I’ve seen many try and many fail.
Yet time and time again, others (including myself) get wild results from the same tactic.
We’re talking about guest posts, of course.
You’ve, no doubt, read that guest-posting is a tactic that can send you traffic, improve your search engine rankings, and establish you as an authority in your niche.
But most who try guest-posting for any (or all) of those reasons never see any real success. At best, they see a trickle of traffic and deem guest-posting worthless.
You’re on the right track but are missing a few key principles of effective modern guest-posting. But don’t worry, I’m going to show you exactly how I and many others achieve their goals with guest-posting.
What kind of results can you get?
I’ll show you my results throughout this guide, but there’s one case study in particular I’d like to highlight upfront.
Have you ever heard of Danny Iny? He’s the guy behind Firepole Marketing, which is a blog that now generates 7 figures per year. I bring this up because he literally built his business through guest-posting.
He wrote over 80 guest posts in his first year to take the blog from zero visitors per month to over 23,000.
If that doesn’t showcase the power of guest posts to you, I don’t know what will.
If you are interested in learning how the “big guys” guest-blog for success, settle in and take some notes.
Guest-posting can give you fame and fortune
Traffic is one potential benefit of guest-posting, but not the only one. I still regularly guest-post, despite getting over 500,000 visitors per month already. I’ll tell you a secret: I don’t do it for the few hundred or thousand of additional visitors I get from each post.
Here are the reasons why you should guest-post:
1. Traffic and subscribers: If you’re starting a brand new blog, guest posting is the most important tactic at your disposal. If you’re a good writer already, it won’t even cost you very much.
There’s one thing, however, I need to warn you about. While it is possible to generate a ton of traffic and subscribers with a single post, don’t set unrealistic expectations. In reality, it will take you writing several quality guest posts on a regular basis to generate the kind of traffic needed to build a business.
However, if you take it seriously, you might be able to hit a home run every once in a while.
For example, blogger Giles Thomas was able to get 408 subscribers from a single guest post.
In addition to short-term results, if you do everything right and get a bit lucky, your article might take off and continue to send you tons of targeted traffic over time.
Take a look at the effect one guest post on Hubspot had on Will Blunt’s list over time:
Finally, the guys at Groove were able to get thousands of visits from multiple guest posts on big name blogs:
2. Branding: Call it what you want, but your brand or reputation can be a valuable asset over time. In fact, I’d say that it’s more important than any short term traffic gains.
The main reason I continue to guest-post is to build my personal brand. Every guest post either exposes my work to new potential clients or reinforces my status as a leading marketing expert.
You won’t see the results from building your personal brand overnight. But if you consistently do it for years, you can leverage your reputation to generate revenue and help build 7-figure businesses. Consulting fees, mainly generated from my personal brand, make up approximately half of my income.
3. SEO: Go back 4 or 5 years, and guest-posting purely for SEO benefits was actually a viable tactic. For example, Nigerian blogger Bamidele was able to increase his search engine traffic by 38% by writing 31 guest posts in a week, back in 2011.
First of all, 31 posts in a week is a lot. Even if you could replicate that volume, the link value of a guest post has been devalued significantly. It’s pretty easy for Google to identify the authorship of any given guest post, considering it’s usually in a bio box at the end of an article:
In January of 2014, Matt Cutts confirmed Google’s attitude toward guest-posting in a post on his personal blog:
“So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.”
Here’s where we stand today: guest-posting can have a positive effect on your search engine traffic, but you won’t see huge results from any single post. In addition, links from guest posts on low-traffic and low-authority sites will count for barely anything at all.
Don’t guest-post because you want more search engine traffic—you have far more efficient tactics. But you can expect some SEO side-benefits from guest-posting if you do it right.
The problem with typical guest-posting strategies
Before we dive into how to do guest-posting right, you need to understand why most people get weak results or none at all.
The fundamental problem is that most bloggers want to guest-post on a site to siphon off its traffic and convert those visitors into subscribers.
You might think, “What’s wrong with that?” Didn’t I just say to use guest-posting to generate traffic? Yes, but there’s a difference.
When your only motivation is to take visitors from a site, you approach guest-posting from a selfish angle.
You’ll write an okay post because you don’t want to spend more time or money than you have to. Right?
But think about it from the point of view of a regular reader of that site. Most will see a fairly standard post and might skim it. Very few are going to read the whole thing and then be impressed enough to care about who wrote it and click through.
This is why you barely get any significant traffic or new subscribers from a post. From here, most bloggers either continue this cycle of weak results or give up on guest-blogging all together even though they know it can work.
So, what’s the solution?
You may have already figured it out: provide value.
Your post needs to stand out on a site to such a degree that its readers would feel that they need to read more from you. That’s when they’ll happily share the article (more traffic) and click through at the end to subscribe to you.
That’s the answer in a nutshell. Of course, though, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Next, I’m going to break down the process you need to follow for successful guest-posting, step-by-step.
How to get traffic, subscribers, and rankings from guest posts
In order to get great results from guest-posting, you need to have a system. If you don’t, you’ll end up wasting time and getting inconsistent results.
Here’s what I recommend starting with for anyone who is serious about achieving long-term sustainable traffic and exposure:
- Step 1: target the right sites. If you don’t guest-post on sites with sufficient targeted traffic, you won’t get great results. Most people do this okay, but I’ll show you how to do it better.
- Step 2: get approved for a guest post. Gone are the days when you can spam out a templated request to guest-post. I’ll show you what you need to do to convince top editors and site owners to let you post.
- Step 3: produce epic content. The definition of “epic” is important here, but it’s safe to say that most guest posters don’t know how to do it right.
- Step 4 (optional, but highly recommended): promote it. There are a few big reasons why promoting your guest post like any other post is a good idea. I’ll show you why and how to do it.
Step 1: Identify high-quality sites for guest-posting
Many low-quality sites look for free content by offering to accept guest posts. Obviously, these are not the sites you want to guest-blog on.
The number one aspect of a good target for a guest post is traffic. Without traffic, there’s really no benefit to posting.
The second aspect is that a significant amount of that traffic must be made of your target audience. Otherwise, no one will care about your post, no matter how good it is.
In general, there are two types of quality sites to target:
- Broad authority sites: These sites are often household names (think Forbes, The Huffington Post, or Business Insider). They have tons of traffic, and even if only a small percentage of that traffic is your target audience, it’s worth it. My regular posts on Forbes have generated a lot of business for me.
- Leading industry blogs: These blogs are much more niche-specific but are mostly made of your target audience. For me, that includes sites such as Search Engine Journal and Moz. But don’t post too frequently as most of these readers will already know you. I recommend one to three times a month.
Now, let me show you how you can find these sites.
Method 1: Broad search
To find those general massive authority sites, you need to think in broad terms.
For example, while I blog mostly on generating traffic and revenue through blogging, all these topics fall under the main niche of business.
Simply searching Google for “business” will bring up the biggest business authority sites on the Internet:
Not all of these sites will be suitable targets for guest posts as not all of them will accept guest-posting.
Others may require you to first be a leader in your field before writing for them. To demonstrate your authority, you’ll send them links to your other guest posts on industry leading blogs.
So, while you should start by making this list of the big sites that you eventually want to contribute to on a regular basis, it’s typically best to pursue the more realistic niche blogs first to build up a bit of a reputation.
Method 2: Search strings
This is likely what you’re already doing. It’s a good method to start with. You simply search for “[your niche]” + “[a guest-posting search string]” to bring up topics.
Here are some search strings you could use:
- “guest post”
- “contributing writer”
- “this is a guest post by”
- “contribute to our site”
- “guest posting guidelines”
- “suggest a post”
- “contributor guidelines”
- “guest posts wanted”
- “writers wanted”
- “write for us”
You can find more here. Your niche or keyword doesn’t need to be in quotations, but the search string does.
For example, I could search for SEO “write for us” to find SEO blogs that accept guest posts.
Start adding these potential guest-post targets to a spreadsheet, if you haven’t already.
After you have a complete list, it’s time to start trimming out blogs that want your content without providing any value in return. These blogs have little traffic and only want your content to attract search engine traffic to build their sites.
Make a column next to each blog with the heading “Comments.”
What you need to do is go to each blog individually to see what their average comment count is on each recent article. No more than 5-10 is needed. The best blogs for guest posts have 50+ comments per article, but even blogs with an average of 5+ are usually good targets.
Alternatively, you can look at the number of social shares each article gets as a way to measure the traffic and engagement of the blog. Most blogs display the share count on each article with a widget, but you can always use a social share count tool to calculate it.
Eliminate any blogs with a low number of comments or social shares.
Method 3: “Steal” your competitor’s target list
This might be my favorite way of finding lots of great guest-posting targets quickly.
First, you’ll need to find an influencer in your industry. You probably know many off the top of your head. If not, just search for “top [your niche] blogs”, and you’ll likely find many large lists of them.
Most influencers regularly guest-post. Pick one on your list for this method, but if it doesn’t work, just move on to the next.
So, for SEO, you might think of Brian Dean. He guest-posts a lot.
The idea here is to compile a list of all the places where he has guest-posted. Why? Because they are pre-vetted. Influencers won’t waste their time with low-authority sites.
All the sites you gather here will:
- have sufficient traffic
- accept guest posts
- contain your target audience
To compile your list, search for: “[name of influencer]”.
Really, that’s it.
Note: If there are too many other people with the same name, just add a major keyword to your search (like “SEO” for Brian).
The first few results will bring up personal blogs and social media profiles. Obviously, these aren’t your guest-post targets:
Once you scroll down, you’ll start seeing guest posts. Keep going through the pages until you have a list of all their guest posts. For many influencers, you’ll be able to compile a list of 50+ blogs in 15 minutes.
If the influencer is prolific enough, this method will be enough for you to identify good sites to guest-post on for the time being.
Step 2: Don’t let them say no
Now that you have a list of sites that accept guest posts and meet all the conditions we talked about, it’s time to convince them to give you a shot.
Remember, these aren’t your ordinary blogs—they are very picky. If they aren’t convinced by your headline and your article description that your idea is great, they won’t give you a chance.
Here is how to increase your chances of being accepted:
Tactic # 1: Follow guidelines to the letter
Major blogs get dozens, or even hundreds, of requests to guest-post every day. To encourage good submissions, they often post guest-posting guidelines. If you don’t follow these exactly, your email will be automatically trashed in most cases.
To find out what the submission guidelines of a particular blog are, search for “[your target blog] + [guest post guidelines]” to see if they have any:
Those guidelines will usually tell you:
- what the site expects in a post
- how to pitch a post
- what you’re allowed/not allowed to put in your post (e.g., links)
- what you get out of the post
Study them, take notes, and then make sure to follow them for all the rest of the steps in this guide.
Tactic #2: If no guidelines are published, email the site
Not all sites publish guest-posting guidelines, especially if it’s a personal blog. They rarely accept guest posts and don’t want to encourage others to submit pitches.
This is where it gets a bit tricky. These bloggers typically have the mindset that no one else cares about their readers as much as they do (and they are usually right). This is why they only accept guest posts from very big names or friends.
If you contact them with a typical guest-post pitch, it’ll likely get shot down unless you already have a reputable blog.
Instead, if you’re relatively unknown, you’ll need to build a bit of a relationship.
First, you’ll need their email address (contact forms are the last resort).
I recommend signing up for their email list. Look for a signup box in the sidebar or at the top of a page (usually on the home page).
You will then get emails from that blogger, which you can reply to.
Here are the emails you will need to send:
Email #1: Get personal
The first time you email an influential blogger, try to stand out as much as possible. The simplest way to achieve that is to tell them how much you liked one of their recent posts (and mean it).
Tell them that you took advice from that post and actually applied it. Almost every blogger loves when someone actually uses their advice.
You’ll likely get a response thanking you for the kind words and asking for more specifics about the results of implementing the advice.
Email #2: When you get the results, share them
Yes, this means that you actually have to do some work first! But if you want to land spots on exclusive blogs, this is how you go about it.
At that point, the blogger might offer to write up a case study on you if you had good results. Or you can pitch a case study yourself.
Email #3: Wait a while, and ask if you can guest-post
Sometimes a case study won’t be appropriate. But the good news is that the blogger knows that you not only read their blog but that you also take action.
So a week or two later, you can send an email that looks something like this:
The [outcome from taking advice] is still producing great results.
I seriously appreciate all the hard work you do to create useful, actionable advice about [topic].
I know it’s difficult to produce top-notch quality consistently, so I was wondering if you’d like a hand with it.
I’ve already brainstormed a few ideas that I think would really resonate with your readers:
- [Idea 1]
- [Idea 2]
I’ve written a lot in this niche. Here are some examples of my articles that capture the quality of my writing:
- [link to a guest post or your own blog article #1]
- [link to a guest post or your own blog article #2]
I know you don’t accept guest posts often, but I’d be honored if I could contribute to [site name].
If not, no worries—I won’t stop reading your posts :p.
No, you won’t be successful at getting your guest-blogging opportunity 100% of the time, but you’ll get a fair number of responses. Of course, this takes a lot of work and planning upfront, but that’s why it works.
Tactic # 3: Come up with a killer idea
For most guest-post proposals, you’ll only submit one or two ideas. This will include both a headline and a 50-100-word description.
First, you’ll need a topic before you can write a headline or description.
For your post to do well, it needs to resonate with the readers of that particular site. Not only will this maximize your benefits from the post but it will also ensure that the editor or owner of the site will love you, which will allow you to post again in the future.
In order to find out what types of posts resonate with the site’s readers, you need to analyze its most popular posts. Ideally, look for posts that were written in the last year as they’ll reflect the current audience most accurately.
Some sites will have a list of the top posts of all time in the sidebar, but if a site doesn’t, use BuzzSumo to find out which posts have been shared the most.
For example, if I wanted to guest-post on Boost Blog Traffic, I would search the domain name and sort by total social shares:
This gives me a list of the most popular posts on the site:
Make note of the types of posts that did best. In this case, it’s big list posts.
You can pick any topic from this list—it’s up to you. But it’s best to pick topics that are related as closely to your blog’s topic as possible in order to attract the right kind of visitors.
The next step is to write a headline that stands out. A great headline can make or break you, so spend as much time as you need on this step. Read The Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Powerful Headlines if you need help.
In the example above, the topics that are closely related to my blogs are traffic generation (the case study) and being mentioned on popular blogs.
Here are a few examples of headlines I could pitch:
- 101 Networking Resources That’ll Take You From Unknown to an Interview Superstar
- Case Study: How I Was Able to Get Mentioned by 5 Top Internet Marketing Bloggers
- 51 Ways to Promote Your Next Blog Post and Get 403% More Traffic
- Case Study: How to Grow a New Blog to 100,000 Visitors per Month in under 1 Year
See what I’m doing? I’m taking proven headlines and topics and putting my spin on them.
I strongly recommend pitching list posts whenever possible. List posts are the easiest to write and generally perform the best.
Finally, you need a description. While it’s not the most important part, this is where you close the sale, so don’t get lazy.
Your description needs to be long enough for your angle to be clear but not so long that you’re rambling on about important details.
Remember the 5 Ws:
Not all of the Ws will be important for every article, but always go through that list. For example, my description for “101 Networking Resources That’ll Take You From Unknown to an Interview Superstar” would be:
- Who: Newbie bloggers
- What: Networking resources
- Where: On blogs and podcasts
- Why: To get interviews, which will lead to traffic and exposure
- When: Strategies that can be done within one year
Put it all together, and you get something like this:
I want to put together a comprehensive collection of the best networking resources for newbie bloggers.
These resources will help your readers get interviews on blogs and podcasts, which will lead to exposure and traffic for their sites. To top it off, all of these strategies will be doable in less than one year.
Make it clear and concise. If you picked your topic and headline right, that’s all you’ll need.
Tactic #4: Pitch your idea
With a great headline and description in your arsenal, you just need to present your idea in the right way.
Here’s a template I’ve shared with you before:
Subject: you should blog about [insert your guest blog post topic]
[insert their first name],
As an avid reader of [insert their site name], I would love to read about [insert guest blog post topic], and I think your readers would as well.
Your content on [insert existing post from their website #1, insert existing post from their website #2, and insert existing post from their website #3] is great, but I think you can tie it all together by blogging on [insert guest blog post topic].
I know you are probably busy and won’t blog on it, so I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.;-) How about I write it for you? Don’t worry, I’m a great blogger and have had my posts featured on [insert previous guest post URL #1] and [insert previous guest post URL #2].
Let me know if you are interested. I already know your blogging style, plus I understand what your readers love as I am one of them.;-)
Look forward to hearing from you,
[insert your name]
And here’s another solid pitch by Alex from Groove:
Note that they are fairly different. Good pitches come in all shapes and sizes. But you’ll notice that they both:
- are fairly short
- demonstrate experience (other guest-post samples or big blog names)
- pitch a specific topic
You can choose to pitch the headline or omit it for now. If you think you have an amazing one, include it.
Don’t just copy these templates; tweak them so that they reflect your personal voice. If you send the same templated pitches as everyone else is sending, you’re more likely to get ignored.
At this point, you might be thinking: “But I have no other guest posts to use as samples.”
Don’t worry, everyone starts somewhere. Omit those parts of the pitch, and instead include a link to your best blog post on your site. Start by pitching to some of the smaller blogs so that you can use those guest posts as samples for the bigger ones. In other words, work your way up.
Step 3: Produce epic content for your guest post
You sent out a few pitches, and one of the sites you approached told you to go ahead and write your post—success!
Now you need to deliver.
Remember I told you that the definition of “epic” is important?
The reason why it’s important is because it changes based on the site you’re pitching to.
An epic post for a particular site is one that is clearly better than 95% of other posts on that site.
In other words, epic is relative.
If you went to a general site like Forbes and posted a short article about 7 things entrepreneurs should do on Twitter, it’ll do well. But if you post it on an industry-leading blog, such as Moz, it’s going to get laughed at for being too basic.
On the flip side, if you wrote a super in-depth post on technical SEO, it’d do well on Moz, but it would go over the heads of most Forbes’ readers and go unnoticed.
Create an epic article for the particular site you’re posting on.
That being said, if you follow Step 2 of this guide to the letter, you’ll already have a great topic and headline.
Now, let’s talk about two parts to writing effective guest posts.
Part 1: Write a great post
Without a really readable and well-written article, you might not even get published. Even then, not many readers will go through the whole post, which you need if you want to see any results. Here are some things you should do:
- make everything data-driven and actionable
- create or buy custom images when possible
- format the post for maximum readability
- hire an editor/proofreader
- provide the post in html to preserve formatting
Part 2: Create an offer for readers
I’ve mentioned content upgrades before. They’re one of the best ways to convert blog post readers into subscribers. While it’s typically used for posts on your own site, you can also use it for your guest posts.
Create a free bonus that is highly relevant to the guest post you write. Offer it at the end of the guest post.
For example, if I wrote a post on 101 networking resources, I could offer a case study on how I used one or more of the strategies in the resources to land a big interview. Anyone interested in that article will be highly interested in that bonus, and I could expect high conversion rates (upwards of 5%).
On top of the offer, you’ll need a simple landing page for it. Use to explain what’s in your bonus and how it will help your visitor.
If you’ve never created a landing page before, learn how to here.
Finally, you need a call to action. Tell your readers to click through to get their free bonus. Ideally, you will have the call to action at the end of the post itself, but the bio will also do a decent job:
Step 4: Do everything in your power to make it explode
If you complete the first 3 steps, you’ll get great results.
But you can take the results to the next level by promoting your post.
If you promote your post, it will get more traffic, which will lead to more readers clicking through and subscribing to your blog. It could also lead to better search engine rankings for your guest post (if any of those extra readers link to the post), which will send you consistent, long-term traffic.
I won’t go into advanced promotional strategies here, but I’ll talk about a few simple but effective things you should do:
- Post to aggregators sites: Find a relevant subreddit or a niche-specific aggregator like Inbound.org, and submit your post. If your content is really great, it should be able to send at least a few hundred more visitors to your guest post.
- Email anyone you mention in the article: It’s one thing to mention someone on your own blog, but it’s even more special if you do it on an authority blog. Send an email to anyone you mention, letting them know you featured them and linked to their site. Ask them to check it out, and invite them to share it or comment.
- Email your list: If you have any list at all, no matter how small, email it. Tell your subscribers about the post, and ask them to leave a comment on it.
- Share on social media: It won’t drive a ton of traffic, but it could drive some. In addition, every share acts as social proof if it’s shown on a share counter on the post itself.
Finally, respond to every comment. I do this on all my blogs even though it takes time. You’ll have a double benefit: the editor of that blog will appreciate it, and it will make your post look more impressive as it will double the number of comments the post will have.
Guest-posting is still a great strategy to build a blog with, but it takes time.
It is a long-term tactic. You will have to send pitches on a continuous basis so that you can write a couple of guest posts per week. Don’t get frustrated if a few get rejected or ignored as it’s normal.
Once you start getting consistent opportunities, your traffic and subscribers will start to really grow.
It will be slow at first, but over time you will have a flood of traffic generated by all of your guest posts out there:
Repeat the four steps in this article over and over, and you’ll achieve similar results to those that I, or any other niche influencer, have had.
Leave me a comment below telling me what your goals with guest posts are. How many pitches do you plan on making per week? How long will you commit to pitching and writing guest posts?