When it comes to linkbuilding, I rationalise any tactic with “Is it future-proof?” – understanding where search is heading and trying at least to balance what is most effective now with what is likely to deliver stability and longevity.
Guest blogging or guest posting is one of my favoured forms of linkbuilding because it’s natural, offers exposure and brand awareness opportunities. I also favour it because there are possibilities to can build scale into campaigns. It also offers win-win-win opportunities – the reader gets some decent content from a new voice/perspective, the blogger gets a day off as well as some content to enrich their own work and you get access to an audience as well as a good quality link.
Kelvin Newman developed some thoughts around the pillar principles of linkbuilding which he dubbed VAVA (Link Volume, Link Authority, Link Velocity and Anchor Text). Guest blogging touches on three of these by providing a good volume of authoritative links with desirable anchor text.
Guest blogging as a practice has two ‘tiers’ –
- Contributing to high-quality, high-authority sites – let’s call these tier 1
- Contributing to good quality but perhaps less authoritative niche sites – let’s call these tier 2
Some would argue there is perhaps a third tier but my sentiment is that if a site doesn’t fit into one of the above two buckets (from a guest blogging perspective) it probably isn’t worth contributing to with a guest post.
You are likely looking at a blog network or article directory. Both of which have their place in certain industries, but these aren’t what I’ll be talking about in this guide, and I find understanding the link opportunity helps to better tailor content creation in order to maintain an ROI – you don’t want to be submitting your finest work to a blog network property when you could have ‘got away with’ something far more mediocre.
This post looks at the process we use for guest posting and how I’ve tried to add a degree of scale so that we can generate good amounts of links whilst maintaining quality standards.
Goals & Strategy
A good guest blogging campaign, like any other linkbuilding campaign, should start with a goal in mind and an overview strategy.
A few questions we ask ourselves when it comes to planning guest blogging projects:
1) Which keywords are being targeted?
Since we are using guest blogging as a linkbuilding tactic we need to understand the terms we will be looking to improve visibility on.
2) What does a buyer look like?
We need to understand fundamentally the types of customers the keyword terms being focused on tend to attract so we have a better idea of our target audience (helping us to generate content ideas and select the right blogs to guest post on later down the line).
3) What are we trying to do here?
Is this campaign mainly about links or mainly about building awareness – knowing this right off the bat helps to tailor campaign methods.
It is all too easy to forget that SEO is about marketing, we get caught up in the Google guidelines, tactics and technicalities when ultimately we are trying to get more people to buy whatever it is we are or the client is selling. As a consequence of my marketing degree, I often look for ways traditional models and frameworks can be translated to the world of SEO.
STP (segmentation, targeting, positioning)
We often work collaboratively with the client in these early stages to understand what their perfect client looks like because ultimately this translates into a more effective SEO campaign that delivers results beyond just increased search engine visibility.
A useful model to do this is STP (segmentation, targeting and positioning).
- Segment your market – divide up your client’s market
- Identify a segment to target – look for a segment that offer opportunities from a search and business perspective
- Position your offering/content – identify key questions that this segment might have, look at the types of blogs they read, gain a better understanding of the type of content they like to share.
I often link STP to the keyword research stage of a project as it encourages deeper analysis and understanding of keywords from a human perspective rather than just the pure SEO metrics like competition, traffic etc. We often find it provides a framework to identify keywords which resonate more effectively with the segment of the market your client actually wants to target.
This kind of deep analysis may not be necessary for the project you are working on as sometimes you or the client has a solid understanding of what converts in which case you can just skip this STP stuff.
Prospecting & Analysing
Without a shadow of a doubt, this is by far the most laborious part of the guest blogging process. I’ve got a couple of shortcuts for you though and some sources which I use to find guest posting opportunities.
First and foremost – think laterally, don’t just guest post within your own bubble. Look for new connections that can be drawn with content, perhaps exploring new markets and sourcing completely fresh links.
Use my Guest Post Opportunity tool built in Google Docs. It’s a very basic little tool I built using importXML that combines some common search queries that bring up guest post opportunities such as “write for us” with the keyword of your choice. All you have to do is plug in the keyword and let it do its thing. It was built to save us the hassle of manually querying Google. It’s a real time-saver, obviously the results aren’t perfect and my best advice is to go broad with the keyword. Any suggestions for improvements are welcomed.
The opportunities it brings up may not all be of a high-standard but at least this way you can spend time sifting rather than prospecting then sifting.
Google search queries are an excellent way to find places to guest post! It shouldn’t be the only method you use because these blogs are open for others to contribute (including your competitors) so the aim of the game is to find blogs to guest post on that your competitors can’t get at.
PS. Please make your own copy of the spreadsheet!
Use blog rolls
Bloggers read other blogs and many will list them in their blog roll. This is one of the quickest ways we turn 1 opportunity into perhaps dozens. I find it is also one of the quickest ways to understand the niche dynamic as you build up a picture of the bloggers in the space, who reads who etc.
Granted, blog rolls aren’t how they used to be but they still bring up opportunities that you may not find through other means.
Open Site Explorer
OSE in this case can be applied most effectively in B2B markets. Remember when I said about understanding the buyer? Well at this stage we take it a step further and determine 5-10 URLs of potential buyers, plug these into Open Site Explorer and filter for no-follow links only.
By and large you’ll have a smaller list that you can comb through and identify links which are comments. People read industry blogs and add their thoughts, this tactic helps you zero in on industry websites, find blogs which your target customers actually read. If you can spot patterns it offers an indication that the blog would be a decent traffic and conversion opportunity rather than just a strong link since multiple potential customers visit and comment on that blog.
Guest posting communities
My favourite community for this is MyBlogGuest. There are usually plenty of opportunities, sometimes really strong opportunities you just need to do a bit of wading.
If you can deal with the “warrior-forum-esque” individuals MBG seems to attract there are some smart people with great websites you can partner with.
Always worthwhile throwing up a forum post saying you are looking for places to guest post, it’s so quick and easy to do you’d be crazy to miss out since more often than not we always find at least one relevant guest blogging opportunity via this method.
Topsy usually returns some useful opportunities or at least inspiration when it comes to guest posting. Often we find lists of blogs relevant to the niche in a top 20, top 50 or top 200 format – that’s gold dust to a guest post prospector.
Ask for guest posts
Self-explanatory one, write a post on your blog stating that you are looking for guest posting opportunities and is anybody interested. You’ll probably find you attract a few good opportunities this way.
Utilise your client’s connections
Often a good source of guest blogging opportunities as they already know the client which gives you a foot in the door and these may be opportunities that can’t be found through any online source (read: competitive advantage).
Time to analyse and evaluate the opportunity
Here are the questions we try to answer at this stage…
- How likely are they to accept?
- What’s the SEO value of the link?
- What’s the traffic & conversion potential?
- OR What’s the brand equity/awareness potential of this post?
If the chance of acceptance is low then it might be worth considering other opportunities first. By acceptance, I don’t mean are they going to turn away the piece (you should commit to quality) I am referring to whether they accept guest posts of any kind.
Understanding the SEO value (or evaluating the link opportunity) is very much a matter of opinion and you know the metrics that matter to you.
My particular favourites are mozRank, AC Rank, Domain Authority and a little quality score of my own (out of 5) which is essentially an unscientific judgement that I make for my own reference about the general quality of a site. (NB. Not always recommended if you require a scaled campaign)
I look at 5 factors and the site gets a point if it passes each, the closer to 5 it gets, the better the link opportunity is in my opinion, here are the 5 things I look at:
1) Outbound links (too many or a number of spurious/irrelevant links)
2) Frequency of guest posts (can be a negative if the website consists entirely of guest posts).
3) More ads than content
4) Social factors (subscribers, followers, fans)
5) Design of the site
Quite frequently we find a guest blog opportunity might provide a solid link but trips up when it comes to conversion potential, it depends on your campaign goals but I don’t believe these should be dismissed as many can be brand building platforms and still worthwhile opportunities in terms of the social proof that they offer your client in the grand scheme of things. A typical example of this might be posting to a website read by peers rather than target customers – it still raises the client’s profile which overall may make the opportunity worthwhile.
A very challenging aspect of guest blogging is how to pitch your content to prospective blogs. There are few industries now where the individual you are contacting doesn’t know what you are up to – rightly or wrongly, they will have some preconceptions about you based on the fact that you are asking them to be able to guest post.
You should play these things by ear but some tier 2 blogs you may be able to go straight in with the pitch. For upper level tier 2 and tier 1 blogs, you’ll need to get the pitch right.
I find you get the best response when:
- You have a foot in the door & you’ve warmed them up a bit
- You’ve got a couple of solid topic/content ideas
- You use Jedi-mind tricks some NLP principles
- Ultimately you’ve pitched them well – demonstrating effort and readership understanding in a subtle way.
A foot in the door and some gentle warming
Any hook you have that ensures you’re not just a cold caller pitching content. You’ll massively increase your chances of a positive outcome if you can get an introduction or even just highlight similar interests and perhaps a common contact.
I also find it very effective to warm them up a bit by ego-baiting – perhaps include a mention of their work in your latest blog post and then tell them about it.
Some guest blogging ‘experts’ offer the advice of adding comments to get their attention. I think that’s a pretty average strategy these days and much prefer to get their attention through direct mentions. It fuels their ego and helps them out which works superbly when it comes round to asking them about writing for their site.
Topic/content ideas for pitching
I ALWAYS pitch guest posts with an idea of what is going to be written about. You’d probably struggle to get a client to agree to SEO if you weren’t going to tell them what you offer until after they’ve signed the contract. I own a couple of blogs and get quite a few guest post requests but almost never invite the individual if they fail to provide at least an indication of the topic they’d like to write about.
Since I discovered the SEOgadget content idea tool I always use this as a starting point, make some notes, pad out some ideas and cross reference with Open Site Explorer’s Top Pages function, which enables you to see the pages/posts on the prospect’s site which have performed the best, this gives you an indication of the type or theme of content that is popular with that site’s audience.
For extra points, take a look at the top performing blog posts on competing websites to help even more with reverse engineering the creation of popular content.
Being mindful of how your topic ideas tie back in with the types of keywords you are targeting and the types of customers you are looking to engage with is essential.
Use some NLP techniques
NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) is a discipline that can strengthen your ability to connect with others, it is a pretty big subject and well worth diving into if you have even a passing interest in applied behavioural psychology. At its simplest, NLP consists of 4 pillars, 3 of which can be applied directly to improve pitching your guest post:
Pillar 1 – Outcomes – being outcome focused is important when it comes to linkbuilding but understanding the true goal is vital. When it comes to guest blogging, you’re not looking for a link, you’re goal is to be given the opportunity to contribute great content in return for exposure and a link back to your website. This subtle difference will serve to shift your mindset which will influence the way you actually pitch.
Pillar 2 – Sensory acuity – the capacity to detect and observe even the tiniest of details. I found that once I began consciously taking note of my surroundings and the finer details of whatever it is I am looking at e.g. a website, I was able to craft emails and guest pitches that were better attuned to the individual I was pitching to. Subtle but more effective references to their work rather than overt mentions of “I was reading your blog and liked that post you made yesterday”.
Pillar 3 – Rapport – building relationships. Building links is about building relationships. Developing a rapport via the internet is a challenge but it’s vital if you want to A) get the chance to guest post and B) Establish a longer term arrangement whereby you contribute again or to another blog the individual owns. I find it doubly important when it comes to guest posting because if you can establish some glue that bonds you with the host blog then you might just stop competitors from ever getting a link from that site as you become their resident expert on topic X or Y.
Once a topic has been agreed, it’s time to get the content written. How I get content produced depends upon the tier 1 and tier 2 type classifications that we made earlier in this process.
Content creation for tier 1 blogs is difficult to scale as my advice is to ensure any content produced for these types of blogs is produced in-house (if you are promoting your own business) or by the client themselves. This is because I have found that tier 1 blogs are usually accepting you based on your reputation (or the reputation of the client) therefore they want thought leadership, insights from you or specific working practices of your business.
Tier 2 blogs on the other hand are looking for good quality content and whilst they would prefer if it was written by someone senior within the business it is promoting, in reality, this just isn’t scalable and more importantly can be harmful to the ROI of your campaign since it depends heavily on a resource that is likely to be expensive and may not even be available (your clients time).
In this case we recruit an experienced industry writer or several (if necessary) who ghost write blog posts according to our specifications. I feel it is essential that we recruit a writer with knowledge for the market as this always comes across in their work. There are plenty of places you can find freelance content writers online, some are better than others, but if you want to know where we recruit our writers from just drop me an email and I can point you in the right direction depending on what you are looking for.
Add further scale by hiring a freelance project manager to oversee the process (communicating with writers, following up host blogs, liaising with you) because you will quickly find if you are running guest blogging campaigns for even a small number of clients that you soon become overwhelmed with administration and logistical headaches – having someone organised and trustworthy that can take care of business is very useful indeed. If you have the resources in-house to manage this then clearly that’s an option, I favour the outsourced approach since this allows our already squeezed in-house resources to be utilised elsewhere.
I run a small SEO agency but even so scale just wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t hire industry writers and a project manager. Furthermore, I’ve found you can’t beat the flexibility that the freelance model offers since it just wouldn’t be practical to have writers in all the industries we work in, sitting on our books.
We don’t just tailor content according to the tier of the blog but also the profile of the audience. This I believe is one of the reasons our guest blogging campaigns prove so successful because we try to ensure it resonates with the target audience rather than simply offering content that is industry themed.
I endeavour to ensure the very best content is submitted but I always keep in mind our own goals, budget restrictions and timeframes. Ultimately, guest blogging is for us, part of a larger link development campaign for clients so performance is monitored, if it’s not having the desired impact then we switch the strategy or explore alternative tactics.
This will be the shortest section of this tutorial but I think it is a real linchpin. Formatting, in my experience is the biggest bug bear for any blogger that accepts guest posts.
As soon as a guest post is agreed, it is wise to get any editorial guidelines or tips from the blogger themselves. They may prefer a word document or alternatively they may want to give you a login to go and upload the post yourself ready for approval.
Use guest blogging as an opportunity to build not only homepage links but in most cases deeplinks. This serves two purposes; 1) It ensures your client’s link profile is more natural as links are developing across the site and 2) It will improve conversion potential of any resulting visitors as you can send them to the most relevant page on your website according to the topic of the content.
You really should go easy on anchor text not only from a link profile safety point of view but also because attempting to shoe-horn the anchor text link you think is essential can sometimes serve to detract from the piece itself. You’ll need to be the judge of that however as there’s no hard and fast rule.
Essentially your aim is to make it as easy as possible for the site owner to get your piece online.
So the post is published, job done right? Wrong!
If you want to increase the effectiveness of your guest blogging then it is vital you generate and maintain some momentum and the best way of doing this is with some leverage and after-publication-actions.
First and foremost, I always invest some time in responding to comments – this helps to foster a relationship rather than giving the blogger a “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am” kind of impression i.e. it’s published, thanks for the link, you’re no longer of use to me.
Building relationships, particularly if you are doing guest blogging for multiple clients, is the biggest productivity win ever. Cultivate your relationship with them, follow up at a convenient point in the future to see if there is anything else you might be able to help with or just do for them in return.
I also use Topsy.com to see who shared a link to the article – powerful information to be armed with if you are looking for further guest posts. You can get in touch with the individual and reference your recent piece which you know they’ve seen and because they shared it, clearly they like your work so the chances of an acceptance from prospects found this way (in my experience) is very high indeed.
I always share with the client’s current social media following and their newsletter email list because it provides additional social proof which is important to convey even with existing clients and followers. It also ensures your client remains visible and stokes the home fires a little – furthermore it is a real efficiency win (engaging two different audiences with one piece of content).