Guest Blogging – Up Your Game
It’s no wonder that Google added mass, low quality guest blogging to its Webmaster Tools link schemes. ‘Guest blogging’ has been abused, by some, and turned into a technique that represents low quality, high quantity and quick win link building.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. I still carry out work for clients that would fall under the ‘guest blogging’ umbrella. It’s not about high quantity quick wins.
I talked briefly about this in my recent SearchLove London session. The thing with guest blogging is that anyone can do it. It’s a bit like football (soccer). Anyone can have a game. All you need is a ball and a couple of mates and you can head to the nearest bit of green space for a kick around:
You’ll get a game, for sure. But the quality might not be so hot and, frankly, nobody will see you.
The elite, on the other hand, will make it to the top leagues of the world and play in massive stadia.
Now that’s when you get a real quality game and a massive audience.
I believe guest blogging is a valid means of acquiring links (and a host of other benefits too), but to really get the best from it, we need to up our game and here’s a number of ways in which I and the team at Tecmark are doing so. I’m going to cover:
- Changing how we talk about guest blogging
- Setting more meaningful goals
- Getting our guest blogging in tune with our clients
- Finding real publications
- Having real conversations with junior editors and writers
1. Clean Up Your Language
We made a conscious decision at Tecmark to change the way we talk about guest blogging.
- We no longer refer to it as ‘guest posting’ or ‘guest blogging’ internally. We refer to it as ‘guest editorial contribution’ or ‘guest feature writing.’
- We started referring to the sites we wanted to be published on as ‘online publications,’ rather than ‘blogs’ or just simply ‘sites.’
We did this primarily to help our clients to understand the difference between what we’re doing and the low quality stuff that was added to the Webmaster Guidelines as a Link Scheme. It achieved that. But even better than that, it improved our output. Simply changing the way we talk about we do appeared to make us more ambitious in terms of what we wanted to achieve and where we wanted to be published. It made our conversations with editors and writers more meaningful. In short: it was a huge contributing factor to us getting better at it.
2. Setting More Meaningful Goals
If you spend hours or even days securing publication somewhere and the only benefit you get from it is a link, then you’ve not made the most of it at all.
We need links. We love links. Links still matter. But guest feature writing should come with so many more benefits than that.
So set goals specific to each campaign you’re working on. For most of the campaigns we’re working on, our guest features publication is measured not just on links, but also on:
- How much traffic is referred from the content published to the client’s website
- How many comments are achieved
- How many social interactions with the content are there
These may seem secondary to the link itself, but there’s a value to them. People talking online, either through social media or on the content itself, about something your company produced/wrote/said/did is a brand signal of sorts.
3. Getting in tune with our clients
Believe it or not, as recently as a year ago our clients had no input as to where we published content online. None. We told them we’d do it. We did it. We told them it was done. That was all.
It seems like such an obviously wrong situation looking back and it occurred to us just under a year back that we were borderline insane not getting our clients more involved.
So, we incorporated this into our kick off information gathering. We now ask our clients:
- Which publications do you, your colleagues and your wider industry read?
- Which publications do your customers read?
- Do you have any existing relationships with any of the above publications? (Have you contacts there or have you previously paid for advertising with them?)
- Are there any publications apart from the above that you feel would be a good place for your brand to appear?
- Are there any publications you would not want your brand associated with?
This should leave you with a list of publications that your client sees value in being featured in. Bear in mind, they’re often not as bothered about links as you are! They just want results. So trying to get someone with minimal understanding of SEO interested in a link is an up hill battle. On the other hand, getting your client excited about being featured in one of their industry’s leading publications is a little easier.
So align your guest feature writing plans with your client’s ideas of what good coverage is.
4. Find REAL Publications
The list you got with the help of your clients is a good start. But it’s just a start. Your next step is to try and find other real world publications that are related to the appropriate niche.
There are a few ways I do this (apart from the usual ‘Google it’ approach).
4.1 Don’t do this:
Searches like the above tell Google to return a ton of sites where the primary criteria is simply that they will accept a guest post. If you were buying advertising space somewhere, you wouldn’t just go to any old site that sells advertising space. You would want to know how big their audience is, who their audience is, how many eyes are likely to be on it etc.
We shouldn’t contribute to websites just cos they’ll let us. We should contribute because it’s mutually beneficial and we can reach a relevant audience.
4.2 Check out Magazinesubscriptions.co.uk
I love this. Granted, this site isn’t intended for people doing what I do (using it as a magazine index) but it does serve that purpose very well. When you visit http://www.magazinesubscriptions.co.uk/magazines/ you can see a number of UK magazines broken down by category. There’ll be some publications here you’ve never heard of! However, what you will find is that many of these magazines, who sell subscriptions to print copies, also maintain a website with at least some freely available content. These websites are updated (often) more frequently than the magazines are released and yet the content is often free to access.
Magazines like this are often really happy to take guest editorial on the website. Of course, this is a different ball game than just dropping an email with a quickly written article on to some random blogger. This is real guest feature writing and your outreach should reflect that.
4.3 Check out allyoucanread.com
This is another site that allows you to find publications. However, as well as breaking magazines down by category, you can also find local newspapers by country, region/state, county, town etc… This is an awesome way to find local publications on campaigns where the business in question has premises on a number of different countries, towns and cities.
Again, when you find what you’re looking for, do some digging about the individual publication. Find their websites and check out what type of editorial they publish, whether they have guest columns and the type of expertise needed to really add value to that publication.
4.3 Add non-niche specific targets
No matter what sector your client operates in, some publications that are non industry specific remain valuable. For example, huge news publications like the Guardian or the BBC. Between you and your client, establish a list of non-niche specific publications that there is value being covered in.
4.4 Expand your list and prioritise
Using the sites above and any other similar ones you have at your disposal, you can expand your list of target publications. In some cases, this has left me with literally hundreds of sites I want coverage on.
I then like to break this list down and prioritise based on the likely benefits of coverage on each of the publications. So, I like to research (as well as the value that the link will have) what their typical engagement with content is like, how many social shares the content might enjoy, how big the audience is… And based on metrics like that, I prioritise.
5. Have meaningful conversations
Finding the publications is the first hurdle. Then you need to convince junior editors and writers within these publications that you can add some value. There’s a process I recommend for this:
5.1 Work out if you really can add value!
Seems simple enough, right? But sit down and work out what you really can bring to that publication that it does not already have in house. In a recent example, we acquired coverage on the Guardian’s Information Security Hub. And in reality, the only way to do that was by offering up some really specific expertise. Our client is the expert here – not us. So we needed a lot of input from our client before even approaching the Guardian in order to pitch.
Have a solid idea as to why what you can offer is going to be of value to the publication you’re about to contact.
5.2 If you can pick up the phone, do so
Not everyone likes to be contacted by phone. But publications of this nature will often have contact numbers and you should make the most of them. All of us will be familiar with the kind of low quality email spam that comes through from people trying to secure posts on websites. And you need to differentiate yourself from them. Sending an email doesn’t even guarantee someone will read it. But having a phone conversation with someone means you can, at the very least, ensure you are heard by the relevant person.
You can have meaningful conversations on the phone, the likes of which it is difficult to achieve through email.
5.3 Contact the relevant person!
Don’t go for senior editors. You want to speak to section editors, junior editors, reporters… the people who are putting this content together and are writing it.
Guest editorial is a valuable, valid technique. The tactics employed are often more in keeping with PR than what we might have considered SEO in recent years. But the benefits are clear. Links, sure. But also social interactions, citations, engagement and exposure to a new and relevant audience. But to get the most from it, it’s vital that we up our game, keep quality at the forefront and differentiate ourselves clearly from the people doing guest blogging on a high quantity quick win basis.