I have no illusions about putting an end to “guest posting” services. Too many people still teach that guest posting is a “safe” way to get links for Websites. Of course, guest posting is no safer than building private blog networks, buying links, or hacking sites for links. When you cross a certain threshold with your guest posts your links attract the wrong kind of attention to your search engine optimization strategies. If you’re lucky all that happens is an algorithm filters the links from your backlink profile. If you’re not so lucky, well, you’ll see the manual action notice in your Webmaster tools dashboard. It will explain everything you need to know.
Guest posting is not an inherently bad practice any more than building a private blog network is. If you’re reading this article on the Reflective Dynamics blog then you are reading a native post on a private blog network. We own more than one site. Of course, we’re not using every post to link to some “money” site with targeted anchor text. We run ads for our newsletter and other services but the search engines are supposed to ignore the ads.
Private blog networks are extremely useful resources. Whether you take risks with them for your search engine marketing is your choice to make, but you can do much more than just “build links” with a private blog network. And the same is quite true for guest posting.
A Guest Post Should Be Useful to Everyone
Instead of using guest posts to influence search rankings for your site (via targeted anchor text), you should give serious consideration to creating real value. If your influential links are so easily obtained then any value they pass through search indexes can be easily filtered or discarded. Writing the guest post and finding a site willing to host is a lot of work for a link that probably won’t accomplish much in the long run. So why are you wasting your time like that?
The hosting site should only publish interesting guest content. Assuming you only approach bloggers who have real audiences, you should be creating value they don’t create for themselves. You’re not good enough to do that ten times a month. No one is. If you have a team of 10 bloggers, you MIGHT be able to create 5 really good guest posts per month.
We don’t accept requests to publish guest posts. If we did, we would publish very lengthy, stringent guidelines. That is because most people who ask to submit guest posts have absolutely no idea what they are doing. They write very poorly, have no sense of what people want to read, and of course are only interested in obtaining links for themselves or their clients.
Why should we publish that kind of content? I can write a better article when I’m half asleep, bored to tears, and just killing time. I don’t need your lame content when MY lame content is ten times better. And I don’t have to link to anyone’s Website when I publish my own content, unless I just want to link to someone’s Website.
If you’re reading an article on this blog it’s because you expect to find something interesting and useful. You may be disappointed in what you find here but we’re making a legitimate effort to share something worth reading.
The guest post campaign should only create interesting content. Imagine you’re walking across Europe and you only speak one language: Smoiga. As a Smoiga speaker you’re a very interesting person to everyone you meet. They have never heard Smoiga before. You could easily become a well-known entertainer by telling people all across Europe stories from your country, Smoigastan.
But instead you stand on street corners and say in broken French, German, and Italian, “Hey, I come from Smoigastan. Do you want to hear my accent? By the way, I sell tickets to Smoigastan!”
That is what a typical SEO guest post campaign looks like. Now, to be fair, I read a lot of marketing articles every week. The best “guest posts” tend to be press releases written by (or ghost written for) company CEOs who share information about their company products and services. These press releases (sometimes composed as “contributor” articles) are shameless self-promotional hucksterism.
Instead of pretending to be about cake baking or the latest fashions or some govenment-sponsored energy-saving initiative these guest editorials just get to the point and start telling a story about Smoigastan. Any company can be interesting if you tell its story with passion. These executive marketing pieces are interesting to read because, if nothing else, these corporate leaders (or their ghost writers) really seem to believe in what they are doing.
They are offering the best product or service to come along in 100 years. They have a way to save the world. They care about the name you choose for your next baby.
They don’t find random blogs and submit short posts about “how to set up a 2-man tent” or “which at the best tire plugs to buy”. If you don’t have a story to tell, no one is reading. No one cares. Your copy is just there for the link.
And, yes, the search engines won’t have much trouble figuring that out (algorithmically).
Three People Must Agree on Every Guest Post
If you’re committed to building a great reputation as a successful guest post service, you need to write for three people:
- The blogger who hosts your content.
- The people who read the blog.
- You or your client.
If you leave someone out of the mix then your guest post won’t be very good. The blogger who hosts your content should feel like he is getting some value (other than a payment). Whether you pay to publish is your business, but in my experience people who demand payment seldom care about what they publish. I care about what I write. I care about where it’s published.
The people who read the blog where the guest post is published won’t appreciate being handed a really bad article. The blogger may not care if his visitors come back. I, on the other hand, invest years in building up loyal audiences for my Websites. I do care who comes back. I don’t want people to give up in disgust because I pulled and bait-and-switch scam with the content.
Sure, there are people who visit my sites one time and never come back. But my goal is keep as many people coming back as possible. I can only do that if I keep writing what they find useful and interesting. Random guest posts won’t ever fill that need.
Finally, the guest post I write for someone else needs to create value that I can take with me. I’m not interested in link anchor text. Targeted anchor text is like a “Kick Me” sign. You put that on your back, sooner or later someone will kick you. But if people like what I write for another Website and they want to know if I have written anything else that good, they’ll search for me. That’s what I want. That’s what any guest post author should want. Spammers don’t think about generating new queries. They’re only interested in competing for existing queries.
What Kind of Guest Post Pitch Would I Accept?
Every time I explain what I would accept in terms of an article pitch someone inevitably tries to use that method on me. These people miss the point. I’ve already said we don’t accept unsolicited guest post proposals. You have absolutely no chance of being published on any of our Websites. But once in a blue moon Randy or I accept an idea. Why? We like what we see.
It could be a dud of an idea. But if you pique our interest, then we may publish your content.
That is the lesson to be learned here. If you’re engaging in outreach to find new guest posting opportunities, you can differentiate between the high quality bloggers and the low quality bloggers with a very simple test: the more difficult it is to get a guest post, the more that post is worth to you.
So how do you get a blogger’s interest? They’re people. Treat them with respect. Start by caring about what they write. If you don’t follow a blogger regularly you’re not going to impress him or her with your flattery.
Admittedly, pointing that out has come back to bite me. A few people began engaging with me after reading articles where I talked about getting to know a site owner before asking for a guest post. Every one of those people vanished after we rejected their request for a guest post. If you want to manipulate me with your follow-flattery you’ll have to be more subtle than that.
Nor am I swayed by people who send me unsolicited messages that begin with, “Michael I really love your blog and I linked to it from HERE.” Dude, people link to our Websites all the time. They don’t tell us they linked. THEY TELL THEIR VISITORS.
Here is an example of a pitch I might listen to (if I had a policy of accepting guest post pitches, which I don’t):
“Having followed your blog I know you write very thoughtful articles about [TOPIC 1], [TOPIC 2], [TOPIC 3}, etc. I found that [example article from topic 1] really drove home [point 1], [point 2], [point 3]. You may recall I left a comment on that article LAST YEAR (emphasis for illustrative purposes only).
“In [example article from topic 3] you wrote [blahdeblahdeblah]. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but [JOHN SMITH] wrote on his site in [whenever] that [yadaydayada] which [agrees/disagrees] with you. Now, in my opinion [whatever the heck you have to say] and so I think that you [tie it all together].
“I’ve been working on this for years [this is your unique expertise tip] and I’d like to write a post for your blog where I [introduce the topic] and explain [counterpoint 1], [counterpoint 2], [counterpoint 3]. You said in [relevant and related post] that you don’t know [whatever it is you’re expert in]. As you can see, I’ve got the experience and background your readers would appreciate.
“So what do you think? I’d appreciate the opportunity to write a guest post for you. I DON’T ASK FOR ANYTHING IN RETURN (emphasis provided for illustrative purposes). I’d really like to contribute something to your wonderful blog.”
==> Okay, so maybe a little flattery at the end will be acceptable.
Think about the Consequences of Your Guest Posting
I realize that for some people the whole point of selling guest posting services is to pay the bills. Some people take great pride in their guest posting skills and strategies and they might be offended by the implication that they are writing really bad content for the Web. But this goes beyond how good your content is.
When your guest posting service is only there to create links for Websites you leave a trail of dead and dying links (and sometimes Websites) in your wake. Sooner or later someone will come along and do yet another link audit and disavow all those guest post links you created. Now, if the guest articles really tell a story about the company and/or its products and services, disavowing the links shouldn’t be so bad. People who read the content may still follow the links and/or search for the company.
But despite the seeming praise I heaped upon those press release-like articles I described above, there is another drawback to the Guest Post Factory approach to search engine optimization. That is that you’re creating short-lived content. Have you guessed where I find those cool articles written by (or on behalf of) corporate officers? I browse the latest business news feeds at Bing and Google.
Bing News and Google are flooded with a lot of low quality content. These news indexing services are more meticulous in managing their technical guidelines than they are in creating and enforcing quality guidelines. I read a lot of manufactured content that is relevant while I am reading it but quickly forgotten and never relevant again.
Short-lived content may be useful for different types of guest post strategies but short-lived content tends to create a lot of zombie links. There are different types of zombie links and that article explains several ways they are created. A quick definition of a zombie link is that it doesn’t accomplish what it should be accomplishing. A link should point people toward interesting and/or useful content. If it doesn’t do that it’s a zombie (or will be once the destination is penalized and taken offline).
Long-term guest posting creates evergreen content. I’m almost to the point where I hate using the term “evergreen” to describe content. You can create seasonal evergreen content (like an article explaining how Christmas came to be celebrated around the world – it won’t really need to be updated again if it’s thorough enough). Or you can create continually evergreen content, such as “how to pour a glass of water” (assuming there is always someone who needs to learn how to pour a glass of water).
One great evergreen guest post can drive a lot of traffic to a Website. It doesn’t have to drive any traffic, but if it’s really well-written and informative I don’t see why it couldn’t serve that purpose. Of course, the Website hosting the evergreen content should enjoy a lot of visitors for years to come thanks to that article. If you can write an article for your own site that brings in tons of search referral traffic year after year, then why not do that for someone who is hosting your content?
That’s the type of guest content that really pays well for itself (assuming the site earns passive income or sells neato stuff people want to buy). It’s better than writing a check. And, better yet, you don’t have to worry about whether the link passes value (especially if you don’t ask for a link).
You don’t need to include a link in a great guest post for it to drive traffic to your Website. If that’s not obvious by now then please go back and reread this article. I explained above how this fantastic content should be helping you.
Really good guest posts stimulate reader interest. I wish I could say every guest post I have ever written has launched lengthy discussions on the hosting sites. It doesn’t happen like that. But some of my guest posts have stimulated some good comments. If people care enough about what you wrote to say something themselves, that’s a good sign they would like to see more from you (presumably on that site).
Using reader response as a metric for judging the quality of your guest posting campaign, you can set better performance targets. The numbers need not be large, although high-traffic sites are more likely to produce a lot of engagement.
While it’s not cut-and-dried, putting very good content in front of passionate readers should help you build your reputation. That is really what content marketing is supposed to all about. Damn the links. I want real people to come looking for me.
I wish I could say this is the ultimate, definitive guide to writing excellent guest posts. Of course, it just touches the surface. And the real point here is to encourage people to think about more than the links. You may be offering a link building service to your clients, but they can find more people to build links for them.
You should be doing more than building links. You should be creating good will through good content. You don’t have to be the Shakespeare of the Web. You just need to be sincere enough to treat everyone with respect: the bloggers, their readers, and your clients.
If you’re just writing words around link anchor text and looking for whomever will publish that for a fee, I think your clients will curse you in the end. I’d rather have my past clients speak highly of me. While I can’t predict what people will say in three years, I will give it my best shot,
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