Rightly or wrongly, guest blogging has taken a bit of a hammering in recent years. Despite my heart being firmly in the world of link building, I understood why. It was the classic process with SEOs – we find a technique that works very well to help us meet our objectives, we then scale it to hell and reap the rewards.
Unfortunately, as many of us know, a thing called Penguin came along in 2012 and aggressively targeted SEO techniques which were designed to manipulate search results. Whilst not explicitly targeting guest posting, it was clear that Google meant business and two years later, Ex-Head of Webspam Matt Cutts explicitly wrote about it.
Matt was right.
The example outreach email he shared was an example of how things shouldn’t be done.
In response to feedback, he did go on to clarify his post and add more context:
It seems like most people are getting the spirit of what I was trying to say, but I’ll add a bit more context. I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there. I changed the title of this post to make it more clear that I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.
Even so, mentioning the words “guest posting” as a link building tactic can still make SEOs squirm a little because it’s a tactic that can very easily go wrong.
The question then, over five years later, how should it be done? If it makes people nervous, how do we overcome those fears and add value beyond SEO.
I want to share my views on this and give you some direction on what I think the answer is. After all, it was the third most popular technique according to our recent survey of the SEO industry, with over half of respondents saying they used it:
The approach we should all be taking consists of a few elements:
- Find the right, targeted audience
- Write the right, expertly crafted content
- It’s not about scale, it’s about precision
- Think of guest posting as another distribution channel
- Connect guest posting to your overarching content strategy
Let’s go into detail on these in more detail.
Find the right, targeted audience
Part of the problem with the type of guest posting which Matt Cutts called out all those years ago is that it was often a case of throwing enough mud against the wall and seeing what stuck. It was fairly common to see guest posts showing up on blogs about home improvement which somehow included a link to a website on financial services. The problem was that the lack of relevance didn’t appear to hurt the websites in question and these links often led to ranking improvements.
Whilst I believe that Google has gotten better at identifying these kinds of links, I still see links like this working. However, they carry far more risk than they used to and for the majority of companies, it’s not a risk worth taking.
Instead, we need to focus on the topics that really resonate with our audience and from there, seek out the blogs and publishers who dedicate their time to those topics. You need to look for websites which genuinely talk about and cover topics which your audience are likely to read.
There are a number of ways to find these blogs and publishers, here are a few:
- Ask your audience where they get their information online
- Ask your paid search or media team where they do display advertising and which domains sent the best quality traffic
- Find websites who rank for informational queries related to your product or service
- Use the Content Explorer in Ahrefs to find content publishers and authors who write about your topic – sort by highest traffic to find the best opportunities
Note that none of these involve automation or scraping which is very deliberate. The point here is to use manual research to find the blogs because this is by far the best way to find the ones which are truly relevant to what you do.
Write the right, expertly crafted content
Again, in days gone by, 400-500 words of generic, average content was enough for guest posting to work well. The truth is, hardly anyone was likely to read the post anyway so as long as you got your link, the content quality didn’t matter much.
This isn’t the approach that we should use now, quite the opposite.
Whilst not perfect, Google is getting better and better at differentiating between average and quality content. We put a lot of effort into making the content on our own websites as strong as it could be, so why would we use a different approach for third-party websites when the content has our name on it?
Not to mention that if you want to project the best possible image of your brand, the content that you put out on the web is a representation of you. Make it good! Assuming that you’re following the step above, this content will be published on websites that will actually get traffic and rank well, so there is a high chance that potential customers will read it. Give them a great first impression.
It’s not about scale, it’s about precision
Guest posting was never the problem, it was scaling guest posting which caused all of the problems. With scale comes an inevitable drop in quality.
Instead of worrying about scaling this activity, do the opposite. Focus on a small number of relevant, high quality posts in the right places. If you use the steps above, this will happen naturally because you physically can’t scale the activity if you truly focus (and keep that focus) on quality.
Now, more than ever, I see small numbers of relevant, targeted links making a positive impact on the rankings of the clients we work with – guest posting or not. This is the organic traffic graph for a small, B2B client where we did a combination of technical SEO, keyword research and link building. We built just 47 links across this 12 month period:
Not bad! You don’t need viral campaigns, you need the right links from the right places.
Think of guest posting as another distribution channel
This is a big one for me. We used to think of guest posting as a way to get links – that was it. Nothing more, nothing less.
What if you thought of it in the same way you thought about your paid social ,search or display spend? With these channels, you’re paying your hard earned money to take part and generate traffic, so you take the time to really understand and refine the targeting.
If you thought of guest posting as a distribution channel for your content and message, how would that change your approach?
I’m betting that this simple reframing would make a big difference because it will force you to think about the areas above, along with a few other things:
- Target audience
- Target messaging
- How does this channel drive the action we want?
- Is the channel one that will truly add value?
This can make you take guest posting that little bit more seriously and also connect it with other parts of your strategy. Which leads us onto the final point.
Connect guest posting to your overarching content strategy
Surprisingly, very few companies include guest posting (even if they call it something else such as byline articles) in their content strategy. More often than not, a content strategy is inwardly focused rather than outward. This isn’t wrong, it makes sense, but any content strategy needs to also include an element of distribution of the content – guest posting is one such distribution channel.
At Aira, we use a content strategy framework similar to the following to map this out for clients and start exploring topics that we can talk about which they are credible to talk about and resonate with their audience:
Here is an example of this in action for a large hotel brand:
This isn’t designed to capture everything, but should steer our strategy in the right direction and feeds into guest posting – which is the key bit missing from most brand content strategies.
Well, that’s it. If you’d like to read more about the survey mentioned above, you can take a look at the full results and if you want, download a PDF version from the Aira website here.