How to amplify your content reach through guest posting

by | Apr 23, 2018 | Promotion

Today we’ll talk about how to guest post in the right way in these post-Google-Penguin days.

If done correctly, guest posting is a great way to build relationships with other content creators in your space, and to get in front of a new audience, even if the gold rush days of SEO juice are gone.

But as with most other things in content marketing, it takes time, patience, and perseverance.

 

Before we get into specific how-tos, let’s first discuss the context of how guest blogging became controversial. If you’re not interested in the history, just skip down to the next headline.

Why Google doesn’t like guest posting

Guest posting or guest blogging was all the rage a few years ago. Conceptually, it makes a lot of sense: You have an audience, blogger Bob has a similar audience – you give Bob great content, he gives you more exposure plus a link back to your site. Great for SEO, more readers for you, everybody wins.

And then the spammers came. Content farms started churning out low value content and asked every media outlet in their space to appear on their site. Small publishers were excited about the attention. They felt honoured that a large player wanted to collaborate with them.

Only they didn’t know that they were part of a carpet bombing campaign. As Google’s distinguished engineer Matt Cutts once said about a blogger, “She thought that her small blog was being validated, when in fact it was being targeted.”

After this had been going on for a while, Google slammed the door shut on it in 2014.

Matt Cutts talks about Guest Posting

Cutts cuts off guest posting’s air supply

 

Google wasn’t specific on how they’d track and punish guest posting at scale, but everyone accepted that “scaled” guest posting was over. No more SEO juice. Penalties were looming. Google would downgrade both parties in the transaction: The publisher accepting low quality guest posts and the company doing the spamming.

And then came Penguin. This Google algorithm update, rolled out over various iterations, meant to enforce Google’s Quality Guidelines and stop the spam.

Up until Penguin, Google had penalized websites manually. A site owner would get notice that their site had violated the guidelines, and learn how they could redeem themselves.

But with Penguin, people started wondering if Google had moved beyond manual penalties and was now punishing guest posts at scale (which would make sense – but would also make false positives more likely: well-intentioned, value-adding guest posts getting caught erroneously in Google’s bear trap).

While there is no definitive proof for a guest posting penalty at scale yet, it pays to be vigilant and refrain from any potentially dodgy behaviour that could attract Google’s gaze.

The problem is: Google considers more things dodgy than you might assume.

 

The consensus about Google’s attitude towards guest posting

 

Specifically, these are the things to be a good boy or girl scout about:

    • Avoid linking to your site from the “About” bio. Because it was such a frequent ploy the spammers used, Google treats these links with a lot of suspicion.
    • More generally, links are tricky. You should not guest blog for the SEO benefits at all. Matt Cutts made it unambiguously clear by talking about the “fall of guest blogging for SEO”. If your goal is to get links, don’t bother.
      • But what does that mean? Are you supposed to just guest post on others’ sites without a link back? There’s two things you can do:
        • Either there is an unambiguously appropriate place in the post to place your link. Google has very strict criteria when evaluating which links add or don’t add value. But if the content really cries out for a link to your site and you can take the risk, then place the link. Worst case Google might just slap your wrist, ask you to get that link removed, and then you’re fine again.
        • Or you ask the site owner to only use <nofollow> links. (these links still link to your site, but Google doesn’t count them towards your page rank, i.e. they don’t confer SEO benefits to you). Some sites have implemented a wholesale <nofollow> link strategy for guest bloggers just to avoid the headache.
      • <Nofollow> links are particularly important in cases where you paid for the content to be placed. Google has ways of finding out if you paid. Believe me. Advertorials should never pass PageRank.
  • Therefore, guest post for branding and awareness reasons only. Not for SEO. Write consistently good content and publish some of it on other outlets to get additional audience. If you can, combine your quality content with an offer or another call to action that maximises traffic to your site. Optionally, retarget your website visitors with a custom message to bring them back.

 

Side note: there’s a counter-opinion to the idea that Google punishes for undesirable links. SEO expert Eric Enge says that recently, Google simple started to ignore undesirable links instead of punishing you for them.

But before this is commonly accepted wisdom, I would suggest, that you don’t take this as gospel – I think it’d be too risky a strategy.

(Kontent360 is monitoring this area closely, so if you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll be the first to know.)

 

So what does that mean for guest blogging these days?

Here’s how to do it:

1. Compile a list of publications you would like to appear on

This can be popular blogs in your niche, online trade journals and other expert online media.

I like to compile my publications in a spreadsheet with the following headers:

  • Name
  • Domain
  • Summary of their content angle
  • Which of my client segments they might be addressing
  • Site quality indicators
    • Share of traffic from desired geography (source: SimilarWeb)
    • Traffic volume (same)
    • Page rank (you can check it here)
    • MOZ Domain Authority (you can check it here)
    • Overall content quality perception on a scale of 1-5
    • # of new posts in the past 30 days. The more the better
    • Combined social media followership, by social channel
    • An overall subjective quality verdict on them on a scale of 1-10.
  • Do they mention any guest posting guidelines?
  • If yes, what are the rules
    • About content
    • About the process
  • Any names mentioned on their site that we should contact? If so
    • Name
    • Contact details
    • Linkedin profile (check if you have a connection to them – it will come handy when the official channel fails you)

 

2. Prioritise the sites along your most important criteria

Traffic volume isn’t always the most important factor. If a site gives me the sense that they are exactly hitting a sweet spot in terms of target audience and tone of voice, I’d rather work with them than with a larger, but bland generalist site.

Based on the above, I prioritise the publications. I don’t have a ruthless algorithmic scoring method, it’s a judgment call.

A key decision criterion is whether they invite guest posts and have an editorial policy. (Check the “About us” section or search for a link like “write for us” or “guest authors”.)

Let’s break the question down:

  1. Do they invite guest posts?
  2. Do they have an editorial policy, i.e. formal guidelines on what and how to write?

→ If yes on both – that’s good news.

→ If (1) is yes but (2) is no, it’s tricky: If anyone can post anything, it means that they don’t have high standards. If they accept all kinds of guest posts without control, they are unlikely to attract the audience you’re after. You might be throwing pearls before swine. Check the quality of the site’s content. If it’s good, go for it.

→ If both (1) and (2) are no, it might take you longer to elicit a response from them. If they don’t do guest posts on a regular basis, it’s more likely you’ll get ignored or asked to pay up (more on this later). But don’t dismiss this possibility out of hand. I have had several instances where a publication responded and took my content despite not having anything to that effect on their website. 

 

3. Pitch them with new and unique content

Yea, here’s the bad news: If you want to get featured, you’ll have to create new content for them.

Google doesn’t like article marketing – shopping around previously published content to different outlets. And while in the past all you needed to do was to change a word here or there, that game is over now. With their army of human and artificial engineers, Google will eat your rephrasing for breakfast.

Does this mean you should custom-tailor articles to a particular site’s audience?

The following is the most efficient approach:

1. Consider who this publication’s audience is exactly

2. Think of a content idea

  1. Look for ideas for upcoming content in your calendar. Is there one that would be great for exactly this audience?
  2. Is there a post you posted in the past that you could give a new angle? For example: You wrote about how to train disobedient dogs. The potential host blog is about living with pets and children. You can rewrite your content and write about how to involve your children in training disobedient dogs.
  3. (Can you use the same idea for different outlets? I do it – but not too much. Given that not everyone will respond positively, I reuse the same content idea 3-4 times)
  4. By the way – keep the best content ideas for yourself. Your marquee content belongs on your site.

3. Pitch them

  1. Explain your idea in 3-4 bullet points.
  2. In which section of their site it should go? (this shows you’ve done your homework)
  3. Whip out all your credentials of what an amazing company you are.
  4. Don’t make it about yourself. It’s not about widening your appeal and authority. Instead, speak about how your insights could add value to their audience.

They will either ignore you, ask you to pay, reject you, ask for the full content before committing, or commit right away.

Your results will depend on how well known your company already is. If they ignore you or reject the pitch, keep trying with new ideas around once a week.

After 4-5 unsuccessful attempts, I’d stop trying.

 

Final thought – Should you pay?

Some companies will respond to your guest post request by suggesting an advertorial (= paid post)

In some cases, this might make sense for you, especially if it’s an outlet with a good reputation and you will likely reach a large audience.

If you have the budget to pay, ask them the following questions

  • Do they have demographic data on your audience? How much does their audience overlap with yours?
  • Ask where their audience is located (and cross-check their data with public data from Similarweb)
  • Ask for expected page views on your content and calculate an expected Cost Per View. This can result in large differences across providers. In one recent outreach I did on behalf of a client, one outlet quoted me £0.60 per view, another one £4.50. If you’re in a combative mood, ask them for a minimum amount of page views, below which you will pay less.
  • Ask for ROI figures – have any of their content advertisers reported back to them with results? (You usually won’t get a good answer, but the question sends the message that you won’t be messed with.)

Don’t be tempted to write a pure advertising piece. Your impulse might be “well I’m paying for it so I’ll just create a straight up sales article.” This can backfire because no one likes being sold to, especially when they haven’t asked for it. Your number of views and full reads will be low.

The best solution is to still provide some helpful content or an engaging storyline but then close with a stronger call to action and an offer, more than you would do in a purely editorial piece.

Make sure the company implements all links as <nofollow>. As I mentioned above, Google may punish you for SEO relevant links if you paid someone for publishing your content.

 

I think you’re good to go!

Please let me know how this works for you – Either in the comment section below or by tweeting at us.

Also get in touch if you have other thoughts to share on this.

More reading / watching on this topic

  • Rand Fishkin’s video on guest posting – he’s doing a great job laying out how it can be a slippery slope. As always – quality rules.
  • TheNextWeb article on guest posting – key takeaway: Google is easily triggered and won’t give you benefit of the doubt.
  • No one should have a full-time job of guest blogging (Matt Cutts said so)

 

Image credits: Jesse Collins at Unsplash, Twitter, Mark Armstrong, Navigation Points

 

A New Blog Post Every Week.

Get fresh insights about Content Marketing, Great Copywriting, and Email Best Practices.

We are 100% GDPR compliant and will never share your data with third parties. Read our Privacy Policy here.