The Ultimate Guide to Advanced Guest Blogging
With “content marketing” being the indisputable SEO buzzword of 2012, we can expect 2013 to see an onslaught of marketers trying to build links with guest posts. The growth in this market will cause some sites to lower their guest posting standards, others to raise them, and still more to stop accepting them altogether. Google will target low quality guest posts with increasing zeal, and it will get harder to see results if the effort and strategy aren’t there. We’re going to help you combat this by sharing how we got posts up on ProBlogger and Search Engine Journal, and by introducing you to our strategy for success with our clients.
1. Finding Guest Post Opportunities
Let’s kick this off by talking about where to seek out guest post opportunities. This is, by far, the most important part of your strategy, since it determines the value and longevity of your link.
20 Things You Should Do and Pay Attention to
- Look for platforms where it will make sense to readers for you to post. The niche doesn’t have to be identical, but there should be an overlap in audience, and you should be able to offer something valuable to them that also makes sense from a branding perspective.
- Check the SEOmoz Domain Authority and PageRank to make sure the blog has the right ranking factors in place. Dig a bit deeper than this, though. For starters, check up on a few of their previous guest posts to see how strong the Page Authority is. Look for other signs that the site is visited frequently, such as frequent comments and sharing activity. Make sure this is true for most pages, not just the homepage.
- On that note, check for activity on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. If the site has a decent amount of community activity happening on at least one of those networks, you’re in pretty good shape.
- Look for a large subscriber count.
- Read through a few of the comments to get an idea of what the site’s community looks like, and to make sure spam isn’t making its way into the comments frequently. Keep in mind that Google pays attention to user generated content, even if it doesn’t count it the same way as main body content.
- Pay attention to who has contributed to the blog in the past. Do their guest posts or their sites seem “spammy?”
- Who is in charge of the blog? What does their background look like? Do they appear reputable?
- The guidelines for guest posts should have fairly strict standards. It should be clear that content is only accepted if it will please the blog’s audience. If it looks “easy” to get a post up on their blog, don’t bother.
- How frequently is the blog updated?
- Does the site publish any of its own material, or just guest posts? Most legitimate sites will publish their own material, though there are exceptions.
- Is it possible for you to become a regular contributor? A site that is looking for consistently good content will often want regular contributors. A site that doesn’t care about quality standards is less likely to want them.
- Will your target audience visit this blog? Will influencers who are followed by your target audience visit this blog? You should be able to answer yes to at least one of these, unless the audience size is very large.
- Consider starting by asking this question: “Where is the go-to place for my target audience? Is it possible for me to get a post there?” instead of asking the more typical question posed earlier: “Would my target audience visit this blog?” This is harder to accomplish, but the results are much more dramatic if you do.
- Check out the site’s link profile. Does it look natural?
- Seek out guest posts from blogs that do not publicly state an interest in guest posts. These are very lucrative, because very few of your competitors will have links like this.
- Try to write a post about the keyword that the site ranks best for. This increases the odds of your guest post showing up in the search results, reaching a wider audience, and sending over more referral traffic. Keep in mind that, in order to accomplish this, you will need to have something new and interesting to say about the topic that the site hasn’t published before.
- Pay attention to the user interface and the overall user experience visitors have when they come to the site. These can increasingly be considered ranking factors, and they are an indication of the faith and resources invested in the site.
- Bonus points if the blog has received any kind of award from a reputable organization.
- Try starting with resource lists along the lines of: “Top 10 Blogs about [Niche]” These will point you toward reputable blogs in the industry.
- If the top ten blogs are unattainable, look for blogs that have been featured on those top ten sites.
20 Things You Should Avoid
Your choices for guest posting opportunities are ridiculously numerous, and you will waste resources if you pursue guest posts from sub-par blogs. Future updates will inevitably rob these links of their value. That’s why we don’t recommend:
- Blogs that accept all content sent their way with the obvious goal of publishing as much content as quickly as possible.
- Blogs that have no clear target audience or subject matter. Even all-subject sites like The New York Times have an understanding of what their audience looks like and write accordingly. Any blog that has no idea what its audience wants should be avoided.
- Sites with excessive ads. This hurts user experience and is generally a sign of a low quality site.
- If your target audience has a geographic component, don’t seek out guest posts with a different geographic target, unless it is of exceptional value.
- Avoid sites that don’t post any of their own content, or rarely do. There are rare exceptions, such as Cracked, where most of the content is produced by guests, and the quality is exceptionally high. These are few and far between.
- Sites with poor design, confusing structure, a bad interface, or that offer a poor experience to their visitors.
- Sites with no contact information.
- In general, avoid sites with no social media presence. Exceptions can be made if the site clearly has a large following. There are some bloggers, for example, who are opposed to social networks or who don’t want to waste time on them, but have nevertheless developed a large audience.
- Sites with a low PageRank and SEOmoz Domain Authority should typically be avoided. (A domain authority below 30 can generally be considered avoidable). Clearly, you should make exceptions for sites that have a large following regardless of these metrics, because they will almost inevitably gain positive signals in the future.
- Blogs that have fake followers on social networks. Check through a few profiles and you can usually identify whether they are human rather quickly.
- Blogs with guest post guidelines that are easy to meet with minimal effort.
- Blogs whose posts are uninteresting, not actionable, uninformed, or out of date.
- Any blog that has posted duplicate content, unless of course it was somebody else who copied them.
- Sites that have already been penalized. Always check to make sure that the blog ranks for its own brand name and other things it should clearly rank for, in order to ensure that it hasn’t been penalized.
- Blogs that do not get updated regularly.
- Blogs that exist to earn ad revenue off of guest posts alone.
- Sites with exact match domains. There are nuances to this, of course. In general, though, you should stick to domains built around brands, not keywords.
- A blog that doesn’t appear to receive any comments, tweets, likes, or any of the above should typically be avoided.
- Sites that allow visitors to post an article directly without approval from humans. These should always be avoided.
- Blogs that take months before posting your submission. In general, if a site is taking months to publish posts it means they don’t care about fresh content. There are some exceptions for very popular sites. However, a popular with high standards will generally tighten its standards even more or increase its posting schedule, rather than setting posts months in the future. In general, it shouldn’t take more than a month or so for your post to go live.
Where to Find Places to Guest Post
For starters, you can use the following services to find places that accept guest posts:
- Guest Blog Genius
- Copy for Bylines
- Guest Blogging Websites
- Fizz Niche
- Technorati’s directory of blogs
- Google Blogsearch
- Best of the Web Blogs
- On Top List blog directory
At the bottom of this post, we will also share a list of keywords to search for in order to find guest post opportunities. It’s very long, so we won’t distract you with it here.
Now, even though we’ve provided you with a lot of resources to work with here, we would actually suggest not relying too heavily on them. As guest posting increases in popularity, we can expect many of these tools to get abused. It’s more important than ever to stand out, and if all of your links are coming from places like this, you won’t be standing out.
We can’t stress this enough. You need a unique link profile, and the key to that is going to be outreach. Make sure to spend a fair amount of time reaching out to blogs that don’t go out of their way to get guest contributors, or ideally, who have never had a guest author before. These links are very lucrative and give your link profile the diversity it needs to survive future Google updates.
Here are some more unique places to get guest post ideas:
- Do a search for broad industry keywords and find the most popular blogs
From the Google menu, click “More” and select “Blogs,” then do a search for broad industry keywords
From the Google menu, click “Discussions” and search for your keyword, and see what sites are getting talked about the most in the forum community
- Search for your keywords on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Google+, and the like to find the most popular accounts that are associated with blogs
- Search for “top ten [keyword] blogs” and use similar queries to find popular blogs
Don’t include keywords like “submit guest post” when you use these methods, at least not every time. The goal is to find popular blogs that don’t typically accept guest posts. Be resourceful and do some relationship building. It’s worth the effort.
2. Developing an Outside-the-Box Guest Post Idea
Depending on where you guest post, sometimes the idea will come before the outreach, and sometimes it will come after. Either way, it takes truly original ideas in order to get guest posts up on sites with high standards. This is crucial not just for getting your posts on authoritative sites, but for getting them shared, getting conversions, getting additional links, and getting traffic.
Generally, prerequisites for original ideas include:
- Reading the top blogs in the industry
- Setting up Google alerts for your main keywords
- The involvement of your client for insight into the industry
- Using Google Analytics, keyword tools, Google Insights and Trends, etc, to see what topics are popular in the industry
- Use tools to find out what is trending
However, these are not the keys to producing truly original content. They merely set the bar. In order to produce something fresh and new, you will need to:
- Use your client’s proprietary data
- Take a stance that goes against the grain a bit
- Bring in insights from other disciplines and industries
- StumbleUpon insider information
- Spot relationships between subject matter that others haven’t
- Be funny, emotional, and opinionated
- Use anecdotes, examples, or case studies
- Point to related scientific studies
- And…(God forbid)…hire writers or journalists who have already proven their skills
Now, as much as we stress avoiding an over-reliance on tools, there are some great resources out there that can help you come up with original ideas:
- Content Strategy Generator Tool – This tool from SEOgadget shares content ideas from Bing News, Reddit, YouTube, Topsy, Yahoo! Answers, Digg, and so on. It also suggests bloggers to get in touch with.
- Google Analytics – Have you heard of this tool before? Nevertheless, you may never have considered it as a tool for content ideas. Keywords that people are landing on your site for are a good place to start.
- Site Search – What are people searching for once they have landed on your site? There are content ideas buried in there as well.
- Google Alerts – Try digging through your alerts emails and seeing if you can spot patterns or trends in the news that others may not have picked up on. Some of the best posts look for a common thread in the news and give a bird’s eye view of what’s been happening, looking for lessons, rather than just reporting on individual stories.
We were also impressed with what SkyRocketSEO had to say about getting content ideas. EvergreenSearch and SearchEngineWatch have also written wonderful and comprehensive content idea guides, and CopyBlogger has an excellent infographic on the subject.
Here’s the most important part.
Before you pour everything into your guest post, check Google to make sure the idea is truly original. You want your post to say something new about the topic, so if the top posts in Google are looking a bit familiar, you need to head back to the drawing board before you waste your time.
3. Developing the Content
Once you have an idea and a blog to target with your guest post, it’s time to start building your content. And it’s our opinion that you should almost always go big, even though the risks can seem higher, as Dr. Pete recently pointed out. When the content is big, you won’t be willing to waste it on a sub-par blog, which, paradoxically, means you’re taking less risk in the long run.
While you’re developing the content, you’ll want to:
- Write with the blog’s audience in mind. Read comments and pay attention to which posts get shared the most to aid you in this process
- Don’t hold anything back “for later.” Pour everything you have about a subject into the blog post
- Use graphics
- Cite authoritative sources
- Use research data
- Organize your posts with subheadings and lists, and keep the paragraphs short.
- Get your points across quickly without padding the word count.
- Use plain English.
- Use anecdotes.
- Use humor.
- Figure out the most shocking, surprising, interesting, or humorous aspect of your post and mention it in the title and the first paragraph (ideally the first sentence). But don’t give so much away that the reader has no reason to continue.
- Use “cliffhangers,” “foreshadowing” and other elements used by fiction writers to keep readers engaged in suspense.
Now, some of these bullet points contradict each other or aren’t appropriate for every single post, but they should give you an idea of what we mean by “big content.” Always keep the primary purpose of the post in mind. Does it exist to entertain, to inform, to shock? Every sentence should have purpose.
Our Experience with Search Engine Journal
As an example of the kind of content we’re talking about, you can take a look at what we had to say about Link Earning Strategies for the Post-Panda/Penguin Era over at Search Engine Journal. As SEOmoz has pointed out, SEJ is one of the top blogs in the SEO industry, so sub-par content wasn’t going to cut it.
In order to develop the post, we:
- Hired talented copy editors to ensure the content was well written
- Based the content off of a Quora discussion we had been involved in that already gained some traction
- Made sure most of the visitors would be learning something new from the list
- Organized the content with an easy to digest format
- Knew the problem of building links in the wake of Google updates was a common one
- Avoided stiff and formal language
Some might suggest that all of this is too much work, but, if anything, we think we probably could have done more. To understand why this kind of effort pays off, consider the fact that:
- The post received hundreds of social shares
- It was mentioned again in Search Engine Land’s SearchCap: The Day in Search under their link building section
- We received not just a high quality link, but high quality leads from the post
These are not the results you see from throwaway posts at GuestPostOnMyBlog.biz.
Sometimes we SEOs don’t care much for author bios, or even hate them. A non-contextual link from an easily identified separate block of content…who cares? Well, we do. This is your sales pitch. Take advantage.
- Make your author bio fun to read so that readers see you as a person, not an automaton.
- Mention your brand name and don’t focus on keywords. Branding matters!
- Include links where they make the most sense and where they will drive maximum conversions, not where they send the (already outdated) signals to the search engines.
- Encourage readers to contact you directly via Twitter or email so that they know you’re available and ready to start a conversation with them.
This is a huge part of the foundation behind a successful guest posting strategy. Yes, there are some high quality blogs where it’s possible to get guest posts with minimal outreach as long as your content is exceptional and you have the right ideas.
That said, if outreach isn’t an important part of your strategy, you will only be getting links from sites that regularly accept guest posts, and this doesn’t offer the diversity your link profile needs in order to be genuinely robust, even if those links are high quality.
Keep the following in mind during outreach:
- Have the right idea at the right time. Come in too late and your idea will be redundant. Focus on topics that are either relevant right now, or that you feel will be relevant in the very near future.
- If the blog has guest posting guidelines, make sure you have met (and exceeded) them.
- Mention examples of your previously successful content (either on your own site or others).
- Demonstrate your authority with credentials, social profiles, awards, etc, but not to the point that it feels like you’re gloating.
- Approach the contact directly and speak to them like a human. Don’t shy away from a bit of humor and don’t be too formal. Avoid sounding in any way like an advertisement.
- Don’t take up too much time with the email expounding upon all the benefits of working with you.
- Contact them directly through Twitter or Facebook if they are active on their profiles to have a real-time conversation.
- Consider bringing up the possibility in a comment on a new blog post, as long as you also add value with your comment that relates to their blog post and contributes to the discussion.
- Flattery can help if it’s honest and it doesn’t make you look pathetic. It’s best to do this after they know what you want, rather than before, otherwise it looks manipulative. (Okay, what you want from me already…)
- If the blogger has asked a question anywhere recently that doesn’t seem to be answered, offer them an answer.
- The entire conversation is about how you can help them, not about how they can help you.
Okay fine, we admit it, we love tools. Just don’t confuse “tool” with “strategy.”
- GroupHigh – Identify influential bloggers, track their reach, and send personalized messages through email or Twitter. Set up workflows and reminders to manage your contacts, and take advantage of geo-targetting for local clients.
- BlogDash – Find and reach out to bloggers who already want to be contacted.
- Rapportive – Get social feedback on your contacts directly from Gmail.
- Buzz Stream – Manage your contacts easily so you can focus on link building and relationship building.
Our Outreach Experience With ProBlogger
ProBlogger is pretty much the site for professional bloggers, so like SEJ, it’s not exactly easy to get a post on the site. Unfortunately, when some people hear this they think their emails need to be perfectly polished and sleek. Well, here’s our initial outreach email with ProBlogger:
I have to admit it’s a bit embarrassing to share my bare writing with no copy editing (I’m Indian if you can’t tell), but that’s kind of the point. This may not be sleek and professional, but it’s human and it’s clear that this isn’t from a template.
We received a response within 24 hours, which we felt was a great sign, even though this was what they had to say:
What can I say, we should have known better. Original content is the key to success. If we had to guess, we would say that this is probably where most guest bloggers would give up. But that is not how you succeed. The candid response was, to us, a sign that they saw us as humans and would be interested in what we had to offer if the content was right.
This should serve as an example of how outreach, idea generation, and content production can all come together as part of the same process. We worked together with our copy editor and thought a bit about what ProBlogger’s audience is looking for, and how we could offer a solution in a unique way.
Well, this will get a bit meta, because we realized that what bloggers need most are new ideas, and a method for getting them. We didn’t want to regurgitate what had already been said by others on the site, so we turned to an original resource: psychological research. This turned out to be a great unique selling proposition for us.
You can see the post on ProBlogger under the title: Get Creative About Your Content…Consistently. It should serve as a good example of unique content, as well as a decent guide to come up with content ideas that goes beyond what we’ve talked about so far in this guide.
Now this post wasn’t easy to put together. The insights came from dense peer-reviewed science papers, and it wasn’t easy to translate that information into something useful as a guide for bloggers, but hopefully you can see why it was worth the effort.
Persistence is important. We’re not ashamed to say that we were rejected twice by SearchEnginePeople. Instead, we’re proud to say that on our third attempt, our post about finding original data for content marketing was approved. The key is to keep trying.
If you have chosen the right platform, and the content is original, helpful, and engaging, then your content has a good chance of going viral and, on some level, promoting itself. But, of course, you can dramatically improve your chances of success and expand your reach further if you take things to the next level and promote your guest post. Here are a few tactics to help that along:
- Let your friends and business contacts know about the post, especially the ones who care about the topic and who have their own audience. This is one of many reasons you should be regularly exchanging emails and social messages with influencers, so that these kinds of requests don’t seem unsolicited and rude.
- Involve your client, and potentially any other clients who might be interested (but not competitors). Encourage them to share the material. You’ll get bonus points here if your client has a lot of employees who would be willing to pass it along.
- Include the guest post in your email signature.
- Frequent QA sites, forums, and social networks that discuss your topic, and look for questions that your guest post helps answer. Offer them a few tips and suggest they read the full blog post for an in depth discussion.
- Highlight the guest post on your own site. Don’t be concerned, this isn’t “reciprocal linking.”
- Submit a press release about the guest post.
- Respond to comments, especially questions, and thank people for adding to the conversation. Don’t overreact to negative comments. If you can respond without getting angry, go ahead. If you get upset, you will probably do more harm than good.
- Browse through your previous blog posts and link to the guest post where it makes sense. See if you can get your previous guest posts updated with a link to the new guest post as well. (This will be easier if you mention the old guest post in your new post first).
Conclusion: Make Your Guest Posts Count
Doing things differently is what sets you apart. There is no reason that this should change the second you start posting material on somebody else’s property. Every piece of content you design should be produced with the goal of going viral, attracting links, and driving traffic.
Thinking of a piece of content as a way to build a single link simply doesn’t have any appeal to us anymore. We hope to “re-brand” guest posting as part of a “big content” strategy, where the advantage of using somebody else’s platform isn’t just its domain authority, it’s the potential to expand your reach and build relationships for further growth.
Guest Posting Query List: (As mentioned in the “Where to Find Places to Guest Post” section above)
We are tremendously excited about this new direction in guest posting, and we hope you share our enthusiasm. Please let us know what you think of our guide, and if you have some clever insights we would love to hear what you have to say in the comments. We would also love it if you could pass this along. Let’s keep guest posting alive, and help people see it as real marketing!
- “add guest post”
- “become a contributor”
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- “become an author”
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- “want to write for”
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- keyword “accepting guest posts”
- keyword “guest blogging”
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