Guest blogging is one of the best ways to expand your brand’s reach, yet it’s also one of the most under-utilized marketing strategies among business owners. The practice of guest blogging has come under fire over the past few years, largely because of how many marketers were using it as a way to generate loads of low-quality backlinks; and with Google’s Matt Cutts coming out strongly against this use of guest blogging, many marketers have given up this marketing strategy altogether.
However, guest blogging as a way to generate traffic, brand awareness, and yes – even backlinks – is still very much alive and well. Business owners and marketers can (and do) still use guest blogging as a way to reach a targeted audience; an audience they would otherwise not be able to access.
If you’re looking to incorporate guest blogging into your marketing strategy, this post will cover all the ins and outs of the process; from the preliminary steps you must take before you even start, to finding guest posting opportunities, to getting well-known sites to actually publish your content.
My strategy: Start small, and work your way up
Guest blogging is an integral part of my brand’s digital marketing strategy. After years of guest blogging on a wide variety of sites, I know firsthand the incredible benefits that come from using this strategy: the increased referral traffic, the authority that comes from contributing well – to well-known sites, and the sales that will invariably follow quality work.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you need to start small, and work your way up. If you’re a relatively unknown entity in your industry, contacting Forbes or Harvard Business Review will not help you and isn’t worth the effort. In fact, it may even hurt your chances later on down the road.
Instead, start off by focusing on highly-targeted niche blogs. These are blogs that have a good reputation in your industry, but that likely won’t boast huge numbers of blog visitors or social media followers. The upside to guest posting on these types of sites, however, is that the traffic you do attract will be highly relevant and therefore more likely to convert.
Once you’ve been published on a number of these smaller blogs, you can expand outwards and upwards. Choose bigger niche sites, and work your way up to large national publications. Publishers at each tier will be looking to see which sites you’ve been contributing to. Once you get a regular gig at one publication, you will be able to expand your reach to other publications.
Note: In truth, you may find that smaller niche blogs actually end up driving more (and better) traffic to your site than bigger, more well-known sites. So, even when you’ve hit the ‘big time’ and are contributing to large media outlets, you’ll likely want to continue to guest post on smaller, more targeted sites.
Before You Start: Populate Your blog With High-Quality Content
If there is only one thing you take from this article, let it be this: You absolutely must have a blog with high-quality content before you even think about requesting placement on another blog. This is particularly true if you have your sights set on a well-known outlet like Forbes of Huffington Post; but it’s increasingly necessary that you have high-quality posts for all guest blogging opportunities.
When a publisher is considering whether you’re a good fit for their site, the first place they’ll look is your blog. There are a number of factors they’ll be looking at on your site, including:
- The quality of your writing: Subject matter aside, is your writing free from typos and grammatical errors?
- Whether you’re a subject matter expert: Do you offer unique insights into industry-related topics, or do you simply rehash common topics?
- Social proof: How many comments, likes, and shares have your posts received? Publishers want to see that you have an established audience, and that your content is getting traction within your niche. Make sure your social sharing counters are displayed prominently, not only on your homepage but also on individual blog posts as well.
- Appropriate use of external linking: One of the tenets of high-quality content is the inclusion of links to authoritative sources. Publishers will be looking to see if you’re aware of — and citing high caliber, knowledgeable sources in your content.
- Prominent placement of your name on your content: Ensure that your name and bio are included on all your posts. This is particularly important for multi-author blogs.
If you’ve guest posted for other distinguished sites, you’re ahead of the game. When contacting publishers about guest blogging opportunities, make sure you include links to these posts. It says a lot if another well-known publisher has already taken a chance on you.
How to Find Sites You Can Guest Blog on
Finding relevant sites to contribute to can be a challenge` if you don’t know what to look for. You likely already have a few sites in mind, but you’ll probably need to contact numerous sites, especially if you’re just starting out. Here are some strategies you can use to find relevant, superior sites to pitch.
Perform relevant search queries
Google is a great starting point for your research. There are a number of search queries you can use to find guest blogging opportunities. Search for sites, and within sites you’ve already identified. These queries are:
[Your niche] “guest blog.”
[Your niche] “write for us.”
[Your niche] contribute.
[Your niche] “submit post.”
If you’ve already identified sites you’d like to contribute to, you can substitute the site name or URL for [Your niche]. For instance, [www.sitename.com] “write for us.” Alternatively, you can use a tool like SiteComber to automate the process of finding deep links within a specific website.
If the above searches don’t give you the information you’re after, Ann Smarty has compiled a comprehensive list of guest blogging search operators that may help.
Find out where prolific bloggers in your niche contribute
Not every site will explicitly identify guest blogging opportunities. Sites that already receive many unsolicited pitches may not provide a process for applying to become a guest contributor, making the above queries ineffective. This doesn’t mean, however, that there are no opportunities; it simply means that you’ll need to be smarter, or at least you’ll need to work smarter than the average would-be guest blogger.
To find out where influencers in your niche contribute guest posts, start with a simple Google search for the influencer’s full name. Scroll through the search results to see which sites they’ve contributed to. This basic search will likely elicit and reveal many relevant searches, like media or blog mentions. To get even more specific, try the following operators:
[Influencer name] guest.
[Influencer name] guest post.
[Influencer name] author.
Another strategy is to visit the social media profiles of prolific bloggers in your industry. Many will promote their guest posts via social media, and some will even reference their regular guest posting gigs in their profiles or bios. Google+ is perhaps the best social networking site for this strategy: Visit the profile of the person you’re investigating, and click on, ‘About.’ Scroll down to the bottom of the page and look for the ‘Contributor to’ section. Most prolific bloggers will be proud to include links to the outlets they contribute to.
Use Followerwonk to find authoritative guest bloggers and editors
One of the best ways to find out where influencers in your niche are guest blogging is to use a tool like Followerwonk. Here’s how: Go to the Search Bios section of Followerwonk, and select, ‘search Twitter bios.’ Searching here will allow you to comb through Twitter for users who include relevant, industry-related keywords in their bios.
For instance, if I type in “social media,” I get results that look like this:
This search doesn’t immediately give me what I was looking for. Instead, these appear to be bios for social media consultants and companies. This is where Followerwonk’s Social Authority filter comes in handy. Simply click on the Social Authority link at the top right of the results to show the most influential users first. Using this filter, I get results that look like this:
This strategy gives me much more relevant Twitter bios, including editors from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
Mine your blog comments for relevant niche sites
While you may not get editors from the Wall Street Journal commenting on your blog, you very likely have comments from other bloggers in your niche. Look through your blog comments to see which bloggers regularly comment on your blog; chances are, they’ll be interested in receiving a pitch for a relevant guest post.
Because these bloggers or editors already know who you are (and they find your site interesting and relevant enough to have left a comment), a brief introduction and a post idea may be all it takes to land a guest posting gig on their site.
4 Steps to the Perfect Pitch
Now that you’ve figured out which sites you’d like to guest post on, it’s time to send your pitch. This can be the most nerve-racking part of the process, but also the most important. Keep in mind that most publishers will receive dozens or even hundreds of guest blogging pitches every week, (or more often) so your guest blogging pitch has to stand out from the pack.
Here are two real-world examples to show you how not to pitch. While the second is slightly better than the first. Realistically, both examples will quickly find their way into the trash!
Example One: Click — straight in the trash
There are so many problems with this pitch, I don’t even know where to start. It’s impersonal, generic, boring, and does nothing to pique my interest. This type of query almost makes me angry that I wasted my time even clicking on such an insipid email. It’s obviously a cut and paste job, and has likely been sent to dozens or hundreds of other publishers. Straight to the trash.
Example Two: Slightly better (but still straight in the trash)
While this pitch is incrementally better, it’s still going to end up right in the trash. Questions that come to mind when reading this pitch would be:
- Do you even know my name?
- Have you even visited my site?
- What’s in it for me?
- What’s in it for my visitors?
If you want your email to actually get read, here are 4 tips for perfecting your pitch.
1. Address the editor/blogger by name
I can’t emphasize this one enough. 90% of the guest pitches I’ve seen or received start with “Hello” or “Dear webmaster.” (An instant turn-off. The delete button calls my name, personally, right then.) At the very least, your pitch should identify the name of the person you’re addressing. This will usually ensure that your post doesn’t immediately get deleted.
If at all possible, send your pitch to the person directly responsible for guest posting. For niche sites, this information will likely be available on the contact page, ‘About Us’ page or via a Whois lookup. For larger sites, tracking down an email can be more difficult.
Here are the two most effective strategies I use for hunting down more elusive emails:
- If you know the general format a site uses for their email addresses, you’re ahead of the game. For instance, if you know a site uses the format [email protected], and you know the name of the person you’re trying to contact, just try following this format. Many outlets will use the same format for all their emails.
- Use Rapportive to automate the process of guessing a person’s email. Paste some possible email addresses into a new email message, and Rapportive will scour the internet to find social media info connected to those addresses.
2. Make a connection & be personable
In my experience, being personable or making a connection is the strategy that will make or break your chances of getting a guest spot. Editors want to know that you’re familiar with their site, but also that you’re a real (and likeable) person. Your pitch should open with an introductory paragraph that makes a connection between you and them. For instance:
“I’ve been a subscriber to your blog for a couple of years now, and have found your posts extremely helpful. Your article, 10 Steps to Finding Funding For Your Startup, was invaluable when I took the plunge and started my own business last year…”
This simple step will differentiate your pitch from most others as you’ve helped establish a connection. I recently received this response to a pitch I sent that utilized this strategy:
“What a refreshing change to get an email from a peer instead of the random and creepy people who usually want to guest post on my site...”
Don’t be random and creepy. Do your homework. It’s not only worth it, it’s necessary.
3. Establish credibility and offer social proof
Your guest blog pitch is one of the few places I’d encourage you to brag about your accomplishments. Editors want to know if you’ve guest posted on other well-known sites, or if you’ve already established a good-sized audience on your blog or on social media. Metrics like follower count and post shares can go a long way to reducing the risk an editor will feel in taking a chance on you.
4. How would your post bring them value?
Make a connection between what you can offer and how it can help them or their audience. It’s not enough to discuss all the ways your guest post will be amazing; you need to make an explicit and pointed connection between the content of your post and its intended audience (e.g., “I’ve noticed that posts about marketing hacks do very well on your site. I’d like to offer my own observations in a post titled, “7 Social Media Hacks for Boosting Engagement.”)
Guest blogging can be an extreme powerful strategy for extending your reach, driving traffic and getting links back to your site. It’s a strategy I’ve come to rely on for my own business, and one I recommend whole-heartedly to clients and colleagues. While this is a very intensive and time consuming process, trust me when I say the potential benefits far outweigh the amount of time and effort you’ll need to put into it.
Is guest blogging part of your marketing strategy? What techniques or strategies do you use to find new guest blogging opportunities? Share in the comments below!
Image courtesy of Jessi Wortley Adler under CC 2.0