There are no shortcuts to success, only direct paths.
For blogs, I have found no other direct path that is more consistent than guest blogging.
I have built this blog from scratch, since day one with no marketing/blogger connections with guest blogging alone.
Today I’ve got 3 people who really understand guest blogging. Learn from them:
Who Is Danny Iny?
Danny Iny is the very smart guy behind Fire Pole Marketing.
Hey Danny, glad to have this opportunity to talk with you today. I have to say your productivity and overall value that you’ve provided in your post is pretty oustanding, rarely do I see a blogger write so much and yet continue to maintain a consistently original and high quality output like you do.
1.) So let’s talk guest posting. I’d like to dig into the critical stages of guest posting with you, since I know you know your stuff, so let’s start with “blog scouting”, or choosing blogs to guest post on.
What do you look for in a blog before deciding to offer up a guest post? Are there any numbers (subscribers, unique visitors, page rank) that you factor in when deciding to pursue a guest post on a new blog?
There aren’t any hard-and-fast numbers, but there are a few key factors involved in making the choice: size, quality, and the blogger.
From a size standpoint, if the blog doesn’t have some indicator of significant traction (a mailing list or monthly traffic in the tens of thousands, hundreds of comments on some of their posts, and dozens on most of them), then the audience is probably too small for you to get a significant amount of spill-over traffic from your post.
From a quality standpoint, they have to publish good stuff on a regular basis, otherwise you’ll damage your own reputation by association (there are a couple of sites that are so large that they are the exception to this rule).
Finally, a key factor is the blogger – if you’re looking to build a relationship with the blogger, then guest posting is a great way to do it.
But whatever the reason, double-check to make sure that the target blog is capable of meeting your expectations.
2.) Now let’s talk about contacting authors of blogs for guest posts.
Have you ever pursued a guest post on a blog that doesn’t promote the fact that they accept guest posts? How do you usually like to break the ice when talking with a new author for a guest post?
Yes, I’ve approached blogs that don’t advertise their interest in guest posts (though you can usually tell – if they’ve run the occasional guest post, then there must be a way in, right?), and the response is usually favorable.
I’ve actually developed an email template that I use pretty much verbatim when approaching a new blogger – it can be found on my post about how I became the Freddy Krueger of Blogging.
There are a lot of factors that go into making the template work, and I explain it in some detail in the post, so it’s best to just go and look at it there. 🙂
3.) Now let’s talk about post research. How do you approach researching a good idea for a guest post for a new blog?
Do you look at previous guest posts to gauge what’s been discussed recently, or what’s a hot topic? What other advice would you give guest bloggers on “doing their homework” before submitting a new guest post to a big blog?
Yes, I do, and I also want to point out that the research should precede the approach (when you approach the blogger, it should be with an idea of what you want to write about).
Start with the most popular posts on the site, and look for patterns of what performs best with the blog’s audience, in terms of headline structure, in terms of subject matter, and in terms of post structure.
Then think about the intersection between what you write about and what performs best on the site, and what you can write about that would be new and valuable to the target audience.
Use the post and headline structures as a starting point in creating your own post and headline.
4.) Lastly, let’s talk content creation. What guest posts of yours have done particularly well? Why do you think they’ve done so well?
What are a few ways that a guest author can stand out in a blog that publishes a lot of guest posts? Any particular strategies in writing an enticing byline?
Well, I’ve written a lot of guest posts, and actually most of them have performed well.
I think the key to doing a good job is (in addition to the research), just putting in the time and effort to make the writing really solid, and the content really valuable.
There’s a myth that people have short attention spans, and posts should be 300-600 words; the truth is that my average post is about 1200-1400 words, and that’s because you can just offer a lot more value in a longer wordcount (as long as it isn’t all just fluff).
And that’s really the best thing that you can do to stand out – write a really solid and useful article about the topic that the blog audience cares about the most.
As for the byline – yeah, you can get more people to click through if you build up curiosity about yourself towards the end of the post (for example, by recounting a personal story relating to what you’re writing about), and by customizing the by-line to relate to the subject matter of the post.
Takeaway: Great stuff, but let’s break down Danny’s main points for a minute:
1.) Picking the right blogs is important: you shouldn’t be guest posting for a site that doesn’t have a big enough audience to make it worth your time (unless I’m specifically trying to connect with a certain blogger, I don’t like to guest post for anyone under 3-4k subscribers)
2.) The blogs you pick should be quality (unless they are gigantic, but even 100k+ subscriber blogs can have crap content and useless visitors who barely subscribe, just like Jon Chow’s blog)
3.) As for being the Freddy Krueger of blogging, Danny’s main point in the post that he linked is that it’s better to be guest posting on multiple sites at the beginning of your guest blogging “sweep”, so that you’ll stay in people’s minds as they begin to see you “everywhere”.
4.) Always come with a solid post (or at least a topic) in mind before approaching anyone, and if you are trying to guest post for a “tough” blog (one that doesn’t accept many guest posts), try to establish some sort of conversation beforehand, like a quick chat on Twitter.
5.) Look at a blog’s popular posts before guest posting for them: what kind of content does the audience respond well too?
6.) And finally, it’s okay to write long guest posts, just make sure the length is packed with value and not extra words for no reason.
Danny approached a “guest post blitzkrieg” strategy in order break the threshold of getting noticed, and I can attest to the usefulness of this strategy.
Your initial goals should be to make a list of every decent blog in your niche, and try your absolute best to make your way onto all of them.
It may seem like a lot of work, and it is, but that’s the legwork of starting a successful blog, just like the early days of any new business, it’s tough and will take a lot of time, but it’s this work ethic that will set your blog apart in your space.
Danny’s absolutely correct with this strategy as well, looking at the data, we have a conclusive research study that tells us it’s hard for people to remember our name unless they can connect it to something notable (ie, a guy that did “this thing”, or something related, such as a pottery store owner named Potter).
As for connecting our name with something notable, being everywhere fits the bill, becoming the blogger in your niche who shows up “everywhere” is enough for people to start recognizing your name and brand.
After you’ve made the rounds, start looking at which blogs performed the best.
Then, focus on writing for those blogs, maybe even becoming a regular contributor, it’s worked well in the past for sites like IlluminatedMind.net (the author was a frequent contributor to ZenHabits in it’s early days, and got a ton of subscribers from those efforts).
Who Is Onibalusi?
Onibalusi Bamidele is the author of YoungPrePro and another blogger who I have a lot of respect for, not only for his story, but also for the quality of his writing focused content and his work ethic in producing hundreds of amazing guest posts.
I felt that Onibalusi (Oni for short) was perfect for this post because of his varied use for guest posting and how he attacks the strategy, utilizing guest posts not only for direct traffic, but for smart, contextual (and powerful) backlinks to bring in indirect SEO traffic.
On top of this, Oni writes as a freelancer and creates HUGE and informative posts for his own blog, and he always has a strategy to the creation of each piece of content, so it’s time to take a look at how he does it.
Intro: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today Oni, your writing and guest blogging productivity (and quality!) are definitely an inspiration for me, so I’m happy to have a chance and sit down with you to discuss the topic of guest posting.
1.) To start off, let’s talk about picking blogs to guest post on. You now take an approach of writing for any PR2 blog that is willing to have you, but what was your strategy early on?
How did you come up with a list of blogs that you thought would be great to guest post for? What should bloggers look for in a blog that they might submit a guest post to?
Initially, when I was new to blogging and just heard the concept of guest blogging, I used to write on any blog I would come across, small or big, and I never really had the chance to see how powerful guest blogging could be until I landed my first guest post on an A-list blog.
Most of my guest posts on smaller blogs would only send me around 5 – 50 visitors, but my first guest post on an A-list blog sent me around 1,000 visitors in its first day of going live, and I’ll say that is pretty impressive considering the fact that I averaged 100 – 150 visitors a day then.
I’ve read a lot about quality traffic and poor traffic before that first guest post on an A-list blog, so I did my best to capture as many subscribers as I could from that guest post.
As a result, I got over 300 subscribers from that one guest post alone.
It was after that big guest post that I started paying more attention to big blogs and writing more guest posts for them, because in terms of instant traffic, a guest post on a big blog can send you ten times the traffic from a smaller blog.
After taking a look at my traffic graphs and the results from my guest blogging efforts, only to see that the hundreds of visitors from most of these big blogs hardly stick, I decided to change my approach and start focusing on smaller blogs again.
Just that this time, things are a little different.
My main reason for writing the guest posts is for SEO – I write a post on my blog, link to the post in my guest post, and enjoy long term traffic from the search engines as a result (which is far better than enjoying a few hundred visitors from an A-list blog instantly).
Concerning determining which blog will be great to guest post for; as long as the blog has an Alexa ranking less than 400,000, or a PR less than 2 I’ll be happy to go for it.
Those signals indicate that the blog isn’t just a new blog looking for content, but an established blog with an audience (no matter how small) that I can write for.
If you’re a blogger, the only thing I recommend you look for in blogs you want to write for is a community.
If a blog is good enough to be able to attract a community of readers and commenters, it means both people and the search engines trust it, and as a result your guest blogging efforts won’t be a waste.
2.) Now let’s talk about content creation & contact. When writing a guest post for a new blog, what elements do you look at? Do things such as recent posts, style of writing on that blog, and other aspects of the blog factor in to what you decide to write about?
Do you always have a post ready to go before contacting someone you’ve never talked with before, or do you like to get in touch with them first before submitting?
To be honest, ever since I’ve been writing guest posts I’ve always had a guest post in hand before contacting the blogger (there are a few exceptions).
I try to take a look at the blog I’m writing for, though.
I take a look at the latest 10 or so posts, the most recent guest posts published and what is common among them, the most popular posts, and what the readers complain about the most in the comments.
That gives me an idea of the kind of content that gets published on that blog, and at the same time ensures the guest post I write becomes popular, thereby creating an opportunity for future posts between me and the blogger.
3.) Most importantly, let’s talk about knocking it out of the park. What kind of post styles work well with guest posting?
How do try to make your articles stand out on blogs that accept a lot of guest posts? Do you have any guest posts that did particularly well? What about them made them a success in your opinion?
For posts that work well, I’ll say list posts!
If you can write a post listing 7 ways, or 10 ways, to do something then it is almost bound to be accepted.
I try to make my guest posts stand out by sharing my personal experience and stories – that will help me connect with the readers of the blog I’m writing for, and as a result make them a lot more inclined to visit and subscribe to my blog.
One of my guest posts that did well due to this approach is this one (published on Problogger) – It sent me over 1,500 visitors, and led to over 500 subscribers total, making it one of my best guest posts ever.
Just take a look at the guest post and you wouldn’t expect that much result, but I think stories connect with readers most.
Takeaway: I’m going to be totally honest here…
I think Oni hit it right on the money!
Seriously, I was hoping he would go into the exact angles that he did, because I think that they are absolutely right.
The best way to knock a guest post out of the park is to either make it accessible (list post) or to make it personal (story).
Let’s take a look at some of his other main points in our discussion:
- Big blogs can send big traffic, but guest posting for medium sized blogs can be a powerful SEO strategy by using contextual backlinks (I’ll dive a little into that below)
- Oni recommends having the post in hand before the first email, especially for big blogs. Busy people (ie popular bloggers) don’t have a lot of time to waste: be prepared before you take up any of their time.
- As we mentioned, Oni recommends getting the audience to “give you a chance” by either blowing them away with an accessible post like a list post, or a really personal post like a story (because they will stick with people better than standard advice)
Oni has shown some good insight into “using a story” in a guest post, because his hunch that they work well is backed by real research!
Research has conclusively shown that using stories to persuade people works much better than “regular” advice, according to the researchers:
Stories work so well to persuade us because, if they’re well told, we get swept up in them, we are transported inside them.
Transportation is key to why they work. Once inside the story we are less likely to notice things which don’t match up with our everyday experience.
For example an aspirational Hollywood movie with a can-do spirit might convince us that we can tackle any problem, despite what we know about how the real world works.
Also, when concentrating on a story people are less aware that they are subject to a persuasion attempt: the message get in under the radar.
Powerful stuff, it’s no wonder why Oni suggests using stories, and now we have some research that actually backs up the hunches we all might have had about them.
How can you implement a story into you next guest post?
The last thing that Oni talks about is a bit more tried and true: using guest blogging for SEO traffic.
What he does here is simple, you just need permission from the blog’s author to do so in your post.
In any guest post you might write, see if you can get in a “contextual” backlink where relevent.
This means linking to a post or page on your site that you’d like to rank for, with the exact search term that you are trying to rank it for.
For instance, I’ll link to my WordPress SEO page with that exact anchor text because it helps let Google know what the page is about if it gets linked to in this fashion from trustworthy sites.
Guest posts work perfectly for this, but again, make sure you have the permission of the author before you do so, and always make the link relevant to the content at hand, it’s never worth it to be spammy with your links, especially to a new audience.
Put your best foot forward above all else!
Who is Georgina Laidlaw?
In every article on guest posting that I’ve ever seen, nobody ever gets the thoughts from the “other side”, what it’s like for an blogger or a content manager who has to go through all of these posts and make sure their up to par.
You’d think something like this would be addressed more, so today I got a hold of Georgina Laidlaw, the content manager for Problogger (and sites in Darren’s network), and she’s provided some incredible insight on how you can make things easier for people like her (and get on her good side ;)), a key component if you are going to be guest posting somewhere often.
PS: Georgina is also a very talented writer as well as handling the busy schedule of the Problogger blogs.
1.) So let’s get right to it! Georgina, in your time spent at Problogger, you’ve obviously come across a ton of guest posts written for the Problogger site.
Let’s quickly go over process; how can people make it easy for you (and other content managers) to check out their guest post? Do you prefer to see outlines or a complete post?
How can bloggers make your life easier, such as preformatting posts, outlining ideas in the email, etc.?
This is a great question, because too few authors realise that the simpler you make life for the editor or content manager, the better.
Getting published by other people really is a matter of relationships in many ways.
If you’ve never written for the site before, definitely pitch an idea before you write the post (or at least before you send in the post you’ve written).
I’m constantly turning down perfectly good posts because they’re not targeted to our purpose or readers, or because they cover information that we’ve already dealt with in detail on the site.
If those authors had pitched their ideas beforehand, they could have reshaped their posts and potentially had them accepted.
Also, when you pitch, talk a little about what the post will cover.
A potential title is *not* an article pitch.
Pitching ideas is essential if you’ve never written for the site before, but it’s a good way to make sure your ideas hit the mark even on sites where you’ve published on previously.
Danny Iny has published with us many, many times.
He always sends me pitches before he sends me posts, and more than once he’s integrated suggestions I’ve made at pitch stage to make his posts resonate even more strongly with the ProBlogger readership.
In terms of formatting, read the submission guidelines as a first step. Then, ask the editor if they’d like an HTML version, or plain text, or whatever.
Generally, I love it when people send me HTML versions of their work, though every editor will have their own preference on that.
Also, include your sources and links, your bio, a conclusion—whatever’s requested in the submission guidelines. Supply everything the first time and you’ll get your post published sooner rather than later.
2.) Now let’s discuss what makes a great guest post. What kind of guest posts, to you, stand out from the mountain that I’m sure you receive? What steps can bloggers take to ensure that their guest post is the “right fit” for the blog they are submitting to?
In what ways can bloggers make their guest post stand out? Are there any particular ways that guests posts can leave a positive impression on you?
What would you recommend that bloggers do in order to get the “spotlight” on a blog that accepts hundreds of guest posts like Problogger?
You know, I think this issue of “fit” is something that can seem a bit mysterious to new bloggers, but really, it’s not a big deal.
It just takes a small commitment of time.
The way to make sure the article you’re pitching fits the blog you’re pitching it to is to get to know that blog:
- look at its tagline and/or About page
- read the submission guidelines
- read the past couple of weeks (at least) or posts published there
- see what the blogger’s doing on social media and other sites, and get a feel for what they’re trying to achieve with their blog.
I know—this sounds like a lot of work, but really, you’re looking at an hour, tops. We have quite a few “serial” guest posters on ProBlogger.
These guys showed from the outset that they understood our blog and our readership, and now they regularly boost their exposure and readership by publishing with us.
An hour is a small investment to make to get that kind of ongoing exposure.
The question of making your post stand out touches on an interesting point, because I think the answer applies to all writing.
What writing stands out? Writing that says something new.
For example, I’d turn down at least two posts a week on guest posting. They’re solid, complete, well-written, intelligently prepared posts.
The problem is that they don’t say anything new.
I can’t think of a site that would want to publish the kind of content that can be found easily elsewhere. To be worth publishing—to be worth reading—you must have something new to say.
To that end, let me explain the process that works for me when I’m pitching articles to publishers myself, as a writer.
First, I don’t ever sit down “to write a guest post.” I sit down and pull out that gripping list of thrilling article ideas I’ve been making over the last week or month or whatever.
I know that sounds facetious, but I promise you, this is exactly what I do when I’m preparing to pitch something.
I’ll have a couple of ideas I’m literally dying to write about.
They’re just ideas—I haven’t written the articles or anything—but I Iiterally can’t get them out of my head.
I’d go so far as to say that if you don’t have any ideas that compel you like this, don’t write until you do. I mean that, especially if we’re talking about making your posts stand out from the crowd.
So I’ve got these ideas. Next, I start thinking about the outlets where I could publish them. Maybe they’re sites I’ve written for before, and know and love; maybe they’re sites I’m eager to get published on for the first time.
In any case, I know the sites themselves, and I’ll have a think about which one my post would probably be best suited to—and which one I could best suit my post to.
Which site, and audience, will be as intrigued as I am about this crazy idea I want to explain? Which site’s editor and readers will entertain my idea, consider it, grasp it, and add to it?
That’s where I’ll pitch my post.
And when I pitch that post, I’ll know how I’ll shape the article to that readership, so I’ll have a pretty clear idea of what aspects of the piece will appeal to that audience, and why (because I know and love my idea, and I know the site I’m pitching to).
I’ll be passionate and excited about my post, and that will come across to the editor. And as an editor myself, I know that the people who are passionate about their ideas usually turn out the best content.
3.) Lastly, let’s talk about what NOT to do. What are some critical errors that bloggers make when submitting you a guest post (styling, topic, quality, etc.)? Do you have any “instant trashbin” warning flags that will stop you from reading a post at all?
How would you recommend that bloggers keep the quality high in the guest posts that they submit?
Greg, I’ll be honest with you. While there’s no “instant trashbin” flag, assessment starts at the initial email.
We’re writers, right?
So if you can’t string a coherent sentence together for your initial contact email, I have grave, grave doubts for your article (and those grave, grave doubts are based on bitter, bitter experience!).
If you want ongoing opportunities with the publisher you’re approaching, you’ll need to keep that in mind.
Of course I’ll review the submitted content itself, but if you can’t be bothered opening your email with a polite salutation, or using capitals to start the sentences in it, I’m already a little miffed because, let’s face it, you’re already looking a little lazy.
And I don’t know a publisher who has time for that.
In reading your article, the warning flags go up mainly around these kinds of issues:
- poor English, because we only have time to do so much polishing on each piece
- stale ideas that don’t tell my precious readers anything they don’t already know
- unsubstantiated claims, which, surprisingly, seems to be one of the hardest things for guest posters to rectify
- rampant self-promotion. Of course writing for another blog is an opportunity for exposure, but you can’t get that without giving something of real value first.
The only one of these issues that justifies an instant rejection is stale ideas, or ideas that have already been covered fully on the site.
All the rest are red flags but if the piece, on balance, has something new to offer readers, it’s likely that I’ll work with the author to rectify whatever the problem is.
There’s another thing I should mention, though, and that’s about rejection. If you get a rejection, work out why that is.
Editors reject articles, not authors.
We all want great content, after all. If you can actually use the rejection feedback to inform your next pitch, you might well make the cut.
I’ve had more than a few authors who haven’t succeeded on their first guest posting attempt at ProBlogger succeed mightily at second or third attempts.
Of course, I’ve also had authors continually fail to meet the standard for publication.
The difference is that the first group took on board the feedback—perhaps they even replied to me to discuss it further if they wanted more detail—and then they used it to build pitches for pieces that really brought amazing value to our readers.
I’m pretty certain (though it was a long time ago!) that I couldn’t use the first pitch that Dele Onibalusi submitted to ProBlogger.
And I can’t tell you how glad I am that he wasn’t dissuaded from trying again by that initial rejection.
Over time, he’s taken suggestions on board to shape his posts to provide really solid value to our readers, and now he knows what they need and reliably delivers it. He’s also a pleasure to work with.
What editor can ask for more than that?
Takeaway: Honestly, I could sit here and poorly paraphrase all of the great advice that Georgina has written above, but it would only cheapen it.
I definitely like doing these “takeaway” sections because it allows be to expand and elaborate on specific points that those being interviewed have made, but for this one, given the first hand experience of Georgina on the matter (and my total lack of), all I can say is re-read her responses and take notes!
Seriously, if you’ve never guest posted before (or even if you’ve done so plenty of times), it was truly a pleasure to get the honest opinion of the other side of the coin, and I won’t just be publishing the advice that Georgina has laid out above, I’ll be using it.
Over To You
How has your guest posting been going so far? Have you checked out my free guide on using “priming” to increase your conversions in every guest post?
What changes to your guest blogging strategy will you be making after reading this post?
Do you have any other recommendations for really building your blog’s audience with smart guest posting?
Lastly, if you know any fellow bloggers that you think might really enjoy this post, please feel free to share it with them, and thanks for reading :).