Thanks to the internet, it’s now possible for anyone to realize their dream of having a successful business within a desired niche. All you have to do is set up a website, blog consistently, and promote it on social media! Right?
Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work, at least. How it works in real life is an entirely different story.
This was the sobering realization I faced when I began my own marketing business. Turns out, building an online business isn’t in any way, shape, or form easier than building a traditional brick-and-mortar one. And the costs add up fast. Between setting up a website, hosting, domain name, optimizing, etc., the average cost to set a profitable website alone can set you back $5,000.
Then there’s your site’s blog, which more than half of marketers say is their top priority. But doing it right takes a serious investment too, in order to ensure you’re putting out thought-provoking and helpful content that can cut through all the noise out there.
Faced with this daunting scenario, and my own depleting financial resources, I realized one day that, in addition to blogging, I needed to create a content marketing strategy that focused on building genuine relationships with others.
The strategy I ultimately settled on was guest posting. The results have been huge. After three months of applying this strategy, my website’s traffic grew by five times, and I started seeing regular, qualified leads arriving at my doorstep each month. Here’s everything I learned while rolling out my own strategy, and how you can replicate it with your own business.
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The Inspiration to Try Guest Posting
Guest posting is a tried-and-true way to promote your brand and build credibility and authority at the same time, which can increase website traffic and scale your business quickly.
I first got the inspiration to focus my efforts on guest posting after I came across an article where Buffer’s co-founder Leo Wildrich shared how guest posting helped them acquire 100,000 users in just nine months.
The other main inspiration was Tor Resfeld of Time Management Chef. Through guest posting, he not only managed to grow his email list to over 30,000 subscribers, but also caused his coaching business to grow from $0 to earning $3,000 a month in just three months.
Seeing these success stories encouraged me to give it a shot, albeit with my own spin on the process. Your own guest blogging strategy will also vary, but I’ve hammered out what I believe to be a reliable formula that you can largely replicate.
How I Created an Effective Guest Blogging Strategy
Step 1: Create the Right Personas
Your buyer persona, or marketing persona, is a detailed description of your business’s ideal customer or client. This includes more than demographic details like their age bracket, household income, and position at work. It also includes things like:
- buying behaviors
- what social media networks they frequent
- what blogs or websites they subscribe to
- how they prefer paying for the products or services they buy
Developing your buyer persona is a mixture of research and educated guesswork. Here are some ways you can gather the details you need:
- Go through your business’s email list and contact database. Look for patterns on how your leads consume content on your website. Also, keep an eye out for any similarities among those leads that you’ve converted into customers.
- Create an online survey. Ask your existing customers to fill out a survey (you can create one using Typeform or Google Forms) so you can get a better understanding of their behaviors, characteristics, habits, and interests.
- Ask your sales team. Since your sales reps are on the frontline when trying to convert leads to customers, they can give you insights to similarities and patterns among your leads. If you don’t have a sales team, consider looking through your customer service requests and/or conducting one-on-one interviews with your customers.
In my case, I knew I wanted to target B2B software companies, I developed this the same way account-based marketers develop their customers’ profiles. The most critical factors I considered in my persona were:
- The current stage the startup is currently at
- What product or service they offer
- How many key decision-makers they have
Based on these factors, I decided to target startups that already have viable products they are marketing and aren’t competing with what I offer in my business, and have just one key decision-maker.
I chose these types of startups to target because, at this stage, they would be stable enough to be open to long-term partnerships with my business. At the same time, targeting startups that have only one key decision-maker would shorten the sales cycle.
From there, I documented the persona of the critical decision makers of the startups I wanted to target using the HubSpot buyer persona tool
Once finding these decision makers, I analyze their social media platforms to gain an understanding of what type of content appeals to them and what publications they enjoy reading to stay updated on industry trends. LinkedIn is my go-to platform for this research because users often highlight professional publications they read. This served as my compass to point me to what type of content they prefer and also what sites they visit to consume content.
Next, I gather a list of these sites my targets like and I analyze the site’s blog for guest posting opportunities with two quick steps.
1. Performing a Google search to see if the site has editorial guidelines or a published content calendar with topics they are seeking to have content contributed on.
a. Site Name+Editorial Guidelines OR Site Name+Contributor Guidelines OR Site Name+Content Calendar
2. Running the site through Buzzsumo to identify what content has performed the best in the past.
Step 2: Choose a Content Topic for Your Own Blog
Based on the details I gathered from developing my buyer persona, I then began producing the content I’d be publishing on my own business’s blog, following the Topic Cluster model, a strategy where you focus on creating blog posts around a specific topic.
This is also sometimes called the Spider Web strategy, because all the blog posts about a specific topic are linked to one comprehensive piece of content (your Pillar Content), and with each other, so they won’t compete with each other for ranking for specific keywords.
As a result, the topic cluster model increases your website’s overall ranking and domain authority among search engines. The topic cluster model also streamlines the content on your blog, making it easier for your readers to dig deeper into a particular topic.
Most importantly, it gives me the relevant articles I can reference in guest posts that I intend to submit to the sites my target audience frequents. That way, when the editors of the site review the guest blog post I offer to them, they’ll find that the content on my blog that I linked to is relevant, in-depth, and valuable.
Creating a topic cluster starts with choosing a topic related to your line of business. It should be broad enough that you can create several unique blog posts related to it. At the same time, it’s specific enough that most, if not all of the questions someone searching about it on Google might have can be answered in one comprehensive article.
Next, list all the keywords you want to rank for your chosen topic. SEMRush is an excellent tool to use for this. Their Topic Research feature not only finds keywords related to your chosen topic, but also suggests headlines and blog titles you can write.
Screenshot from SEMRush
Once you have your list, choose the broadest keyword/topic from your list. This will become your topic cluster’s Pillar Article.
Don’t write your Pillar Article just yet. Instead, start writing the blog posts that will make up the cluster surrounding your Pillar Article. Only when you have written these blog posts should you begin writing your Pillar Article. This helps you structure your Pillar Article so that you can easily link all the other blog posts to it.
Typeform’s Guide to Customer Success is a perfect example of a well crafted Pillar Article.
Step 3: Write High-Quality, In-Depth Content
Studies show that long-form blog posts (blog posts that are at least 1,000 words) outperform short blog posts when ranking on search engines. Blog posts ranking on the first page of Google have an average of 1,890 words.
The quality of the content is just as important. You need to make sure that it’s filled with information that’s valuable and helpful to your target audience. Only then will others be willing to link to them and, more importantly, drive traffic to your site.
Here are some ways to achieve this:
- Provide actionable takeaways. Offer advice that your target audience can immediately apply while they’re reading your blog post, or shortly after.
- Include complementary images. Including graphs, charts, infographics, and screenshots will make your content easier to understand. Also, these images can give your target readers concrete evidence to support the points that you include within your blog posts.
- Think like your reader. When developing your outline, take note of the questions that your reader will most likely ask about the topic and use these as your headings. Not only will this improve its readability but also increases the chances of your blog post to be listed as a Featured Snippet by Google.
Step 4: Start Pitching, Go for Quick Wins
Instead of immediately sending pitches to the blogs and websites my target market patronizes, I opted to target influential bloggers first.
One reason I chose this route is that the turnaround time these influential bloggers have when it comes to accepting guest blog posts is faster. The sooner these guest posts get published, the quicker I’ll be able to start getting quality traffic to my site that I can then start converting.
Another is to help establish my credibility and expertise within my niche. These influential bloggers are known for their content’s quality.
Only after I’d had blog posts published with several influencers in my niche did I start pitching to more established media sites. By that time, I could include my guest posts already published as examples of the quality of my content, increasing the chance of my guest post being accepted.
Also, I avoid the more generalist sites like Forbes and Fast Company, as due to volume of submissions, they take forever to respond. I’m sure these editors’ inboxes are flooded.
So how do you start reaching out to influencers in your niche?
First, create a Google sheet with a list of the influencers within your niche, with the following headings:
- Their blog’s name and URL
- Their email address
- Their social media accounts
Start with outlets you and your target market follow, then expand your list by including other influencers and blogs within your niche.
Good old Google is your resource for this process. For example, if I search the term “content marketing,” these are the sites that I find under the ads:
Another tool I use to find bloggers to reach out to is Buzzsumo. When I type in the topic or keyword phrase I’ve chosen for my blog post, it gives me a list of the Twitter handles and blogs of the different influencers and recognized experts on this topic.
Buzzsumo also tells you their blog’s domain authority. This metric is essential, because the higher their site’s domain authority, the better they will rank with Google and other search engines.
Buzzsumo also gives you the average retweets an influencer receives, and the influencer’s retweet ratio, which shows you the likelihood that they will retweet a post you tag them in.
Perhaps the most essential information Buzzsumo provides is the reply ratio.
Screenshot taken from Buzzsumo
This percentage tells you the likelihood that the influencer will respond to your messages on Twitter. This is crucial, since you’ll want to make sure that you can get a reply from the influencer when you reach out.
While there’s no ideal reply ratio set in stone, I personally choose influencers with reply ratios of 60% or higher to include in my list.
Step 5: Start Building Relationships
Probably the biggest challenge entrepreneurs face when using guest posting is getting their pitch accepted. The secret to achieving this is by first focusing on building a relationship with your target influencers, before submitting to them a pitch.
Think about it: You’re more likely to do a favor for a friend than for a complete stranger. The same thing goes for guest posting. When you build and establish a strong relationship with influencers in your niche, they’ll be more willing to accommodate your request. In some cases, they may even reach out to you and suggest that you write up a guest post for their blog.
Here are some ways how to build relationships with these influencers:
Comment on Their Blog Posts
Start by making an effort to leave well-thought-out comments on their blog posts. Doing this adds value to their blog posts that their readers and the influencer will appreciate. It also gives these bloggers an insight into the quality of a post that you could provide.
Participating in surveys they send to their followers is another way to start building relationships with influencers. Again, make sure that the answers you give them will provide value to their followers.
This is precisely what I did when Web Hosting Secrets Revealed ran a survey asking online business owners what they consider to be the best web development tool or platform to use. I not only got a “thank you” from them but also got my answer featured on their blog post, alongside the answers of more established business owners like Global Stealth CEO Efe Cakinberk and Commission Factory CEO Zane McIntyre.
Offer Help to Improve Their Resources
If you have a blog post that complements an article written by one of these influencers, you can send them an email offering to include this in their resources.
It’s important to note that when you send them an email that you first thoroughly read the content they wrote. Mention in your email what you liked about the blog post they wrote and how linking to one of your blog posts will help improve its value and quality.
Here’s an example of an email I sent to Wishpond’s Content Editor James Scherer:
Soon after, he sent me this reply:
Sure enough, there it was:
Not only has this approach helped significantly improve my site’s traffic, but also opened the doors for me to successfully consistently contribute content to Wishpond.
When contacting these influencers, bear in mind that you’re essentially sending a cold email. Here are a few tips to improve your chances:
- Craft an informative subject line. This is the very first thing that influencers will see. What you write here will make them decide whether or not to open it. Adding their name to the subject line and keeping it short helps. Also, aim to spark some curiosity so that they will be more willing to read your email.
- Personalize your email. Personalized emails are 17% more likely to be opened and read by your target influencers.
- Use a professional email address. Using a custom email with a website address makes your email more credible than a Gmail or Yahoo address.
- Have a call-to-action. Don’t assume that the influencer knows what you’d like them to do. Politely ask them how you’d like them to use the resource you provide.
Send a Courtesy Email
This is my favorite approach, because it’s the one that’s delivered the most results. Instead of offering help, you merely inform the influencer that you included one of their blog posts as one of your sources and invite them to visit it.
Doing this helps you connect with these influencers on a more personal level. They may be industry leaders, but they still greatly appreciate it when they receive a personal note that someone found their content extremely valuable.
Second, it gives them the opportunity to take a look at the quality of the blog posts that you publish, so they’ll know what to expect when you send them a pitch.
This was how I got invited to become a contributor to Smart Insights:
This also eventually opened doors for me to contribute to HubSpot, GetResponse, SalesPOP, Influencive, Startup Nation,Growth Marketing Conference,Business2Community, and ThriveGlobal. All of which are sites that my target market visits to consume content.
The Impact of Guest Posting on My Online Business
Within three months of consistently publishing my own content and applying the steps I shared here on guest posting, my online business saw the following results:
- An increase of monthly website traffic from 1,000 to 5,000 with 80% of these coming from Google search results
- A 20% increase in site traffic each month
- More than 15 monthly qualified leads to convert to customers
- More guest posting opportunities from leading publications
Guest posting takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s a worthwhile investment when it comes to building your brand and getting qualified leads to convert on your site. The steps that I’ve shared here will help you get started.
The biggest takeaway I’d like to leave you with is to focus on building relationships and trust with the influencers you want to reach out to. Publish high-quality content on your blog post, and offering your help to increase the quality of their articles and blog posts will help you get started.
Save your pitches until you’ve already established a level of trust with them. That way, they’ll see your request as a way that will be mutually beneficial for both of you.
Don’t stop building the relationship just because you got one guest blog post approved and published. Keep it going. Guest posting is a long-term strategy. The more you’re able to build your brand’s authority and trust level, the more your target audience will be interested in finding out more about what you have to offer.
Above all, make sure that you pay it forward by welcoming guest post contributors on your site. That way, you can also provide your readers with quality content without you having to do all the legwork.
Have you had any success publishing guest posts to grow your personal brand? Are there other methods I missed that you’ve used to become a contributor to publications?