February 15, 2016
The 8 Steps to Building a Truly Successful Guest Blogging Program
Blogging is hard work…
And making it sustainable is even harder. Sometimes it feels like bashing your head against the wall trying to lock down the next contributor from your team.
So are you just going to do it all yourself?
That’s seriously unsustainable.
If you want to achieve the consistency, reach and scale of an authority blog you can’t rely on internal contributors, and you certainly can’t rely on yourself. (Unless it’s your full-time job, and even then it’s hard)
Today I want to help you build a blog of authority, without doing it all yourself and without the pain of riding your team for content.
It’s all about finding a regular group of guest bloggers who will contribute to your site.
Guest bloggers are authors who regularly write for high traffic and well respected online publishing platforms in your industry. They are always on the lookout for new opportunities to get their name out there… Your audience may be perfect for that.
Here is an 8-step process I use with clients to manage their blogs, find guest contributors and make it all sustainable; (Notice, “finding guest bloggers” doesn’t appear until step 6)
Step 1 – Build a following from day one
If you haven’t started already, you need to start building a following…
I’m talking about a group of people you can communicate with to amplify the reach of your blog content every time it is published.
Email subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook likes… you get the point.
Why should you care about these vanity metrics?
Because other people care. Potential guest bloggers care.
It’s like when you organise a party and a couple of the cool kids RSVP straight away. Everyone else follows.
By growing a following from day one you set a platform to gain momentum over time and make your site an attractive proposition for guest bloggers.
Just about any site you can think of that has regular guest contributors began as an internal adventure initially. But over time they built credibility, and a lot of that has to do with the “perception” of the followership.
Step 2 – Pay for content initially
As harsh as it sounds, online marketing is a popularity contest.
The more enticing your site “looks” to a potential expert, the more chance they will want to write for you.
Because they want to get something from it too, they want to grow the reach of their own brand.
One of the quickest ways to build perception and credibility is to pay for copywriters in the early stages of your blog launch.
By paying high-quality contributors to write for your blog under their own name, people start to take notice. Not because you are paying anyone, but because it creates a perception.
“It looks like other people are writing for that blog other than the employees… must be legit”
That’s what is going through the mind of a potential contributor.
But it’s not easy to find industry-specific experts who happen to be copywriters… In fact it’s seriously hard work.
The most effective approach to do so is to get on the front foot.
Map out a topic (a really big topic) from start to finish… Kind of like the bare bones structure of a book.
Create sections (or chapters) for that topic that all flow and build into the final message.
Once you have a high-level structure for this topic – let’s say there are 10 sections within the structure – you now have a research and copywriting task for someone.
The goal now becomes to find someone who can create a 10,000+ word resource on this topic, based on the structure you have just come up with. This resource will then be broken down into 10 different blog posts and published under this person’s name.
But you’re not pitching them as a “copywriter”… Because copywriters typically aren’t experts. They write about theory and predictions. You’re pitching them as an expert in their field.
Here’s a summary of what your ad may look like:
“We are looking for an expert on [Topic X] to help us conduct a research project. The project will be published under your name, as an expert in [Industry]”
You see how that is different than pitching a copywriting job and outsourcing blog posts?
Once you have your brief and general structure, finding the expert can be challenging. But you need to think outside the box.
Where are these type of people regularly hanging out?
What forums, bulletin boards, events, websites could you be getting in front of to access these experts?
Rinse and repeat this for a couple of big topics in your industry, and you’ll be set for a long time into the future with high-quality blog content.
BONUS Tip: You could turn the 10,000+ word resource into an eBook and use it as a lead magnet on your site.
Step 3 – Lock in a regular publishing rhythm
To build a blog of authority it needs to have some consistency.
Consistency comes in many forms, from branding, to imagery, to quality standards… But perhaps the most obvious form of consistency is the publishing rhythm you set.
How often do you want to publish content on your blog?
Once a month? Once a week? Or more?
I don’t care how often you post, but pick something and stick to it.
Not only do your readers get used to your publishing rhythm, but potential contributors see it as a sign of quality. The more structure you have in your processes (from the outside at least), the more professional you look and the more attractive it is to experts.
These days regular content isn’t a necessity. In fact if you were to only publish one extremely resourceful, high quality blog post every month… This would be a better approach than pumping out 1 or 2 below-average, short blog posts every week.
With the amount of content available online rapidly growing every year, you need to do something to stand out. Short 500-word snippets of nothingness won’t make the cut.
So pick a publishing schedule that works for you and your team and stick to it.
I recommend using CoSchedule for managing your editorial calendar and locking in a consistent rhythm. Here it is in action:
Step 4 – Focus on what expert contributors want
Ok so you’re starting to build some nice momentum…
You’ve got a mix of internal contributors and paid experts writing for your blog on a regular publishing schedule.
Before you can start outreaching to guest contributors (who will give you expert-quality content for free) you need to understand what it is they want.
This is just like any value exchange in business, it needs to be a win-win.
If you have followed steps 1-3 you have started to accrue many of the things expert contributors are looking for.
They want exposure, brand awareness, traffic, leads… Plus they want a warm fuzzy feeling inside that they are actually getting noticed – that comes in the form of engagement.
That means that when you are eventually talking to experts about contributing to your blog, you need some social proof to take with you.
Things like average social shares and comments on blog posts will help show off your engagement levels. Email subscriber numbers and social followings will show off the reach of your brand, and the TYPE of people who have contributed in the past will build your credibility.
And so does this:
All of these things are going to help you more effectively outreach to expert contributors in the future, hence why you need to focus on them from day one.
Step 5 – Systemise everything
The final piece of the puzzle before you start to look for potential contributors is to get your house in order.
As well as social proof, you need collateral when you are persuading experts to write for you.
Here is a quick fire list of some of the things you will need;
- Writing guidelines
- A strict “guest blogging” process
- Promotional responsibilities for contributors
- Expected publication dates
Let me elaborate on each of these…
Your writing guidelines should either be available on your website, or in a document. And they should break down EXACTLY what it takes to contribute a successful blog to your audience.
How many words should it be? Should they include images? What style of writing is required?
Everything that will help them be successful needs to be in your writing guidelines. Remember, this is a partnership they are “winning” too. So you want to set them up for success.
Here is a snippet of what the writing guidelines look like for one of my clients in the marketing sector:
On top of your writing guidelines you need a strict process for accepting contributions from guest authors.
For example, how many edits will there be? How long will it take? Who is involved?
The more information you can communicate to your expert contributors the better… Again this will build professional credibility into the process.
You also want to set some expectations for what an author should do to promote their blog post once it is live on your site.
You are giving them “exposure, brand awareness, traffic, leads…” and they are giving you “high quality content + access to their audience”.
Before you start reaching out to contributors, be prepared with “promotional collateral” such as pre-crafted tweets, email swipe copy and other easy-to-use ways for them to promote the blog post once it is live. You will be asking them to be accountable for this in the outreach process.
Finally, you will need to have a good idea of when a new contributor will get their post published on your blog.
Is it tomorrow? Or is it in 3 months time?
This is when the editorial calendar and publishing rhythm come in handy.
Step 6 – Find your guest bloggers
You’re almost there…
The platform is set, your credibility is gaining momentum and all the collateral you need is systemised.
Now it’s time to find those elusive experts to contribute to your blog.
The quickest way to do this is to list out the top sites your BEST customers seek information from…
Pick up the phone and ask them.
“Do you have any industry blogs/news sites/publications that you read regularly?”
Ask as many of them as you can until you have a short list of potential sites.
Once you’ve got your shortlist (let’s say 5-10 sites), go and suss them out.
Figure out if any of these sites have guest contributors, or expert interviews.
Easy, just look at their blog and jump straight to the author bio section:
It won’t take long until you start to discover relevant experts in your industry who have written for other publications before. This means they are likely and willing to do it again, if the proposition is a good one.
Capture as much of their contact information as possible… The most important part is the email address.
Sometimes this will take a bit of digging to find, but if you have the URL to their website and their full name, Anymail Finder will help make this a whole bunch easier:
As you are going along I would capture all of this in a spreadsheet or your CRM software to make sure you keep track of everything.
Step 7 – Reach out to guest bloggers
Once you have a list of potential contributors it’s time to reach out to them over email.
This is when you use all of that social proof and credibility you’ve built up to close the deal…
To make life easier, here is an example email I have used when outreaching in the past. (All names etc, removed)
“Your guest post for [Website Name]”
“Hey [First Name],
I just read your guest post over at [Website Name] – absolutely loved it, nice work.
I’m the editor at [Your Site Name] and was wondering if you’d be interested in contributing a guest article for us?
We are always on the lookout for extremely high quality guest blog posts and think you have what it takes.
What’s in it for you?
- You would be featured alongside the likes of [Expert Contributor 1] and [Expert Contributor 2]
- We will promote the post to our combined [X thousand] strong social following and over [X thousand] email subscribers
- You can include a link in the post back to your own site or a landing page – depending on your goals
Just a heads up, I’ve attached a one-page overview of how the guest blogging process works – it will help you understand what you’re signing up for.
Let me know if you’re interested and we can begin the process.
Realistically, not everyone you contact will get back to you. But it’s a numbers game…
The more people you contact, the more that will say yes and the more content you will have for your blog. The more content you have the more traffic you get, the more social proof you accrue and the more experts you will attract as contributors.
I use BuzzStream to conduct large-scale outreach with potential guest bloggers. It’s extremely customizable in terms of its email templates and personalisation for outreach efforts:
Step 8 – Make it sustainable
It’s all very well to go through this process once and feel like it’s all done. But to create a true authority blog that has sustainable contributions, you will need to be proactive all the time.
As soon as you sit back and relax all of a sudden you will be out of content. (Even the better blogs can fall into the trap of complacency)
That’s why it is important to stay up to date with the sites you identified in your industry, and always be on the lookout for new experts that may be able to contribute to your blog.
Also, think about spreading your wings and finding other experts and other sites.
AllTop is a great place to start if you are looking for other sites to find guest authors in your industry.
It is a big database of publications broken up into industries and interests. Meaning you can quickly search relevant sites and then discover new guest contributors.
The above screenshot is highlighting a search for the “Real Estate” sector on AllTop.
Wrapping it up
What do you think, are guest bloggers a good approach to running a sustainable blog?
I’d love to hear your stories about using this strategy in the comments… Good, bad and ugly.