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Guest Blogging: A Step-by-Step Guide

Unsuccessful prospective guest bloggers act like door-to-door salespeople. They knock on as many doors as possible, delivering the same pitch and hoping at least a couple of people say yes.

Successful prospective guest bloggers act like invited guests who show up with a nice host gift. They knock on one door, follow the submission guidelines, and deliver a personalized pitch.

How can you and others at your company be the door knockers welcomed by publishing sites?

Lots of people have advice. A request for input on the topic netted 87 responses in 24 hours from a query through Help A Reporter Out. Successful guest blogger and publisher of Our Travel Mix, Delilah Hart, advises, “Build a relationship … before asking to guest blog,”

As Richard Overmyer, who oversees the guest posting process at the digital design and marketing agency Red Olive, says, “If you act as though your final goal is simply getting the piece posted, then the blog will act similarly.”

Their advice mirrors many of the suggestions we received: Develop a rapport with your guest blogging hosts – don’t treat them like a one-time transaction.

With that vision in mind and based on what I’ve learned from both sides of the guest blogging deal, this five-step process enables you to develop a connection with – and get your articles published on – third-party sites where your content benefits their readers and your brand.

1. Know your purpose

Long before you pitch a guest article, decide on your goal. Why do you (and your company) want to create content for other sites to publish?

Pick one or two reasons. Some options to consider:

  • Reach a new but relevant audience.
  • Grow your credibility on a subject.
  • Connect your and your company’s name to a reputable site/brand.
  • Be recognized as a helpful, go-to resource.
  • Gain backlinks on valuable sites to improve your site’s SEO and/or domain authority.
  • Expand your social media presence.
  • Drive traffic to your site.
  • Increase your owned audience.

Once you know your goal, you can select sites with guest blogging protocols that would allow you to achieve them. For example, if your goal is achieving a backlink to your site, don’t pursue a blog that doesn’t allow company links.

TIP: Be willing to think creatively to achieve your goals within the site’s guidelines. For example, if your goal is to increase your owned audience, but the site does not allow you to include a call to action, include a relevant link to a page on your site and add a compelling subscriber offer on that page.

2. Identify the prospects

As you explore publishing options, ensure that the site:

  • Has an audience you want to access
  • Covers topics relevant to your brand/industry

You can track your research on a spreadsheet like this one:

An image showing a template of a guest blogging tracker. The template shows columns for a website URL, guest blogging guidelines link, target audience, topics covered, social handles, contact, pitch ideas, pitch submission date, and pitch status.

TIP: This search exercise could be a valuable exercise for an intern or entry-level employee who may not be ready to pitch but can do the research to pitch. 

TIP: Include all sites researched – not just the ones you may want to pursue. Tracking those “no” sites is helpful so future researchers won’t have to revisit them.

How do you find valuable sites?

You likely already know some go-to sites in your industry. But don’t let that be the end of your research. You can:

  • Ask employees and customers about their go-to industry or relevant topic-related sites, magazines, social handles, etc.
  • Search for your keywords or industry topics on Google to see which sites rank well for them.
  • Visit the sites to identify the categories they cover. You often can identify categories by looking at the article pages. (For example, CMI lists the article’s relevant categories under the byline.)
  • Use tools like BuzzSumo, Semrush, Moz, etc. to assess which sites cover your keywords or topics and have high domain authorities.

Once you have a list of sites where you’d want your content published, it’s time to scrutinize their blogging programs.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: 7 Free Keyword Research Tools

How do you know if the site accepts guest articles?

First, check to see if the site has a blog. This seems obvious, but it isn’t. I’ve worked with clients who never had a blog and yet received requests asking to publish a guest post every week.

If the site has a blog, look to see if it published guest blogging guidelines – an obvious indicator it accepts posts from outside the company.

If you can’t find guest blogging guidelines, you’ll have to do a little more work. Look through the article bylines to see if any are written by someone who isn’t affiliated with the brand. If the articles don’t include the author’s company or bio, you can spot check the authors by searching for their LinkedIn profiles. If you still can’t figure out if guest blogs are accepted, contact the editor or leader who’s responsible for the blog.

Once you know the site accepts third-party articles, explore the content it publishes. Who is the audience? What topics does it tackle? What content formats are used? Is its content shared on its social channels?

If you’re lucky, you can find this information in the blogging guidelines. Fundera does an excellent job at detailing its guidelines:

TIP: If your site accepts articles from outside authors, publish simply detailed, easy-to-find guidelines. You can point to it when people make guest posting inquiries. You also can point to it when people ask why their submissions were rejected.

3. Make an informed pitch

Before diving into the elements of a great pitch, let’s explore a few elements of a bad pitch. At CMI, we see more examples of what not to do than what to do. In this example, the pitcher praises the site, only to reveal their disingenuousness by throwing out ideas that range from smart TVs and miraculous foods to air mattresses and box office bombs (not a content marketing idea in the bunch). Obviously, the sender never even read the site, let alone the guest blogging guidelines, which detail how CMI only accepts completed articles, not pitches.

Then, there’s the sender who thinks “General” is the recipient’s name. And then digs a bigger hole – pitching an article idea for an audience of subscription box companies.

Deborah Sweeney succinctly explains the elements of a good pitch to her site, “(It) usually fills in a gap that we are not currently covering and offers a fresh, informative perspective.”

Adding to her good advice, here’s some more advice about what you need to craft a good – and ultimately successful – pitch for a guest article:

  • Make it relevant to the person, the blog, and its audience.
  • Write a compelling subject line.
  • Get to the point and pack a punch in three graphs or less.
  • Craft a meta description (156 characters or less) to show SEO relevancy.
  • Briefly outline why you are the person/brand to write it.
  • Never use exclamation marks!

Once you’ve submitted a pitch, don’t be a pest. I’ve seen people follow up three times in one week. Even if their pitch was good, we may not accept it, given how needy the sender seems. (A high-maintenance pitcher will likely be a high-maintenance guest blogger.)

Unless the blogging guidelines note the typical response time, schedule a follow-up email for two to three weeks after you submit your pitch or post. And when you do politely check in, make sure the correspondence includes your original email with an attachment. Don’t make the recipient have to do extra work to find the submission.

If your pitch is rejected, ask if it’s OK for you to revise the concept or submit another idea. That’s how you build a relationship without treating it as a transaction.

TIP: Ask for feedback on what could be improved, but don’t ask again. In some cases, the site would be happy to provide feedback. In other cases, the site may receive too many submissions to offer constructive criticism.

If the pitch is accepted, ask for parameters such as word count, preferred format, and style guide preferences. And ask for the deadline.

TIP: If no deadline is given, set your own and let the recipient know when to expect it.

4. Prepare to publish

As Mary Clare Bland of Bespoke Digital Solutions explains, “The easier you make it for (the site) to edit and publish your post, the more likely they will publish your content.”

Getting all the requirements in advance – and meeting those expectations – is essential to a long-term relationship.

Write for their audience, their blog, and your brand. To accomplish that, you should:

  • Craft an attention-grabbing (and accurate) headline.
  • Write an SEO-focused meta description (156 characters).
  • Include attribution (i.e., link to the native source).
  • Make sure your information is current (i.e., don’t represent a 2014 study as current).
  • Disclose any relationships to sources (i.e., quoting your client).
  • Include only a couple of links to related and relevant content on your site.
  • Include one or more internal links from the publishing site.

As you read through the article, make sure it isn’t self-promotional. The site will be reluctant to publish it, and you do a disservice to your audience by crafting a commercial rather than content that’s helpful to them.

Finally, submit it by the deadline if not before. Be open and flexible in the editing process.

5. Promote the content and partner for the long run

Ask when the post will be published and let them know why you’d like to know (because you plan to share and promote on your channels, for example). But don’t let the social sharing of your content be the end. View your post-publishing activities as steps in forming a stronger partnership.

Monitor the comments and respond to each one (yes, critics too) even if it’s as generic as “Thanks for sharing your thoughts.” About a week after it’s published, send a thank-you note to your contact and let them know how you promoted it.

A month or so later, follow up to ask how well the content delivered for them (and feel free to note any successes you’ve had from it). You also can inquire about opportunities for subsequent blog posts and see if they want to put you on a regular schedule.

Do the work for long-term success

By following the five steps – purpose, prospect, pitch, publish, and promote – your first and future knocks at the site’s guest blogging door will be greeted with acceptance and maybe even enthusiasm. As John Huntinghouse of TAB Bank says, “Build a relationship, add value to the publisher first, and you’ll be golden.”

Here’s an excerpt from Ann’s talk:

All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute