If you want to rank in Google, backlinks still matter immensely. Strong links will set you apart from the crowd, generating signals of quality and authority for your site.
Unfortunately for marketers, it's getting harder and harder to engineer powerful links while remaining under the radar. And while it's easy to say that great links flow naturally to awesome websites, in the real business world you'll need a more proactive approach.
Enter Guest Posting
One popular way of building links is through guest posting, a technique that has something of a checkered history. The theory is that by offering free content to third party sites in return for a link back to your own, you'll gain ranking by providing honest benefit without any sneaky tricks.
But as with so much in the SEO world, a respectable tactic was overworked and abused until Google were forced to take action. Finally, the search engine's representatives publicly stated that guest posting for link building was dead, and marketers who indulged in it were taking a huge risk.
Guest Posting Today
But rather than outright killing guest posting, what Google actually did was to raise the bar for success. If you guest post with skill, it's still worth a fantastic amount for SEO, traffic, and branding.
But that means getting your posts onto the best venues; websites that will pass real traffic and authority rather than simple linking power.
These guest post opportunities aren't going to fall into your lap. You'll need to pitch a proposal to your target sites' editors, and your success will live or die by the strength of your pitch. Here's how to approach it.
1) Quality Matters
Whether you're pitching as a writer or a go-between, it's clear that if your pitch email is garbled, ungrammatical nonsense packed with typos then you're not going to be taken seriously as a publication candidate.
Pay at least as much attention to quality writing in your pitch emails as you do to the customer-facing content you create.
2) Grab Attention
Editors of popular websites receive many, many guest post pitches every day. Yours need to stand out above the noise.
You're a marketer, you know the power of headlines and subject lines. Don't treat your pitches any differently than you would a landing page or commercial email. You need to grab attention quickly with a great headline, and follow it up with a strong introduction to keep the interest going.
However, don't be too clever or mysterious. Busy editors won't be intrigued by opaque headlines, they'll just move on to their next inbox item. So make it clear you're proposing a guest post, but at the same time try and stand out a little.
3) Tailor Your Pitch
If your target site openly solicits guest posts, make sure you read their guidelines and follow them in your submission. If not, check out their existing content and tailor your proposal to fit. Pitching an irrelevant article written in the wrong voice wastes everyone's time.
Also, do what you can to avoid your email looking like a cookie-cutter mass broadcast. For example, take the time to mention which section of their website you're aiming for, or refer to similar articles that your own would complement.
4) Provide a Good Preview
Most editors won't take the time to read a full article, although an illustrative excerpt can help engage their attention. But in any case, provide a solid outline of the proposed article, covering both content and structure, so that the editor can skim-read it and come to a quick decision.
5) Focus on Quality
While your ultimate aim is to gain exposure and a valuable link, the editor's overriding priority is to provide quality for their readership. Don't be promotional in your pitch; focus on how your article will benefit the target site's visitors. Aim for your content to be as good as anything you'd put on your own site.
And remember, the higher the quality of the article you provide, the greater the benefits for your branding and traffic.
6) Don't Be Secretive
Make sure you include your own destination website somewhere in the email. Scrupulous editors will want to check it out before taking your proposal any further.
Regardless of the guest post quality, good editors won't want to associate their brand with a low-quality site by linking to it. If you don't make it easy to find out where the link will point, time-pressed editors won't ask: they'll simply move on.
7) Follow Up - But Only Once
It's unlikely you'll be overwhelmed with immediate responses to your first outreach email, but don't let that put you off. Follow up your initial approach after a week or so. This leaves enough time for your message to be read by busy editors, but doesn't wait so long that any impression you made has gone stale.
However, don't be tempted to try a second or third follow up if you still receive no response. You'll just irritate the editor and lessen any chances of further pitches being successful. If a proposal has apparently missed the mark, learn what you can from the experience, then move on.
Guest posting still offers enormous possibilities for link building, but its days as an easy tactic are firmly over. If you want to gain powerful links, you'll need to pitch with precision and skill to catch an editor's attention.