We know SEO is a broad topic and want to continue to provide useful and high quality content. Writing the sort of content we want to feature is time consuming. It involves research, keeping on top of the latest news and of course, all the time, editing and copywriting. All of this takes time, which as a small business is a very valuable asset.
But there is a way round this, a way to have unique high quality content without writing it ourselves. I would be lying if I said it was ‘no effort’ as it’s really not. But with the right process you can make it much more efficient and, importantly, better for your audience than creating it all yourself.
A guest post is when you have someone write for your blog who is not a staff member or regular author. It’s inviting someone to use your site as a platform to introduce themselves to your audience. It can be really beneficial to everyone involved and can also help develop business partnerships.
- Your audience : gets high quality unique content
- The author : gets exposure to a whole new audience and platform to promote themselves
- Your site : gets fresh, unique, high quality content
That’s a lot of wins, right? But it’s not without its pitfalls. So in this post I’m going to talk through exactly what we have found works for us at Wordtracker, and hopefully give you the information you need to avoid the same problems.
To give things a bit of structure and make it more digestible I’ve split it into three steps. So let’s start by running through those first.
Step 1 : Define the content that fits your site and audience
Wordtracker is a Keyword Research tool. That’s what we do and it’s how the business earns the revenue that pays the staff and keeps the lights on. If people don’t pay for the keyword tool, we don’t exist as a business.
We also know that Keyword Research is one aspect of SEO. Obviously it’s important, but it fits within the wider spread of SEO activity. We want to make sure that the content we create and feature is focused down onto this topic.
This is for a couple of reasons: primarily we want to make sure that our audience knows what sort of content they can expect from us, and that by being focused in that area we don’t miss anything important happening.
However, we also need to make sure that we provide content that is directly relevant to Keyword Research so that Google can understand that this is the subject our site is relevant to and we continue to rank well for keyword-focused queries.
Do one thing, and do it well is a good mantra when thinking about content and rankings. You’re better off ranking well in one area than mediocrely in a range of areas.
This also extends to the type of visitor you receive. Whilst we want to make sure that we provide content that gives people a broad understanding of SEO, we limit content in parallel subject areas because not only is it not our specialism and better covered elsewhere, but driving traffic to those areas doesn’t bring in people that will be interested in our products.
Step 2 : Identify the content you want
Once you have set the parameters of what your blog will and won’t cover you need to think about what you have the resources to do internally and which areas you will be better off getting in external expertise to help cover.
This is where you need to start planning your content. Content planning should start by looking at the content you already have and what performs well. If you want a really easy way to do this Google Search Console can show you the top traffic-driving terms:
The top 1000, which should be all you need, can be exported from here. Go through this list and think about which non-brand terms drive people to your website, and which ones can be expanded upon to create new, effective content.
Don’t just look at what you are missing. Look at where you are already performing and can expand that out to have a broader footprint.
Creating a spreadsheet with a list of article topics and title suggestions is a great way to organize this. You can add in priorities and assign articles to staff members and mark the ones you would like covered by guest authors.
Great, now you’re ready to go!
Step 3 : Create an effective process
If only the process stopped here! But I’ll be honest, this is by far the most difficult part. Managing the process. Getting this nailed from the start will save you a lot of time. So read on for an outline of exactly how we manage things so you can benefit from our experience.
We started off by just inviting people to write for us and providing an email address, this worked for years and for a long time was all we needed. Word of mouth and a few mentions in the right places drove all the great, high quality authors we needed. Those days are long gone and we have a drastically different process now as the market has changed significantly.
Have a barrier to entry
Getting people to submit content is not a problem, if you have a site and don’t currently get enough submissions, create a dedicated page along the lines of ‘Submit a guest post and write for us’ and link to it from your footer.
We simply have this page:
Which brings me back to the process. That page doesn’t allow people to submit guest posts directly, they have to go through a form. The reason for that is that it dramatically cuts down on the amount of spam and low-effort submissions.
Dealing with these is the most time consuming part of the process, so having the form gives a small hurdle to get over. It means that automated submissions are dramatically reduced and that only the people who actually want to write for us get in touch.
We use Typeform for our guest post form and it can be checked out in all its full page glory here:
Please feel free to copy this and edit it to whatever suits your purpose. We currently don’t have suggested topics on there as this tends to result in a lot of similar submissions, but if you have content gaps to fill then this is where to list them.
Here are the main parts that we have found are absolutely crucial.
To be honest I think a lot of people skip this without reading it, but it’s still good to outline the benefits of writing for us before we make you jump through a load of hoops to do so. Yes we have an annoying form, but fill it out and you get access to our audience.
Importantly we also highlight
Our policy is only content submitted through this form will be considered. Submitting through other channels just leads to a link back to this form!
We really do enforce this. Emailing or contacting us through other channels with a pitch just gets you an email containing a link to the form. The reason for that is the next part.
We have a list of ‘rules’ which anyone submitting a post must adhere to. For us these are:
1. Content must be unique, high quality and specific to the Wordtracker audience.
2. No top level summary articles, for example '5 ways to improve your website' with a paragraph covering each point. We want in-depth content that covers a single topic.
3. No affiliate links or links to client sites are allowed in the body of the article.
4. An author bio is posted with each article, you may include a relevant link to your blog or company within this.
5. We do not pay for content or take payment for links.
6. Wordtracker may update content for quality and clarity and has full rights to all content posted on the wordtracker.com website.
We didn’t start off with these rules but over time they have evolved to deal with the issues that we encountered and we update them periodically as things change. It’s important that everyone is on the same page to begin with. It’s very helpful to have this to point to when, for instance, someone submits an article which we then edit, find images for, work on the right tone of voice, approve, publish… then the author comes back with an affiliate link and insists that we either include it or remove their content.
I’ll cover more of this in the final section ‘Problems and pitfalls’. But having something an author has agreed to that explicitly says, no, we won’t include these links but also we hold the rights to the content once posted, gives us a quick way of dealing with the issue and more importantly, stops it happening in the first place.
Previous Example and Author Bio
People can submit either the article, in which case it can be judged on its own merits, or an article suggestion through the form. We actually prefer getting suggestions as it means it’s not a pre-created piece of content being shopped around, but a custom piece written just for us. This is why we ask for an example of a live piece of content created by the author. It gives us something we can use to judge the standard of their work and also an indication of what sort of sites they write for.
We allow people to link to their own blog or socials through their author bio, and this is why we ask for this upfront. The aim is to manage expectations as to what links are and aren’t acceptable from the start.
Submission to publication
Once someone has submitted their content via our form it gets sent directly to a dedicated email address. This part is all handled by Typeform, so all we have to do is check the email and all the submissions are there waiting for us.
The first phase is to go through the submissions and just sort them by quality. A lot of what gets submitted is too similar to existing content and so doesn’t have a great deal of value to us or our audience.
We take a look at the author information and check out their other published work. We also look at the company they work for to make sure we’re happy with mentioning and linking to it in the author bio.
When we have the submissions we want to run with (either by accepting a suggested title or from a completed article submitted through the form) we then start the editing process.
There are a couple of checks we run through before we get to the nitty gritty of editing. First of all everything goes through a plagiarism check, just to make sure the content we’re getting is unique and not copied from elsewhere. (more on that later).
We’re very happy to work with authors to get the tone of voice, style, content etc right for our audience. Everyone wins when we publish great content. However this does mean that sometimes content needs to go through revisions. Where it’s just changing the way something is said rather than what is said, we’re likely to do that ourselves (as well as adding or changing images) as part of the editing process.
If larger changes are needed, such as expanding a section or providing additional content, examples or explanation, we’ll send the piece back to the author for revision along those lines. We’re always happy to hear the author’s opinion and discuss the best options for changes to the piece.
Where we need changes that are more integral to the piece we will outline the issue and where it would need to be for us to publish, and leave it with the author. They may decide to take it elsewhere rather than enact those changes, which we have no problem with. We're always happy for people to try again and submit another piece they think may be a better fit down the line.
Once we have a piece looking how we want it, it’s time to publish. We will always make sure we get final approval for any large scale or fundamental changes from an author before we publish their work.
Problems and pitfalls
This is probably the most frustrating part of dealing with guest posts. Not everyone who submits them is entirely honest in their motivations and some people will happily try and move the goalposts to get the outcome they want.
We are pretty clear, if you are looking for a place to use just for link building or affiliate promotion, we’re not a good fit. What can happen is that content is submitted which fits within our guidelines but it contains links buried in it or disguised, which don’t. Or the author asks for links to be included down the line.
There have been some instances of people being very pushy to try and have links included. Having the guidelines clearly laid out and knowing that everyone has to go through the form and so has agreed to them, makes this much easier to deal with.
About 90% of submissions fall under this and it’s not always immediately obvious. To avoid plagiarism checkers content can be put through tools to ‘spin’ it. This has evolved massively in recent years, from replacing words to using AI to properly rewrite sentences.
The problem with this is two-fold. Firstly, Google is good at AI. Like really, really good. It’s a pretty safe bet that Google’s AI is better than the AI used to generate the content and it’s probably going to be pretty good at detecting it. Even if you get away with it now, you probably won’t, down the line. So when the algorithm gets updated and your site is flagged for having 90% AI generated content, suddenly you’ve got an issue.
Aside from this, if the content is published elsewhere you’re not adding anything to the conversation. It’s not giving Google something new that adds a different angle or perspective to the existing content. It’s the same thing with different words - in fact probably a worse version of the original - so has very little value.
Expertise, Authority and Trust is something we have talked about a lot here at Wordtracker, and it really matters. So it’s important that the author actually does write the content. The problem is that sometimes they either don’t exist at all, or clearly didn’t write that content.
This happens a lot where a lower priced link building or content creation agency has been used. Even if the email address matches the domain, it can still be an agency acting on their behalf. The problem is where the submitted content is significantly lower quality than what’s on the website they are purporting to be from.
Where something is a bit ‘off’ about the content, having an author picture (which you must submit in our form) is really handy, as a reverse image search often shows it’s a stock photo or stolen from elsewhere.
So should you use guest posts?
Yes! Absolutely. We’ve learned the hard way what the pitfalls are and have created a process that works well for us. So take that framework and benefit from our experience to give yourself a massive head start!
I’d be really interested to hear from you in the comments about any of your guest posting experiences, or anything that we can improve on to make the process better for you when submitting a post.
Oh and finally, if you want to write for us please do get in touch! Even if you’ve not got a lot of experience writing but have a subject area you’re really knowledgeable in, we are happy to work with you! So get in touch. You should know where the form is :)