Guest posts have been part of the SEO playbook for over a decade but did it ever stop being relevant? The answer is no!
Guest posts work today for the same reason they became successful in the first place: when people hear about you from sources they trust, they tend to trust you too. With guest posts, you not only build connections with a broader audience but also prove to Google that you're a reliable source of information. If Google starts trusting you and your content, you're winning the SEO game.
Referral Rock ran the numbers and found that more than 60% of bloggers guest post 1-5 times a month. According to another study, 93% of surveyed editors plan to keep publishing the same amount of guest posts in the future. It's safe to say guest posts are thriving, but building trust is not the only reason people guest post.
Benefits of regular guest blogging
Guest blogging is a key strategy in content marketing because the benefits are diverse.
1. Wider audience: Guest blogging in an industry-leading publication can help expose you or your brand to a wider audience. It's one of the easier ways to grab more traffic.
2. Stronger brand: Thoughtful, original, and helpful guest posts build brand awareness. Since many companies are focusing on personal branding to drive growth, a stronger online presence for the guest author does help!
3. Quality backlinks: As discussed earlier, search engines look at the sources that mention you. When you get backlinks from authoritative websites, your SERP ranking will also improve
4. Build relationships: Building relationships with marketers, SEOs, and editors from other companies can open up new opportunities in the future. You can leverage your influence in the industry to collaborate on new projects.
But does that mean you'll see immediate success if you ramp up your guest posting project today? The answer is likely to be no, again. Guest blogging only works when you factor in relevancy. We'll discuss the steps for guest posting and the tricks that can propel your guest blogging campaign to new heights.
Guest posting: A step-by-step guide
To scale your guest blogging efforts, you need to be mindful of a few mistakes. Most content marketers lack a well-thought-out strategy and reach out to websites with little impact on the industry they're trying to influence. Value proposition and outreach campaigns can also balloon into major issues if you're not careful enough. That said, here are the steps you need to follow:
Before you write a guest post, you have to find websites that accept guest posts and are willing to share your knowledge with their audience. The ideal guest post should have three things:
- Industry authority
- Topic relevancy
- An active community of readers
The free method:
First, we'll go over the ways that will require only time, not money. The good ol' Google search can spit out some prospects instantly, but we'll use search operators to take your search to the next level. Search operators are advanced keyword combinations that help you narrow down your search and be in control of the results.
Here are some popular ones you can try out:
"keyword" to find the exact keyword in search results
“Keyword AND keyword AND keyword”: if you're going for a long tail keyword or simply searching a lot of things together, this is the one for you
"keyword" after: [date] before: [date]: if you want results to show web pages within a specific timeframe, this one works great
inurl:keyword/ intitle:keyword/ intext:keyword : use inurl, intitle, and intext operators to find keywords in the relevant positions in SERPs.
Search operators can be expanded to find file types, include specific social media platforms in search and even exclude terms. Use these combinations to play around with your keyword research. You can find the full list here.
We searched for guest posting opportunities in the e-learning niche with search operators and got good results. You can try other keywords such as "guest blog", "write for us", "contributing writer", "submit guest posts" etc.
Another free method to find prospects is by following an author's guest blogging strategy. It is particularly helpful if you have a famous guest blogger in the industry and you want the kind of SERP strength they enjoy. For example, Elise Dopson is a prolific writer in the B2B e-commerce space and by following her blogging strategy, you can find not only prospects but also new guest post ideas. If SERPs are not showing relevant results, you can do a google reverse image search to find the blogger’s published works.
The paid method (that's worth the money)
If you've just started experimenting with guest posts to improve backlinks and search engine optimization, you might already have a competitor who is ahead in the game. Instead of playing catch-up, why not just mimic their guest blogging strategy? You can gain insights into competitors by using Surfer's SERP Analyzer. SERP Analyzer takes a keyword and organizes the URLs ranking for that specific keyword, how optimized they are, popular words and prominent phrases found in them, similar keywords, their relevance and other elements. It's a great way to measure the overlapping patterns followed by top-ranking domains and what you need to include to stay in the game.
Ahrefs' Content Explorer is another useful tool to peep into your competitors. You can use the competitor's URL to understand their backlink profile and sort the referring domain with domain rating (DR), dofollow links, traffic, and date. Filters in Content Explorer can help you unearth a treasure trove of competitor data that you can use to fine-tune your guest posts. Apart from Ahrefs, you can also use Semrush, SE Ranking, and Majestic to pull backlink profiles.
Another tool that can help you outrank your competitor is Surfer's Content Audit. When you enter a competitor’s URL and the keyword, Surfer will unearth all the things that are done well and could be improved. The audit includes missing internal links and backlinks, common terms to use, article structure, keyword density, and even page structure. Essentially, it tells you what your high-ranking competitor could have done better. You can address the shortcomings by writing a better article for the readers. Content Audit also works great if you're trying to build new links by refreshing an important but old article.
These tools not only help you understand how different brands use guest blogging but also find new prospects that search operators ignore. A lot of high-impact websites don't publicly post their guest post guidelines to discourage spammers from flooding their inboxes. With Ahrefs or Semrush, you can find keyword and content gaps and pitch niche websites with your outline.
Building a relevant email list
At this stage, you must have found a reasonable number of prospects you can reach out to. But it's important to reach the right person rather than mass emailing everyone in the company. The ideal way to find the correct email address is by vetting the point of contact. Guest blog posting is usually handled by the content or the SEO team. This means you need to target the editors, content marketing managers, Head of SEO, outreach specialists, and more profiles in these departments.
Some companies would have their guest post guidelines and decision-makers listed on the website along with their contact details. But bigger websites with 60+ DR may not do that to protect employees from spammers. What you can do is look for their contact details on social media. LinkedIn is a goldmine for B2B cold outreach. Just browse the company page or search [company name] + [name of the position] to find relevant people. Here's an example for HubSpot:
But of course, this is a manual process that's painstakingly boring and even after wasting hours on it, you might get the wrong addresses. People often switch roles or companies without updating their public email addresses. People also tend to stop checking their old inboxes. You can use an email verifier tool to automate the process and prevent inaccurate information from creeping in.
It not only helps you get the correct address and improves your outreach campaign. Emailing to inactive inboxes or wrong addresses will increase your bounce rate, leading to the low deliverability of your emails. Once you have collated the details and verified them, you have to write a guest post pitch that gets opened.
Writing a personalized guest post pitch
When you’re scaling your outreach campaign, email templates might look like a good idea to save time and effort. But the goal is to fetch replies and take the conversation forward. Standard templates fail to do that because editors and content managers can detect run-of-the-mill templates from miles away. The only way to grab attention is to personalize.
A personalized guest post pitch has several components. Make sure you're not ignoring any of them:
- Subject lines: Since it's a cold pitch, your email subject line needs to be extremely relevant and precise. Keep it short but frame it in a way to evoke curiosity. While writing the subject line, ask yourself, “would I open this email if a stranger sent it to me?”
- Email opener: While prospecting, you will come across some new information that can be used as icebreakers. It could be a recent product launch, company announcement, or some personal achievement—use them to show you have done your research.
- A skimmable email body: This is a golden rule for cold outreach: when you're pitching, keep your email short. This means a short and personalized introduction, a couple of paragraphs explaining why they would find your guest post valuable and how you're going to help them with it. Keep the paragraphs short, and use different formats like bullet points and white spaces to make the email skimmable.
- A clear CTA: Guest blogging pitches have one goal—make the recipient reply to your email. Consequently, you should stick to one thought and one ask. Establish the value you want to provide and guide them to the next step with the CTA. This can be a quick call, more details in the follow-up message, or just a simple reply.
- (Bonus tip) Use SurferSEO: Our data shows that mentioning SurferSEO in a guest article pitch increases the conversion rate. Why? Because with Surfer by your side, you're not only sharing original, thoughtful guest posts but also optimizing them for Google to reach more readers. That's one of the biggest values you can provide to the guest posting site. Describe how you plan to use Surfer to rank better and see how the reply rate skyrockets.
In the following text, you can find an interesting analysis of how just mentioning SurferSEO in our email copy skyrocketed response and conversion rates of our guest posting campaign.
Above, you can see the campaign's performance without mentioning SurferSEO in our email copy. Our open rates were okay, but the response rate was relatively low. Here is what our email copy and subject line looked like:
As you can see, there is some personalization in the copy and showcasing our previous work. We figured out that pitching topics in the initial email doesn’t work since we spend quite a lot of time finding relevant and interesting titles. The editors often reject us by saying, “Sorry, we don’t accept guest posts atm.”.
Above, there is an alternative campaign where we adjusted the subject line a bit, and mentioned that we are going to optimize guest posts with SurferSEO in our email copy. The results are astonishing! Our response rate reached a whopping 34.1%, almost 500% more than the initial campaign.
As you can notice, the adjustments were minimal, but the response rate skyrocketed. I believe if we went into more details, and shared that guest posts will at least have an 80+ Surfer score, the response rate will get even higher. That’s an interesting material for further testing.
Here is another great example of the guest post pitch strategy. You can pick a couple of target websites that didn’t cover a topic related to your niche. You can go ahead, create a guest post, and pitch it to your target editors one by one. As the experience shows, with highly-personalized email and a great guest post, you don’t need to pitch more than 5 editors. That’s an easy and smart way to pitch guest posts to narrow-niche websites like this one on identity theft.
Finding the winning guest post titles
As a guest blogger, what you're planning to write is as important as which website you're writing on. Ideally, your content needs to be unique, the keyword should have adequate traffic volume and you must be an expert in the field. If you're writing on a popular topic, you have to provide more depth and new perspectives for Google to pick it. This is something Brian Dean coined back in 2013 and it's still relevant today.
However, the best way to find guest post ideas that get accepted immediately is by using Surfer. Surfer is known for the intuitive content editor panel but that's not where the SEO features end. It does a great job researching keywords, analyzing SERPs, and planning content briefs. You can use the website audit feature to understand if the keyword has been explored sufficiently and what you can bring to the table.
By playing around with the Surfer data, you can find winning guest post titles that address user queries and rank well. To Kickstart your title research, you can analyze the competitor titles that are getting clicks. Head over to the Surfer editor’s Outline section, where you'll find AI-generated headings and subheadings based on your selected competitors.
Automate follow-up sequences
A lot of outreach specialists expect to hit the bullseye in the first attempt. While it's important to go all in with your first cold email, do not expect busy editors or content managers to reply immediately. Outreach experts can get up to 27% more replies with follow-up emails than those who give up after the first try.
The first email should be treated as the first part of a nurturing sequence that includes a few more follow-up emails. Each follow-up email should build on the previous one by expanding on the value. For instance, if you suggested a couple of guest post ideas and how you'd approach them in the first email, consider adding content outlines and keyword strategies in the next one. The email after that can showcase the content gap and how your post would beat the competitors. Follow-up emails should not feel like robotic sequences, instead, treat them as an evolving conversation.
This is a very good follow-up email because it's short, touches upon the previous email, and allows the recipient to direct the conversation in a better direction.
That being said, you can certainly automate some aspects of follow-up campaigns. Use follow-up templates that are customizable with new data points— this way you'll save time without losing that personal touch. You can follow up the first time after 3-4 days of sending the first email. After that increase the duration to stretch the campaign to a month. If you cannot generate interest after that, it's best to leave the prospect alone.
Above you can see interesting statistics on the importance of sending follow-up emails. We usually send 2 follow-ups in our campaigns. The first follow-up is sent three days after the initial email, followed by a second follow-up another three days after the first follow-up. The follow-ups aren’t sent in case the prospect gets back to us.
As you can see above, we got 31 replies, and 9 replies (30%) came from our follow-ups. It is evident, that follow-ups really work, but you have to be very careful not to sound too promotional or spammy.
Tracking your campaign’s results & A/B testing
Campaigns for guest post pitches need to be tracked to see how they perform over time. Since cold emails can be approached in different ways, you have to find the sweet spot between ROI and effort.
Using a campaign automation tool will give you sufficient data to sift through. Analyze open, bounce, CTR, and conversion rates to find the ideal guest post strategy and set of tools. You can also A/B test certain aspects of your campaign, such as subject lines, send times, and follow-up sequences to see what works better than others. This way, you'll not only fine-tune your campaign but also learn a lot about cold outreach campaigns.
You can see interesting screenshots of our cold outreach campaign statistics. There are statistics from two campaigns pitching guest posts to editors. With the first campaign, we achieved 34% of open rates, which was a bit disappointing given that other campaigns performed way better. We dug into our campaigns and analyzed the reasons behind lower open rates. The idea was to change the email subject lines and focus on reaching out to editors and content marketing managers only.
A simple tweak in a subject line and better prospecting almost doubled our open rates and we reached a nice 64% of open rates.
The idea for A/B testing is the following:
- Always track the performance of your campaigns
- Send at least 100 emails before doing the analysis
- Adjust your campaigns depending on metrics
- Low open rates: adjust subject lines & find decision-makers
- Low response rates: adjust your email copy
- High email bounce rates: verify email addresses before sending your emails
Writing guest posts
Writing guest posts with Surfer is the secret superpower that will propel your guest blogging campaign to success. Here's how to make the most out of Surfer as a guest blogger:
After researching keywords and finding content gaps, create an outline based on the primary keywords and the suggested headings. The recently launched AI brief will be useful at this stage. By using the structure of the brief, you'll have better control over the flow and SEO of your article.
Following the brief, you'll find a content score and a list of suggested terms along with their density. As you write the article in the editor, you'll see both the content score and the keyword density updating. Surfer emphasizes the experience of reading which is why you'll have a heading, paragraph, and image counter to give the article a sharper structure. You can also use Surfer’s rich text editor to make the article easier on the eye.
The final content score will depend on how closely you follow Surfer's structure and NLP recommendation. It might be tempting to take your guest blog post close to 100 but that might end up making your article over-optimized and awkward to read. The ideal content score should be between 60-90.
That being said, you don't have to follow Surfer's recommendation to the T. As a subject matter expert, you should have a vision of how your article should look. Before starting to write, you can click the “customize” button at the top to tweak the content structure, terms, and questions while analyzing how your competitors perform.
The best content is created by combining the writer's topical authority and Surfer's SEO chops.
All kinds of cold outreach campaigns, including guest blog posts, are built on relationships. You reach out to publications in order to collaborate, share ideas and help each other's communities. Even if you don't agree on a deal at that moment, you end up networking with people who can help you with guest post opportunities later.
That's why it's important to stay in touch with editors and marketers for cross-promotions and collaborations in the future. This will also help your future cold outreach campaigns as word of mouth will automatically put you ahead of others.
Keep in mind that guest blogging isn’t a short-term strategy but rather a long-term recurring strategy. If you really want to stand out from the crowd, you can build relationships with fellow guest bloggers, content marketers and editors. Connect to professionals through email, but don’t limit your relationship only to one channel, but find out the ways to nurture your relationship and you never know what will come out from it. LinkedIn is a great place to start as most professionals are pretty active there posting industry-relevant content. Engage with their content, send personalized and genuine private messages and keep building your relationships. That’s the way to scale your guest blogging and get published on high-authority websites that usually don’t accept guest posts.
Bonus: Finding alternative decision-makers for guest posts
No matter how awesome your cold emails are, you'll struggle to fetch 100% response. It's because some decision makers are too busy to reply or they don't “get” your value proposition. If you think it's a company worth connecting with, you should try alternate decision-makers. For instance, if you have focused on SEO and editors, try content marketers of the company. In some cases, you can even reach out to the executives!
However, it all depends on how likely the alternate decision-makers are to entertain your proposal for blog posts. To gauge interest, follow the company pages and employee profiles. See what they post and strike up a conversation in the comments. But remember to keep it about them, their company, community, and culture.
Persuasion, when channeled properly, can work wonders in blog post outreach. This is basically taking the idea of following up to the next level.
Guest posts are vital components of backlink strategy. But it's so easy to get it wrong. Google is smart enough to detect link farms that try to manipulate ranking without offering any value to the readers. You can avoid the traps by prioritizing the quality of prospects and mixing it with a tiny bit of persuasion. If you offer an irresistible value with Surfer optimization, you'll definitely find takers.
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About Author: Antonio Gabrić
Antonio is an outreach manager at Hunter. He is passionate about testing different outreach tactics and sharing results with the community. When he is not connecting with industry leaders you can find him on his motorbike exploring off-the-beaten paths around the world.
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