Content Creation

How to Build a Successful Blog by Guest Posting like the Pros

Brad Smith
March 20, 2012

Guest posting is still one of the best ways to build your blog.

You need to reach new, larger communities of people, expose them to your content, and hope they like it enough to check you out more.

You know about guest posting. Everyone does.

You even know the basics like matching your blog content with the appropriate audience and reading through a blog’s archives to get a feel for their topics. That’s all good, basic stuff.

But there’s a lot more nuance to guest posting that can drastically improve your results.

Sure you want nice comments and to create relationships.

But let’s be honest. At the end of the day, you want more traffic and more subscribers.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of how you can build a successful blog with strategic guest posting.


Writing is My Hobby
Image courtesy of Charles Jeffrey Danoff

Always Start with a Goal

Why do you want to guest post?

Answering that question before you start will save you a lot of headaches and wasted effort.

Are you trying to establish a relationship with a blogger, promoting a product, or do you just simply want to grow your blog readership?

The biggest problem most people (and businesses) face is that they don’t have any social media goals.

Pick one main goal, and focus all of your efforts on it. A lot of the small, tactical decisions you make will support this one goal.

For example, the actual blog you pick, the topic you choose, and what you link back to on your site will all depend on your goal.

The biggest difference between guest posts from successful bloggers is that they’re extremely strategic and they have a clear purpose in every activity they pick.

Guest posting is a great tactic. But it won’t pay the bills.

At the end of the day, you need to decide how it’s going to support a money-making activity.

Pick the Right Targets

Size matters.

If you’re putting in the work to create a really good guest post, then you don’t want to waste it on a small site that won’t give you traffic or subscribers.

But it doesn’t only have to be the biggest blogs. You want the ones that are most engaged.

Because engagement is the best definition of social media.

These blogs have active audiences that want to take action and share you content, click through to your site, and subscribe to your blog.

A more active audience will convert at a higher percentage.

Here are some clues to look for.

  • Email/RSS Subscribers: First you need to try and find out how many subscribers they have. If they don’t publish it somewhere on the page, then they probably don’t have enough.But what’s another sneaky way to tell? If they’re using Feedburner, then you can sometimes tell by using this URL:

    https://feeds.feedburner.com/~fc/sitename

  • Social shares: How many times have their recent posts been shared to Twitter or Facebook? If their last few posts haven’t been shared at least 20 times each, then it’s probably still a smaller site.
  • Comments: Comments are another great indicator of the passion in each audience. You want an engaged audience because these are the people who will actually click through to your site and subscribe.

Pick Targets with Low Barriers to Entry

Getting a guest post on Copyblogger would be awesome. But they don’t publish that many, and it’s sort of invite-only.

So you need to work up to that level. Start making a name for yourself first, and then worry about getting on their radar.

Steve Martin said that the key to becoming successful was:

Become so good they can’t ignore you.

Once you start getting a few thousand subscribers, the blogging world will have to take notice.

So start off by looking for blogs or communities with low barriers to entry that will help you build your brand and get a following.

At the beginning, it’s a numbers game. You want to post as much as possible. It gets you in front of different audiences and increases the quantity of traffic and backlinks (for more SEO traffic down the road).

What does that mean exactly? Here’s what you should look for:

  • (Relatively) easy to get in: Pick blogs that are easy to start. You need to learn what works well, and what people like. So spend some time in the “minor leagues” before approaching the big-boys.
  • You can include a lot of links: Large blogs typically have strong guidelines and rules for linking back to your content. This keeps the blog looking high-quality and makes sure their audience isn’t annoyed with too many spammy links. But you can also find good guest posting opportunities where you can link back to your posts (almost) as much as you’d like.
  • Posts are published quickly: When you submit a guest post, how often does it take you to hear back, or for them to publish it? If it takes too long, then move on. Set yourself a goal of one guest post per week or per month. For an aggressive schedule like that, you need to make sure these people value your time.
  • Not required to be exclusive: Sometimes, you can find blogs or communities that don’t require an exclusive post. So take advantage of this and give them some of your content that has performed well in the past.

My favorite site that hits all of these is SocialMediaToday.com. You can usually get a post up within a week, you can include a good amount of links, and they only require that your article be exclusive for up to two weeks after publishing. That means you can still use the post on your own site, and not waste any content.

Write Articles You Know Will Be Successful

Your guest posts should always be a home-run. You should never have to worry about how well it will work.

Here’s what you should look for.

Look at your own most popular posts.

If you’ve been seriously blogging for a good amount of time, then you should already have a group of posts that have gotten pretty popular. Analyze why people liked them so much. It’s usually either the topic you wrote about, or the style and way you covered it.

Scan the popular posts of big blogs.

If you don’t have many popular posts, or you just want more ideas, then learn from the best. Go to the biggest blogs in your niche, and find out what works well for them. Take notes on what they write about, and how they write.

Submit your posts to voting sites.

Voting sites are like free markets where the good stuff gets promoted, and the bad stuff is ignored.

You should always submit your posts to voting sites, because they help you figure out what people like. Maybe you’ll come across a certain topic or style that really starts to resonate with people.

Then start doing more of what people like, and less of what they don’t.

Write an Article You Know Will be Shared

Your guest post needs to inspire people to share it.

It spreads your message further, but it also looks good for the blog. The blogger will notice, and appreciate your quality work. If you can deliver good content that gets shared socially and links from other sites, then you’ll always be invited back.

So what tends to do well? Here are some tips.

Deep, How-To Articles

How-To’s are always popular. People love step-by-step articles on specific topics.

But don’t confuse length, with depth. Cover each section in great detail, explicitly spelling out the steps for people.

Don’t just tell them about a technique, show them the thought-process, the actual implementation, and a real-world example. Use images and statistics if they help prove your case.

Going into such great detail for each section makes the post much more valuable, and helps people understand how to put it into action for their own purpose.

Focus on providing as much value to each section as you can, and the length will take care of itself.

Neil Patel wrote a great article about the essential elements of a How-To post.

Tactic-Based Articles

People love tactics. They’re looking for an idea they can use today, or a shortcut that will get them to the top.

That’s why a post like “5 Twitter Hacks…” does well (even though they’re so common).

People are bombarded by messages all day long. They want simplicity. They want instant gratification.

So what’s an easy way to come up with these?

Just think about your daily routine. How do you update Facebook, and why? The actual process and routine that you ignore could be helpful to other people who are struggling or just starting out.

Talk About Twitter and Facebook

Want people to “Like” and “Tweet” your post?

Then make it about Facebook and Twitter.

The science behind this comes from Dan Zarella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness.

Basically, people love talking about Twitter on Twitter, and Facebook on Facebook.

Very meta, I know.

Then again, I’m writing a guest post about guest posting.

Go figure.

Ride the News, but Give it Your Own Spin

Look at current news stories or the “hottest” headlines. Can you create content that rides this popularity?

The PR jargon for this is Newsjacking.

So if Facebook’s Timeline is in the news, then talk about “How to _____ for Your Facebook Timeline”.

But you need to be careful. Mediocre blogs will just rehash the same news stories and don’t add anything to the conversation.

Don’t just talk about a news topic and tell people it’s important. Give them context or real-life examples so they’ll be able to take action.

Interpret what this news means for your audience, why they can take advantage, or how they can avoid this threat.

Show them examples of how other people are adjusting, and give them ideas that they can implement themselves.

Here is a great example from Copyblogger about the Facebook Timeline. The author, Andrea Vahl, went into great detail about how Copyblogger’s audience (marketers) can take advantage of this new update.

Write an Unbelievable Headline

The headline might be the most important part of your entire piece.

Why? Let’s look at an example.

In email marketing, the subject line is just like a blog post headline. People browse through their email list and subconsciously scan the subject lines.

One of the key metrics in email marketing is the Open Rate. It’s the percentage of people who actually open your email (out of the entire list you sent it to).

Do you know what average open rates are?

According to a study by Mailchimp, the average open rate is between 15 – 30%. That means the overwhelming majority of your email list (70 – 85%) doesn’t even care enough to open your email.

Guess what has the biggest impact on that open rate?

Yep, the subject line.

That means the overwhelming majority of people don’t care enough about your subject line to open your email.

And this is the same for a blog’s headline. The actual post might be amazing, but if you don’t hook the readers with your headline, then they’ll never even give it a chance.

Again, you should stick with what you know will work. List posts and How-To’s are like lay-ups in basketball, because they rarely fail. But that’s just a starting point.

There’s a great art to writing killer headlines. It takes a lot of practice, and the psychology behind it lies in copywriting.

The single best resource you can use is Headline Hacks from Jon Morrow. He provides wonderful templates, guides you on how to phrase headlines perfectly, and explains the psychology behind each.

Use a “Quant-Based” Approach to Marketing

How many subscribers do you want next month?

Let’s say 100.

Now what is your average visitor-to-subscriber ratio?

Let’s say 2%.

That means you need 5,000 visits in the next month to hit your goal.

Now look at your traffic sources for the past month. You probably got a mix of Direct, SEO, Social Media, etc. The trick is to find out how much you got from guest posts, because this is one-time traffic that you need to generate each month.

For example, if you did 4 different guests posts for a combined total of 1000 visits from these sites, then you now know where you stand.

If you want more, then you’re going to have to pick bigger sites, or post more frequently.

Now you’re not hoping and wishing for more traffic. You’re taking deliberate steps that you know will help you succeed.

Success isn’t an accident.

Link back to your key posts/landing pages

Finally, you need to tie your guest posting efforts back to your original goal.

Don’t just link back to your site haphazardly.

Always have a specific offer in mind.

Maybe that means you link back to a popular post or series that’s appropriate for that audience.

Or maybe you want to link back to a landing page with an offer and incentive to join your list.

HubSpot’s blog is the master of this. Besides pumping out an unbelievable volume of posts each week, they do a really job of supporting their goal.

Every single one of their posts will have a link back to a specific landing page with an offer for a free webinar (in exchange for your opt-in of course).

Their goal is to get leads from businesses interested in using their online marketing software. So they always have a free offer (like this for one for business blogging) that will get people interested in their service.

Now your marketing efforts (i.e. blogging) are tied directly to your business goals (i.e. making money).

Not everyone wants to make money from their blog, and that’s OK! But if you want to build a successful, popular blog, then it’s going to take a lot of work.

You might as well get paid in the process.

Conclusion

Guest posting is still one of the best ways to grow your blog.

You can develop your reputation, build traffic, make connections, and ultimately get more subscribers that might pay you one day.

But you can’t take it lightly, or you’re just wasting your time.

The best marketing is strategic and supports your personal or business goals (That means the individual tactics you choose – like guest blogging – should support your blog’s goals.)

That way you don’t you have to run to every shiny tactic you read about on Mashable. Instead, you should commit to proven tactics and give it your all.

Because in the end, focus, discipline and perseverance are what builds a successful blog.