Guest Posting in 2014 and Beyond…

 

2014 was a difficult year for guest posting, and yet another difficult year for link building in general.  The changes to Google’s algorithm keep on coming, and these changes keep knocking sites way down the results – what Google’s happy with one day, is what gets your site penalized the next.

So earlier this year, it was guest posting’s turn in the Google cross-hairs.  Now in my opinion, this had been a long time coming.  Lots of guest posting simply came down to poorly written articles on poorly maintained (and little read) websites.  Yes, these all counted as links, but no one was clicking through to visit the actual site, and the entire neighborhood linking to your website was pretty suspect.

In fact, many of these blogs posting guest posts consisted of nothing but guest posts, there was no original content at all, another sure sign that the owner really didn’t care what was being posted, and was just happy with the free content, even if it was poorly researched and written, and hadn’t been within miles of a competent editor.

So How Can Guest Posting Benefit Your Business?

Simple:

A link from a high traffic site with a readership relevant to your business, gets you visitors interested in what you offer.  And there’s no cost for these visitors if you’re writing the content yourself, instead just spending a little of your time creating the content and liaising with blogs to see which one wants to publish your article.

A further benefit includes broadening the brand of your business by getting it in front of more eyeballs.  This can be useful for online brand management (making sure your business name turns up on sites you want it too) and even if readers don’t click through, they may remember your business name and search for it directly, or visit later when they’re in the market for what you offer.

And yet another benefit too is of course these guest posts get you links, and links push your website up the search engine results, right?  Now, these days you’re much more likely to get a nofollow link from a guest post, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that.  Google officially says that nofollow links are ignored from an SEO perspective, but some people (coming from a slightly more objective position) disagree.

So basically, guest posts create:

  1. Direct traffic
  2. Online branding (and building your personal reputation in the market too if you’re the author)
  3. SEO benefits that may happen to occur too

So is Guest Posting Right for Your Business?

Firstly, give some thought to how long it will take you to:

  1. Plan and write content.
  2. Find and liaise with sites that publish similar content and that can drive targeted traffic to your site.
  3. Track traffic and results from this work to make sure it’s worth your time and that you’re on the right track.

The more you go through this process of course, the easier it becomes – articles get planned and written faster, finding and dealing with sites becomes easier (especially once they get to know you), and the more you’re published the more credibility you have when approaching the next site you’d like to be published on.

But guest posting simply takes time and effort, either time and effort that you put in yourself, or that one of your employees puts in, or this effort can be done on your behalf by an agency if you choose to outsource this work.

So guest posting is a further way to diversify your traffic sources while furthering your company and your personal brand (as an author).  If these goals align with your goals and your business’s goals, then give some thought to tracking the ROI (or time spent according to your hourly rate) on this activity and whether it makes sense for you to continue it on an ongoing basis.

Importantly, different results will come from being published on different sites, and you will likely be starting at the lower end of sites (less traffic, less visibility) and moving up, so bear in mind that this won’t be an overnight process.

With enough reputation and the right kind of networking, getting a guest post on the New York Times (it does happen) or similar site may have a dramatic effect on your business, but that’s likely out of your reach at this early stage.

But is 2014 the Beginning of the End for Guest Posting?

Matt Cutts (head of Google’s web spam team) is currently on leave from Google taking a well deserved break, but while he was still working, his every tweet, his every blog post got absorbed by millions of website owners, and dissected at length in forums and on blogs.  And some of his proclamations have ended up devastating a good percentage of website owners, or even entire industries.

Well, on January 20th, 2014 Matt publicly focused on guest posting, and the SEO community predictably went nuts.  There was a lot of confusion too, and perhaps this was Matt’s intention (Google does love spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt about its intentions).  People were asking:

  • Did he mean all guest posting was finished with?
  • Or just guest posting farms?  (Sites comprised of nothing, but guest posts.)
  • How could website owners successfully build links if they can’t publish guest posts?
  • Google’s gone too far this time!

…and so on.

He later clarified that he wasn’t referring to all guest posting, but low quality guest posting, and in particular guest posting where the entire intention of the post is a link for SEO.

So this really comes back to Google’s rule that links shouldn’t ever be built with SEO in mind.  In fact, you should forget that links have any effect on your search engine ranking at all!

A bit of a tall order now that link building has been an integral part of SEO for over a decade, but as mentioned Google does love to keep you guessing.

So he did later clarify that certain types of guest posting is fine – if the content is high quality and if it genuinely adds to the value of the site and is relevant, that’s fine.

And all guest post links are pretty much nofollow across the board now, and if this isn’t the case on some sites you publish on, you may want to ask that site owner to nofollow your link.

And in my personal opinion – if sites as credible as the Financial Times and the New York Times are still accepting guest posts (with links in many cases), it would be absolutely ridiculous of Google to penalize such credible and valuable sites because they publish guest posts.

But since those sites really do value their readers and are very careful about the content they publish, this comes under Matt’s clarification that all guest posting definitely isn’t made equal, and if what’s being posted is valuable and relevant to the site’s readers, that’s great.

Which Are the Best Sites to Publish on?

At the simplest level, getting published on a site that drives a positive ROI for you is worthwhile.  There’s the secondary benefits of building your brand and supporting your SEO efforts, but those benefits are less direct and can be harder to measure accurately.

So tracking your ROI will come down to measuring visitors and calls from the guest post, and following those leads down the sales pipeline to calculate how much that guest post has earned you in the short, and long term.  Depending on the length of your sales cycle this may take weeks or even months to measure, so you probably don’t want to post once, and wait that long to decide whether to continue or not, since a more concerted guest posting effort will give you more statistically relevant numbers anyway (results are always more volatile and difficult to track accurately in smaller quantities).

If your business is currently on a shoestring budget, and you can find 30 to 60 minutes daily (or more) to spend on this activity by managing all aspects yourself, that may be a good approach to help get the ball rolling for your business.  This case study is a great example of a business largely built through guest posting.

If you are in a very niche industry, as many of us are, the New York Times may of course be a bit of a stretch, and perhaps even not that beneficial for you.  Getting prominent exposure on a highly relevant niche site may produce much better results for you, with much less work, and with a much faster publishing time.

So, What do You Write About?

Guest posting is about providing value to other sites.  In fact, it’s about giving them your very best content.  Don’t keep it just to yourself!  Publishing in depth tutorials on your site, and then hoping to get that 400 word article that barely skims the surface of the subject published on another site, is a recipe for very poor guest posting results.

Your guest posting content must be as good as, or better, than what’s on your site.  The reason for this is:

  1. You’re trying to get the attention of a site that doesn’t have to publish your content.  Fantastic content that their readers will love helps to put this in your favor.
  2. You’re trying to get traffic, branding, and credibility through getting guest posts published, and fantastic content does this, whereas poor to mediocre content is not a good salesperson for your business.  Great content can build so much credibility for your business, that leads may come to you very warm and with far less resistance to your message and pricing.

So you really need to immerse yourself into your market and what’s being published, to get ideas, and to stay up to date.  This needn’t be difficult – RSS subscriptions to blogs and news feeds in your market is an easy way to stay on top of what’s being published, and to understand what kind of content is timely and of interest to your market.

Approaching sites suggesting they publish out of date content ideas, or content that frankly isn’t that interesting, isn’t going to get you positive reactions.  Guest posts help position you as an expert, but also are there to make the readers happy, interested, and informed.  An uninteresting or irrelevant article isn’t going to get the attention of blogs, nor their readers.

And the title comes into this too and is very important – the title is how people decide whether to read your post, or not.  An uninteresting or uninspired title will result in many less readers.  But on the other hand we’re not publishing on TMZ!  Interesting, intriguing and relevant titles, that are written in a suitable voice for your market, is very important to this process.

And the same goes for the content of the article.  Keep it easy to read and interesting (yet still on topic) with:

  • Short paragraphs (few things put a reader off more than a wall of text)
  • Suitable, and ideally straightforward language for your target market
  • Interesting ideas presented in an easy to absorb way
  • Lots of sub headings to help break up the text
  • And if the blog you’re hoping to get published on doesn’t supply them, include one or more copyright free images, or images you’ve purchased the rights to.  It’s best to include one image at the start of the post, and then potentially more throughout.

Should You Pay for Guest Posts?

Paying for the placement of a post is an option – some sites advertise this option, many don’t.  But this is moving away from pure guest posting (where your content gets published because it really benefits the readers) to sponsored posts which according to Google need to be labeled as such.

Sponsored posts are often more promotional, and are really a form of advertising.  You may find this approach more suitable for your marketing goals, and it can in some ways be a more linear and predictable approach since you pay, get your content reviewed (or created for you by the site), and it gets published.

Often there’s way less messing around and emailing back and forth when compared to standard guest posting, but since this is a form of advertising it will likely be looked upon differently (and likely not as favorably) by readers, but is potentially another marketing approach.

And blogs that don’t publicize their sponsored posts policy may still have one, but you may need to contact them directly first to find out more.  But again – ensure any links from these posts are nofollow and marked as sponsored, otherwise Google could end up getting very upset with you.

Starting Your Guest Posting Journey

Here’s the steps to getting going:

1: Stay up to date

Keep up to date with your market; with what’s being published, what the evergreen and the current hot topics are, what the up and coming technologies or events are …etc.

2: Building a contact list

Build a list of sites that your target market reads (try to aim for niche specific sites here, especially at the start of this process), and rank them according to how easy or difficult it will be to get a post published.  Now, this may largely be guess work, but it gives you a starting point.  The most credible sites in your market want to maintain that credibility, and that’s done through being very careful about what they publish.  Whereas smaller sites may be easier to deal with if you don’t have a guest posting track record.

3: Building connections

Start to contact a few of the sites regarding getting content published.  This relationship building process is different for every site.  Some sites won’t publish guest posts unless they already have a relationship with you, some don’t publish any at all, some may want to see the entire article before considering it, some may be responsive but will want to discuss article ideas, some will just ask for payment, and some you won’t get a response from at all may need to be chased a little on social media or by phone in an attempt to get their attention.

This process is very much more art than science, and is not a fast process.  But the more credibility you already have in your market, the easier this is, whereas if you’re a new business without a track record, this initial process can definitely be harder and slower.  However, having an active and in depth blog on your site definitely helps since it gives potential publishing partners a very good idea about your writing style and level of expertise.

4: Creating and publishing the content

The three previous steps are essential to actually getting your high quality content live, and sending you visitors from other websites.  But of course you’ll need to create the content to be published (or have it created).

If you know your subject well enough, are comfortable writing the content, and have the time for this, then this process can be straightforward.  If you’re still looking to manage this all yourself but aren’t entirely comfortable with the process yet, it may take you a little time to find your voice and write in a style that blogs like to publish in, but it will come.

Alternatively, having this step handled by a staff member or an agency may be an option and can help speed up the process and free up your time for other matters.

And again, sponsored posts don’t have the same appeal to readers and can be expensive, but that process can be far more predictable and fast moving if you’re looking to get visitors from relevant blogs.

Whereas the guest posting process does take time with outreach, liaising with sites, creating content, building relationships, moving up the ladder from low traffic to high sites… but whether you’re managing this entire process yourself, whether it’s being handled by a staff member, or if you’re thinking of outsourcing the entire process, the extra visitors and brand boost this marketing approach creates can be very positive for your business in both the short and long term.