Accepting guest posts is an effective way to freshen up your blog, share various perspectives and build a stronger community (especially if you manage such a multi-author, multi-topic resource as SEJ).
Naturally, if you want to get the maximum benefit from guest blogging, you will need to give back. This post is about the most popular (yet, NOT the most important) benefit of guest blogging: linking: best practices and ethics of linking back to your guest bloggers (as well as allowing them to).
Linking as Incentive: Introduction
Unless you are ready to give back, you won’t be able to build a strong community of guest bloggers who will contribute top-quality content, support each other and promote your blog. Giving back is a must. You can’t expect people to be sincere in their intent to drive quality to your blog unless you are sincere in your desire to pay back.
First of, let me disclaim here that I express my own attitude in this post. I fully agree that as a blogger and web marketer you may have an opposite view and I even can imagine why: with so much spam around here it is easy to get suspicious and overly cautious.
My own take on linking is very straightforward: if you see your guest author deserves it, give him as much linking benefit as you are allowed to.
It doesn’t take time or effort to tell if your guest author is really serious about that guest blogging opportunity you are offering him: diligent guest authors are easy to notice and appreciate: they email you several times with post ideas and various questions. They look for (properly attributed) images to attach to the post and link back to the content you have published previously. They may suggest different variants of the post title to let you choose the best one. They don’t stuff their content with self-serving links.
That being said, if I appreciate the work and like the result, I will be happy give back.
But being too generous means being scammed in our world. This lesson has been learned (not once, I guess that happened to me too many times actually).
Linking as Incentive: Policies
Like it or not, linking is still the strongest incentive for people to guest post for your blog. It is the most tangible advantage as well. Therefore if you plan to allow people to guest post, you won’ be able to do without allowing them to link back to their sites and projects.
I am all for linking back and forth as I believe this is the essence of the Internet. But in our non-perfect world you still need to be cautious. You need to have a set list of rules to be able to always base your decisions on. Being consistent in your linking habits means you will avoid any bad neighborhoods or shaky grounds.
The huge advantage of having linking guidelines / rules is that you are able to treat all your guest bloggers equally (no matter what level of relationships you have with them: friends, partners or just random acquaintances).
Here’s what I see many bloggers do (and try to implement as well) in terms of controling what their guest bloggers link to:
- Links to the author’s projects should be in the by-line: Ask your guest bloggers to only link to their personal projects in the author’s by-line. Remember that the post will be published on your blog and thus all in-content links may be related to you. Links in by-line clearly belong to the author, so you are totally honest with your readers and yourself.
- Linking from within the post content: As a rule, I ask my guest bloggers to refrain from linking to their properties in the post body unless:
- The link is tightly relevant (or the author can’t do without it): like links to the mentioned events, conferences, etc;
- The link does NOT point to the home page but to the relevant post or article (which elaborates further on the mentioned phenomenon or tactic). Links from content to content (NOT to landing or home pages), I believe, add quality to the guest post and let readers learn more about what has mentioned.
- Number of links: the general rule of thumb (I myself try to follow) is to let guest authors limit external link to 3 in the by-line (including Twitter profile link).
- Anchor text: You may adopt Daniel’s rule and accept non-anchor text links in by-lines. This way you will save the trouble explaining your guest author why his “loan consolidation” link is not appreciated on your blog. Or you may go less extreme and only remove keyword-based anchors from the non-relevant links (because those can really hurt your blog reputation.)
Keep in mind though that having too strict linking rules will scare away your guest authors. Even if you have a high-traffic blog and people will still choose to guest post, limitations will discourage them to be a return contributors and community members.
You need to be both generous and careful: to encourage your guest bloggers to contribute high-quality articles while still maintain the reputation of the high-quality resource (with high linking standards).
Linking as Incentive: Tools
I’ve seen plenty of blogs accepting guest posts with varied policies and rules. Some of them have succeeded in both keeping high standards while offering enhanced exposure to their authors. Here’s what they do:
- The author’s box is the great way to both drive attention to the post author (and also give them exposure) and keep the linking limited to fit your policies. Here’s an easy-to-follow tutorial on how to code and customize the author box (with no plugin needed).
- The enhanced author page (including bio, photo and maybe social media profiles) is the great way to encourage the author to both contribute more (to maintain the impressive online portfolio) and link back to that page (and thus your site) to share that portfolio with his community. Here’s a detailed tutorial on customizing and enhancing your blog author archive page template.
- Linking to (most active) authors from the sidebar is another strong incentive. This newly-developed guest blogging WordPress plugin may be a great option: it allows to set the minimum number of guest posts (contributed over the set period of time) after which the author will be featured on the home page. Besides, you can set to show the widget on home page only or sitewide.