Content marketing takes time and effort.
And, unfortunately, average tactics such as blogging, keyword-optimized landing pages and the occasional guest post will only get you average results (at best!).
By working together with other guest bloggers on content creation and helping each other get mentioned, we’re building useful, long-term relationships. By mentioning others in our articles, we now consistently get mentioned in theirs, resulting in more valuable backlinks to our content.
In this article I’ll show you how you can increase the return on investment on guest posting with the reciprocity principle without having to beg for backlinks.
Please be warned!
You won’t find a quick hack here. It’s a tactic that takes time, but that will get you better results over longer periods of time. Since I started applying reciprocity in marketing a year ago, it has helped us grow our organic traffic for Survey Anyplace by over 100%.
So let’s dive in!
Reciprocal marketing in a nutshell
Reciprocal marketing or co-marketing includes every tactic in which two businesses promote each other’s products or content, gaining a mutual benefit.
It’s a key principle in business and marketing and has been around for ages, but not many companies use it in a systematic, process-based approach.
I wanted a way to scale the polite approach of returning a favor and turn it into something scalable. In the meantime, it needed to be sustainable: I did not want to take the route of trading money for links in guest publications.
This is my step-by-step approach to apply reciprocity on a larger scale in content marketing and guest blogging:
Choose the right resources for your guest articles
The smartest way to start and maintain a relationship with fellow content marketers is to regularly mention their content in your own articles or guest articles.
When you’re writing up a piece of content and you’re adding resources, numbers or examples, it’s easy to just to perform a Google search and select the top results to include in your article.
1. Add value
Keep in mind that every outbound link in your article is an opportunity to start a professional relationship with the author of the article you link to. Above everything, you should select outbound links that add value to your article and are meaningful to your audience.
But even after applying these criteria, you often have the choice between different content resources from different authors to link to.
2. Look for other options
It’s no secret that only a few large companies dominate the Google search results. Try to look past these obvious choices and go on a hunt for more niche resources from smaller websites. These articles often prove to be less generic, consist of more detail and have more actionable/relatable examples.
3. Form a bond
Choosing authors working for companies of a similar size to yours allows you to form strong bonds. Big publications are less likely to work together with small businesses, but small businesses will! The good news here is that there are loads of small businesses with similar target audiences and objectives.
The approach is simple: Develop enough relationships with fellow businesses to stand up to the big guys together.
“Smaller businesses are competing head-on with the industry leaders for the top 10 spots of the first Google search results page. If you’re already there, you’ll be found and earn the backlinks that will further reinforce your position. If you’re not, good luck. Smaller businesses need to work together to have a fighting chance.” – Pascal van Opzeeland, CMO at Userlike.
Based on my experience in practising this tactic, I now try to avoid linking to large publishers (unless of course their resource is the most accurate one), but opt for content from companies similar to ours. Because (usually) they have more authentic content, appreciate it more, and are more likely to engage in a mutually beneficial relationship
Decide on which authors you want to collaborate with
Instead of going after the most famous marketers out there, try to look for micro-influencers. People who are very active in marketing in their niche and that work for (or run) a company of similar size to your own.
This is my personal checklist:
1. Check if they are a frequent guest blogger
You’re looking for people that also have guest blogging in their digital marketing plan, BuzzStream Discovery is a great tool to find these people.
You simply enter a certain topic and you get an overview of all the influencers that have published articles about the topic. You also see what they exactly published on which kinds of publications. It’ll quickly become clear if a person is writing as frequently as you and about topics that could work well with your own content.
For example I really wanted to get published on searchenginejournal.com and what happened is that I looked for a guestblogger frequently writing for them. I reached out to that person and started mentioning one of his case studies in an article I wrote.
Admittedly, it took me a bit of time, BUT after 2 months he did return the favor and included us in an article for that Search Engine Journal.
2. Check the quality of their website
As I mentioned before, try to look for people working at companies of similar size to yours. The Google Chrome plugin by Moz gives you a quick insight in domain authority and quality of the pages you want to link to. You can also filter on DA in the BuzzStream Discovery tool.
Depending on your own DA (domain authority) you can look for pages similar or slightly better than yours. Right now, we’re targeting pages with a DA of 40 or more.
3. Check the variety and value of their content
Look for strong articles with content that is relevant for you to link to. If the content an author produces is mainly focusing on their product or service, these sources might feel too commercial to include.
4. Check the author’s job title
Since we’re looking for long-term co-marketing opportunities we also check if the influencer we want to target has the same focus as us.
People who are dedicated to content marketing and who actually write the articles themselves (instead of an agency or freelancer for example) works best for us: a CMO or Content Marketer, occasionally a CEO if they are running a smaller company.
If you need to repeat this tactic in your content landscape, I suggest to follow these steps:
- Identify blogs with guest publications in your content landscape
- Make a list of all guest bloggers who published recently (< one year ago)
- Check these against the criteria above: website, content, job title
This should result in a solid list of micro-influencers that you can start working with.
Start your outreach BEFORE you publish
I like to create a small list of possible resources to include in my articles. Then, before I submit my guest article, I reach out to the authors of those resources. Just to let them know I thought of them.
A template I often use:
People that take their time to reply positively are what we’re looking for! It means they’re open to a conversation and I always prefer including them over someone who ignored my email.
A second take on the email template:
Wording your offer in the right way can make all the difference. Doing someone an unmistakable favor will increase your chances of receiving something in return. The reciprocity example of the restaurant candy by Robert Cialdini is a beautiful illustration of what we’re trying to achieve.
After the article is published you can follow up with the people whose sources you’ve used. This is the template we use:
“From my experience it is crucial that you offer something first. This allows them to then feel indebted to you going forward.” – David Campbell, Digital Strategist at Right Inbox.
Dare to ask for something in return
Any online marketer knows the value of a nice backlink to their content. So it’s absolutely fine to ask for something back at a certain point.
Here’s how you ask:
- With a subtle nudge
“Do you mind sharing which articles you are currently working on? I’d love to see where I could contribute!”
- With an offer they can’t refuse
By making your request as easy as possible for them, the approval will come sooner. Try to give what you want in a neat little package. There are three options you can try:
- Add a link to you in an existing page – Find a page where your competitors are mentioned for example. This is a natural spot for you to get mentioned as an alternative.
- Add something of value to a past article – Write up a quote or a small block of text which fits perfectly into an existing article. (already include a link in that paragraph) It takes a small amount of time on your end and reduces the author’s effort to an absolute minimum of copying and pasting.
- Write a guest article – Great if you get the opportunity! But, obviously, takes more effort from your end.
Tip: Didn’t get a positive response after you’ve given them a link? Give something more, ask them again, and follow-up. If I’d really like to get featured on a specific blog or by a specific person I give them so much that it almost feels like it’s impolite to ignore me and not return the favor.
A small effort with big results
If you’re thinking to yourself that this setup actually takes a lot of work. You’re not completely wrong. It takes time to build these relationships, maintain them and find the influencers best suited to work with you.
BUT once you have a group of influencers that you know, the effort is actually small compared to the increase in results you’ll get. You’re not repeating a process of one off posts, it’s not just a backlink hack but a way to build relationships with a compounding effect.
In actual numbers: the results compare 1 to 10.
A regular guest blog used to generate one backlink for us on average: sometimes this is a contextual link inside the article, otherwise it is a link in the author’s bio.
Right now, if we insert 15 links to our article from influencers we work with, and about 2/3 of those links lead to a reciprocal link, then each article we produce will generate around 10 backlinks to our domain.
And even if we get less than 10, you need to take into account that the individual links are more valuable, because they all are contextual links in articles not authored by ourselves. But most importantly: we want more than one-off links, we are after long-time, mutually beneficial relationships. This networking tactic has proven to be the perfect start for other co-marketing opportunities. Such as being asked to speak in an online summit called Uppercase.
Streamlining the new workload
The loads and loads of emailing it takes to grow and maintain your network can get tedious.
That’s why we created a Facebook “B2B Bloggers Boost Group” where 200+ members help each other create content and getting mentioned.
“I’m in a few excellent online communities of content marketers and writers. We help each other by providing tips and ideas, as well as quotes when necessary. So if we’re writing an article, it takes 30 seconds to send a message around these groups and see if anyone is able to provide a quote. We’re not asking them to promote themselves, which some might see as a conflict of interest. Instead, we’re asking them for their favorite tools, services, or strategies. So they’re helping out our readers (and our writers), and we’re giving them a shout out for taking the time.” – Patrick Whatman, Content & Communications at Spendesk.
The principle is the same, but now, through the Facebook group, the network is sharing among themselves. We work from the idea that a blogger can write down what they have coming up, where it will be published and what they are looking for.
Other members of the group can contribute with a quote, an insight and/or a link to one of their resources to be included.
The benefit is that you, as an author, get faster and more valuable resources in one place that can add new insights to your article. And you shape your content the way you like, if a suggested resource isn’t suitable, you’re not obliged to include it
It means faster content creation for the publisher, more mentions and links for the contributor, and high quality insights for the reader.
Extra streamlining tip: By applying the reciprocal marketing tactic for a while, we’ve evolved towards a set of principles that our partners should also recognize themselves in. I’ve published these reciprocal marketing principles down on our website and share it whenever I get to know a new micro-influencer I might like to build a relationship with. It instantly gives them the right idea of what I’m looking for and helps us find like-minded people.