A Guest Posting Process

Over the last few months at Distilled I’ve been refining my guest posting process to make it more efficient and scalable while maintaining quality standards. In this post I’m sharing my entire process.  It’s not revolutionary and it’s probably similar to the techniques that other guest posting fanatics (?) are using out there, but hopefully I’ve got a few tips and tricks which will be new to you.

Why guest posting?  It offers a means of building quality links which is fully in your control - you’re solely relying on the quality of content you can provide and your relationship building skills to earn the links.  The target URL of your links is of fairly little importance so if you have no influence over the content of that page, this is an ideal tactic.

The fact that guest posting offers benefits to both parties (content for the blogger, links for you) can help to build long-term lasting relationships with bloggers which can often lead to further link building opportunities.

Anyway, first things first...

Get Organised!

A single spreadsheet holds the key to guest posting zen.  For each guest posting project I’m running I’ll have a spreadsheet which contains the following info:

  • Blog URL
  • Quality Metrics (domain authority, pagerank, followers)
  • Contact details (name, email, contact page, twitter)
  • Status (more on this later)
  • Notes

I’ll be adding a few more to that list later in this post, but that’s all you need to get started.  I tend to use Google Docs because it’s easier to collaborate if your colleagues are helping you with the project.

You could argue, with good reason, that you might be better off using a link building relationship management tool, such as Buzzstream. I know that not everyone has the luxury of paid tools so I’ll stick with good old Google Docs for this post.

Find Targets

This topic has been done to death, so I think the best thing I can do is point you to a couple of resources:

The main methods that I use include:

  • Guest posting communities
  • Advanced Google searches
  • Twitter Search
  • Existing Contacts
  • Blog Directories

I tend to find that advanced searches work OK but the sites ranking for the most obvious ones have been inundated with submissions and requests.  Guest posting communities are pretty great – I’ve used http://www.myblogguest.com/ and have especially had success by trawling back through the archive and pulling out all the relevant sites that have ever requested posts.  The chances are that they still accept posts, so they’re worth contacting. 

http://search.twitter.com/ is something new that I’ve been trying – searches like “tech guest post” or “travel guest blog” often throw up plenty of sites that are promoting guest content, and the sites tend to be quite different to those found through Google searches.

Finally, I also use the following bookmark in Google Chrome:
javascript:location.href=’http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=site:’+location.host+’ guest post’
This means that I can quickly hit a button when I’m browsing a blog to see if they’ve taken guest posts in the past.

What to look for

Good guest posting targets should have at least a few of the following attributes:

  • Willingness to publish guest content.  Have they taken similar posts before? 
  • Do they link out to commercial sites?  If they don’t, there’s little you can do to change their mind so it’s probably best to move on
  • Decent domain strength
  • Sound site hierarchy so that your post doesn’t get buried immediately
  • Easy to contact – finding details can be a time drain
  • Good match with your brand

My main focus at this stage is finding blogs that I definitely  think will accept the content – this makes the whole process way more efficient.  Having said that, I try to grab 2 or 3 times more blogs than the number of links I need as they almost never all say yes.

Tip: You can also use some nice Google Docs functions to pull in quality metrics which will save you some time.  Use something like @TomAnthonySEO’s tool to gather Domain Authority for example: http://moz.com/blog/competitive-analysis-in-under-60-seconds-using-google-docs-12649

Brainstorm Some Post Ideas

Now you know what sort of sites you’ll be targeting, you need to gather some headline ideas to pitch to them.  This gets easier as you go along, get to know the market and get to know the content that bloggers like, but if you’ve got a mental block, there are a few things you can do:

  • Look at their top pages report in Open Site Explorer.  Normally bloggers are keen to accept content that’s worked well for them in the past
  • Use PostRank’s widget builder to see the most popular content on that blog: http://labs.postrank.com/top_posts#builder
  • Brainstorm with colleagues

You might also want to think about making the articles relevant to the target URLs you’re building links to.

The First Email

Now it’s time to get stuck in and start sending emails.  Typically my initial outreach email will looks something like this:

Hi <name>, (always use a name if you can as it stops your email looking automated)

I was just checking out your blog and noticed that you’ve published guest posts in the past.  I’m currently working with a <industry> client and am keen to increase their visibility online by posting for high quality blogs such as yours. (I think it’s better to be up front about your intentions.  If it’s not for them, you haven’t wasted their time or yours)

I’m particularly interested in writing about <topics> but am also open to hearing any ideas you might have.  I had a couple of post titles in mind:
- <example headline>
- <example headline>
(pitch the ideas you researched in the previous step)

All of the content we provide is unique and written to a high quality.  A couple of similar guest posts we’ve publishing in the past include:
- <example post>
- <example post>
(evidence that you provide good content)

If you don’t take content of this nature, I completely understand, but I’m confident that we can provide a post which could be of interest to your readers. (a counter argument can build trust)

Please let me know if this sounds of interest and I’ll start putting a piece together, or drop me an email or tweet (@rob_millard) if you have any questions/ideas. (clear action, twitter account shows authenticity)

Thanks,

Rob
SEO Consultant – Distilled
(they’ll find out anyway, so you may as well be up front)

Obviously the tone of this email will vary from industry to industry, blogger to blogger, but that’s a rough outline of the sort of email that’s worked well for me in the past.

I tend to create a column in my spreadsheet and note down the titles of the posts you’ve pitched to them.  You don’t want to end up writing the same piece for several blogs so make sure you’re mixing up your ideas.

Remember to keep organised – update the status column in your spreadsheet to show that you’ve contacted that blogger and consider adding the date you sent the email.

Follow Up

Some bloggers may not get back to you.  If you’re really, really sure that they take guest posts you may want to follow up with another email.  Perhaps try a different person at that blog if there are multiple contacts available, or try a different channel such as Twitter.  Don’t hassle the crap out of people though – if they aren’t getting back to you after a couple of attempts, take the hint.  The date in the status field should help you keep on top of this.

Once they’ve said yes…

…which they inevitably will, you now need to think about getting the piece written.

Firstly, you could write it yourself - this will (hopefully) guarantee a high quality piece.  However, it’s probably the most expensive way to do it so the ROI on your guest posting links could be diminished.  In addition, you can only do one at once, so you might not be able to deliver as many as you would like – in this case think about managing the expectations of the host blog.

Our preference at Distilled is to use super high quality freelance writers.  This works well because:

  • They’re probably better at writing than me
  • They’re quicker
  • As a result it’s cheaper
  • You can find writers who are more passionate or knowledgeable about the topic in question
  • You can have several on the go at once

NOTE: this absolutely does not mean you should go out and get the cheapest freelance writer you can find.  You get what you pay for.  If anything you should err on the side of expensive – this content could build you valuable relationships so make sure it’s excellent.  If the blog has decent traffic, it could also get you some new readers.

Writing a good brief is crucial – going back to make edits can sap your efficiency and therefore ROI.  When writing a brief you should include details such as:

  • The headline (of course)
  • The purpose of the article
  • The blog it’s being posted on
  • Tone of voice guidelines
  • Research resources
  • Guest posts that have worked well for you in the past
  • A deadline

It might seem like a lot of information to research and compile, but it’s worth the effort to get the post right the first time round. 

To guarantee high quality writers we typically find freelancers through personal recommendations, but there are many high quality freelancers out there if you take the time to search.

Again, I update my trusty spreadsheet at this stage to show that the blog has accepted and the articles have been briefed.

If they’ve said no…

…which some inevitably will, don’t worry it’s not the end of the world.  I always still thank them for taking the time to reply and let them know that I understand their decision.  Often you’re representing your client’s brand, your agency’s brand, or your company if you’re in-house, so it’s worth being courteous.  In addition, it leaves the door open for future relationships with that blogger.

At this stage I would either keep them in your list with a note not to contact them again, especially if you’re collaborating with colleagues, or create a new list of sites not to contact across all of your projects for everyone to use.

Hooray! Your article is done

If it’s been written by a freelancer, make sure you read it through to check it’s well written and well informed.  If you’ve written it yourself, get a colleague to do the same.

There are a few quick things you can do at this stage to make it easy for the blogger to publish the post:

  • Put the post in the right format.  If they blogger prefers HTML, you might need to insert header and paragraph tags. Other times a simple, clean Word document is best
  • Attaching images and video can be helpful.  Relevant images can be found through http://search.creativecommons.org/ and you can always get relevant videos to embed from YouTube
  • Add an author biography to the bottom of the post and include the link back to your site.  I always include the HTML <a> tags at this stage so that there is no uncertainty over the target URL and anchor text.

Once you’ve tidied everything up, reply to the original email thread with the guest blogger (so that they have the back story) and include your post.  Don’t be complacent at this stage – you should be as polite and helpful as possible through the whole process.

Fire up your lovely spreadsheet and change status to “sent” along with the date – if you don’t hear from the blogger after a few days, it’s probably worth chasing them up.

Build lasting relationships

Finally, it’s great to convert this process into an ongoing relationship with the blogger.  This could result in:

  • Further guest posts with links to other pages on your site, or other clients if you’re an agency
  • Other link building opportunities such as inclusion in resource lists
  • A regular scheduled spot on the blog
  • The blogger may own other sites that you could post on

So keep the conversation going – you’ve already got their email, but you could also follow them on Twitter and interact regularly.

I’ve also got a master list of successful guest posts so that I’ve got a quick reference if I ever need to post in this niche again.  Once you’ve established trust with the blogger, guest posting becomes far more efficient so it’s often worth revisiting these contacts.

And that’s it guys! Let me know if you have any feedback, improvements, or ideas in the comments, or drop me a line on Twitter (@rob_millard).

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17 Comments

  1. Great post Rob. I'd also stress the importance of sharing contacts on a Google Doc or in a CRM as it means other team mates in the same industry can use the relationships you have built to help their clients. It also stops everyone hitting the same guest blogs with intro emails, which can confuse the owner if they already know you.

    I'd also recommend adding two pages to your site / clients site:

    PR Area: add your contact details here so any members of the press who want to get in touch for content can.
    In The Media: List your past media appearances here and add a bit more depth on what you wrote for them each. Much easier than having snippets in the intro email.

    One question: Do you tend to email from your @distilled address or from @client?

    reply >
  2. Rob,

    This is a fantastic write-up and a true resource on the tactic. However, how do you ensure that your guest blog links don't look like paid links to the engines? Is that even a fear?

    Will to rank,

    Phil

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    • rob.millard

      Hi Phil,

      I've pretty much always avoided sponsored posting - all of the guest posting I do at the moment is free so in that respect I should hope that the links do not get seen as paid.

      However, I guess you could argue there's a risk that the links could be misinterpreted. As a rule I typically keep it to one link per post in the author bio, and I try not to be too aggressive with anchor text.

      If I'm doing a lot of simultaneous posting I'm conscious of varying the links, and sometimes use brand links to the homepage.

      Finally, I try to keep the blogs that I post on and the content I supply relevant to the page that I'm linking to.

      Hope that answers your question!
      Rob

  3. Fantastic post, Rob. One of my clients has gone mad with writing content recently and so I've been doing a lot of guest blog posting 'admin'(?) work on their behalf. I agree with a lot of what you say, that it's the best way to go about it (especially making your intentions obvious upfront).

    I agree that chasing someone who isn't interested is a no-no, but a problem I've had is when someone's said "yes, send something over and I'll have a look," I send it over and nothing happens. It wasn't just a one-off - I had a few people who took weeks to get back to me, who I had to chase, and in once instance I had to say "sorry but if I don't hear back from you about what's going on with this then I'm giving it to someone else" (said nicely, of course)! In the meantime, you can't exactly give the content to someone else, just in case both of them post it. Nightmare!

    Wondering if you - or if any other commenters - have any tips or advice? It feels cheeky chasing the person (especially if you've never met them before or spoken to them before doing this), but then you are technically doing them a favour by giving them something for free, and they've already said "yes." It's a tricky one!

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  4. rob.millard

    Thanks for the tips Mike - that's definitely a good point about sharing across your team and it's something we're getting better at.

    Regarding my email address, I pretty much always use @distilled because I want to be as transparent as possible. I don't want to trick anyone into linking, but rather build an ongoing relationship. What are your thoughts on that?

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    • I've tried both and haven't really noticed a difference in terms of acceptance (I don't think people are too fussed as long as they get good content).

      Due to this I tend to just use @koozai as it makes it easier than pretending to be an employee especially if you get asked questions later that would be simple for anyone who worked at the company.

    • rob.millard

      Totally agree - also getting the address set up can be a PITA.

  5. rob.millard

    Hey Steve. Yeh that's frustrating, especially if you've spent the resources, be it time or money, creating that content. As I say, I always usually carry on the email thread so there's context - it might remind them that they agreed to post your piece.

    Also give them a clear action at the end of your email - be specific. Finish with "I'd be grateful if you could drop me a line to let me know if you want to publish this piece, or any other feedback you might have".

    Another thought - if they're not publishing the content and not getting back to you, maybe they just didn't like the content? Perhaps look at how you can write something more eye-catching, or something you know they've posted in the past.

    But ultimately if you build strong relationships - interact frequently, get to know them, do bloggers the odd favour - you'll find that they'll almost always publish your work, so maybe focus on building a rapport before you send stuff over.

    Hope that helps!

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  6. Interesting approach, what I'm interested in is your hit rate with this approach and the dreaded "show me the money" response since they know you're in SEO and what you're really after at the end of the day is a link.

    reply >
    • rob.millard

      That happens quite a lot. A few things I do:

      - Avoid sites with mentions of sponsored posts etc - I know what's coming so may as well just avoid them and save the time

      - Make sure I provide reaaally good content and show them examples

      - If they still come back asking for paid posts I politely decline. There are plenty of non-paid opportunities out there.

    • In my experience, the hit rate and instances of people asking for $$ has a lot to do with how carefully the outreach list was put together. The folks that tend to ask for money also usually have AdSense, aff links or some level of apparent monetization on the website - I usually instruct my team to either a)disqualify these sites completely or b)set them to the lowest priority (based on how obviously monetized they are).

      As far as success rate, the intangibles start to matter a lot more once you start getting responses. Stay "in character" - if you've tailored your email to have a certain tone and it resulted in a positive response, stick with it. Beyond that, keep the emphasis of your email dialogue with the prospect on the value you're looking to deliver to his blog/readers. If you've chosen a blog wisely, this should actually be true and you may likely have created a link AND a referral channel.

    • rob.millard

      That's a great tip about AdSense and affiliate links Dave - thanks for the comment.

      On the contrary, sometimes I see AdSense as a sign that people will accept guest posts - they just want more free content to drive up their AdSense revenue. I guess there are few hard rules when it comes to researching blogs though...

  7. I agree about staying away from paid 'opportunities' because in my experience these guys and girls tend to be for sale to the highest bidders and before you know it, that link which was nice and clean last time you checked is suddenly surrounded by crappy links.

    As you say Rob, there are plenty of non-paid for opportunities out there.

    I like the little scale/productivity tips you include here because scaling guest posting is a challenge and although we'd never be able to (or want to) automate this, it can help deliver real throughput in a campaign without adding overwhelming amounts of work to your load.

    In addition to your advice for finding targets, I also use Open Site Explorer to identify guest post opportunities. By creating a list of potential customers URLs (not the place where you want to get a link from but actual potential customers of your website or your clients) punch these into OSE and then filter for no-follow links - this way you can easily take a look through the places these people comment. If you spot a blog or website which appears frequently, you know if you can get content and a link from there then it will be time well spent (ROI wise).

    This tends to only work in a small biz environment but I have had some great success with this both in terms of acceptance rate, traffic and also conversion rate from the visitors that arrive.

    I talk about this method more here http://skyrocketseo.co.uk/4-ways-to-use-open-site-explorer-like-a-pro/

    Thanks for the guide - it is a great little resource

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    • rob.millard

      Thanks for the tip James.

      I think there's a fine balance with Guest Posting - of course you want to make it as efficient as you can, but if you automate things like generating headlines and outreach emails you start to lose the human touch which is necessary to build long term relationships. Although there's some graft at the beginning, I've definitely found that this long sighted approach results in guest posting goodness - people will happily post stuff for you with barely any persuasion. Just make sure you keep delivering great content.

  8. As someone who's worked with Distilled and also gets contacted by half a dozen free link hunters a day - I thought I'd chime in with some advice.

    Distilled is an example of a company that does it correctly - follow Rob's advice. I would add a few more tips to his suggestions:

    1. Don't use automatically generated emails that say how much you love my website and that you spent hours browsing it. I don't appreciate liars. Just get to the point.

    2. Don't contact me about guest posting and say nothing about your client and slip the link in hoping I don't notice.

    3. Relevancy of post ideas is VERY key - my website has a very focused niche and if you send me ideas completely unrelated to it I won't publish your posts. Please also have plenty of idea - don't ask me for ideas - I don't have time to come up with them.

    4. Don't hassle me if I haven't published the post yet - I have a lot on my plate and when you're asking for something for free and I'm doing your client a favor - please don't pester me.

    5. As a corollary to that - don't ask me to send you a link when the post is up - how about subscribing to my feed? I can't keep track of every guest post - we have 10-20 articles going out a day.

    6. Please do not send me a word document with images in it - they are impossible to get out. It's best just to send me the raw HTML of what you want to go out.

    Remember this - I've spent years building my platform and audience so keep that in mind. I have a duty to my business and my audience to publish quality content - often times some of the articles I get sent are complete unpublishable crap.

    I also don't really appreciate the condescending tone in some of these comments - just because I have an ad supported business and I'm willing to take money for content partnerships, does not mean my website is of less value. It's the largest website in my niche, it's my full time job and I protect it jealously. That said - sometimes charging to access to MY audience and MY platform is the best way to keep really awful articles off the site and help us meet our revenue targets.

    Don't treat bloggers as just a resource to be mined - we're people - some blogs are small and not run like businesses - many others aren't.

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  9. @Rob - re: AdSense, should have qualified a bit better. Granted, there is a difference between an MFA site and a site that has adsense less-aggressively integrated into the site. That's why in some cases i'll ask the team doing the research to prioritize based on level/aggressiveness of the monetization on the site. In my experience, as site that isn't monetized seemingly at all usually yields much more positive response more often. Though these are harder to find (outside of blogspot.com, wordpress.com etc).

    reply >

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