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.
While you’re at it, correspond with your new blog contacts during business hours. Nothing says “I might be a spammer from the other side of the planet,” quite like emails in the middle of the night. Besides, if you email while they’re looking at it, your message is less likely to get buried.
Dana Lookadoo interviewed Erin Everhart about Blogger Relationship-Building, and boy is she smooth. Her real talent is in assessing the situation and connecting with bloggers as individuals. There isn’t one good template for that, and it often doesn’t happen by email at all, but rather by messaging on social media, for example.
3. Seek Out Recurring Roles
“I don’t have the time or resources to dedicate to just a few blogs. I need a wider variety of links!”
When a recurring guest spot presents itself, take it. You want your name or brand to be a trusted source of content in your niche. So do blogs. That’s what really matters.
Respectable publishers, like Search Engine Journal, depend upon knowledgeable contributors to make their blogs a go-to place for readers. They don’t build their reputation on guest bloggers looking for a quick score– they build it on guest bloggers who share their editorial vision. It’s a synergy that serves both parties well.
Remember, effective internet marketing (and SEO) is about adding value for users. If you’re doing that in a holistic manner, you don’t have to obsess over the exact number of unique linking root domains you gained this week. To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong in gaining single links from many different sites, but there is certainly something wrong with your link profile if that’s all you have.
Gaining multiple links from a relevant, authoritative site tells both users and search engines that your site matters. It’s normal to have a closer affinity to some sites than others, so work on building those relationships whenever possible. They tend to yield a lot more referral traffic than single post appearances do.
Ironically, many marketers are so concerned with getting more unique links, that they cause the problems that allow BINOs to exist and end up making better blogs hesitant to accept their content! Give and you shall receive. Support site owner needs, and they will support you.
4. Go Where the Good Bloggers Are
Blogger outreach is hard. There are millions of english language blogs, but no way to easily find or sort through them in an efficient manner. You can focus search results on blogs using google.com/blogsearch, and you can also compile, sort and track your outreach efforts very well with BuzzStream. However, neither one can tell you anything about which blogs may actually be receptive to you, which are authoritative publishers, or which ones are truly relevant to your needs.
The simplest way to turn the problem on it’s head is to go where the bloggers are– where they’ve listed themselves for the purpose of getting found by guest bloggers and others.
Kristi Hines did a great piece introducing nine such platforms here. Read her post for a more in-depth treatment of each. A short recap for reference:
BlogDash is an inexpensive blogger outreach tool.
Blogger LinkUp connects bloggers and marketers for content/link exchanges (free).
BlogSynergy is a social network for bloggers to give and get guest posts.
GroupHigh is a high-end solution for blogger outreach.
GuestBlogIt is a content sharing community for blog writers, SEOs and publishers
Guest Blog Genius is a full service guest blogging solution*
Guestr is a free exchange for website owners and guest posters
MyBlogGuest was one of the first services of this kind, and still among the best
PostJoint is about guest blogging efficiency
*I happen to think guest blogging platforms are a great idea, and co-founded Guest Blog Genius for that very reason, so I’m not going to go into the merits of one over another. As a relatively young and new type of service, each of the platforms is in a different stage of development, trying to solve guest blogging challenges from different angles. I suggest taking some time to explore each for what they have to offer and how they suit your needs.
What I’m going to suggest doesn’t actually require a platform at all. It’s about personal engagement, just like I’ve been preaching throughout. This tactic ought to save you about a billion hours of outreach effort (the Congressional Budget Office confirms it).
Let the contributors to good blogs in your niche lead you to new blogging opportunities.
Most contributors to quality niche blogs maintain their own related blogs, and likely have a similar standard for quality. Scan through the contributor profiles, then go check out their blogs and start up a conversation. Invite them to post on your site. Being a generous host makes for great reciprocal relationships.
While you’re at it, Google their names and find the other blogs where they contribute– voila, more opportunities, already sorted for you by quality and relevance.
5. Write Epic Sh*t
I don’t know who to credit for this now well-known phrase, but I also don’t know a more succinct way to say it. Creating guest posts that matter is about finding the tipping point of quality, depth and resonance with your audience that most blog posts don’t provide. It’s a tad ironic how many posts out there claim to share the “secrets” to writing epic posts, while nary a one is to be found on most of the blogs that publish those posts.
What exactly constitutes “epic?” Like you, I know epic shit when I see it.
Epic posts are usually some combination of long, insightful, well-researched, deep, entertaining and eye-opening. I think of it as a knowledgeable individual taking the time to create something truly valuable to me. I probably saved the link and opened it more than once for reference. I no doubt shared it through social media, or in my own posts. If you don’t already enjoy the fine marketing musings of Glen Allsopp, he delivers a masterclass in how to do epic. To wit: his version of a 2012 wrap up.
You aren’t always going to have the time or energy to create an epic post, but it’s something you should aspire to, and deliver on a fairly regular basis. Your credibility as an author will be greatly enhanced because of it, as will your links and invitations to guest post.
Can’t imagine finding the time? Find an intern. Seriously, college kids are good at research, and so are outsourced workers with graduate degrees overseas. Consult your colleagues and industry contacts for some big questions they’d like to have answered. With the right guidance, some inexpensive help can lead you to some big new ideas. Besides, your work doesn’t all need to go on others’ sites. Guest posts are best used when they dovetail with your own hosted content.
Be open to giving away your best stuff. It’s not uncommon for marketers to put all their energy into their own hosted content, and send the also-ran stuff out as guest posts. That’s bad form, and it’s likely to make you look bad too, especially if the host blog you’re targeting actually gets more of the targeted traffic you really want. Your content is your content, no matter where it’s hosted. Do a good job of promoting and linking back to your work and you won’t have to worry whether it’s resident on your own site or not.
6. Build Your Back Catalogue and Use It
The more you write, the easier it becomes, not just because you express ideas more efficiently, but because you have more recorded ideas to use, again and again. That’s another reason to write epic pieces– they’re great for referencing again in the future.
Your own ‘back catalogue’ of content is one of the best places to find ideas to mine for new articles. Presumably you’re comfortable with your own work and can vouch for it’s quality, right? Why not riff on your own words? Obviously, self-aggrandizement isn’t good practice, but introducing readers to a broader set of ideas most definitely is, all the better if you happened to have written some of those other ideas. Guest blogging isn’t about creating 500 word snippets of isolated concepts. It’s about connecting the dots, and fashioning an online identity that demonstrates your authority.
Treating all of your online content as one large body of work also allows you to build what I call an off-site site map, which I explain more thoroughly here. Whatever your central topic, guest blogging allows you to link ideas (and pages) more effectively than you can using only the pages on your site.
7. Use Backlinks Wisely
While you likely guest blog with the intention of building links, be careful just how “optimized” you want those links to be. Google casts a suspicious eye on linking patterns that seem like PageRank sculpting, as opposed to editorial decisions. As such, host blogs are now more careful about how many backlinks they’ll allow in the author byline (many allow just one) as well as how relevant those links are to the content of the article, and their sites in general.
Some guest bloggers have offered great articles to me, but with terrible links, so I couldn’t use the articles. For example, a guest post about content marketing cannot reasonably include a link to a site about “best cell phone calling plans.” Sure, I could post that link. It’s not illegal, but it sure doesn’t add value, and it might even make Google more wary of my site. That guest blogger should be pitching posts to sites that can actually use articles about cell phone calling plans.
Generally speaking, to keep your backlinks appropriate, they should look like the host site gladly shared the links as a part of the post:
- Keep your links relevant to the content and the host site
- Limit your use of long tail anchor text, unless it truly fits in the article
- Avoid sending links to landing pages with thin content
- Use anchor text like “here” and “click here for more”
- Vary root domain anchor text, e.g., your url, company name, primary keywords
- Link to other popular pieces you wrote, not just your own site
- Link to your Google+ profile and other social media accounts
- When linking to your own home page, only do so from your author byline
Some blogs don’t care what your links look like, but that’s no reason you shouldn’t. After all, guest blogging is about building a lasting presence, not scoring easy links. And if a blogger is only willing to give you one link, don’t sweat it. Natural links are built at the discretion of the host site, are they not?
Ben Holland explains how to analyse your backlink profile in Prepping Your Backlink Profile for 2013. It’s a fantastic guide for using tools to do some technical SEO, but most importantly for our discussion here, he explains that versions of your brand name and url should outnumber other terms found in your anchor text. Having a high number of links come from one long tail anchor just isn’t natural.
8. Tell Your Story
You shouldn’t be afraid to break the mold and connect with readers by telling a story. Blog articles so often follow the standard how-to and numbered list format, be the one to change it up a little.
Readers enjoy a personal touch that puts your writing in context. Anecdotes, lessons learned, trials and tribulations… coloring your articles with a perspective that is uniquely yours makes you more real, which helps you become a more trusted guest blogger. There are technical ways of making yourself “real” online, which we’ll discuss next, but none of that is a substitute for substance.
Of course, not everything you write can be a heart-felt piece, nor should it. There’s plenty of room for instruction, news-y updates and all that, especially if your writing is produced with the help of a team. But to really make an impact with guest blogging, readers have to get a sense of who you are. They’ll care about your content more when they do.
9. Claim Your Content
Do you know what rel=”author” means? Do you use it? The folks at Google realized years ago that websites don’t actually link to each other. People do the linking. And if people can be credited with content, then that content can be judged (in part) according to the credibility of the author.
Way back in 2005, Google filed a patent for what they called Agent Rank, but presumably hadn’t yet built a way to take advantage of it. Google didn’t announce their support of authorship markup until June of 2011, rolling out Google+ later that month. Now that explains it. (If you don’t read the Webmaster Central Blog, you should, and if you aren’t yet on Google+, you should be.)
Granted, Google doesn’t always do a great job of explaining their own changes, but that’s why we have intrepid writers like Sujan Patel to provide step-by-step Google authorship instructions to get pretty little search listings just like his above.
Pages that use authorship markup
- See significantly higher click-throughs from search than plain listings.
- Show up more often in personalized searches.
- Limit the effectiveness of scraped content.
- Build a case for Google to decide that you matter!
Don’t look back in five years wondering why you have no Author Rank. We don’t know exactly how Google intends to use Author Rank (a.k.a Agent Rank) but when they advocate for it’s use, there aren’t any compelling reasons for an internet marketer to ignore them.
More blogs are beginning to support authorship markup, so in many cases, you just need to provide your Google+ profile link to them, or link to it from your byline and list their root domain in the “Contributor to” section of your profile. It’s a tougher job for webmasters to manage, but as a guest blogger, it’s painless.
10. Spread the Love
You will notice all the links in this post. Blog posts are not encyclopedia entries. They are a form of interactive media– windows into new ideas from a variety of sources. Treat your posts like portals of information so that readers (and the host blog) can get more mileage out of your content than just the words you write. But links are not just about being useful, they’re about being social and collaborative.
Leveraging others’ work gives you the chance to give credit where credit is due, providing readers more value, and showing other writers that you respect their work. Feel free to tell them as much! As a guest blogger, showing a prospective host blog how you already referenced his or her work in another post is a darn good way of getting your foot in the door. (Remember what we said above about not pitching to strangers?)
It isn’t always up to you which links are permitted in your guest posts, but it never hurts to include legitimate ones, and give the host discretion over which ones should stay.
Of course, you should share the heck out of your posts on social media, engage with commenters and link back to your own post again from new articles. You might even write about the same subject on your own blog, and link to your guest post about it in the process. Make introductions to good writers you know, and ask for them, too. People are willing to help when they know that you are. Bloggers love real engagement from their contributors, and it just feels good..
The Bottom Line for Guest Blogging in 2013
Be real. Be friendly. Be helpful. Just like smart, sustainable SEO, guest blogging is about earning your placements. Come to the table with quality work and a respect for others in your industry space, and the links will follow. A healthy guest blogging program can help your entire SEO ecosystem.