The Original Guest Post: More than “Unpublished”

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As guest posting has increased in popularity lately as a tactic for reputation building (as well as for link building… no sense denying it), I’ve seen the number of guest submissions to sustainablog increase dramatically over the past year or so. In almost every case, the writer has sent me original content… that is, content that hasn’t been published elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of these writers only equate “original” with “unpublished”… and that’s led to many situations in which I’ve had to either ask for (sometimes substantial) revisions, or just reject the post outright.

Perhaps my standards are higher than other blog owners and editors… but I doubt it. I understand the motivations behind many guest post submissions, and don’t have a problem with them… I guest post myself occasionally (obviously!). But, I still want content that engages, informs, and/or entertains my readers. And, yes, I want those SEO and social media benefits that come from good content.

So, in the spirit of lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness, I’d like to offer some of the qualities I look for in a guest post… those that make it original beyond unpublished.

A unique topic:

Sustainablog deals with environmental issues, so in our eight years of publication, we’ve covered green lifestyle choices like recycling, energy savings, organic and local food, and non-toxic homemaking practices… a lot! Furthermore, the basics of these subjects have been covered over and over again within our niche. So, if I read a proposed guest post title like “How to start recycling at home,” I’m immediately turned off. The body of the post had better offer some really unique approaches…

I don’t expect every guest author to be a sustainability expert, but I do expect them to have a sense of what we’ve already covered, and what’s been done to death in the green blogosphere. That doesn’t mean that the topics mentioned above are off-limits; it means that I want to see either something really innovative, or something so thorough that it could serve as the resource on the topic. When a recent guest author initially approached me about “reducing carbon emissions while driving,” for instance,  I was underwhelmed… but when she produced a very well-researched post that dealt with the climate impact of average car drivers, professional truck transport, and vehicle infrastructure, I was impressed how she went beyond the run-of-the-mill driving tips… and published the post.

A compelling format:

Usually, when I get a post covering basic topics, it almost inevitably comes in the “five tips” format. Nothing at all wrong with list posts: in fact, we all know they work well. But “five tips” has become shorthand for “clichй” among other bloggers and editors with whom I discuss these things. They also tend to simplify a subject, and, more often than not, regurgitate information that’s readily available at many other sites. Not where I want to go with my blog…

So, what do I like? First and foremost, stories… and I’m much more inclined to react favorably to a post that tells the story of, say, someone putting a home recycling system in place rather than the oft-published (even recycled) tips. I’m even more interested if that home recycling system includes some kind of innovative feature(s). I also like posts that give readers detailed, in-depth information… so a detailed overview of what you can recycle at home, how you would do it, and perhaps even what kinds of manufacturers make use of that recycled materials… with links to relevant, credible sources. I love unique do-it-yourself projects (as do our readers!). And, I even like curated posts… as long as they’re pointing to authoritative sources, and do so in a unique manner.

Occasionally, “five tips” works… especially if those tips are fresh, relevant, and accurate. If that’s the case, go with it… just make sure you’ve done your research ahead of time.

An individual voice:

While many of us use guest posting as a form of content marketing, that doesn’t mean we have to sound like marketers in our posts. The second-person “you” works great for sales copy; for a blog post, I want get a sense that there’s a person behind the words… so “I” often works better for establishing authority (or “he/she” if you’re taking the story-telling approach). That doesn’t mean “you” can never be used (I just did it); it means that I want to see a conversational voice rather than a sale-sy one.

Language designed for human readers… not algorithms:

I am still amazed when I receive posts stuffed to the gills with targeted keywords. This isn’t 2003: Google “gets” (and penalizes) keyword stuffing… plus, it makes for a really awkward reader experience. Write a blog post like an email (or, better yet, a letter) to a friend… not like a piece of code. Certainly use elements like sub-headers, bullet points, and numbered lists — they make for a better reading experience online — but construct them for people rather than the almighty algorithm.

Using guest posting as a tool for promotion and/or Google juice isn’t bad in and of itself… most editors know that the lion’s share of guest post proposals are part of marketing campaigns and/or SEO pushes. In my own case (which, again, I doubt is unique), I want to see that a guest author has a true “win-win” scenario in mind, and is willing to offer me content that is genuinely original… not just a collection of tossed-together tips or pointers that is original only in the sense that it’s not published elsewhere.

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog, one of the longest-running green blogs online. You can follow him on Twitter @sustainablog
Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

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