A lot of people have a lot of different ideas about what mistakes people are making with guest blogging. John Rampton talks about technical elements, like picking a site with the right kind of traffic, writing content that isn’t just self-aggrandizement, and being bad at pitching. Alex Craig takes a bigger picture and cautions you against limiting your scope of target sites, being too conservative in writing, and leaving too much incomplete. Pamela Vaughan covers all the bases with tips on strategy, targeting, pitching, writing, and promoting guest posts.
None of them cover what I believe to be the number one mistake many guest post writers make.
The Biggest Mistake
In my mind, there’s one mistake that even top-tier guest bloggers make, and a few have even promoted as a tip. It’s simple, too. Want to know what it is?
Considering a guest post a one-and-done affair.
Most blog owners aren’t looking for one-off contributions, no matter how good they may be. A one-off contribution looks a lot like a promoted post. To Google, it might look like you went out and bought a link, or that you’re just trying to broaden your backlink profile through guest posts.
If you have a list of 10 sites, each of which has only published one guest post with your content, that’s ten instances of one-time value, ten single links, and to me, a failed relationship.
There’s a reason I often talk about “getting into” a site rather than “being published on” a site. One post on Forbes might be a big traffic generator, but a week later, a month later, who is going to remember you or your content? Even if you go viral, you’re not getting a lasting impression.
That’s why I post regularly on Entrepreneur, and did so on Inc, and do so on other sites when I can. I don’t want to be a one-time author, I want to be a semi-regular contributor.
Imagine this scenario. You run a small retail storefront, and I sell jars of jam. I come to your little store and talk to you for a while. I have a sales pitch, I let you try my jam, and I convince you to set up a display to sell it. You agree, you set up the display, I stock it full of jam, and then that’s it. I never show up again. You run out of jam. You wonder if I’m going to come back to restock it, but I never do. You shrug and take down the display, and that’s that.
Is that any way to do business? For you, maybe. You could follow up with me, try to contact me and get me to stock more jam, but that would only be worth the effort if my jam sold like hotcakes and made your store the talk of the town. That’s highly unlikely. For me, it just doesn’t make sense.
Why would I go through all of the work to contact you and set up a display in your store if I’m not going to do anything with it? I have the foundation of a profitable business relationship, and I’m not using it.
The guest post equivalent is what far too many people do; they come in and pitch a post, they get a guest post published, earn their link, and that’s that. They end the relationship there. Oh, they might have a list of sites that have accepted their content in the past, that they might intend to leverage “some time” in the future, but it’s all such a waste.
When you get your foot in the door, don’t walk away for so long the homeowner forgets why they opened the door the first time. All they’ll remember is that you never followed up with them.
The moral of the story is this: when you work to get a guest post position on a blog, the blog owner is trusting you a lot. They’re opening up their audience to you and expecting you to provide value. The least you can do is return the favor by way of repeating the process.
The Value of a Guest Post
What do you get out of a guest post? Why do you even want to guest post?
The first thing most people think of is the link. People guest post for links all the time. So much so, in fact, that it’s what caused the big “death of guest posting” era with the famous Matt Cutts blog post and the subsequent revamping of guest posting best practices worldwide.
Don’t get me wrong; a link is valuable. A good link from a relevant blog brings direct SEO value to your site via the flow of PageRank. It adds to your link profile, to help as a counterbalance for bad links and to showcase to Google that you’re a good site. The more good links you have, from the more sources, the better off your site is.
A good link profile is a diverse link profile. On the one hand, you want links from as many different sources as possible, assuming those sources are all good sources. Links from junk clickbait sites like Knowable or Buzzfeed are still valuable links, since those sites aren’t spam. On the other hand, you want sites that act as taproots, as deep, recurring link sources. That’s where the value of repeat contributions comes in.
The second item that often comes to mind is traffic. I’ve written about that before, but the short version is that you’re pretty unlikely to get a ton of traffic from your guest posting, and what traffic you DO end up getting is concentrated in the first few days after the post goes live. After that, it’s just one more piece of content getting a few visitors a month on the internet, if that.
For some people, a third source of value from a guest post comes from social proof. When you’ve been featured on a site, you can add the logo of that site to your roster of companies you’re associated with, and it can add credibility to your own content. After all, these sites wouldn’t publish or feature you if you weren’t worth it, would they? Never mind that plenty of us link just as readily to massive failures as we do to successes.
To me, though, the #1 source of value from a guest post is the relationship you forge with the owner of the blog. You get to know them and their site. You get to learn about their content, their process, and their audience. They get to learn the same things about you.
With a relationship like this, you have the door open to repeat posts. Once a week, once every two weeks, once a month; whatever the schedule, a consistent set of posts helps establish you as someone they can pay attention to, devote effort to. They learn that you didn’t just produce good content once, you’re capable of producing it constantly. You learn what works and what doesn’t on their site, and can tailor your content to do better for them, which does better for you.
The guest post relationship does not end at a guest post. Here are some things I’ve experienced because of my guest post pitch:
- The owner of a blog invited me to contribute more regularly, as an actual staff contributor, with a paid position.
- The owner of a different blog and I met for lunch at a trade show and hit it off famously; we’re now great friends.
- The owner of a blog I’ve contributed to was able to recommend me for a guest post on another, more high profile site, getting my foot in the door for contributions with that site.
- The owner of a blog I’ve never written for saw my content through a blog I contributed to and sent me an opportunity to write for their site as well.
They say that the key to success isn’t what you know, it’s who you know. I would content that in the realm of blogging, it’s a little of both. You can’t make a successful blog without having some knowledge of your topic. Without being an expert or an authority, you aren’t going to show that you have value. On the other hand, you can sit and write for a hundred years in complete obscurity if you don’t get to know anyone. Networking allows you to find and capitalize on more opportunities that you might not otherwise be able to find.
Another benefit of being a regular contributor to a site is your association with these people. If I, say, was a regular contributor to Moz, people would mention me in the same sentence as people like Rand Fishkin. Sure, it might be a sentence like “why is Rand Fishkin letting this random nobody write for his site” but it’s still an association!
Blogs that have a lot of authority in their space are great places to build name and brand recognition. The site is already associated with value, so that association rubs off on you. Again, it comes back to the idea that a site isn’t going to let you be a contributor if you have nothing of value to contribute.
Becoming a Regular Contributor
Becoming a regular contributor in some cases may be identical to the guest posting process, and in some cases may be different.
At the most basic level, all you need to do is follow all the other advice on this site and just submit good guest posts the way I recommend. Good pitches to good sites can often be enough, though some of the bigger name sites are very strict on who they accept simply out of space and time considerations.
The first success is always the hardest. Some sites, like Inc and Entrepreneur, end up giving you an account you can use after the first pitch. From there you can just create and submit content as often as you want, so long as it’s good enough to get past the editors and it’s not so infrequent that they close down your account.
Other sites will make you proceed through the entire pitch process and have editors do all of the on-site access, and that’s fine. It’s honestly better for security. It’s easier to get the second post through than the first, because the editor already knows you’ve been accepted once before, and maybe you have a better idea of what they want and how to write for their site.
Other sites sometimes have a specific path for regular contributors. For example, Search Engine Land has a specific page to become a guest contributor. You can aim to be a regular contributor, but you’re signing up to monthly columns you write for them, on a 6-12 month basis. Alternatively, you can be an ad-hoc contributor to submit standalone features and individual posts over the course of half a year, or a special one-time contributor. Obviously, the regular contributor space is more relevant.
The one thing you might not want to do is get too deep into their system. Think carefully before you become a regular contributor to any site, and make sure it’s a site you actually want to commit to working with on a long-term basis. If you’re not sure Search Engine Land, for example, is right for your content, maybe try submitting one-off posts before you submit a pitch to be a regular contributor.
Regardless of how you do it, though, contributing on a semi-regular basis to a variety of sites can go a long way towards benefitting both your site and your brand name off-site throughout your industry. It’s well worth the consideration, and all too many marketers forget it’s even an option.