Rules for Guest Posting: Guidelines & Best Practices

Guest posting has become a significant source of frustration for me and it’s fueled both by people running sites and people (let’s be honest, SEO’s) writing guest “posts”. The folks running sites frequently have very stringent rules (ex: only 2 outbound links, or all outbound links must be in the bio, or posts must be at least 500 words). There are several big problems here. The first is that this creates footprints (not only for the specific site but for guest posting as a tactic) which can be found by competitors or, more importantly, Google. Second is that this breeds crap.

My problem with SEO’s is that they are so focused on themselves and put forth the minimum quality post that will get published.

If you’ve been around SEO for a while, or spent some time on certain forums, this probably sounds disconcertingly familiar; in fact, guest posting for many is just article marketing with a face lift. Recently, I wonder if some of the posts I have received are spun articles from a previous life.

Publishers

I think that most publishers are afraid of what they don’t know  and want something for free. This results in asinine rules for guest post requirements. Here are my problems with frequent requirements that I come across.

Two External Links

This is terrible because it discourages natural external linking, which propels the web. Largely, publishers create rules like these out of ignorance and fear. They are afraid that they are going to lose their PageRank and link juice (good thing there’s internal and external PageRank! – problem solved) and they are afraid that they are going to get posts that are chock full of external links that are either non-relevant or obnoxious due to quantity.

By restricting the number of external links in a post, the SEO is inherently forced to only include links to properties they are responsible for building links to. If there wasn’t a requirement on the number of external links, then in addition to linking to their own site, (good) SEO’s would link to additional content that is helpful for the blog readers – which is great. Further, this is good for the publishers as there are benefits to co-citations.

External (followed) links help search engines establish a topical relevancy for the linking site. As Google attempts to classify sites and associate them with topics, linking back and forth associates this topical relevance in each direction. Further, external links can establish trust. If you link to sites that are reputable, Google will associate more trust with your site. Finally, I have tested this (though it was a few years ago) and found that the group of pages that linked out tended to get more organic traffic – about 10%.

By restricting the number of links you are contributing to your footprint (making you a target for Google), and you are not building helpful co-citations. Further, you could be losing out on a small amount of traffic.

Links In The Bio

When publishers require that a guest poster’s outbound links must be in the footer, this further creates a more easily identifiable footprint. Remember that Google is getting better at visually “seeing” a page, not just looking at HTML. If Google ever decides that guest posting has gotten spammy and the bad guest posting must go the way of ezine articles, the more identifiable the footprint you have, the more screwed you are. Further, this will frequently prevent natural linking that should occur in the guest posting footer, such as linking to social media accounts.

Typically sites that require a guest poster’s links to be in their bio don’t have any helpful links for the reader in the main body. In addition to the aforementioned detriments of not having co-citations, this just kind of sucks for your users. You should be able to link to relevant things in the post, even if it’s on an external site.

Posts Must Be At Least 500 Words

I get that you need to have quality standards but really all you’re doing is encouraging people to do the minimum. When you say ‘posts need to be at least 500 words’, you’re going to get a bunch of posts that are 502 words (or 498, gotten a few of those recently). Just the minimum to get published. This also creates a footprint when most of your posts are all the same length.

I have gotten much better (longer and higher quality) results by saying something like

“posts are typically in the 700 – 1,700 word range”

This does a few things. First, by having typical minimum of 700 words, it weeds out a ton of people who want to put forth the minimum effort to get a link. The folks still considering writing for your site tend to care a lot more about the content that they produce. Further, by giving a range you open guest posters up to the idea that the length is not critical. On the other hand, when you say there’s a 500 word minimum, you are a) capturing the attention of low quality spammers and b) priming writers to be done when they hit 500 because it’s the only number in their head. Typically, the posts you will get in return are drivel.

Guest Posters (SEO’s/Link Builders)

If you are a guest poster, most likely an SEO or link builder, you are probably guilty of a few things, probably including a few of the following:

  • Wanting to do the minimum amount of work required
  • Writing bad posts
  • Not even glancing at a blog’s content
  • Not doing co-citations
  • Linking poorly
  • Not responding to comments

I will be the first to admit I have been an offender.

If you are guilty of these, it means you need to step up your game. If you are putting out crap and are only focusing on getting the link, ultimately you are driving the quality and longevity of guest posting  into the ground. Yes, you are turning guest posting into spam and Google is going to look for a way to use their fancy pants algorithms to devalue guest posting. Is this what you want? Do you want all your hard work to be thrown away? Probably not, so it would be a good time to change and start focusing on making good content rather than satisfying requirements.

Piss Poor Content

Is your content 502 words? Is it written by someone who isn’t fluent in English? Are you paying less than $15 for a blog post? Is the content crap – would you actually want to read it if you were a reader of that blog? If the answer to any of these was yes, you need to rethink your guest posting strategy. Write something good. Go above the minimum, and don’t contribute to footprints. I’m not sure really what else can be said here.

Read the Damn Blog

Actually spend some time reading the blog. Look at their recent or even less recent posts. Take some time to understand the writing style for the site and what they write about. Pitch something related to what they’ve written recently, not something published two weeks ago. Yeah, it takes time but you’ll write something better and the site owner will notice. When I get guest post inquiries, it is pretty evident who has looked at the blog and who saw my post on My Blog Guest and sent me an email without checking out my site.

Actually, a few weeks back I got a response to an email I sent about guest posting that said “Wow, it looks like you have actually read our blog”. No joke, those were the exact words. So put a little more effort in and read their blog.

Co-Citations

Probably 95% of the guest posts I receive and read elsewhere do not have co-citations. This is stupid. You should be doing this. Even if they say you only get two links, ask them if you can link to other relevant resources. If you skipped over the section for publishers, go back and read the part about external links and why co-citations are good.

Pro Tip: Don’t just link to external resources, link to things on their blog too

Now, on top of that, you have a responsibility to your clients (or company) to do co-citations. If there are only two links in a guest post and they both point to the same external site, it’s super obvious who you’re working for and who wrote the post. In addition to the inherent benefits of co-citations, having additional external links makes the post look more natural and less like the post solely exists to get your client links. Cover your tracks a bit. It’s not that hard.

Linking Poorly

There are a lot of folks doing guest posts that missing some basic SEO knowledge. Below are some of the most common mistakes I see:

Linking to the same page multiple times

Only the first link to a page passes PageRank so spread the link love around. This is even more painful when both links have the same anchor text.

Exact match anchor text

Exact match anchor text can be really dangerous in the wrong hands, maybe your hands. I see a ton of exact match anchors in guest posts. Turn that knob down.

Not commenting

I’ve been guilty of this one but have worked to change it. I see very few guest posts where the guest author actually responds to comments. This is pretty lame. Someone has given you the opportunity to write for their site and you make it clear that you only care about the link and don’t care about the blog or its readers. Not cool.

 

I realize that much of this post is based on generalizations and there are publishers and SEO’s doing great jobs, but there are a ton of people who are doing a pretty pathetic job with guest posting.

14 Comments

    • unfortunately…

      Reply
  1. First, incredibly well written post. Not just for content, but in style. You have other talents besides mountain biking and SEO it appears.

    Second, who eats a hamster? You are one sick man.

    Reply
  2. You have a lot of great stuff here, but another thought about word counts. I realize that you’re right about people who just want to do the minimum, but sometimes it’s about reading the publisher incorrectly. If a WFU page says, “At least 500 words,” I’m getting pretty nervous around the 700 mark. I assume that since they say 500, they mean right around 500 (even if they said “at least,” they didn’t cap it so that leaves me to guess what is “too much”). In my mind, then, 504 looks about right (especially if I communicate all I needed to).

    That’s just another argument, I think, for your suggestion of 700-1,200 (or whatever numbers you prefer).

    In the long run, though, I don’t really look at a word count until it’s all written. If someone rejects a complete, perfectly great 498-word article because it’s not 500 words, I didn’t want to be there anyway.

    Reply
    • That’s a fair point – for me, the 500 word mark is reminiscent of the 500 word minimum for article sites and blog networks. I see where you’re coming from though.

      Reply
  3. I think any publisher should replace all of those guidelines with just, “we don’t publish guest posts that look like they’re only for link purposes.” When I submit for guest posting, I’m frankly not too interested in the link. It’s more about building & increasing credibility & reputation (similar to the original reason for press releases, before they became SEO vehicles). Therefore, I want the post to be of quality, and I want the publisher to be glad I got them something (meaning that I’m reading their blog first and writing something relevant to their audience). A link in my bio is nice (but not critical), only to get them back to my blog to read other articles. I don’t even care much if it’s nofollow.

    The benefit of this strategy (I hope) is that in the end, it will probably generate more quality links anyway.

    Reply
    • I’m sure this method will result in more high quality links. I don’t think quality is really even a concern for the majority of guest bloggers though.

      Reply
  4. Hey Geoff,
    I read your article after Ross Hudgens told me about it on twitter.
    I wrote a similar post in my blog, and so I was and I am really interested about this stuff.

    I agree 100% on what you are saying here. I’m practically “nobody” in the SEO industry, but I was asked to do some guest posts or some interviews , and I did. Thing is I decided to stop before it was too late. I was afraid to repeat myself and I even realize I was not adding anything new SEO-wise, so…why bother myself and readers? And the sad part was that some people asked me to interview me but you could feel that they were not interested on me as person or SEO, but just interested on create yet another post just not to let their blog die.

    so yeah, good post. glad I’m not the only saying and thinking this.

    Reply
    • Glad you liked it.

      I think you can add value even if what you’re saying isn’t new. It depends on who you say it to and how you say it. That said most of the industry says the same thing verbatim without much effort.

      Reply
  5. Great post, Geoff. Bad guest posts often keep me away from reading certain blogs for a while, and in several cases in the past have made me avoid reading some blogs at all. But it’s still so common, I would be ashamed to offer such obviously love-less posts to well-run blogs.

    Reply
  6. Really good post. Especially about 700 words plus to weed out the nasty spammers. And also SEO links and sharing the love around, rather than posting to the same link etc. Good info, thanks

    Reply
  7. Hey Geoff

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I completely agree with you many people look at guest posting just to attract that link.

    The content should come first and the communication and followup that you have comes after. Then the links will start to take effect.

    We always research and build relationships by commenting, interacting with them etc… before even approaching them with a guest post.

    That way you don’t look like a “content salesman :)”

    Cheers

    Danny

    Reply
  8. A few weeks back I have read Matt Cutts’ blog stating, among others, that guest blogging is no longer effective for SEO. I hope I could disagree because high quality guest post will most likely drive quality traffic and traffic, for one, gives a great SEO edge. Any comment on Matt’s post about “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO”?

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>