Accepting guest posts should be a lot easier than it is.
If you’re looking for a way to expand the amount of content on your site while building relationships and tapping into the authority/audiences of other people, opening your site up to guest posts is a smart move.
Sites like Moz, Torque and even Medium have built their businesses on outside contributions, and when the process works, it works really well.
That said, this is not a strategy to waltz into blindly or without preparation.
In a perfect world, you’d only get submissions from qualified people who know your blog, respect your audience and write like prize-winning authors.
In reality, you’ll probably be inundated with pitches from all kinds of strange folks from all over the web. Without spending time upfront preparing to quell the tide, you’ll wind up spending hours sorting through awful and irrelevant content before finding those gems worthy of publishing.
But it doesn’t need to be that way.
Guest post guidelines are your first line of defense against irrelevant or poorly written content, and in this post, I’ll show you everything you need to consider and include in your guidelines to help stem the tide and save you hours of reviewing pitches and editing posts (and trust me, you WILL be editing posts, no matter how good your guidelines may be).
The Essential Components of Effective Guest Post Guidelines
I’m going to systematically break down a logical flow for your guidelines that will lead potential contributors through everything they want to know about getting content on your site.
While it might seem like frivolous copy, an opening message is your chance to confirm that yes, you accept guest contributions, but no, it’s not a free-for-all. This is your chance to explain:
- Who you are: While you’d hope that whoever is contacting you would already understand the type of site/business you are, this isn’t always the case. This opening paragraph from The Humanist’s guest post guidelines makes it clear what kind of publication they are:
- Who you reach: Help guest posters understand the audience that you reach, quickly sharing demographics, psychographics, job titles and more that will paint a picture of who the content is intended for. This can not only help weed out irrelevant contributions, but attract the right kinds of authors.
- Your goals/vision: What does your company/blog actually stand for? What is the message you want to send? What do you want to achieve? All of this is usually rooted in solving the pain points of a customer, making the previous point all the more important.
2. Who can write for us?
The next section you want to lay out is who is welcome to publish on your blog. If you’re open to all contributions, say so—but this may not be the case. For example, you may want to specify that you only take blog posts from…
- Those in particular industries or roles
- Recognized experts
For example, these guidelines from Student BMJ immediately exclude contributions from those who don’t meet strict criteria:
You’ll also want to mention whether or not you pay for guest content, and if so, it might help to mention how much. While mentioning you pay out $200/post (or whatever the figure may be) may attract some unsavory types looking to make a quick buck, it can also act as an incentive for more authoritative authors to spend time crafting a piece of content for your site.
3. types of content accepted
Only interested in opinion pieces or how-to articles? Not interested in native ads or anything sales-focused? It’s important to specify the types of content you’ll accept, including the topics you’re willing to publish on.
- Specify whether or not you accept syndicated/unoriginal posts (most sites demand a post be totally unique).
- Mention the types of posts you do not accept (press releases, etc.).
- Highlight and reiterate the topics you accept guest posts on. Make it clear that any posts outside of these topics will not be considered.
- Include links to samples of very successful posts on the site. This makes it much easier to know if a pitch will be a fit.
- This is a good time to mention your publishing frequency and how often new posts are pushed live. Setting this expectation in advance will help you avoid getting nagged by authors who thought their post would be live within the week.
- IMPORTANT: Specify whether you accept pitches, drafts or both. If you want to pre-approve pitches instead of combing through drafts, say so. If you’d rather see the entire written post from the get-go, let writers know.
This sample from the MarketingProfs’ guidelines makes it obvious that only certain types of posts will be accepted, then links to examples of previous posts that help a prospective guest poster understand what will be required.
For another great live example of this, read the guidelines for Pacific Standard Magazine.
4. Post Guidelines
This is typically the meatiest part of guest post guidelines, and it covers a lot of the practical things a writer would need to know about contributing to your site, including:
- Post length: Give a range of words a post should fall within to avoid getting tweet-length submissions or long-winded diatribes.
- Image requirements: Is the guest poster required to provide a certain number of images, or will this be handled on your side? Include details on what types of images are allowed, as well as any required image slots (like in the header). You should also offer guidelines for citing image sources to ensure you blog avoids plagiarism.
- Citing sources: Make it clear how to cite research sources and lay out how these citations ought to be done.
- Guidelines on links: Will all links be no-followed? Is anchor text allowed, or not allowed? What kinds of sites can/cannot be linked to?
- Metadata markup: How should guest posters mark up headers and links in their posts? Do you want the links embedded, added into a comments margin, or put in brackets after the intended linking text? While this sounds like a small consideration, having authors properly mark up elements of their page can save what adds up to hours of editing time.
- Any unique requirements: Need authors to open up the post with a few bullet points? Require that every post end with a call-to-action? These kinds of unique requirements should be clearly stated so that writers know how to tailor their content to your existing formatting and flow.
- Consider offering complete or simplified style guides: One of the biggest and best tools at your disposal is a style guide that lays out your voice, tone and requirements. Whether it’s a longer document or a summarized list of bullet points, arming guest posters with this information will cut down on editing time.
Check out this example from A List Apart, which offers both a detailed style guide and a few key points for authors:
5. submission guidelines
With all of the post details out of the way, you now need to explain how posts should be submitted. Shoot to include:
- Accepted formats: Whether you accept PDFs, Word docs or another type of written format, let writers know the format they need to send their work in.
- Point of submission: Whether it’s email contact details, a live submission form or Google Docs information, show the step-by-step process of getting a post into editors’ hands.
- A “purple monkey dishwasher” eliminator: One of the easiest ways to weed out people who didn’t read your guidelines is to include a subtle action that anyone submitting MUST take to be considered; for example, using the phrase “Purple Monkey Dishwasher” in the subject line of their pitch. This way, you know that anyone who submits with any other subject line didn’t read your guidelines and isn’t worth considering.
- Byline/headshot information: If you need your guest posters to submit a byline, make sure you tell them how long it should be and what information they can include (social media handles, links to their website, etc.). Because bylines are one of the most abused sections for SEO, this may be another chance to let potential authors know you’ll edit bylines and remove links that do not meet your standards or are manipulative.
- Important editing information: Let writers know that you reserve the right to edit their headlines, body copy and anything else, and that once they submit a piece of writing, it becomes your property. It should be obvious to anyone who applies to write for you that there are standards and changes that will be enforced; otherwise, you could get some cranky emails and phone calls.
6. What comes next?
Want to save yourself 5,000 impatient emails? Let those who submit know what happens after they click “Send.”
- Average review time: Make it known how long it usually takes to review and approve pieces, and mention if the queue is long.
- How they’ll be notified: Set the expectation for how writers will be told their pitch is accepted, so they’re not left wondering.
- What happens if refused: Give writers some insight into how they’ll know if the piece wasn’t taken. It’s OK not to respond at all, but perhaps mention that if they haven’t heard by “X” time period, chances are good they’ve been refused. You may also want to mention that you do not give feedback on every submission or let every writer know what needed to be changed or improved to make the cut.
The more information you can arm your guest posters with, the more likely that what they’ll submit will be useful to you. Treat this blog post like a checklist, and get better submissions flowing in from day one!