Eleven months ago, we added about 18 new landing pages to our website. Of course, these pages didn’t rank at all, and we had to study our options to boost them. After looking at various articles/resources, we decided to invest in guest posts, as:
- It’s a white hat technique
- We thought it could help us drive more traffic to our website at the same time
- This strategy usually costs virtually nothing but time
Seven months later, we had published 29 guest posts, including posts on major blogs such as ConversionXL, UpWork, CrazyEgg, etc. Our budget for the whole process? $3,600. Let me guide you through our process.
1) The Context
A) Who are we?
I work for WisePops, a popup builder. I became Head of Growth 12 months ago. Before I took the position, we had zero (0!) link-building strategies.
B) What is guest posting?
If you don’t know what guest posts are, I recommend this article on the matter by SEO Expert Brian Dean. In short, guest posts are one of the options to get backlinks that Google doesn’t consider spammy.
C) Our limits
Before detailing our strategy, let me explain first why we had nothing of the ideal team for this job:
- Our experience with content marketing was limited. The only content on our website was written by freelancers, with limited input on our part.
- We had zero experience with link building in general and guest posts in particular.
- Our team was small: a (very good) freelance copywriter (Pawel Grabowski) and me.
- I’m French. It can help to win a soccer world cup, but it doesn’t help at all when it comes to writing articles in proper English.
In short, if we’ve done it, anyone can do it!
D) Our assets
That said, all was not lost. We had a few good cards in hand:
- Unique data and experience with website popups (our product)
- A long history of experience in e-commerce and digital marketing (we have two ex-Amazons on our team)
- An established network of partners and clients developed throughout our five years of existence
Now that you know where we come from, it’s time to break down our process.
2) How I Built Our Outreach List
Before we dive into the details of each channel, here’s an overview of our results by source:
A) Existing partnerships
We started with our existing partners, the solutions we integrate with. My reasoning was as follows:
- As we already have a relationship, it will be easier to convince them to accept a guest post from us (the 40% conversion rate proves I was right)
- We operate in the same industry, so it will be more natural to write on topics that appeal to their readers
In retrospect, it was an excellent decision: These partners were benevolent and helped us improve our writing skills. They prepared us for the next step: contacting people with whom we had no pre-existing relationship.
B) Competitors’ links
We then used linkminer.com to identify all the backlinks from our competitors (note: linkminer uses Majestic data, but the UX is simply 10 times better). My reasoning was:
- If they published content from my competitors, they’re more likely to accept content from me (the 38% conversion rate matches our average, so this hypothesis was not correct)
- I know most of my competitors focus on low-hanging fruits (blogs that accept short content); this means it shouldn’t be too hard to get the articles accepted and written.
Pro tip from Ajay Paghdal, Founder of OutreachMama
The unfortunate truth about sifting through a list of competitors’ backlinks from Majestic, Ahrefs, Moz, Linkminer, etc., is there is a lot of junk data to filter out.
I recommend as a first step to exclude the links that are no-follow, spammy, not indexed in Google, duplicated across category/tag pages or from auto-generated sites.
As a second step, I suggest you check the anchor text type of those links. For example, if a link has branded anchor text, it’s likely that the link is from a guest post bio link, a listicle or an expert quote. If it’s a URL anchor text, it’s probably a directory or profile link. If it’s a keyword anchor text, the likelihood of it being a paid guest post increases. Checking these details will help you prioritize your outreach list to help you accomplish your goals most effectively.
Tools such as Linkio can help you automate this process (full disclosure: it’s my company).
Using Google, it’s easy to find websites that accept guest posts. At the beginning of the process, I was focusing on very general landing pages. So my searches were very broad. I googled “online marketing blogs accepting guest posts” and related queries. I ended up on websites sharing lists of blogs accepting guest posts:
An example of one of the directories. Source: writersincharge.com
Later, I had to push landing pages related to specific platforms (such as Shopify, WordPress, etc.), so I refined my searches. I googled “Platform blog guest post” (for example: “Shopify blog guest post”) and related queries. It got us 7 posts, but this is where my conversion rate was the lowest.
D) Keyword monitoring
I used Mention to monitor keywords related to our tool (note: Ahrefs offers a similar option). As soon as I spotted a high domain authority website or blog mentioning one of them, I reached out to offer to contribute. I detailed the process here (yes, it was one of the 29 guest posts ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
The rest of the list was made up of:
- WisePops’ clients who had a blog
- People sharing guest post opportunities on the Online Geniuses Slack channel (highly recommend, by the way)
- A guy who contacted me after seeing one of my posts and landed me 3 posts (Thanks, Josh!)
Pro tip from Marcin Chirowski, Founder at GrowthTurn
One of the crucial parts of guest posting is to build a quality prospect list of site owners who will actually respond to your outreach emails & ultimately publish your guest post. It’s a make or break of your entire campaign.
Where is the challenge? Guest posting has been around for a very long time. Site owners & bloggers are simply bombarded with emails, every single day. Ideally, your prospect list should have names of people who already know you in some way. Of course, that’s hard when you are just starting out. How can you overcome that? Segment your list. Break it down, based on the depth of the relationship level, and then tailor your outreach for each segment.
1st Level Connections – These could be your business or integration partners, existing or past clients. All of these guys often have blogs and will be happy to host your content. You can be more direct & friendly with your outreach.
2nd Level Connections – Aim for introductions to build trust. When searching for influencers in your circles, use LinkedIn; aim for the ones in the 2nd level connections. Oftentimes, you might know somebody that knows your prospect. Get introduced first, and then talk about your guest post.
3rd Level – No Connection – These are the hardest ones. Most of your prospects won’t be connected with you. Yet. Try engaging with them first, before emailing about your guest post. Comment on their site. Engage with them on Social; Email them to say hi. Be around, before striking with your guest post.
Bonus Tip: We are using various prebuild blogger & influencer databases to source & build our outreach list of prospects. It’s a great way to get instant access to millions of bloggers. There are many great platforms available out there with solid data & filtering functionality to make sure you find the right prospects for your outreach.
Bonus Tip 2: There is one other thing we do when building an outreach list. We are going broader. So, not just looking for prospects in one niche. We are also looking for prospects in what’s called shoulder niches. What’s that? “[A Shoulder Niche is] a niche that is closely related to your sites’ main topic.“ – Brian Dean (Backlinko). That way we can get a larger pool of outreach prospects & get better results for our clients.
3) How I Refined and Prioritized My Outreach List
At the end of the process, we had a list of 463 potential websites to contact. We narrowed it down to 123 websites using the following filters.
A) Trust flow
Using Linkminer, I removed all the websites that had a trust flow lower than 10. I admit, 10 was quite an arbitrary figure…
I visited all the websites and checked if the links in the guest posts were dofollow (reminder: a nofollow link has no SEO value).
C) Quality and industry
I removed the websites that were too far away from our own industry. Two reasons for this:
- It would be harder for me to write something relevant for these websites
- Google probably gives more weight to the links coming from websites that talk about the same themes (more on the topic)
For example, Buffer’s blog is great. But we have practically nothing to do with social media… I also removed the websites that published low-quality posts (less than 600 words, poorly written, etc.) to make sure our links would be in good company.
To prioritize my lists, I focused on two elements:
- The difficulty of getting my post accepted (to estimate it, I read the guidelines and took into account the expected length for guest articles, the number of requirements, etc.)
- The trust flow. My objective was to get high authority links…
I then ordered my list to prioritize the easiest targets with the highest trust flow. At the end of the process, I had a Google Sheet that looked like this:
4) How I Reached Out to Targets
Let’s start with a quick note about a mistake we made at the beginning. We thought we could ask writers to both reach out to potential blogs and write articles for us. That turned out to be a bad option. We contacted a few writers who refused and hired one who let us down. Now, let’s detail our final outreach process. If you accept guest posts on your blog, you may know it can be a traumatic experience. Seriously. You’re swamped with automatic emails based on the same outreach templates with limited if no personalization and/or totally irrelevant content.
We decided to take an opposite direction and send targeted, personal, relevant emails to reach a decent conversion rate.
A) Spotting the right contact
The first step for us was to find the appropriate contact. It was pretty simple: 1) We browsed the 10 last articles of each blog 2) We listed the authors who appeared frequently 3) We looked for them on Linkedin (when their signature wasn’t enough) to check if they were employees and not external contributors 4) We identified the Head of Content
B) Getting her email
Finding the correct contact info can take some time. Fortunately, there are a few options available.
C) Writing our emails
Next, we wrote our emails. Here are a few examples we sent. As you’ll notice, it was a different message each time. Some of them were simple:
Some of them a little more advanced:
Despite the differences, I always tried to include the following elements/sentences:
- Ask for the guidelines or highlight that I’ve already found them to prove that I would pay attention to their style and rules
- Add references to some of our existing posts (and after we landed a post on ConversionXL, the conversion rate of our outreach emails increased considerably) to prove that I had some experience
- Add a sentence that showed that I had browsed their blog to prove that it wasn’t an automatic email
- When I had time, pitch a few ideas
Pro tip from Mark Lindquist, Marketing Strategist, Mailshake
Before starting your guest posting strategy, make sure you have published a wide variety of content on your own blog. There’s nothing worse than securing a guest post opportunity and finding that they’ll only accept content related to a topic you don’t have a natural link placement for. It will make you free to pitch topics that fit well with the blogs you are guest posting for without sacrificing specific, natural link opportunities.
Regarding the outreach itself: Two essential elements of reaching out is to follow up and to find a second contact at a company if the first one ignores you. I’d say at least half of the guest posts I’ve secured have come after my second follow up, and another quarter has come from me reaching out to the director of marketing after the content marketing manager ignored my emails (directives coming from up top always get done). Never give up after one email, and never give up after one contact.
5) How We Wrote Our Guest Posts
A) Topic identification
We noticed that most freelance writers write about topics they superficially know. As a result, most guest posts are well written enough to inspire curiosity. But usually, I find their content lacks real-life experience and data. To make a difference, we decided to focus only on topics where our team had significant and first-hand experience. As a result, we wrote mostly about what we know best: website popups. Twenty of the 29 posts we published were about popups. In each of the posts, we chose a different angle, though, and included exclusive data and examples (that was not easy!).
Pro tip from Josh Brown, Content Strategist, Sales & Orders.
Writing about topics you master is crucial, especially if you’re using guest posts as part of your SEO strategy. Because you want your guest post to be a linkable asset –the idea being that the more links going to the guest post, the more link equity it passes back. While you can certainly write guest posts on topics that you don’t have intimate knowledge of for sites with authoritative domains, you’ll only end up scratching the surface of the potential SEO benefits. By creating content that utilizes data and knowledge from real-life experience to provide actionable advice, it becomes much easier to overcome potential content shock and create an article that people actually read, share, and link to.
If you don’t have intimate knowledge on a topic that you’re writing a guest post on then I suggest reaching out for quotes from people who have that experience and therefore can provide that knowledge. Not only will that help with making your guest post more authoritative, but it begins the relationship building process with people who can help share your post.
B) Writer choice
As I explained at the beginning of the article, there were only two of us to lead this mission: Pawel –an experienced writer– and me. To determine if I should write the post myself or give it to Pawel, I asked myself the following questions:
- Do I feel like I’ll be able to meet the writing standards of the destination blog without help?
- Do I still feel fresh about this topic (or have I written too much about it already?)
- Do I have the time to write the post at this specific moment?
In the end, I wrote 21 of the articles myself, and Pawel wrote the others. When Pawel wrote the articles, I shared as much data and examples as I could, and we validated the structure and final result together.
C) Killer proofreading
When I was writing the article myself, I resorted to a skilled proofreader to: 1) Make sure the grammar and spelling were impeccable (reminder: English is not my first language) 2) Give an outside opinion on the articles
6) The Results
Of course, what’s the point of all this work if it doesn’t bear fruit? Let’s detail how these posts impacted our rankings and traffic.
A) Domain authority increased by +9 points
Here’s the breakdown of the posts we placed.
And here’s the impact on our Domain Authority: It went from 28 to 37!
Important note for our link profile as well: Our spam score remained unchanged.
B) Linked pages reached Google’s first page
Of course, the main objective was to climb up the rankings. Did it work? Before sharing my results, I’d like to insist that during the link-building process:
- We didn’t change a single element on these pages
- We didn’t update our website structure
- We published only a small amount of new internal content pointing to these landing pages
In other words, variations in rankings can mainly be attributed to two things:
- Google’s algorithm updates
- Impact of the guest posts
To analyze the results, I compared 3 pages that received links vs. 3 pages that didn’t receive any links. The six pages had the same structure and the same amount of content. Here are the results:
What did we learn here?
- Only the pages that benefited from links made it to Google’s first page
- The pages that didn’t are stuck on pages 2 and 3
- The closer we get to top positions, the harder it becomes to climb up
C) A limited direct impact on traffic
This part was disappointing. Our 29 guest posts have only generated 393 unique direct visits.
That said, there are a few reasons that explain this disheartening performance:
- Most blogs give limited visibility to contributors. Most of the time, we only got a signature at the end of the article and a link in the body.
- Our priority was to place links that fitted naturally into the article, not to promote our brand.
- I didn’t do much to promote the articles.
Pro tip from Adam Connell, Founder, Blogging Wizard
Generating meaningful traffic from guest blogging is challenging. Aside from massively increasing the amount of time/budget spent on promotion, there are a bunch of things you can try:
- Target blogs with larger audiences (lots of comments and large email lists) – Specifically sites that don’t publish content more than once a week. And don’t have several CTA’s getting in the way of your author bio.
- Take a keyword focused approach to your guest posts – target high-value keywords, optimize the content, and promote the article in other guest posts. Consider providing the blogger with a list of recommended internal links (links + varied anchor text). You’ll both end up with more traffic if you can work together to rank the article.
- Involve influencers in every guest post – An easy way to do this is to do an expert roundup-style post. But, a better approach is to ask influencers for a quote that you can add to an original article like Greg has done with this post. You’ll get more shares & links as a result.
- Level up your content – the more detailed, useful and engaging your content is, the better it will perform. Listicle styled content works especially well – the bigger the number of points included, the better.
Pro tip from Sam Hurley, Managing Director, OPTIM-EYEZ
Link-building becomes infinitely easier if time is first spent building strong, eternal relationships — It often happens that valuable links roll in naturally thereafter, without having to lift a finger! However, when you’re pressed for time and/or working on behalf of clients, it can be a different case. Real relationships like this take a while to forge. In these situations, I recommend:
#1: Climbing the guest blogging ladder — Start off on smaller blogs, then aim for more established sites each time, until you get to ‘prestige’ status. Why? Links from hugely popular websites will be much more valuable in terms of traffic and link authority (which is both cost and time-efficient). Similar to relationships — Once you’ve reached this point of recognition, it lasts. Your initial work pays future dividends as you create an attractive blogging portfolio.
#2: Spending 20% on content creation, 80% on distribution — Yes, ensure your material is amazing! No doubt about it… But your content won’t magically get seen by thousands if you don’t bother promoting it everywhere, no matter how great it is. This is a two-pronged method of maximizing results; traffic and link authority to your guest blogs increases (so the publishing sites are happy, too) and your own visibility receives an ongoing boost.
BONUS: Relationships also naturally form, using the two above methods! Truly a bonus… ✔
This experience taught me a few things:
- A lot of blogs are open to guest posts. Even if you don’t find any guest posts on their blog, it’s worth trying.
- The impact of guest posts on rankings is obvious, and given their cost, I’d recommend it to any person trying to climb up Google’s rankings.
- The impact on direct traffic is limited, but this was not unexpected.
Interested in our progress? We’ll share more about our SEO journey soon
Any experience with link building or guest posts? Feel free to share it in the comments!