Reading articles from major publications such as Forbes, The Huffington Post, and Mashable will likely give anyone an urge to wield a pen and contribute. After all, don’t we all have something valuable to share? From quick tips, life hacks, to secret tricks, writing for online blogs – also known as guest blogging – has always been one of the best ways to promote yourself (or your business), establish credibility, as well as gain a following.
Guest posting is certainly NOT dead; but the link-building SEO concept behind it is. In the past, bloggers, businesses, and digital marketers abused this strategy, which led to former head of Google’s web spam team, Matt Cutts, to announce that guest blogging is done. So unless you’re into this sort of practice, Cutts encourages you to guest blog – as long as you use the opportunity to offer high-quality, informative content.
Now, it’s easy to say “I want to contribute to Forbes” or something along those lines. However, the REAL challenge is not exactly in writing the guest post (although that is pretty difficult): it’s the process itself.
Whether you’re a new blogger or a professional, understanding what you’re up against should help raise the odds in your favor. Here are the most common challenges guest post beginners face, and how to conquer them.
1. Lack of Great Topic Ideas
Most bloggers and businesses usually have a list of target sites even before they begin writing. This is great, except for ONE small hitch: these blogs generally require you to pitch one to three topic ideas. Now what?
If you’re a regular reader of your target blog or publication, it should be quite easy to know what they like. Forbes, for example, publishes articles that deal mainly with business subjects, investments, entrepreneurship, leadership and success. Your next step then, is to figure out a topic that they have NOT published before. You need to find something that will click with their readers as well as abide by their quality guidelines.
Freelance writer Kristi Hines has an excellent post on how to continuously have a source of wonderful ideas without breaking a sweat. Aside from lurking on social media and checking backlinks, why not look at the comments section of your favorite blogs? Your local bookstore also has a ton of ideas you could 'steal' (i.e. from books, magazines, brochures, etc.). Watching YouTube videos can be a fun way of getting inspired, too.
Both services require you to sign up, but don’t worry! Once you do, they offer user-friendly features that are easy to navigate. You can save links, images, contact details like emails and other thoughts that will help you when you submit a guest post.
2. You Don't Know Where to Send the Article
It’s a common dilemma. You already have a list of guest blogging sites and killer ideas – but you have absolutely NO idea where to send the pitch. Unless you want to get on an editor’s bad side, customizing your email for him or her will require that you know at least a little bit about the person.
Social media networks like Twitter are a great go-to for this. Plus, becoming a fan or follower always spells a win: you get to see updates from the editors while getting in their good books at the same time.
But what if you don’t even know their NAME? Here are several ways to get around this problem.
Lately, there are several bloggers who have been more than generous in sharing their tips and tricks for getting published.
- Browse through articles and carefully scan the author bios. No matter how busy editors get, they would surely find the time to write several posts on the blog. Enter this name along with the website name on Google, and you’ll (hopefully) get an email. To verify, enter this address into Google again to check if it’s the correct editor.
- If you have the name but NO email address, try a bunch of common combinations like firstname.lastname@example.org or firstname.lastname@ targetsite.com.
- Never forget the About Us page! It should contain the people who work on your target website. Even if they don’t list email addresses, having a name to begin with makes the search easier.
One of the biggest mistakes bloggers make is sending their guest post pitch to “the editor” or “to whom it may concern.” Take it from someone who has tried pitching to email@example.com numerous times: emails here almost always NEVER get a reply. The better option is to track down a specific editor and send them an email directly.
3. No Previous Experience and/or Writing Samples
Just when you thought guest post writing has gotten easier, another setback hits you hard: you realize you have NO previous writing samples.
Don’t feel discouraged! Think of it as applying to a job you don’t have experience in. It will feel like other candidates will be chosen because their skills or knowledge are more related to the position than yours. But just like hiring managers, editors are flexible and don’t eat writers who have no previous experience under their belts.
Believe it or not, there are plenty of top websites that do NOT require writing samples. The Four Hour Work Week blog, for instance, doesn’t call for their writers to submit samples (however, they will require article ideas FIRST). If you’re looking to submit a guest post to reach audiences interested in health, fitness, and entertainment, Tim Ferriss’ blog can give you the leverage you need. All he asks is for guest contributors to abide by his strict guidelines.
SEMrush Domain Overview for fourhourworkweek.com
So instead of lamenting over something you don’t have, focus on these three main aspects:
- Your expertise. In your pitch, be sure to mention WHY you want to guest post for them and WHAT makes you qualified to write about your chosen subject. Be as detailed as you can while keeping it brief. Example: “As a mother of three who’s constantly juggling between her family and career as an online marketer, I believe your readers will love my take on…”
- Your topic. This is why you’ll need a killer blog post idea above all else. Remember: an editor receives dozens if not hundreds of pitches every day. Sending them something original is not only going to make their day, you increase your chances of getting accepted. Make sure this topic is NOT yet covered in your target site. Do a search first to confirm – otherwise, draw up a new list of pitches.
- Your passion. There are only so many reasons why writers would want to guest pitch. The most common of them is a) they’re after a backlink; or b) they want to promote a product or service. So if you pitch with enthusiasm and passion on a certain subject, you will stand out above other potential contributors (more on this later).
Please be advised that there are blogs that DO REQUIRE writing samples. Failing to include them could mean an automatic rejection OR your email will be ignored. In such cases, it’s smart to keep these sites in your database for now while you grow your experience in guest posting. Don’t worry – you could always write for them in the future!
4. You Don’t Know How to Pitch
This is perhaps the scariest part of the entire guest posting experience. You have your draft (or a couple of ideas), your target site, plus an editor’s name and email address, but when it comes down to sending that dreaded pitch, you break into a cold sweat. Is there a formula for the “perfect pitch?" Well, yes and no.
After guest posting for more than a year now, I’ve learned that yes – there is a certain template that winning pitches could be based on. However, you still need to personalize it based on WHO you’re pitching to. So no: there’s no such thing as the “perfect pitch,” BUT you could send a pitch that’s perfect for a particular site.
A good pitch template generally has the following main points:
- Clear subject line
- Greeting with editor’s name
- Brief description of who you are and what you do
- Why are you interested in guest posting
- What your idea is and how will it benefit their readers
- Optional: sample writings and/or social media links
The last part is optional because you may not have previous articles written yet. You’re not obliged to give links to your social media accounts either as you can include these in your email signature.
Social Media Links in Email Signature
You could also add them directly on Twitter. In the case of the latter, you can simply mention that you’re already following them.
Adding links to your email pitch is sometimes risky because editors often place spam blockers on their accounts. This means your pitch may go to the junk folder – or worse: go back to you. Unless it’s mentioned that you shouldn’t send any draft, feel free to attach your work so the editor will have proof of your awesome writing.
Back to the perfect pitch. Assuming you tick off everything on that list, it may look something like this:
Guest Blog Pitch Email
Please note that this is ONLY a sample pitch, something that you can easily tweak and personalize for more flair. Go ahead and spice up your message at your own discretion. Convince & Convert Managing Editor Jess Ostroff, advises guest bloggers to prioritize creating a connection with your editor by simply paying attention. If you did your research, editors’ social media profiles would reveal a LOT about what you can put in your pitch.
Founder of Location 180, Sean Ogle, who also receives tons of guest post requests on his blog, suggests this template to increase your chances of landing that coveted gig:
Guest Blogging Template
This template, albeit longer, includes these aspects that you may want to integrate into your first pitch to boost your odds at landing that guest posting opportunity:
- Clarity of purpose
- Mentioning something specific from the blog
- Three ideas for the editor to choose from
No matter how you approach it, keep your pitch short, sweet, and respectful. Different editors will have different styles; so being able to adjust your pitches accordingly will prove how valuable you are as a writer.
5. You Didn’t Receive A Reply – Even After You Followed Up
Don’t be alarmed if you don’t hear anything from your editor after three days. Most would try to send you a reply anywhere from within 24 hours to a week. But life happens, so it could take longer than that (I once worked with an editor whom I didn’t hear from for about three months). Before you push the panic button, consider these factors that affect the waiting period for many online publications:
- Website type. Bigger publications like Forbes or The Huffington Post have a large volume of submissions on top of their scheduled posts.
- Date of your submission. Did you pitch before the weekend? Is there going to be a local holiday next week? Does the editor have a scheduled business trip?
- Technical issues. Your pitch could be buried in the spam or junk folder. Or it may have been forwarded to another person without you knowing.
Jess Ostroff recommends giving editors at least a week BEFORE you send a follow-up email. Should they reply, it could just be an acknowledgment that they have received your piece. ALWAYS allow for time delays. Don’t expect that an article you sent last week would immediately be published.
When in doubt about exactly how long you should wait, refer to the publication’s About Us page or their Guest Post Guidelines. They would often mention the expected waiting time for every submission. Here’s a sample excerpt from Forbes Opinion:
If they explicit state that you’re free to try elsewhere in case you don’t hear from them, go ahead. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again though!
Submitting a guest post is like a double-edged sword.
On one end, you’ll get a chance to showcase your skill as well as gain authority if published (especially if you land a spot on top online publications). But on the other end, rejections are also common. They will sting and could make you question why you wanted to guest post in the first place. But as long as your motive is clear AND you want to help the blog as well, take rejections as learning experiences.
If you want to speed up the process of getting accepted, go back to your pitch. Polish it; make it brilliant so it stands out from other emails. Editor-in-Chief at Write to Done Mary Jaksch suggests using humor to land a guest post. Why is that? Laughter is known to ease tension, relax the muscles, and build an instant connection. As long as you keep it clean, brief, and witty, you’re bound to make your editor laugh – paving the way towards that guest post spot.