What You Need to Know about Guest Posting

Thought about guest posting? It’s an excellent way to grow your audience and build your authority in your topic. But you want to approach it in the right way.

In this 23-minute episode, I talk about some of the questions I see most often around guest posting. Including …

  • What you absolutely must understand about guest posting and SEO
  • The 2 factors you need to keep in mind for every guest post you create
  • How to find a site to publish your material
  • How to link back to your own content without looking like a tool
  • How to get the best return on your time investment

The Show Notes

Sonia: Greetings, superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I’m a co-founder and the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital.

I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.

Today I want to talk about a strategy that we recommend all the time, but that a lot of people still don’t fully understand. It’s guest posting — getting your content published on someone else’s site. I’ll answer some of the questions I see all the time about guest posting, and also let you know why I’m such a fan of this strategy.

And by the way, for “guest post” you can nearly always substitute “podcast” — as far as I’m concerned, a podcast is functionally an audio blog, and the same overall strategies tend to apply.

Q1: Is guest posting bad for SEO?

This misconception came from Matt Cutts, who was then head of Google’s anti-spam team, making a quick video about some particularly clumsy spam guest posts he’d been seeing.

He was frustrated, which I think anyone with that job would be, and he spoke a little rashly. Unfortunately, his comments sent a lot of shock waves around which weren’t merited, and weren’t in the spirit of what he meant.

The one-minute detour to talk about Google

OK, at this point we need a one-minute detour to talk about Google. Now, there are highly technical and informed SEOs out there whose idea of a good time is reading 100 pages of Google patent applications. That’s not me, and it’s probably not you either.

That’s what I might call elite SEO, someone like a Greg Boser. It’s about 2% of SEO knowledge today. It’s a very powerful 2%, but most of us mortals are going to have a better time mastering the other 98%.

And that 98% is about serving an audience first, then if necessary, going back and tweaking the content very slightly so the search engine algorithms can understand what you’re doing.

If you want to know what those slight tweaks are, go pick up our free book — it’s not anything weird or spammy like jamming your keyword in there until you want to barf.

There are still complex SEO problems, which I don’t talk about because that’s not my area of expertise at all. But I do talk a lot about that 98%, because that boils down to things like respect for your audience, intelligent business practices, and creating content worth consuming. All stuff you can do.

OK, back to guest posting.

Matt Cutts never meant to say that publishing high-quality guest posts on good sites with a real intention of communicating with an audience was a spammy technique. He was just blowing off steam on an unfortunately prevalent practice among less-capable SEOs of publishing lousy guest posts on not-that-awesome sites in order to game the search engines.

He did come back later to clarify that, but as so often happens on the internet, the sensational half-truth got more coverage than the boring reality.

Good guest posting is great for SEO, but it’s not some kind of instant fix. But when you place excellent content that informs and educates onto a site with a healthy-sized audience, the resulting link is going to be a very natural, and very high-quality link that sends the right signals to the search engines that you’re an authoritative source in your topic.

Sending a quality signal

With SEO, try never to chase the artificial signals — the little bits of computer code. Yes, we use those little bits of code, but we use them because they make sense in a common-sense way, for example using a tag that indicates that a certain article is the original version and not a copy.

Instead, work hard to create the real signal. You signal quality by writing a quality post, for example.

I’m not saying this in a goody-two-shoes, kumbaya way — it’s just more practical to build the real thing, and let the algorithms evolve as they may.

Here’s my rule of thumb:

If it doesn’t otherwise make good business sense, it’s usually a bad idea to do something just for the SEO value.

Again, if you have an elite SEO working on your site, her advice trumps mine — but I’d still suggest you make sure that you’re comfortable with the business case for that advice.

On this topic, a few sites, misunderstanding the advice from Cutts, starting using “nofollow” for their links back to guest posters — which means that the search engines are being told not to consider that link as a quality signal. I think this is a bad practice, and I personally would not publish a guest post on a site that was using nofollow to link back to me.

The exception would be if you paid that site to publish your content, but I don’t recommend you do that anyway. A paid link, maybe something like a directory that people pay for inclusion in, should always be marked “nofollow,” just to be very squeaky clean in how you do things.

Q2: What kind of content should I create for a guest post?

There are two main things you want to look at when you’re creating this content:

  1. Quality
  2. Relevance

Your guest posts aren’t your “second-best” material. Create work that’s at least as good as what you publish on your own site.

If you think about it, a guest post is your opportunity to strut your stuff in front of a new audience and/or a bigger audience. So why go out with weak material?

Now the other factor is relevance, and this is where your guest post might look quite different from what you usually create.

Before you write a guest post, take a look at what else is being posted on that site. What kind of audience is it? What questions do they have? If that site accepts reader comments, look carefully at what kinds of conversations and questions are coming up there.

What are the recurring themes on that site? If you can, talk with the site’s editor about the content they’re particularly looking for. There may be something of a hole in their editorial calendar that they would love someone to jump in to.

Make sure you read Stefanie Flaxman’s great post about Guest Posting Best Practices for much more advice than I can give here.

Q3: How do I find sites to guest post for?

Most people want to jump right to posting on the big-name, big audience site for their topic.

But, as you might imagine, those sites have lots of people who want to write for them. I’m not saying don’t go for it.

(That’s if they take guest posts right now. For example Copyblogger doesn’t really, at this point, all the guest writers we’re running are people we’ve asked to tackle a particular topic.)

But most of the time, what works better is to have those sites on your list, but also include sites that are about as big as your site or slightly bigger, with an audience that you want.

It might be more of the kinds of folks you already have, whether that’s young IT professionals or working moms or whatever, or it may be a new type of person you’d like to pull toward you.

Liz Smith once said, “Little bloggers grow up.” Don’t write people off because they don’t have the huge audience yet. Look for sites with great quality and engaged readers, even if there aren’t millions of them yet. You may actually find that a smaller but more engaged audience will bring more value to you, in many ways, than the huge “household name” blog will.

Q4: Is it OK to link back to my own site in my post?

In my opinion, it’s 100% fine to link back to your own material, but you have to be cool about it. Note that every site has somewhat different policies about this, so make sure you know what’s expected.

I personally would not write for a site that didn’t let me include some links back to my own material in the content.

Now this isn’t a weird, infomercial-style promotion. It’s normal, natural links back to cornerstone concepts that you’ve expanded on elsewhere. If I wrote a guest post and it made reference to productivity techniques for flaky people, it would be normal and natural for me to link back to my podcast about Productivity for Flakes.

That’s a normal link like you see in stories every day — the idea is to expand on an idea in more depth, for people who want more information.

And to reiterate, there is no earthly reason to mark that link “nofollow” for search engines. It’s just a normal link.

Of course, you will link back to a few well-selected examples of your strongest work, in a way that’s highly relevant to the reader. Don’t cram 10,000 links in there, it’s just rude.

Also, include some similar cornerstone-concept style links to that blog’s previous content, wherever it’s relevant. That’s good manners and shows that you aren’t trying to take unreasonable advantage of the situation. It also shows that you’re familiar with that blog’s strongest content — and if you aren’t, you aren’t remotely ready to start guest posting there.

Q5: How do I get the best return on my time investment?

I’ll wrap up with a couple of tips on getting the most out of the time you put into guest blogging. It is not remotely a “low-work” strategy, so make sure you’re getting bang for your buck.

First, in your bio, make sure you talk about what you do and who you do it for — the positioning for whatever you’re doing. Make this insanely clear and concise. Everyone who reads the guest post should be able to know if there’s something you offer that would help them with the issue they care about.

Then, link to a targeted landing page for that site. So if you guest post on The Awesome Blog, your bio links to a page that says, “Welcome, Readers of The Awesome Blog” and has a message targeted to those readers. You can keep this page current for those readers, because good guest posts often get decent search traffic and you may see some traffic coming in from that site for a long time.

Third, focus your guest posting on a few sites, and publish there fairly often. You don’t need to do it forever, but writers like James Chartrand, Sean Platt, and Beth Hayden all helped to boost their own audiences by showing up regularly on Copyblogger and giving their best work.

Some current folks who we’re highlighting include Sonia Thompson and Charlie Gilkey.

Oh yeah, and Pamela Wilson and I both did that too — except we (and some others) went all Stockholm Syndrome and actually joined the company.

Now Copyblogger, for the writers we do include in our relatively small stable of guest writers, is relatively friendly to self-promotion if it’s handled in an appropriate way. Not every blog will have the same rules.

But you want to be able to serve both your host site’s audience and your own long-term business strategy — if you can’t, I’d keep looking until you find a site where the answer is and, not or. One of the cornerstone ideas of this podcast is that you can get the word out about what you do in a way that’s cool and not spammy.

This one is a little longer, because this is a somewhat advanced topic. If you want some more thoughts on how to make the connections with sites to promote your work, I have a free book on it called Effective Content Promotion.

You can find a link in the show notes, or if you’re signed up with our free content marketing library over on Copyblogger.com, you’ll find it in the EBOOKS tab.