“You only get one chance to make a first impression.”
First impressions mean everything in business, and digital marketing is all about curating impressions between a company and its target audience.
Marketers use a range of techniques to reach new audiences, striving to cultivate positive brand associations on early and late stage buyers alike.
One popular technique is guest posting. If properly executed, guest posting can increase brand recognition and drive huge traffic to a site, ultimately generating more leads and sales.
In this post, I want to share with you three strategies for doing guest blog outreach the right way so that you can begin building your brand and site authority without blowing your budget.
"First impressions mean everything in business, and digital marketing is all about curating impressions between a company and its target audience."
What exactly is guest posting?
Guest posting refers to the practice of posting an original article on a site that is not your own.
It is different than syndicating content, which is the practice of pitching articles originally posted on your blog to third-party sites.
Guest posting is free, relatively scalable, and based on authority/expertise.
Why do people guest post?
From a marketing perspective, guest posting is done for three main reasons.
- To increase brand recognition. Writing original thought leadership pieces on relevant industry platforms is an excellent way to build out your personal voice, or the voice of a company.
- To drive traffic to a homepage. By posting on a third party site, guest bloggers invariably gain a traffic boost by directing readers to their own site through contextual hyperlinks in the article. A ton of traffic will emerge if you are so darn convincing that readers are curious to learn more.
- To build links. Third party sites allow the guest author to include at least a couple links back their site in the article. But they also provide the author with an authoritative backlink from the platform itself, which usually has strong domain authority. These backlinks give the homepage a ranking boost.
Is guest posting effective?
Guest blogging has long remained an effective means of procuring site authority, increasing the reach of your brand, and cultivating a digital community.
However, it has become increasingly difficult to land a guest blogging spot on the most popular hosting sites. Ambitious marketers send automated email templates out to sites like the Huffington Post and Forbes in the misguided notion that they will land a spot out of the blue.
They could not be more wrong. Busy site editors have no time for email templates from anonymous sources. In fact, they are bound to send them right to the spam folder without even opening the email.
An email from an anonymous source asking for a backlink looks a lot like the kind of spammy emails every popular site gets on a regular basis. You want to do all you can to avoid falling into the spam folder because, as we know, first impressions mean everything in business.
The Problem: At a time when connecting with searcher intent and standing out with unique content is an important ranking signal, getting lost in the shuffle is not an option.
The Solution: You can easily avoid spammy outreach by ditching the template and refining your outreach strategy.
Below are three strategies I use to avoid spammy guest blogging outreach in pitching articles for clients. You can apply, rinse, and repeat these strategies for every single guest post you pursue.
Do Proper Targeting
Knowing which sites to target is not easy. There are so many platforms on the web that a lot of people get overwhelmed and shoot for the most popular ones. This short-term solution is of course the problem I am discussing – too many people trying to shoot for the stars when in fact they should be building connections on the ground first.
Before you have even written an article, you need to know which niche-specific platforms are worth pitching too. If you segment your research properly at this stage, you will be sure to find the high authority platforms you can actually land a spot on. Then it’s a double win, because you are:
- Building long-term relationships with authoritative platforms
- Landing on sites with highly informed readers
So how do you go about finding these niche platforms?
In my experience, two targeting strategies work every single time. They are keyword string research and image reverse search.
You are probably familiar with some form of keyword research for sites that accept contributors. Typing in your target keywords plus “guest post” is a good place to start, but probably does not yield many results.
Here are some other phrases to consider using to maximise results:
- Your keyword “contributor”
- Your keyword “writer guidelines”
- Your keyword “guest blogger”
- Your keyword “submit content”
- Your keyword “submit a blog”
Looking into the suggested search terms from Google is also a good idea here:
Take note of any relevant URLs that pop up in the SERP for each of these queries. Compile them in a single Excel sheet titled “Keyword String Research” and work until you have 25 + in the bag.
Image Reverse Search
You want to dig a little deeper than just sites that advertise guest posting opportunities. As you may know, there are plenty of influential platforms across every niche that accept guest writers without making it public knowledge.
These are exactly the types of platforms you want to target because they are not over-saturated with content and, as such, represent the most genuine thought leadership portals in your industry.
The audience might be smaller than Forbes, but you can be sure they are more engaged because there is not an endless supply of content published everyday.
In searching for these ‘hidden’ sites, one technique I like to use is the reverse image search in Google to find out where prolific bloggers are publishing.
Begin by right clicking on one of his bio images and selecting the “Copy Image Address” option.
Then navigate to Google image search, click on the camera icon, and paste the image address in the search bar …
And just like that you get to see a list of all the different sites Barry has guest posted on.
This first page of results alone gives 3 sites I didn’t even know existed before. Also, assuming I already know about Medium.com, perhaps this research gives me the impetus I need to start posting on there.
Thanks to this handy search, I have learnt about new industry platforms that accept guest author contributions (without necessarily advertising it to the world).
Together with your keyword targeted research, you should wind up with around 50 sites to target.
The best thing about collecting more sites at this early stage is that you can slowly work through these URLs over the next 12 months, writing content specifically geared towards the interests of the platforms built-in audience.
Picking the Appropriate Platform
Assessing which sites are most appropriate for your content will save you time, money, and worry.
For example, you might find that 20 of the 50 sites you collected have low audiences and are not known for posting cutting edge thought leadership pieces. Great – these are places to start posting on immediately to gain some initial exposure.
At the same time, it will become clear that a few sites have substantially more domain authority than the rest. Another helpful pointer! Your relationship with these site owners should be nurtured slowly, as it will be harder to actually land a guest post on them.
All this points to one conclusion: you need to formalize a way to measure and compare the sites you collect.
The first thing to do is create a checklist of features that define an excellent platform. Here are the 5 star features that your top platforms should have:
- Excellent link profile
- Lots of social media followers
- Only posts authoritative content
- Dedicated audience in your niche
- High probability they will accept your submission
You can be as specific as you want with these star features. You can apply numbers to each category that help you see which sites are, as a total package, stronger than others.
Keep in mind that sites that check all the boxes are bound to be long-term posting targets, while sites with only 3 out of five (or less) can be approached without much relationship building.
How to Segment Your Findings
In order to know which sites to focus outreach efforts on, you need to segment them by quality. In my outreach efforts, I sort them into categories of Low, Medium, and High Authority.
Low Authority = 3 or less out of 5 stars.
Medium Authority = 3 or 4 out of 5 stars.
High Authority = 5 out of 5 stars.
Plugging in concrete numbers of each category makes this step pretty easy and quick. Line the URLS up in a document, add up all the numbers, and you will start to see which sites to focus on.
In order to scale your guest blogging efficiently, I recommend creating a Roadmap.
The Importance of a Growth Roadmap
A roadmap is a good idea because it will help you visualize the incremental steps you need to take in order to become the Barry Schwartz of your niche.
Think of it like a progress chart that maps out how you will go from publishing on low authority sites in the beginning, to landing monthly guest posting slots on the strongest sites in your niche.
Stage 2: Development (3 months)
- Start engaging with middle authority sites via comments, likes and shares
- Form a clearer idea of what it is you want to be an expert in, and how you can tailor your expertise to the readership on each platform
- Publish on sites with stronger profiles and larger audiences by pitching content that matches the interests of the readership. Reference published guest posts in your outreach email as a form of legitimation.
- Leave regular comments on High Authority sites to start building organic relationships with other members, and to alert site managers of your interest.
Stage 3: Maturation
- Convert your reputation into a guest post slot on a High Authority site, posting semi-regularly (once every few months or so)
- Leave thoughtful comments to other contributors posts and begin link sharing with appropriate candidates
In the case of Barry Schwartz, reaching the maturation stage means posting on SEOheronews.com and benefiting from the traffic, brand recognition, and link authority it provides. It probably took him quite a while to gain the kind of industry respect he now enjoys, and you can be sure he did not take any shortcuts. You can do the same!
Don’t Shy Away from the Buzz
Now that you know how to prioritize outreach efforts, it’s time to think about writing. After all, outreach work is all useless if you do not write unique and engaging stuff.
It is worth remembering at this point that the goal of guest posting is to cultivate relationships and spark conversion. You are not looking to sell a product here, but rather to foster discussion.
You are essentially engaging in the age-old practice of relationship building here. Relationships are important because, after all, links are not built by search engines. They are built by people who are curious about what you have to say, and think other people should hear it too.
So don’t shy away from the buzz.
What is the buzz all about?
The buzz could mean any of the following:
- A bold tone you take in writing that is honest/direct
- Sharing a new set of ideas, lessons, or research you have collected that no one has shared before
- Posting an article in relation to the most trending topics in your niche.
Whatever approach you end up taking, make sure it is unique and has impact. That way you will connect with people on a personal level and make them like you enough to give you a link (and potentially buy from your business) through guest posting.
In order to embrace the buzz, I recommend a few approaches:
- Research the highest ranking topics on the blog
You can do this by scrolling through all the content to see which has the most likes and shares. While your at it, why not leave some thoughtful comments to show that you are engaged with the platform as a user. The site managers will take notice.
Once you have an idea for the top content on the site, pitch something to the site editor on the same topic, but with your own buzz-worthy spin.
- Use Buzzsumo for trending topic ideas
A second approach to embracing the buzz is to write on trending topics. Publishers are usually interested in content that is generating lots of traffic (either on their site or elsewhere). This is the power of trends in marketing, and you can hop on the bandwagon by offering to write about a trending topic on social that is bound to bring huge traffic to a third-party site.
If only you could get a list of all the most shared articles at all times. Oh wait, you can!
Buzzsumo is an excellent tool for researching the most popular posts in your niche. You can plug your primary keyword into the search bar, and voila, all the most shared and viewed articles over the past day, week, month, or even years is listed. It saves you tons of time and links you up with the most influential content in your industry. Huge.
It is important to note that other sites do a similarly great job too. Sites like Zuum offer similar insight, so it’s really up to your preference here.
Whatever tool you use, you will want to read the most popular stuff and then craft an article on the same topic – but with more depth.
As you can see, the first article had tons of shares on Facebook … but after that, social shares hover around the 50-150 mark. That is beatable – especially with killer content.
The first thing to notice about this search is that no one has published an exhaustive list of on-page SEO tips or techniques. If this smells like an opportunity to you, then you are hungry for success.
While you might not want to write such a long-form piece as a guest post, you probably do want to figure out what tips are not mentioned in the listed articles, and incorporate them into your article. This makes for unique and impactful content.
- Refine your voice
A third approach to creating buzz-worthy content is to refine your voice.
It is crucial you spend some time reading the other contributors in your industry. Get an idea for their tone, and make sure not to copy them. Just because an approach works for one person does not mean it will work for you (or your client). Cultivate a buzz in your writing style that is distinctly your own. It might take time, but that’s the cost of greatness.
If the writing is outsourced, be sure to spend some time with the collaborator perfecting the tone before publishing. Consistency is just as important as frequency in content marketing, so don’t rush anything that is not unique, impactful, and something you are proud of. People will take notice if it’s awesome, but will quickly move on if it is generic.
Once you have written this unique piece of high-quality content specific to a trending topic area in your niche, you are almost ready to pursue a guest post.
At this point, it could go either way.
If you have already established a reputation on high authority sites, consider reaching out to the site now.
But if you are new to the guest posting game, you might want to share your excellent article with a low or medium authority site to start generating traffic. Both strategies make sense, depending on where your reputation is at.
The glorious thing about this approach is that it’s repeatable – it can be done for every article you share, no matter the site authority.
This ensures you offer consistent quality in all your guest posting efforts AND you stand a high chance of landing some of that coveted real estate.
Rounding it Up
Guest posting is one of the most effective ways to forge positive first impressions with new audiences.
By leveraging the built-in popularity of established (but not over saturated) platforms in your niche, you can start to gain some measurable results from your outreach efforts.
Just do yourself a favour and stop trying to land a spot on Forbes with a catchy email template that winds up in the spam folder.
Instead, rinse and repeat the tried-and-true methods described above, and you will experience traffic growth and brand recognition like never before. I know I have.
Written by Alex, Founder