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The Undead: Guest Blogging in 2015 and Beyond

Reports of guest blogging’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

guest blogging

There’s no nice way to say it: SEOs ruined guest blogging for everybody.

Immediately following the first Penguin algorithm update in April of 2012, spammy link sources like garbage directories, forums and blog comments were being devalued/penalized, and the SEO world sought a newer, “safer” source of anchor-text rich links.

Given Google’s love affair with content, it’s no wonder that content-based links are where SEOs turned next. But most SEOs were inexperienced with creating, marketing and selling their clients on the benefits of content beyond just links, rankings and traffic.

With contracts already signed off and waiting for results, guest posters started taking big, ugly shortcuts. The old-school link building mentality of “fast, cheap and scalable” came roaring into guest posting, while the focus was 100 percent on getting a backlink, then moving on to the next viable/easy source.

As the emails started flying and the quality got worse and worse, Matt Cutts slammed the door on guest posting for links, though he clarified that the practice still had practical and smart applications outside of pure link spamming.

The bigger point is this:

in their attempts to influence rankings, SEOs ignored the more meaningful connections between success in content and increased sales—exactly what the customer ultimately hired them for.

For guest posting to become a viable tactic again, it’s marketers themselves who have to change: Change the way they sell guest posting (and content), the way they measure results (and what they promise) and the way they approach this tactic.

Thankfully, as the industry matures and gets better acquainted with the nuances of content marketing, we’re seeing this change happening.

What is Guest posting even good for now?

If links aren’t the focus, why guest post at all?

Because: Guest blogging can expose you to an established, engaged audience you may never have otherwise reached. Guest posts are one of the better tools in your arsenal for expanding your audience and establishing yourself as an authority.

Whether you’re promoting directly within your niche (e.g., a digital marketing firm posting to Moz) or laterally across niches (e.g., a digital marketer posting to a business site for startups), guest posts open the doors for more people to discover, follow and buy from you.

That places a HUGE importance on audience—and where in the past, prospecting might have been done using metrics like page rank or search engine ranking, today’s prospecting should be done with a 100 percent focus on the relevance and receptiveness of the audience.

It’s one of the smartest ways to break out of the echo chamber and expand your influence to people who have never heard of you before. You’ll also be leveraging:

  • Someone else’s SEO. If your site can’t rank for a phrase because you lack the link clout or authority, the next best thing is to have your name attached to the top-ranking page on someone else’s domain.
  • Someone else’s promotion. Amplification is time consuming and expensive. If you can tap into an established audience on a publication that already promotes their content, you can save yourself the cost and effort of doing this all yourself from scratch.
  • Someone else’s authority. If your work is good enough to get published on a prominent hub, you look great by virtue of the site who has agreed to host your work.
okay, but why not save your best content  for your own website, so that you can yield all the links, traffic, social signals, email opt-ins, etc.?

Because: There’s a false dichotomy that marketers have to choose between guest posting and creating great things for their own websites. I established this in my piece about onsite versus offsite publishing but In reality, you can do both—publish amazing content on your own blog AND capitalize on guest posting opportunities.

If you’re in tune with your audience and industry, there should never come a point where you’re out of great things to write about.

Guest posting is a tool to pull out of your arsenal when you’re looking to expand your pool of prospective leads, reach people who have never heard of you and add another level of “prestige” and credibility to your offering.

What about scale?

In addition to the link-building mentality, a huge part of the reason guest blogging became a hot mess was the rampant pursuit of “scale”—more links, less time, less cost.

If you want to use guest posting to its full advantage in 2015, it’s time to rethink the concept of scale. If your goal is, as it should be, to build authority, generate traffic, establish a relationship and, yes, drive leads, there are two common ways to approach it:

1. Create several pieces and approach several sources.
Given that there’s a greater amount of outreach and pitching going on as well as a higher number of pieces to be produced on the same budget, your outreach is bound to be less personalized, as is your content. Your targets are likely to be lower-tier as well, as the big guns (industry hubs and major outlets) will have stricter editorial controls that warrant more time and effort.

2. Create ONE phenomenal piece for ONE phenomenal source.
Invest a considerable amount of time in creating one great asset, hyper-targeted at a large hub or prominent blog that is well-trafficked and has a large built-in community. In digital marketing, this would be sites like Moz, Forbes, Quick Sprout and so on. The advantage here is that even if your intended target refuses your piece, you’ve now got a highly relevant, extremely well-written piece to market at another authority.

If your goal was links, the first approach would be better without question. But for those looking to build authority and leech off of an established audience, it makes far more sense to create fewer pieces, more deliberately, for more attractive targets.

In the same way that one good link has the value of a thousand mediocre ones, one great post on a prominent site may yield exponentially higher returns than a scattershot approach.

But what if that’s not enough?

The ugly truth is that no one tactic should make up 100 percent of your content marketing. If you’re used to leaning on one tactic as a catchall for every outcome, well, unlearn that. Guest posting should be used selectively, in moderation to maximize impact—other tactics should step in to complement and help carry the weight.

Outreach will only get harder.

One of the unintended outcomes of the great “guest post rush” of 2012–2014 was that webmasters got introduced to SEO’s ugly side and got their guard up somethin’ fierce. At this point, websites can spot a “please let us place some content here for a link” request a mile away, and most are used to ignoring these types of requests.

What’s a well-meaning content marketer to do?

Way back in 2012, James Agate of Skyrocket tested out some theories on guest post outreach, coming to the following helpful conclusions:

  • Women rule. Outreach from women received a higher average response rate.
  • Job title matters. When you can, represent yourself as someone in-house to the company contacting as opposed to a freelancer or agency (but be truthful).
  • Be persistent. More than 30 percent of the tested outreach got a response on the second or third try.
  • Personalize. While it takes more time and effort, bespoke outreach emails receive a higher response rate.

What’s important to realize is that behind every successful guest post is at least some form of cordial relationship. The old, “I stumbled across your site!” just isn’t going to cut it anymore. If you’re serious about reaching a prospect, it pays to do a bit of stalking/friendly conversation/community participation before making your ask.

How SHould I Measure guest posting ROI?

Rather than a “we got five links from five guest posts” approach, measuring and reporting on the ROI from guest posting takes a more complete approach. I’d hugely recommend you watch this video from Brian Dean:

In summary:

  • Referring traffic – How many people are compelled enough by your content to check out your site? This reflects a direct interest in who you are and what you’re speaking about.
  • Conversions – Tie this into referring traffic to make it even more informative. How many of the people who came over from a referring source completed a conversion—whether that’s a sale, an e-mail sign up, etc.?
  • Host traffic – How much traffic did your post generate for the host? You may not be able to get this information, but if you can, it’ll help you understand how relevant your post was, as well as give you a nice number you can cite when pitching future guest posting opportunities.
  • Branded traffic – Head into webmaster tools and measure how many impressions/clicks you’re generating for your branded queries. Has it gone up since your guest post went live? This may be an indication of interest, especially if you weren’t able to secure a link with your post.
  • Social shares – How well did your piece perform in social? Gathering these metrics can be invaluable for determining what topics hit home while also giving you stats to cite in your pitches. You can ALSO hop in and start conversations with those who shared your piece or made a comment on it on social in order to grow your following.
  • Social following – Whether it’s Twitter, Pinterest or whatever network applies, how did your social following change relative to putting the post live?

All of these things are metrics that can be reported internally or back to clients, each with relevant business applications and tie-backs to goals.

Should I still Accept Guest Posts?

We’ve talked about placing posts, but what about accepting them? Is it still a safe, smart thing to do?

There are some positives to inviting guest posts:

  • Added traffic (both from the initial push and from organic search across time)
  • Reduced time creating content
  • Opportunity to reach a new audience (if the author promotes it)

If the writer is genuinely a good fit for your audience, you also stand to make a great connection and build a relationship that could pay off in a myriad of ways.

Of course, there are also some serious drawbacks:

  • You will likely be inundated with requests.
    Keep in mind that the way most SEOs go about finding opportunities is a simple Google search for sites in their niche that include a phrase like “guest post” or “guest author,” and adding yourself to that list means getting more emails to wade through.
  • You will need to play editor.
    Reviewing content to make sure it’s unique, interesting and not full of spammy links takes time and energy. That’s OK if you get enough benefit back, but otherwise, it could be a wasted effort.
  • You may need to tweak your site a bit.
    In order to attribute the article or give a limited login to an author, you may need a bit of dev work to get everything looking sharp.

What about penalties?

For awhile, there was a grand hullabaloo of speculation that sites that accepted guest posts would be penalized. This is simply not true. Some of the best blogs in the business are built almost entirely from guest posting—the difference is the way they manage it.

If you plan to accept guest posts, you’ll need some strict editorial controls on the way you delve out links. There are also concerns with voice, tone and trust. Your audience reads with expectation; if you’ve worked hard to build a brand, you should be VERY selective about who gets airtime on your owned media channels.

Evaluate authors carefully (and be picky!):

  • Are they giving you their real name and company, or hiding that until you agree to take the piece? (Sketchy, mass guest-post schemes hide the company they’re representing to avoid potential fallout. Beware!)
  • Do they have a track record of producing interesting, deep and unique pieces? (Google authors/business names, read their blogs and any other guest posts you come across.)
  • Are they insistent on particular anchor text/links within the content? (Their motivations are likely in the wrong place.)
  • Do they regularly promote the content they publish on other peoples’ sites? (Do they have a built-in audience and work hard to get their content seen, or is this a drive-by blogging?)

While it’s almost inevitable that you won’t be the only site they’ve contacted, you want to feel like guest authors have invested time and effort into their piece, their outreach and their approach to guest posting on the whole.

Guest Posting Will Never Die

The industry has been through a rocky patch with guest posting, largely driven by a poor mentality on what it should be used for and an even worse approach to making it work.

For businesses who want to stay safe from Google’s ire, gone are the days of mass-producing content, spewing it onto no-editorial-process blogs and counting the links as they roll in.

Content marketing on the whole is getting more personal, professional and intentional, and that’s a wonderful thing. Those who win with guest posting now will be those who spend time creating something targeted and worthwhile, invest in building relationships BEFORE they try to cash in on them and use guest posting the way it’s intended: To expand audiences and grow reach.

As long as that remains your motivation, you’ll never have a problem—not this year, next year or a hundred years from now.

9 responses to “The Undead: Guest Blogging in 2015 and Beyond”

  1. Joel K says:

    Hey Ayodeji – Sorry I missed this, something’s gone funky with Disqus on this site! Good mix of folks you asked; helpful resource.

    Cheers!

  2. Yo Ayodeji I saw that post, great write up and many very interesting remarks made by those experts.

    Joel : I would just like to add here that many have missed the bus. way back in August / September of 2013 the smelly stuff collided with the wind making machine, and things changed very seriously within the SEARCH ENVIRONMENT.

    many marketers have not understood the VERY REAL AND SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS OF GOOGLE HUMMING BIRD. This new algorithm by Google changed search from KEYWORDS to CONCEPTS when Google started reducing the available data for key words we all jumped up and down complaining like children throwing a tantrum, but little did we realize they were busy preparing us for HUMMINGBIRD

    So what is the SEMANTIC VALUE of a guest post? This question introduces a completely different aspect to the question of the SEO value of a guest post, as SEO today is all about the SEMANTIC associations of your different marketing efforts and how they are connected through the associated digital entities that make up your marketing efforts.

    This is the primary reason that Social media adds so much SEO value to your online content. The trust factor #SEOVI (Search Engine Optimsation Value Indicators) which are connected to the various different digital entities through their interconnectedness add up and are used by the search engine in many different ways when the SEMANTIC FOOTPRINT of your online content is evaluated within the many different areas and separated realms of cyberspace.

    A guest post has a great many advantages here and extends your semantic footprint in many strange ways, where the actual audience of the guest post have new network nodes to approach you and your other online content through the association of your guest post with the individual author and through that avenue link back to your other content and thereby add a little depth to the semantic footprint that you and the many other individuals within your organisation are leaving where ever they contribute to any online resource.

    Marketers need to be informed of the very real impacts that the GOOGLE HUMMING BIRD is having within the online marketing environment through the issues associated to SEMANTIC SEARCH

    Thanx for a great article discussing guest blogging, because you mentioned so many of the important issues that are also connected to this.

    appreciated and shared further.

    • Joel K says:

      Hey Frank – interesting perspective re: Hummingbird, thank you for sharing!
      How do you think Google attributes this semantic data back to an individual site? How does it measure these semantic relationships and calculate them in aggregate – or the “semantic footprint” you’re talking about? Got an articles or stuff from Google’s side on that?

      For example, how does Google KNOW to attribute the semantic footprint back to one, specific author/website/link, particularly if the post is full of multiple links? Do they all become part of that same footprint?

      Cheers for reading and sharing.

      • These are very complicated issues and nobody that I have spoken to is prepared to say very much. Issues around author authority and publisher trust factors are getting the job done by improving the SERP’s when you use social media to promote your web site, blog or other online resource.

        THE PROOF OF THIS IS IN THE ACTUAL RESULTS. it is not one isolated post on any specific platform, but the collective effort many differnt people using a number of different tools ranging from #IPSEO (In Page Search Engine Optimisation) where the many different schema are being implemented all the way through the many different #OPSEO (Off Page Search Engine Optimisation) such as content marketing, inbound marketing, social media marketing, guest posting on blogs and so many other Off Page SEO tools.

        One does need to remember that SEO has three objectives
        1) ENSURE THAT YOUR SITE IS INDEXED BY THE SEARCH ENGINES#
        2) ENSURE THAT YOUR CONTENT APPEARS IN THE SERP’s
        3) ENSURE THAT YOUR INTENDED TARGET MARKET SELECT YOUR LINK IN THE SERP’s AND THEN PERFORM AT LEAST ONE CTA (CALL TO ACTION)

        failure in any one means that your SEO has failed.

        If you have not done the relevant schema stuff as well as used the REL = AUTHOR and REL = PUBLISHER stuff then this is an issue, as how can you suck information out of thin air?

        take a look at the pages that are appearing in the SERP’s and you will get a surprise as to what percentage of the pages near the top have used these very sneaky and devious techniques that connect specific persons and other digital entities to the page through the use of some schema tag or other, as well as give credit to the publisher and author of an article or related content.

        the changes that came along with the Google Humming bird algo were very significant, though they were not instantly seen, they have been creeping up and taking influence as Google and other search engines gathher ever more personal data about every identifiable digital entity, and start the process of expanding the data for each digital identities social network connections.

        these are slowly being used as SEOVI (Search Engine Optimization Value Indicators) specifically within the TRUST areas of concern where authority is at stake, and this can be seen by the quality of the SERP’s in general that are significantly getting more accurate as time goes by.

        think about the last few times that you have searched for anything online and evaluate the quality of the SERP’s for your own searches.

        repeat this both logged in and logged out of Google and see the difference. the main difference is the semantic associations between you and the G+ network when logged in which is excluded when logged out.

        If you do not use the tools made available then you should not complain when the job gets messy and seems impossible. Google pushed the authorship issue very hard at one stage, but when they detected other equally reliable methods to connect authors, publisher and content they opted to use those, as the HTML 5 method of REL = AUTHOR was being heavily abused and not implemented for the right reasons, so it was becoming a bad or corrupted social signal that needed to be addressed.

        That does not mean that you should not use these HTML 5 TOOLs, but that you should use thm in the correct context and place them in appropriate places and remove them from where they do not belong.

        The Black Hat Team are always on the prowl and are quick to exploit things that appear to work, and their tactics are slowly but surely being attributed to individuals who are finding it ever more difficult to cheat, as the SEMANTIC FOOTPRINTS left by each digital entity (including you) are all unique, lust like your fingerprints.

  3. savvybrown says:

    Excellent post. I’ve been debating whether or not it’s worth it to put the same time and effort into a post for someone else. I’m really focused on quality on my site but I know could use some help with reach. But you’re right, if I write an amazing post and one person doesn’t want it, I could always give it to someone else or expand it into an eBook. Thanks!

    • Joel Klettke says:

      I’d say that it’s all about your goals. For example, a post on Moz will give you ENORMOUS reach in a very short period of time, and you can leech that audience; same goes for any large hub. Even publishing on LinkedIn can expose you to a huge audience outside of your own, so it can be a smart move to put effort into posts you’re not putting on your site. I’d say it’s a balance, not too much on either side of the coin.

  4. savvybrown says:

    Wow. This is an AMAZING resource you’ve compiled Ayodeji. I’m saving this and reading it but by bit! 🙂

  5. MIDGR.COM says:

    SEO is just being overdone making it more and more complicated with marginal results. Eventually it all melts down to content creation and it’s publishing at platforms with rich contextual links that pass on juice. Shotgun approach doesnt work really well for SEO if you want quicker results.