEO tactic, until clumsy link builders turned them into a wasteland, filled with “keyword content,” not articles people actually wanted to read.
As a pure link building tactic used to replace a host of other unsavory methods, many still approach guest blogging with amateurish abandon—spamming blogs with lousy article pitches, writing content no one wants to read, and including irrelevant links to thin websites. Such uncouth behavior leaves a bad taste in the mouths of host blogs and would-be guest bloggers alike, leading some to declare it ineffective.
If you can’t figure out how to add value to the sites you pitch with content, don’t even start. Dumbing down your output for the sake of scaling up productivity is a false dichotomy, and it doesn’t work.
Beware of the BINOs
When you’re trying to crack into a specific niche, it can be hard to find places to guest post, especially when you’re an SEO and you’re guest blogging for clients. While any good blogger is going to exercise editorial discretion over guest posts, some bloggers simply do not.
We call these “blogs in name only” because they are not actually blogs at all—they’re just another version of article directories. How to know you found a BINO:
- “Submit a Guest Post” is prominent on the home page
- Most articles are submitted by different people
- Articles span a wide array of topics
- Articles show generally poor grammar, readability and depth
- Outbound links are excessive and unrelated to the content
- Little or no social sharing or comments
Keep in mind, not everyone runs a stellar blog, and it’s entirely possible that you’re just looking at a bad (or new) blog, not one that’s designed to game search algorithms. And some reputable blogs are built on guest post contributions across a wide array of content (e.g., business2community.com). That being said, if the site exhibits three or more of the above characteristics, it’s probably a BINO, and your content doesn’t belong there.
SEO is Growing Up
Google has caused a great deal of turmoil over the last two years, forcing SEO to grow up fast. The aftermath of Google’s updates has taught us that all internet marketing strategies must diversify beyond SEO, because Google doesn’t owe you a living. But it’s not just that you shouldn’t subject your business to the whims of search engine algorithm updates (or mistakes, or competitor antics). It’s also because SEO is becoming more about doing things that aren’t solely about SEO. Guest blogging gets you those things.
By publishing worthwhile content on a variety of other sites, you can construct a durable online footprint that is trustworthy, authoritative and relevant to actual people. Good SEO is about adding value. When Matt Cutts says it, I suggest you listen:
By doing things that help build your own reputation, you are focusing on the right types of activity. Those are the signals we want to find and value the most anyway.
Hire Professional Writing Help If You Need To
No one thinks twice about hiring a pro to design a website or an ad. Do-it-yourself websites look like it, which is to say, unprofessional. Website copy and blog posts are no different. And the words you use are much more important to your SEO (and your reputation) than your graphics.
If you’re the one commissioning the content, you’re the one providing value to readers. So don’t commoditize your writing help and seek out the lowest price just to get the job done cheap. Good blogs won’t publish that stuff because readers won’t read it. (See above: guest blogging is not article submission, and BINOs don’t help you.)
Again, I direct you to the delightful musings of Mr. Cutts:
Quality guest blogging (just like regular blogging!) delivers value to host blogs and their readers, giving signals to search engines that your site is worth visiting. Ah. Just what online marketing should be. Now here’s how you do it.
1. Respect Bloggers
Online real estate is valuable, content is not. You read that right. The ol’ “content is king” marketing trope is still true, though terribly misleading. This is not to say that you shouldn’t write good articles. On the contrary. Good articles are available in abundance, so any given article is therefore less valuable to a blogger. In other words, bloggers don’t need your content, but you need their sites. With more good writers than worthwhile blogs on which to post, competition is fierce.
Bloggers are tired of being pitched, and even more tired of being let down. As a blogger, I know I am! I respond to most requests to post, welcoming anyone to try (call me an optimist). Amazingly, most of them don’t even write back. When they do, it’s usually some weak piece of content I can’t use. Either way, it’s useless for everyone involved. You’ve got to respect the blogs that have the audience and authority you’re after. If you’re going to treat blogs like commodities, you can forget about them publishing your content or even responding to your pitches in the first place.
Be like the guest bringing a great side dish to a dinner party. Do some research, make the host’s job easier by suggesting clear ideas, then following through with an article they’ll love, and ask for feedback once you share it.Spell check your work, use subheadings and images when you can. Have good manners. Be warm and friendly. It’s not your house, after all. Then, after the party is over…
Send a thank you note! Nothing says “I don’t care about the relationship, just the link,” like never talking to the blogger again. I do get excited when new guests arrive bearing gifts, but when they don’t respect that my site is of value to them, I’m not likely to care much about their needs. Relationships matter.
2. Don’t Pitch to Strangers
The first step in respecting bloggers, of course, is to know a little something about them and what they’re trying to do.
You’ve heard all about how to get to know influencers in your niche and to make a personal connection by following them on social media and sharing their stuff, engaging in their communities with worthwhile comments on their blogs, and even sharing news or resources with them that they may not have heard about. This all has to be done without being obtuse about wanting links.
Kind of sounds like you need to become a stalker and hide your motives, doesn’t it? You don’t. It’s easier than that, and more honest, too. All small business owners know that offline business networking is vitally important, yet online business owners seem to forget about that part.
Websites are businesses, and businesses are run by people, so treat them like real people! In an episode of his always entertaining and educational “Whiteboard Friday” video series, Rand Fishkin explains what separates a good outreach email from a great one. I completely agree with his assessment, because letters like that get my attention, too.
But we’ll keep it really simple for you with one rule of thumb:
Pitch like you would if you met the blogger in person. Consider whether the blogger would smile and shake your hand or run from you, based on how you approached him or her. A normal conversational tone shouldn’t elicit the fight or flight response. Treat your outreach like offline networking, and you’ll do a lot better with it.
Just because you can blast out impersonal emails doesn’t mean you should. At the very least, take some time to judge whether you really could contribute to their site in a useful way, and if so, explain what you have to offer, as in real topic ideas. Free, original content is not enough, nor is a reciprocal link. Bloggers should understand who you are, what you’re about and how you can help, and not feel like you’re just another stranger who wants something.