A typical life-cycle for most effective SEO tactics (and really most marketing tactics follow a similar trajectory) looks something like:
- Tactic starts to work, and it’s relatively rare that companies are executing it
- It’s identified by a growing number of SEOs and site owners and begins to be talked about frequently
- It gets scaled and abused
- Tactic is declared dead
- The tactic continues to work (though frequently as a modified version, and often with less spectacular returns than it did during phase one)
Obviously if you can it’s nice to be on board in stage one of this cycle, but stage 5 can actually generate nice returns as well. There are two primary reasons for this:
- A lot of the same folks who read “tactic X is the new black” and jumped all over the tactic are also going to read “tactic X is dead” and stop doing it
- Once the tactic becomes overly exposed and is abused, frequently the most egregious, easiest-to-execute-and-scale versions of the tactic are specifically targeted by search engines and identified by Webmasters. This means that these lower quality, more scalable versions of the tactic lose efficacy
Meanwhile it’s frequently the case that harder to execute iterations of the tactic actually still work. The combination of negative perception in the SEO / marketing community and an increased barrier to entry to getting results from the tactic combine to mean that (as was the case in the early part of the lifecycle) if you’re working on the tactic in a way that’s still effective, there’s actually limited competition.
As easier-to-execute versions of tactics become less effective it’s harder to get links, but the links that you do get become more valuable because the folks acquiring those lower quality links are getting knocked out of the SERPs.
All of this is likely to apply to guest posting in-particular over time (and is already starting to). So how can you start to “skate to where the puck is going” and position yourself to create more “future proof” guest posts?
1. Better Prospecting
Doing “better guest post prospecting” and having content placed on better blogs doesn’t mean that you can only have posts placed on The New York Times, or even authoritative publications like Search Engine Journal (though you should look for those types of opportunities where you can, of course): it means identifying higher quality opportunities that are less likely to be devalued over time.
Google updates are increasingly focusing on:
- Engagement metrics and user experience
- Unique content
- Natural anchor text
And of course links from authoritative domains will continue to be important. So as you’re evaluating the quality of a blog you can look at:
Link Popularity & Authority Metrics
Good old fashioned trust and authority metrics are still useful. While toolbar PageRank has become a bit less helpful here as it’s infrequently updated, all of the major link analysis tools have some means of measuring link popularity and authority:
And if you’re looking to evaluate a number of sites at once and compare metrics, there are several tools that allow you to drop in a long list of URLs and get relevant link metrics back such as:
- MozCheck – This is a really simple stand-alone tool that allows you 1,000 free links a month (and is paid beyond that). You just drop your list of URLs in and it will append relevant SEO Moz /LinkScape metrics.
- SEOmoz Data for Google Docs – This is a free Google Doc spreadsheet that allows you check several links at once and have SEO Moz / LinkScape data formatted within a Google Doc.
- Bulk Backlink Checker – This is Majestic SEO’s bulk backlink checking tool.
- BuzzStream – As part of a larger link building management platform BuzzStream allows you to import a large number of sites and get relevant link metrics as well
Generally this is a good means of weeding out lower quality sites, but you still want to layer on additional means of identifying a quality guest posting opportunity.
Social Media Metrics
Another quick qualifying data point you can use to help filter and prioritize opportunities is the social media presence of the site. This will give the post additional amplification and distribution, and regardless of the degree to which Google emphasizes straight social media shares/metrics, you’ll have your content in front of bigger audiences (including potential linkers), will generate more traffic from the post, and will be benefiting from favorable engagement metrics.
You can either start with a list of URLs as a result of an initial round of guest post prospecting, or you can specifically identify folks with larger social media followings. There are a few different tools for attacking either method:
- Little Bird
Lots of times when it seems like all of the metrics line up, you still may not have a legitimate, “future proofed” blog on your hands – just because a blog shows a solid domain authority, it doesn’t mean the content is quality, the link profile may be subject to future risk, social followers can be faked, etc. What you can look at are things like:
- Quality & Focus of the Content – Does this look like a “Made for Guest Posting” type of blog with low editorial standards and topics ranging far away from the core focus of the blog
- Whois & Archive Data – You can also check the history of the site by looking at registration records and older versions of the site to see how recently the subject of the site may have changed and whether
- Backlink Profile – Ahrefs is very useful for getting fresh link data, looking at inbound anchor text distribution, and evaluating how at-risk a particular site may be in the future. Open Site Explorer and Majestic, as we mentioned before, are useful here as well.
If you’re doing guest posting at scale and need to manually review a lot of different opportunities at once, a great tool for evaluating large numbers of prospects quickly is BuzzStream’s BuzzBar (which they released a couple of months ago), which gives you a Stumble Upon-like view of a list of prospects that you can click-through quickly and give a manual thumbs up / thumbs down categorization to:
If you’re not doing guest posting at scale and are just looking for a handful of great opportunities, you might be better served to focus your efforts on identifying great blogs that you (or members of your team) already know of, and you can think about focusing more on quality recurring
2. Better Outreach
Blog editors are inundated with terrible outreach attempts. The noise makes it a bit more difficult to get your content published in some cases, but most publications are still hungry for quality content that fits with their audience, and you don’t need to craft a masterpiece to get a blog to consider accepting your content. Some things to keep in mind in conducting outreach include:
- Check Grammar and Spelling – Eliminating sloppy mistakes will keep you out of the pile of emails that are summarily dismissed as spam and low quality
- Avoid Obvious Copy/Paste Errors – Similarly not realizing that your Email will be “two-toned,” including the wrong name for folks, etc. will
- Don’t Lie/Misrepresent Yourself & Your Relationship with the Blog – If you’re not an avid reader of the blog, don’t represent yourself as such. If you’re not an expert on the topic, don’t pretend to be. Many editors will sniff this out, and might have been willing to run your post if you had just been a bit more straightforward and identified yourself as someone interested in contributing content who may have expertise in a related niche, or just that you have some good ideas.
- Come with Good, Relevant Topics – Spend a little time to understand their blog and what topics will be a fit, and tailor your topic selection to what their looking for / what their audience would find interesting.
- Reference Your Own Work – Including a few quick links to quality content you’ve contributed other places gives them a chance to see at a glance, within your initial Email that you’re capable of contributing something their readers will find interesting. Try to keep these examples as closely related to the blogger’s own subject matter as possible.
Parts of this can be “templatized” if you’re doing a lot of outreach, and your outreach efforts don’t need to be Shakespeare, but doing a bit of diligence and clean-up on your outreach Emails before hitting send can help to differentiate you from other Emails in a blogger or editor’s busy inbox.
3. Better Content
A great way to unlock better guest post opportunities is to create better content. This will get you past the editors at quality blogs with high standards, and will open up future opportunities. The best way to improve your content quality is to get better sources for content creation. A few things to consider here:
- Get Internal Experts to Contribute – Identify the experts within your organization and get them to offer content for guest posts.
- Hire External Authors & Experts – Hiring experts with built-in followings can be a bit more expensive than hiring someone without any domain expertise, but you’re also paying (if you structure it properly) for built in distribution in the form of their social media and/or blog followings. Some good ways to source authors are to look on Amazon for published authors, use tools like Topsy and Followerwonk to identify folks in a niche with large Twitter followers, and to look at major sites in the niche and approach the writers there about contributing content for a fee.
- Source Content from Multiple Experts – Another way to get guest posting opportunities is to ask a bunch of different experts a question – in the example linked to there John Abrena has leveraged a number of different experts to create an interesting piece of content that wound up getting posted to an extremely authoritative blog.
An important thing to note about hiring experts (and all of this “leveling up”) in general: as you can see in many instances it’s a lot of work (and depending on your approach could become expensive). For that reason – as with any tactic – you need to consider if it’s “for you.”
Not So Fast: Is All of this Really Worth the Effort?
Usually, but not always.
People (like me) who engage in content marketing talk a lot about how great it is as a tactic and frequently talk about improving quality and increasing value – obviously I believe strongly in the effectiveness of content marketing and SEO given that it’s an important part of my profession, but an important thing to note (particularly if you’re a small business with limited resources) in any discussion of improving the quality of your efforts:
Better quality content and promotion will cost more in time, money, or both, and as a result “leveling up” a tactic may not make sense for your business.
In many cases you may have to put more time and money into achieving (or recovering) the same traffic and rankings you once achieved by taking relatively inexpensive “shortcuts.” For most businesses few competing tactics will give you the mix of thought leadership, brand awareness, and direct traffic and leads/sales (from both referred traffic and search rankings) that effective, high value guest posting will, but before you jump into the process of improving your efforts you need to consider the additional cost, and for many businesses you’ll need to weigh guest posting against other tactics and/or channels.
Image courtesy of Fanpop.