At the time of writing this article, the Help Scout blog is currently sitting at 36,733 email subscribers, a nice 6000+ bump from ~9 weeks ago when I published this article.
Although much of our traffic strategy now relies on search, in the early days guest blogging played a huge role in getting us off the ground. To this day, I still take the time to publish a few guest posts each month on sites with great audiences.
This is likely the millionth article published on guest blogging—do I win a prize?—so instead of running through the gauntlet of baby steps that everyone else covers, I’m simply going to share the somewhat different things I’ve tried that have worked for us in the past 14 months.
Avoiding ‘byline blindness’
Guest posting as a whole has become a very overdone strategy. The web is saturated with guest posts.
On sites that regularly accept guest authors, this often leads to byline blindness, where readers will simply skip over your author byline. I’ve posted on some sites where people in the comments thanked the site owner for the great article instead of me (oh well).
Ego be damned, the real danger here is that people won’t click over to your site, making the hours spent writing the guest post worthless.
I’ve been able to overcome this problem to a large extent by using a specific ‘article closing’ strategy—though be warned, not all site owners will let you do this.
It consists of 3 elements:
- Closing subheading: Let people know that the article is done and it’s their turn to do something. I typically use “Over to You” or “It’s Your Turn.”
- Ask a question: Creating two bullet points, you should use the first one to ask a simple question that relates to what you wrote about.
- Place a small CTA: In the second bullet point, offer the readers a way to “get more” with a simple CTA, such as a download from your site.
Here’s an example that I used on Copyblogger, one of my favorite marketing blogs.
The design of the site actually made this tactic work even better. The article was called 7 Scientifically Backed Copywriting Tips, and it still sends traffic and leads to this day.
Personal, direct landing pages are great here. Don’t make the CTA for your blog or some other random page. Always link to something that the readers of that particular site will enjoy.
How to pick winning topics
Guest blogging takes time, so adding guesswork to the equation is as risky as it is stupid.
There is always the possibility that your article won’t perform well (or won’t be well received), but I always try to reduce that risk, and below I’ll show you how.
First, you need to get a sense of what sort of topics perform well on blog you are targeting. Although I’m sure smart folks like Matt Gratt have far better systems to do this, I keep things pretty simple:
- Which posts are highly mentioned? Using Open Site Explorer—specifically the ‘Top Pages’ tab—you can see which pages on the site have the most links, as well as social shares by rank. As a general rule of thumb, Facebook is the better metric for B2C, and Twitter for B2B (especially tech and marketing).
- Which posts does the author push? On any site that knows what it’s doing, the author(s) will be putting their best content at the forefront. Whether that is through a ‘best of’ section like Jon Cooper uses, or a ‘Popular Articles’ tab on the sidebar, it’s usually easy to see which posts are creating high returns for the author.
Once you’ve collected some information and have deduced what performs well on the site, it’s time to begin extracting common themes that you can use to create a hit article.
We’ll continue with the Copyblogger example — one of my earlier articles for the site, The 5 Most Persuasive Words in the English Language, turned into the huge hit that it was because of this exact technique.
To say that ‘copywriting’ is a popular topic on Copyblogger is too vague, and frankly quite obvious. Instead, I took a look at a few of their most popular posts and looked for copywriting themes that appeared to be quite successful. Fortunately, I found one right away.
One of the site’s most popular articles is the The Inigo Montoya Guide to Commonly Misused Words. There’s also an insanely popular infographic about common grammar goofs (there vs. their, etc.), and another viral piece on power words. It dawned on me that copywriting articles that examined individual word usage was a theme that seemed to take off every single time.
My piece, examining the most persuasive words (backed with good research) wasn’t guaranteed to do well, but since it followed a proven formula that had worked on the site over and over again, the chances were definitely better than a stab in the dark. Fortunately, it did do quite well, with 3700+ tweets, etc.
Bottom line: you may not be able to know a blog’s audience quite like the original author, but you can improve your chances by looking at the site’s track record. People ‘vote’ for content they like with shares and links, so examine patterns, themes, and viral articles on a site before you pitch a post.
Avoid burnout (the comedian technique)
Undoubtedly the most controversial advice I’ll give on the topic, I proudly stand by it without hesitation.
Guest posting on a regular basis is a surefire way to get burned out and waste your best ideas on somebody else’s site. The thing is, despite the fact that people recognize this, I receive a lot of backlash whenever I tell people to re-use information when they are guest posting.
I’m not talking about a copy + paste of an older article of yours, I mean re-discussing an interesting tidbit or insight via a guest post, instead of trying to be entirely original every single time.
Does the world expect comedians to deliver an entirely unique performance at every show? If a comedian tells an amazing joke during one show, should he/she never use it again?
Of course not, and the same applies to writing and sharing ideas online. As iDoneThis CEO Walter Chen would say, it’s perfectly okay to remix and reuse well received ideas, as long as you do it the right way.
Here’s an example: I’ve written a previous piece on value propositions over at the Help Scout blog. It was well received and I got plenty of positive emails about it. With the idea validated, I knew it could be useful on other sites. That’s why in recent posts like this one on Shopify, I shared the idea again, but this time from an ecommerce perspective.
You’ll also notice that the Shopify article isn’t about value propositions, it’s about ecommerce design: I just brought in the idea to supplement the post. After all, value propositions are an important part of design, even for ecommerce.
That’s how you should handle ‘The Comedian Technique’ (retelling of proven material). It’s not about regurgitating your work, it’s about re-using validated ideas from new angles.
Creating shelf life
The great thing about the web is that a single ‘evergreen’ piece of content often has a shelf life for years, perhaps even decades.
I try to take this into consideration with everything that I write, and search is one of the first places I start. Much more on that in a later post though!
Just like you should always pick an ideal keyword for articles on your own site—look at the URL for this article, hint hint—it makes sense to target at least a long-tail keyword whenever you write a guest post. Doing so also makes you look like an informed, proactive guest blogger that authors of big sites will love to have return.
To give a quick example, since this is pretty straightforward advice, take a look at the post entitled A Dead-Simple Customer Profile Template that Will Increase Sales, which I wrote for my man Ruben on the Bidsketch blog.
It would have been easy to publish this article under a number of names (‘Brainstorming Customer Personas’, etc.), but I chose the language of ‘customer profile template’ and the corresponding URL because I noticed it was a long-tail search term that could easily be achieved with Bidsketch.com‘s domain authority.
Ranking achieved, and a big win for both Ruben and myself, as the post sends traffic over to me and Help Scout to this day.
If you’re going to spend hours creating a great off-site article, you might as well spend an extra 5 minutes picking a good keyword for the author. A small investment of time for a much longer article shelf life.
Since the sites you’ll be posting on are often bigger than your own, you’ll be surprised to find how easy it is for them to rank with a reasonable keyword.
(Note: most site owners know how to set up SEO title tags that differ from the actual post title. Point being, you don’t have to write an article headline that uses the desired keyword, just suggest a URL and a corresponding SEO title.)
Expanding on the idea that great ideas should be shared far and wide, syndication serves as a unique guest opportunity that doesn’t actually require you to write an original article.
Just as TV shows can be “syndicated” on different networks, your older pieces of content can be re-published on a different site.
The process is pretty simple: identify a site that seems to accept syndicated content. They will usually end some articles with “Originally published on…“, or something similar.
Next, shoot over an email that showcases your interests, but focuses on the potential “win” for the site owner or editor. Something simple such as the script below usually works well:
I noticed that you guys published syndicated content from time to time, which is really helpful since I would have never discovered [link to a good article] if it wasn’t for you, so thanks!
I wanted to ask, since I believe we’ve also published a few posts that are a perfect fit for your audience, if you’re interested in potentially re-publishing some works from our site? We have quite a few pieces that touch on topics that regularly do well with your readers, most of which have a fresh perspective that I think they’ll enjoy.
Here are a few examples that I think would be well recieved:
- Article 1
- Article 2
- Article 3
Let me know if those are a fit and if you think this partnership might be a win-win for us, and if not, no sweat!
Have a great week,[Your name]
I’ve sent out similar emails many times, and I’ve had my content syndicated all over the web:
- Lifehacker: Six Scientifically Supported Ways to Crush Procrastination
- FastCompany: Is Slow Service the Way to Win Customers’ Hearts and Wallets?
- BufferApp: 10 Stories of Customer Service that Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity
There’s also the potential to ‘self-syndicate’ by pushing your articles on other sites that let you re-publish to a shared community.
This is why I prefer to put original content on site and re-publish on platforms like Medium: it gives the content a second chance, but you retain the opportunity for the original post to take off on your site.
There are also platforms like SlideShare that allow you to re-publish eBooks and PDFs. We’ve done this for Help Scout and have accumulated 130,000+ views on our slides, which is a solid return for a few minutes of extra work.