Over the last 6 months we have had many companies approach us about Guest Posting techniques, best practices and how to get set up and ready to engage.
Guest blogging and knowing how to do it effectively can be an extremely powerful part of your content strategy – not just for SEO or acquiring links, but for your brand and products. I recently had the pleasure of meeting the guys from Buffer who built a huge proportion of their membership base through Guest Posting.
So we thought we’d try and get some experts from around the world to do a short interview, giving up tips, advice and resources. So get ready to learn from some of the best:
The following interview is around 3000 words covering a range of thoughts on guest blogging – why you should do it, getting setup, finding and evaluating prospects, reaching out, how to write awesome guest posts and more. Enjoy!
Is guest blogging a good online marketing strategy and should everyone be doing it?
Mike King: Hell yes. At MozCon Tom Critchlow gave a great example of a writer that sold more books from guest posting on one site than he did with his appearance Oprah and some other forms of advertising. Guest posting is obviously much bigger than SEO and therefore it’s something we need to be considering from a standpoint of how can we influence the built-in audience of the given site we’re writing for – it’s not just the link.
Ann Smarty: I am a huge (some would say “passionate”) advocate of guest blogging but when it comes to the second half of the questions (“should everyone be doing it”), I would answer “No”. At MyBlogGuest, I see too many people who are not ready for guest blogging, yet they rush to try it.
Guest blogging takes time. It’s only effective in the long run. The person who is going to engage in it, should clearly realize that it will require plenty of time and there won’t be immediate results. There will be rejection and failure. And lots of work. One would only start guest blogging when he / she is ready to work hard!
James Agate: I genuinely believe guest blogging is a strong online marketing tactic, it isn’t right for everyone however.
Guest blogging can provide far more value than just links, but it seems too many people focus on just that aspect. What’s the best thing you have gained from a guest post outside of links and how would you sell its value to upper management?
Mike King: In my personal experience guest posting has been invaluable to my marketing career, I’ve gotten speaking gigs from it and direct leads for business from guest posts. In my music career I’ve gotten shows, interviews by bigger publications and hired to guest appear on records because people have read what I’ve had to say on a popular website. At iAcquire we’ve incorporated the Compete API into our iRank system so we can use those (albeit skewed) numbers to determine how valuable a guest posting opportunity is. I personally look at the Share and Scrape Rates of the site to determine the propensity of the page to be shared in social and scraped by other sites to see what the multiplier effect will look like. We can use all that data to essentially grade the opportunity the same way that we use search volume to determine what keywords are worth going after. As far as pitching it to upper management, I wrap all that data up to support a story that fits into the big idea that the brand has already committed to. Basically I pitch content marketing the same way an Account Planners/Digital Strategist would.
Ann Smarty: I have gained my online brand, my first huge job online and my first solo project. I have never had “upper management” (as I’ve been working for myself) but I would refer them to some great examples of companies that get guest blogging.
James Agate: The best thing without a doubt has been the new business we have generated as a result of a guest post. Sometimes we have found publication on a big name website leads to direct enquiries that we can convert into new business. Sometimes the benefits are a little less tangible because the “trust” that comes from being published on a big name website can be leveraged as part of the sales pitch and often forms part of the conversion funnel where a prospective customer sees you on X and Y and then ultimately they decide to contact you …
For an individual or brand just getting started, what elements, if any, should they have setup in order to successfully engage in guest blogging? For instance, do they need their own blog? social accounts? What else?
Mike King: As far as engaging it’s more about the author than it is the brand so these people definitely, at the very least, should be contributing to a blog, have their own blog, Twitter account and be actively engaged in the subject matters conversation. Find the twitter chats that these people are participating in so you can hop in and make friends. Actually add to the conversation on the popular blogs and just start. The brand itself should be committed to content on its own site and social media presence that creates a platform wherein they allow guest posts from high quality writers. The brand can host its own twitter chats, webinars, etc on the subject matter to bring people to them and then handpick those with blogs and such for one of their authors to reach out to.
Ann Smarty: Yes, a blog and some social media presence is essential. Guest blogging works great for building your own network online, so referring your visitors to non-commercial social-media-friendly properties is the best way to go.
Here are some essential properties to set up and promote via guest posts:
- Google Plus profile (to claim the authorship of your articles)
- Twitter profile (Many blog owners will include it in the Twitter button for readers to retweet and follow you);
- About page or personal website (to link your name for reputation management)
James Agate: Having your own blog and being “usefully active” (as opposed to a social media whore) can certainly help you with a guest blogging campaign because it just opens doors, people recognise you a bit better, have a clearer idea of what it is you are about and so they feel more comfortable opening up their site to a guest post from you.
What advice would you give to brands in small niches with ”non-sexy” subjects? - can/should they blog on ‘less relevant’ websites? How can they keep it interesting?
Mike King: People ask this question a lot and the answer is actually very simple – use your imagination! Whenever things are too specific or not interesting the brand should always take a step back. If the brand is selling multiplexers and vacuum tubes the content shouldn’t be specifically about those things, but rather the real world devices they power such as microchips and televisions. If they sell doorknobs then take a step back to home improvement, if they are a waste disposal service then take a step back to environmental issues. There’s a television show on the Discovery Channel called “Dirty Jobs” that is all about taking unglamorous jobs and making them interesting. I suggest people with this question watch a few episodes, anything can be made interesting with the right amount of creativity.
Ann Smarty: Like I said many times, there is no boring niches, but really the key here is to look outside the box. If your company is about credits and loans, there’s no need to write yet another article about getting a loan. Try to get more creative, target more niches! Write about how to save by upcycling; find cool tools and infographics; add some fun!
At MyBlogGuest, we are all for creative approaches while still being relative; therefore we are doing PUSH Thursdays on Twitter monthly to celebrate our most ingenious guest posts. We also did a few Twitter chats on content re-focusing.
James Agate: In reality you can actually bridge most topics which is obviously really necessary in some of the more boring industries… there just aren’t that many industrial cement sprayer blogs out there.
The best advice I could give would be to say think about where your potential customers are going to be spending their time online and then be visible there. Ian Lurie talked about this in his recent MozCon presentation and his company are working on the ideagraph (http://graph.portent.com/) where they are looking at what brings seemingly random subjects together by looking at Facebook interests.
The way we have always done this is to look at the Google AdPlanner and profile a few of the industry websites to connect topic areas according to the profile of users that visit them.
What are your top 3 tools/methods for finding guest blogging prospects?
Mike King: Right now:
- Searching Google for “guest post guidelines”
Richard Baxter also put out a FollowerWonk for Google Plus which is pretty cool too and we have our own tool called Authora which is currently powered by the Common Crawl that is essentially a search engine for the authorgraph. It’s in Beta right now and we’re actively pumping more data into it. It should be pretty comprehensive in a few months.
- MyBlogGuest.com (you’d guess it, right? )
- My own contacts (I am pretty well-networked in the Internet Marketing niche)
- Google itself – search queries utilising common footprints
- The Google AdPlanner
- Link Prospector from Citation Labs
We are interested in what makes a blog worthwhile to approach for a guest post. When reaching out to a Webmaster what influences your decision? Which of the following criteria is most important to you? Please rate out of 10.
So we’ve done some prospecting, and have a list of potential sites we’d like to work with. What’s the best advice you can give in regards to outreach? What methods have provided you with the most success?
Mike King: Always do your research and reach out via social first. Use knowem.com and put the user name in to see all the different things user is into and use that to create the context around them. If you’re too lazy busy for that then just Social Crawlytics to crawl the site, read the article that has the most social shares and use that to start a conversation. If you’re passionate about the subject use an opposing point of view and convince the blogger to let you to write about it as a guest post. Generally though my best piece of advice is to start the conversation via social media where people expect and often enjoy being contacted by people they don’t know rather than email where it’s an annoyance.
Ann Smarty: Personalize it and personalize it again
The main point of the outreach is to hear back, so do your best to make it obvious you are reaching out to this exact blogger and care about him / her.
I listed some efficient personalization methods here:
- Make sure you use various sources to find the blogger’s name;
- Mention common contacts;
- Mention the blog name (not URL or domain) the way the blogger likes to use it;
- Follow up using Twitter.
James Agate: Get to know the prospect a little and try hard to customise your pitch. With more and more and more people getting into guest blogging, we have found publishers are inundated with requests so you need to make sure you stand out from the others and a generic pitch is one surefire way NOT to do this.
There is often quite a bit of talk about using social media or picking up the phone for outreach – and there’s no doubt we have seem some success with these methods but to be frank with you they just don’t scale like email does. Not to mention, email is far less intrusive than say phoning someone, they can deal with your request on their terms.
If a webmaster/blogger asks for money in return for the guest post do you (a) run away as fast as you can? (b) pay for it or (c) try and do something else, if so what?
Mike King: I’d just keep it moving. I generally found that if the content is high enough quality the blogger is down to just post it. The biggest problem is SEOs are typically offering awful content that they bought from textbroker and writer access. At the very least you should be using Content.Ly and ideally have on staff writers that know what they are talking about and can write something great.
Ann Smarty: (a) I don’t do paid links. I want them to use my articles because they *love* it. No other reason will qualify.
James Agate: It rubs me up the wrong way being forced to pay for content which is good and cost money to produce. In my opinion, the content should be the payment. Generally speaking we will move on or offer them something of a bargain where we will supply a second article on the topic of their choice, free from client links, as an extra bonus for publishing our already good guest post.
So we now have some Webmasters on board and we are getting ready to write our posts, what makes an awesome guest post?
Mike King:I think Cyrus Shepard explained the visual aspect of an awesome guest post best in his “10 Super Easy Copywriting Tips for Improved Link Building.” Aside from that it’s the quality of the writing and the ability to tell a good story or in general be informative. I take a lot of pride in my guest posting and I only do it when I believe I can create something that would impress me if I didn’t write it. Guest posting is not about scale at all, it’s about quality.
Ann Smarty: Oh, that’s a huge question with a very simple answer: you need to *love* your guest post for it to be awesome. So just sit back, read it and honestly answer the following questions: “Would I enjoy reading it if I found it online. Would it be useful? Would I feel like tweeting it”?
If your answer is “Probably not”, you may need to brainstorm the ways to make it better: maybe add images, find cool relevant tools or videos, make a pretty “TO-DO list” at the end. Something cool and useful will do the magic!
James Agate: Content that connects the 3 key stakeholders i.e. the reader, you and then the blogger. Their interests are inextricably linked because the blogger likes something that is going to please the readers and if readers are happy you are going to attain more benefit from the guest post.
What do you think about Matt Cutts recent comments on infographics and do you see Google having a similar issue with Guest Blogging at some point? If yes, what can people do to safeguard themselves as much as possible?
Mike King: I’m glad Matt wants to crack down on infographics. For example, there’s a pretty popular SEO blog that consistently puts out the worst infographics I have ever seen. I look forward to a time when people stop thinking it’s worthwhile to pollute the internet with that type of stuff. There are so many other cool and worthwhile ways to do data visualization that are overlooked; I encourage SEOs to diversify their link-worthy assets. The concept of AuthorRank could easily be used to police guest posts as well because the general idea is to connect a user to their content and ultimately determine how authoritative that user is on given subject so they could easily determine that a given user is spamming and then disqualify their content across numerous sites. So ultimately you should make sure that writers you use are maintaining their quality because in the future Google may decide they are deindexing on an author-level.
Ann Smarty: There’s no way any widely-used marketing tactic can be approved by Google There’s no legit officially-approved ways to build links. Google has been cracking down on marketers for ages be it widgets and linkbait back in 2008 or guest posting and infographics today.
There’s no 100% safe way to build links. So you can just sit back and wait for your website to promote itself (it actually might work if you are good) or you can try to do something while taking risks. This is something I always tell the clients. They need to realize the risks even if they engage in the best marketing tactic ever.
The only way to safeguard yourself at least to the maximum possible extent is to provide top-notch quality. if you are adding value to the web and are honest to yourself, you have a good chance to build a solid website which will survive any Google’s outrages.
James Agate: As with anything in SEO, once everyone really latches on to a tactic… Google cracks down. I covered in detail how we can all avoid falling victim to this both in this post (http://www.linkbuildr.com/8-ways-to-manage-your-guest-posting-footprint/) and this one (http://www.seomoz.org/blog/how-to-evaluate-guest-post-opportunities).
How important do you think “author rank” is at the moment and how do you think it will play a role in guest blogging in the future?
Mike King: I haven’t seen enough proof to believe it is a strong signal right now, but I definitely believe once more people adopt rel-author and Google+ they will use it as a way to connect people to their content and the data they have across the Google ecosystem. The consolidation of the privacy policies makes me believe that Google is using all of the data they’ve collected to model people and determine how authoritative they are on a given subject. That is to say using my Google+ Local, Google Wallet and Gmail they can determine that I’m authority on video games topics since I’m on Nintendo mailing lists, buy console titles from GameStop and have reviewed my local arcade so therefore if I write a post about video games my content and the content I link to is more authoritative than someone who doesn’t fulfill that criteria. Like I said, I don’t believe that is happening today, but that’s where we are headed and Author Rank is something they’ll use in context of PageRank to ultimately inform the SERPs.
Ann Smarty: I haven’t been doing any serious tests or research regarding this but I am pretty sure that the role of the author rank will only increase in the future. That’s one of the most reliable ways to determine the “trust” factor of the web resources, so I am definitely going for it.
James Agate: AuthorRank I do feel is going to become more important. Right now, it isn’t really playing a huge role but given how fast things move and how keen Google seems on promoting experts, it makes a lot of sense to be exploring how to develop a strong reputation as an author/expert in your space so that you are in good shape for the future when it comes to then securing guest posts on websites authored by other notable individuals.