At the time of writing this, our first ever guest post has been up for 21 hours and has been shared 103 times across LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and a smattering of other services.
Considering our blog here is only couple of weeks old, I’m calling it a victory.
While the jury’s still out on what kind of traffic and exposure that actually means for us, things are looking up – and that kind of social engagement is nothing to scoff at early on.
Guest posting was something I’d done a lot of reading on and wanted to jump into for some time, but I fully expected to be building a portfolio of low-engagement posts on other small sites before ever publishing something that pulled in some social traction.
Maybe I got lucky.
But just maybe it was more cultivated serendipity; something along the lines of Gary Vaynerchuk noting that it tends to be people who work hard who “have the most luck.”
But enough of that, here are the exact steps I took to get our first guest blog post pitched, accepted, published, and shared 100+ times in under 24 hours:
Step 1) I Identified My Weight Class
Any resource I’ve ever read about effectively landing guest blogging gigs will tell you that your first step should be building a relationship.
While this is certainly key – and I’ll dig into it in a minute – I found that many of those same resources leave something to be desired when it comes to identifying exactly who you should start building that relationship with.
Most guest blogging how-to’s come from well known bloggers who talk about nurturing relationships with, well, other well-known bloggers.
I quickly realized that, no matter how confident I am in writing a great piece, I was likely to be ignored by the big players in entrepreneurial blogging (Kissmetrics, Quicksprout, Copyblogger, Buffer, etc.), let alone some of the mainstream outlets some writers have gotten themselves published on (Forbes, Business Insider, etc.).
That’s why I tweeted this question to startup superstars Groove a couple weeks back:
Groove’s CEO Alex Turnbull runs their (awesome) blog on startup growth, and he has some great case studies on how successful he’s been with guest blogging as a growth strategy.
They answer 3 reader questions every Friday, and I was one of the lucky ones :
You can read the full response here (and I encourage you to), but the gist of it was a recommendation that new blogs start out their guest posting efforts by approaching blogs just a small step above their own traffic because…
- Guests posts are about mutually beneficial leverage, and larger blogs wouldn’t see much use in publishing a guest posts from an author or brand with a relatively meager following to share it with.
- Bigger blogs will want to see proof of your past success with guest blogging (which I couldn’t show yet!), whereas small to medium blogs might be willing to take a chance on you, provided your pitch and writing skills are up to par.
As much as I wanted to start batting in the big leagues, the advice confirmed my own assumptions that I might want to reel it in a bit to start out.
Plus, it made sense for another reason: I wasn’t sure how much traffic I would get, or how I would make the most of it yet.
My capturing and nurturing of traffic coming in from guest posts was going to take some testing and tweaking to get right, so I wanted to start small rather than get a grand slam in traffic by being published on a large blog, but then drop the ball when hundreds or thousands of potential readers hopped over to my site and have them slipped away.
So, off in search of a rad small to mid-sized blog I went!
Step 2) I Identified A Good First Guest Posting Space
Now, around the same time I was prepping for a go at guest blogging, I was also researching some effective landing page templates for a paid social campaign I wanted to try with Responster, and found an impressive case study about a squeeze page that tweaked and tested its way from a 9 to 52% conversion rate.
The post was was on a blog called Swift Branding, and I noticed the post itself had gotten around 50 shares. That was a lot when compared with our fledgling blog here, but it was low enough that Swift Branding might not show a guest posting pitch the same indifference a larger blog already getting 500+ shares per post would.
Had I happened upon the perfect blog for guest posting?
Maybe, but that doesn’t help you very much, does it? Let’s touch on how you can find your own guest posting gem.
The go-to approach is to get out there and take the Googling “‘niche name’ + blog” approach. Alternatively, you might find articles on relevant topics and dig into their sourcing to find a nice mid-sized blog.
When you’ve found something interesting, here are a few identifying criteria you can use to know if you’ve found a great place for your first guest post:
A) The content is good:
One of the first things that got me excited about working toward a guest post on Swift Branding was the fact that the case study post was so damn interesting; you usually expect to find these awesome case studies almost exclusively on larger, more established blogs. I started looking around at other posts on the site and saw a lot of research and value.
Remember, in addition to initial traffic and relationships, guest posting is also about building a portfolio and growing your authority as a writer. When you pitch to bigger blogs down the road, do you want them to Google you and see you’ve written for some spammy blogs with little unique value, or that your writing sits amongst rich, helpful content?
It’s a no-brainer!
B) Engagement is evident:
You don’t need to tackle Goliath just yet, but you should make sure there will be some exposure value in writing for a blog. On Swift Branding, I noticed that several posts had comments (normally, there are hundreds or thousands of readers on a piece of content for every one or two who bother to comment, so comments are a good sign of fairly significant traffic), and that there was some social sharing going on.
Swift Branding’s social sidebar widget showed posts being shared around anywhere from 25 to 75+ times. While a hardworking blog owner can hustle and generate 10-20 shares just with his own efforts, additional shares show that other people are engaging with the content – usually indicative of good promotion and/or regular readership – both are pluses for a guest blogger!
Step 3) I Made Contact In An Engaging Way
If guest posting is all about building relationships, then I needed to make sure George Karboulonis, who the Swift Branding sidebar identified as the blog’s author, was responsive and social.
I went ahead and reached out to George on Twitter after finding his username on his About page:
Next, since I’d been reading through several posts on the blog, I left comments on a few of my favorite pieces. These were pieces I found genuine value in, so I made sure that was conveyed in my comment, and also tried to add some context by linking my takeaways from the content to particular challenges I was up against in my own work over here at Responster.
Instead of just leaving you to to guess, here’s what I actually wrote:
On the landing page case study post:
On a post on coming up with great content ideas for your writing:
On a post on finding the right price point for your product(s):
As you can see, George was attentive in responding to comments as well, which was our first touchpoint for a dialogue.
Here, I even decided to share a post from Swift Branding that I’d found useful with my own followers:
A Super Duper Important Note!
While I was hoping I might get a guest posting opportunity, all of my interactions were genuine, and yours need to be too.
Don’t engage with and share a blogger’s content just because you want to butter them up for a guest post. Pick people you find impressive and could see the value in a longterm business relationship with.
Case-in-point: I didn’t spam every Swift Branding article with lame ‘nice read!’ comments; I choose the few that were really helpful to me as a brand community manager and blogger, and engaged with/shared those posts.
Another example: The blog post of George’s that I tweeted about – the one about coming up with content ideas – solved a relevant problem to me, and I figured someone who saw my tweet might be helped by it in the same way.
Look for these opportunities.
If you’re half-assing it, it will show. You’re reaching out to people who are a step above you in their blogging careers, and that means they’re probably clever and seasoned; they’ll kick spammy, disingenuous offers to the curb.
Step 4) I Asked If I Could Send An Email
I had already been compiling a blog post on great entrepreneurship blogs to follow when I made contact with George, so I included his blog in the list as a nod to how helpful I’d found it.
I wanted to get his thoughts on the piece before publishing, so I sent him this direct message on twitter:
When I got a response back, I sent over the Google Docs link to the draft of the post I was working on.
It’s worth noting that this extra step of including Swift Branding in a blog post I happened to be working on was serendipitous timing for me, but is not an essential step by any means.
The more important takeaway here is that I’d established a rapport via two-way communication (comments and twitter, and now via email as well).
I soon got an email back letting me know not only that the post was a hit, but that George was interested in finding out more about Responster as a company, and wanted to do a review of us.
Completely unsolicited, how neat is that?!
At this, point, I felt it was time…
Step 5) I Pitched The Guest Post
Most guides I’ve read on guest posting suggest you have headline variations and outline ready to go for your guest blogging pitch before you ever reach out (and it’s good advice).
That said, the pitch that worked for me was actually fairly general. The reasons I think I could get away with this are:
- I’d already established a good back and forth, and a degree of personal trust.
- I’d demonstrated, through having George review one of my posts, that I was a competent writer and researcher, to help instill confidence that whatever I came up with would be relevant and well crafted.
I do not recommend this approach when dealing with larger blogs and publications, who likely have to field guest posting requests left and right.
Here’s the first email I sent where guest posting was mentioned; it was sent immediately following George getting back to me with his feedback on the ‘top blogs for entrepreneurs’ post I had let him preview:
The response I got back was even better than I could have hoped for:
Now, I know this has been a long post, but if you pay attention to the dates in these screenshots you’ll notice that all of this happened over the period of just a few days.
In that time, I’d made a connection with a smart marketer, and had secured an open invitation to contribute guest posts to a blog with significantly more traction than my own.
Whoa. If I hadn’t been sold on the power of relationship marketing before, I sure was now.
And we were just getting started!
Step 6) I Wrote A Whopper Of A Post
I didn’t write the best post to ever hit the internet – far from it – but I did put a heck of a lot of time into creating something I hoped would impress.
I started with something I knew a lot about: Copywriting.
This gave me a solid base to go on, because I knew I could probably put together an engaging piece on the topic and would enjoy pouring some time into it.
I then looked at the types of posts on other blogs that had blown me away in the past, and modeled my own after a few key qualities I noticed:
- My favorite posts were fairly long, and very detailed.
- My favorite posts gave examples and screenshots to help readers learn new techniques.
- My favorite posts weren’t afraid to link to lots of external resources to back up their facts.
- My favorite posts made it clear that the author had a passion for and deep understanding of the topic.
I tried to keep these things in mind as I wrote what would become my ‘21 Copywriting Hacks’ guest post.
Step 7) The Big Promotion
When it came time to get my post published, I used the login details George had provided me with as a guest author to put the post up over the weekend, to give him time to review it before the week started.
We then agreed via email to publish the post on Monday and both promote it to our social networks.
Once the link was live, I tweeted it via our company Twitter as well as my personal one.
Then I was running the gambit of sharing across:
- G+ communities
And a few others.
Now, to be honest, this could be way improved. One of the tasks I’m currently working on is developing a syndication and sharing schedule for each one of our posts right now – but that’s a writeup that will have to wait until I’ve got something smart and tested to say about it.
The bottom line, however, is that even with great efficiency and sharing tools like Buffer/Hootsuite/etc. – you’re going to have to put in a lot of time and effort to genuinely contribute to relevant communities if you want them to respond to and interact with your content.
Meanwhile, George was sharing the post on his end as well, no doubt using these 5 underrated ways to promote your blog posts he wrote about.
Here are a couple of other steps we took that helped the shares on this post stack up after our initial kickstart:
- The title of the post is a large, specific number. We all know list posts perform well, but those with numbers that indicate the author has put in the time to gather more than just 3 or 5 or 8 pieces of advice can make your title way more clicky.
- George used Canva.com and some stock images to create beautiful thumbnails we could share the post under; I have no doubt this bumped up the amount of people who bothered to click off of twitter/Google+/Linked by a large amount.
We Have Liftoff!
That’s the traffic from George’s blog, with October 19th on the far right there being publishing day. Since our guest post was the only one to go up on his site that day, it’s safe to say it’s performing pretty well for him.
In fact, he had this to say via email yesterday evening:
That’s pretty rad.
And while the traffic passing through from Swift Branding to our own blog has been more of a trickle than a waterfall, I’m really pleased that the post itself has garnered interest and performed so well.
If nothing else, “this guest post of mine became one of the most trafficked pages on the publisher’s site” can’t be a bad detail to sneak into my next pitch email.
Hey, would you look at that? It’s up to 118 shares now! Neato.
This has been a great experience, but in the future I want to improve…
- On how I pique interest of initial readers to come and check out the Responster Blog.
- The frequency with which I write, pitch, and publish guest posts
- How I field the traffic that does end up on our site (landing page, customer guest offer, etc.).
How To Apply This To Your Own Business:
Identify a blog related to your business that is on the rise, but not yet too big to fail (ha).
Find posts that you like and learn from, and start a dialogue with the author first via comments, and then by reaching out via social media.
Offer some kind of value to the author – for me this was a post highlighting their blog as a recommended read, for you it might be offering your skills, making a constructive and helpful suggestion, etc.
Politely pitch your guest posting opportunity, and focus on what’s in it for them. If you’ve gotten to the amount of interaction I was at before pitching my post, you can afford to be less specific, but it always helps to have a solid idea of what you want to write about so that you can explain why it will be unique and valuable to their readers.
Write something killer – make your guest post one of the best darn things that you’ve ever put together.
Finally, promote your guest content relentlessly to ensure that you offer your post publisher a payoff for working with you and giving you the opportunity to share their audience.
Questions about the process? Suggestions on how we can do even better next time? Drop a comment below!
To your success,