Navigating the Tricky World of Hired Guest Posting

hired guest postingWhen you’re a freelance copywriter, one way to keep up with the content trends of the day is to simply pay attention to the leads that come through your inbox. Last year the vast majority of my leads were looking for blog posts for their own website. Now, those leads still show up but they’ve been joined by two main new types of work: long-form content pieces and guest posts.

The former’s straightforward enough and makes sense, both readers and the ever powerful Google have made it clear that they value long-form content. The latter’s where things can get a little tricky.

Guest posts are a powerful method for promoting your brand and expertise. I’ve done a few myself on sites like the Content Marketing Institute Blog and Firepole Marketing to help raise exposure for Austin Copywriter. Both of those posts took time to write, but also, notably, took time to pitch and edit to the blog editors’ liking. You know what else took time? The pitches and guest posts I’ve written that didn’t get published for whatever reason.

I put in the time for my own business because I know the results can be meaningful, but being asked to do it for hire presents some complications.

How Not to Hire a Freelance Writer for Guest Posts

I’m sorry to say some businesses and agencies are going about this all wrong. They’re either skirting ethical boundaries in what they’re asking for, or grossly underestimating what’s involved in getting a high-quality guest post published on a popular blog.

  1. Don’t act like it’s one job. 

    When you’re hiring someone to pitch guest blogs and write a post you’re asking them to do two different kinds of work: writing and PR. While some PR specialists are good at writing, and some writers are experienced in PR, these are two distinct skill sets. Many writers (myself included) will decline the PR part of the work, but you may get lucky and find someone prepared to take on both jobs.

    Whatever pricing structure you set up needs to acknowledge the two different types of work at play here and the (often extensive) amount of time that goes into building relationships and sending pitches. You’ll probably need to consider an hourly rate for the PR work, along with a project rate for published pieces.

  2. Don’t offer an insulting rate. 

    In doing research for this post, I came across a job ad looking for “experienced, well-connected bloggers” offering $30-$60 per published guest post. Sorry to break it to you, but you won’t find experienced bloggers willing to write high-quality posts for that amount. And the kind of rushed, low-quality work that might be worth $30 a pop isn’t going to get you featured on the big-shot blogs you want to target. This isn’t anywhere close to a reasonable rate for a guest post worthy of a popular blog. Don’t just think double – think 10 times this amount if you actually want to end up with a post worth using.

    I know that’s not what you want to hear, but really high-quality posts – the kind these blogs will publish – take lots of research, lots of time, and lots of work. That’s going to cost you.

  3. Keep your expectations reasonable. 

    Often a very good idea or post won’t get accepted for reasons no writer or PR person can guess – maybe the blog already has a post scheduled on a similar topic, or they just decided yesterday they’re moving in a new direction for their topic focus. Even if the freelance blogger you hire puts in the legwork, they can get rejected. Understand that there will likely be more misses than hits.

  4. Don’t ask the writer to leverage their own contacts. 

    Carol Tice recently went so far as to call this kind of writing opportunity a scam. Freelance writers work hard to develop our contacts and earn the trust of our clients. Expecting us to ask those hard-earned contacts for a favor to promote another business just doesn’t make sense in most cases. If a writer sees an opportunity that’s beneficial for both parties – the client and the blog or publication they have a relationship with, then they might feel comfortable reaching out. But don’t demand it or be upset if they turn down that request.

    On the other hand, one of the main jobs of a PR professional is developing contacts they can leverage on behalf of their clients. Consider hiring a PR consultant to do what they’re good at, and a writer to do the writing.

  5. Don’t ask for posts that are overly promotional about your business. 

    I once pitched a piece on a relevant subject for my client to a publication, got accepted, wrote it up and passed it over to the client for review before submitting it. The client went through and added several specific mentions of the company’s product. You probably see where this is going – when I submitted the piece, the editor said “This is great! Except for all those brand mentions. I took those out and now it’s ready to run.”

    Very few blogs or publications are going to accept a guest post that’s blatantly promotional. Your piece can’t be all about you. It has to be about something valuable to the blog’s audience. If you don’t get that, you’ll waste a lot of time working on posts and pitches that get no responses.

  1. Don’t demand links within the post itself. 

    Many big blogs see a submission with a lot of links back to the company’s site and immediately label it spam. Every once in a while, there’s a topic that lends itself to internal links that are natural and useful to the reader, but most of the time they look spammy and will get your guest post rejected outright (or they’ll just be removed like the brand mentions in my previous example).

    Guest posts will pretty much always earn you at least one link to your website in the byline, along with some links to social media profiles. Treat this as your goal, since it’s an actually obtainable one.

How to Get Hired Guest Posting Right

That’s a long list of don’ts, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to rule out the idea entirely. You can hire someone to write guest posts for you in a way that’s legitimate.

  1. Do the pitching and relationship building yourself. 

    Or hire a PR person for that, as already suggested. Doing all the preliminary work of researching a blog, trying to understand its audience, generating relevant topic ideas, and sending pitches – that’s not writing. When you hire a professional writer to do writing, you get good results. When you hire us for something else that isn’t our specialty, the results will be more mixed.

    Note: It especially makes sense to do your own pitching if you want a guest post to go up under your name rather than the name of the freelance blogger you hire.

  2. Do be upfront about disclosing your company’s connection to the post. 

    You don’t get to casually slip in links to your website and hope no one notices. And you certainly don’t get to expect freelance writers to do that for you and risk their reputation in the process. That’s how you lose trust in the online marketing world and alienate the people who could be the best allies for your brand.

  3. Hiring a writer to ghost write guest posts is fine, but will probably cost more. 

    Some writers aren’t crazy about ghost writing. I’ve read some eloquent criticisms of the practice, but I also know a lot of professional copywriters that are happy to do it for the right price. The thing you have to keep in mind though, is that if a freelance writer is going to do the hard work of writing a post worthy of a popular blog for the sake of someone else’s business and reputation, the price has to be right.

I know I keep coming back to price, but with good reason. It’s important for you to understand that if you want to take the road of hiring someone to write guest posts, you have to set enough budget aside for it. Guest posting is a competitive arena, especially on the blogs most worth landing a post on. You can’t go halfway on this. If you want to get the benefits of guest posting, you have to do it right.

Why It’s Time to Re-Consider How You Think About Competition

Austin is a city full of freelancers in general, and freelance copywriters in particular. In this town, meeting other people who do what I do is common. From a competitive perspective, that makes it sound like a terrible place to be a freelance copywriter. In my experience, the exact opposite is true.

Instead of viewing each other as the enemy, we help each other out. I’m part of a freelance referral network that has brought me thousands of dollars in business, much of it sent directly my way by other local freelance copywriters – my so-called “competition.” And I know some of them have profited from jobs I’ve passed on because I was too busy or they weren’t a good fit.

Befriending my competition may just be the best thing I’ve ever done for my business.

How Do You View Your Competitors?

Whenever I encounter clients who insist that nothing they publish can include links or references to their content marketing competitioncompetitors, I usually shrug and oblige, but I always think what a missed opportunity. These are the businesses that share your target audience, and that are probably producing content that would be of great use to them. Is trying to pretend they don’t exist actually going to bring you more business?

If you view your competitors as a threat to the degree that you worry any mention of them could hurt your company, take a minute to analyze why. Is this really a strategic decision, or one borne of fear?

Why Content Marketing Doesn’t Have Room for “Competitors”

The big goal is to provide value to your audience, right? Content marketing is a long-term strategy designed in large part to gain customer trust. You know what makes me really trust a company, if they’re not afraid to admit a direct competitor has done something good.

Whether that’s an impressive piece of content they’re willing to share, or acknowledging that a feature in the competitor’s product makes them the better choice for some customers. Man, I hear that and think: this company is confident in their product and positioning.

Still Skeptical?

All my arguing for this so far has been based on my personal opinions and anecdotes, so I could see someone being unconvinced. But I’m not alone in this thinking. KISSmetrics, one of the top blogs out there in the marketing space, gives tips for growing your social media following that include following your competitors, commenting on their posts, offering to guest post on their websites, and promoting their stuff. But that’s just social media; I argue that there could be a clear value to publishing content that directly mentions your competitors or links to them.

Imagine for a minute that you’re the first person anyone looking for products or services in your industry comes to when they have a question about what to buy. How different would your business be?

Marcus Sheridan pretty much pulled that off with his pool business by publishing content about his competitors – not negative content, just informational stuff. He paid attention to the kind of questions his clients had and he answered them honestly on his website, even when it meant saying something positive about one of his competitors.

If you’re interested in using content marketing to become a thought leader, or even just a trusted brand, then the fear of mentioning your competition has got to go. You don’t have to go out of your way to promote and interact with them (obviously), just be willing to do so when it fits in naturally with your overall strategy. If the product or services you offer are really and truly great, then what do you have to fear?

5 Questions to Guide Your Blog Strategy

If your business has a blog, but doesn’t have a blog strategy yet, I just decided what the next two things on your to do list should be:

1. Finish this post. 2. Create a blog strategy.

You can’t just blog blindly. Whether you’re taking the time to write content yourself or hiring a freelance blogger, blogging has a cost. No good businessperson wants to incur that cost without taking the proper steps to get something back from it. When it comes to business blogging; that means creating a blog strategy.

The Difference a Blog Strategy Makes

Based on a 2013 study, only 20% of businesses had blogs, and over a third of those never got updated. You know how that happens, right?

Someone says, “we need a blog!”

Someone else says “Ok.”

Then no one creates a blog strategy or puts in the work to keep it updated.

An abandoned blog will do nothing for you. A blog that you’re investing time and money into that’s not getting read or driving conversions won’t do much more for you than an abandoned blog will (although you’ll be spending a lot more on it).

Creating a blog strategy can help you avoid those fates.

Here’s what you need to consider to put a good one together.

1)   What are my blogging goals?

A blog can bring in new leads and customers, but that’s not going to happen right away and it’s not always easy to determine which leads first found you through the blog. So while that can be your overall goal, when it comes to creating your blog strategy and tracking your progress, it helps to have some lower-level goals that can help contribute to that, like:

Think about why you want a blog and what you want it to accomplish for you. Your blog strategy should be based around those goals.

2)   Who am I writing for?

Hint: it’s not you. You can absolutely create a blog that’s all about the things you’re most interested in – but it shouldn’t be on your business website. Your business blog has to be about what your audience cares about.

You have to think about their problems, their questions, the types of things they normally like to read and do online and in the world at large. What you blog about and how you write needs to all come back to them.

3)   What does my audience care about?

You really want to get inside their heads here (as much as you can without being creepy, anyway). If you’re a local business in a city full of people with local pride, that should come through in your business blog. If your audience is moms who care about the environment and worry about the ecological effects of every product they buy, your blog should share that concern (and provide information that helps them make informed choices).

Do some research:

  • Pull up websites you know your customers like and look at what posts and articles are the most popular.
  • Read the comments that people in your audience write on those sites.
  • Spend time in forums.
  • Have conversations with your customers and prospects directly.

Keep a running list going where you collect all the ideas you learn so you can make sure you’re blogging about the things they care about.

4)   What’s my (realistic) blogging schedule?

If you read somewhere that you have to publish a new blog post every single day, forget it. While it’s often true that regularly posting fresh content adds up to better blogging results, that’s only true if the content is good and you keep up with it. A lot of businesses don’t have the bandwidth for daily blogging.

My one-woman business publishes once a month because I know that’s the most I can expect from myself while also getting all my client work done. The ideal isn’t to produce as much content as you possibly can, it’s to produce as much good, worthwhile content as you reasonably can. Setting your sights too high in terms of quantity will mean an abandoned blog or junk content no one wants read.

Carefully consider how much time you really have, how much time your employees really have, and how much you can afford to spend on a good freelance blogger. Then create a blog strategy and editorial schedule that’s doable.

5)   How am I going to promote my blog posts?

Don’t overlook this step. It’s one of the big things that sets successful blogs apart from those that fail. People have a lot of content to choose from out there. How are they going to find yours if you don’t create a plan to get it in front of them?

Content promotion can be part of a long-term social media and influencer strategy, it can incorporate paid media to get results faster, or it can be some combination of the two. Just make sure your blog strategy includes room for promotion (both in terms of time and budget).

 

Starting a blog is easy enough, but doing blogging that’s worth it and yields results for your business is hard. Anyone who says otherwise is misleading you. If you’re going to invest in a blog, be willing to invest enough to make it worth it. My free report on building a better blog is a good place to start in visualizing your larger blog strategy. If you could use some help with the content writing, side of things, I’m happy to help.

On Content Marketing Semantics: Can’t We Just Get Along?

Over a year ago, I started a discussion in a LinkedIn copywriters group* asking members what they saw as the

content marketing vs inbound fight

Hopefully no one gets this mad.
Image via Tambako the Jaguar on flickr.com

difference between the terms copywriting and content marketing. I was surprised to learn from the comments on the post that:

a) Many of the people in the group had an opposite idea of the difference in meaning for the two terms than I did. The idea that content marketing was a subset of the larger term “copywriting” was popular – although I (and presumably, most content marketers) would see copywriting, or even content writing, as one part of the larger content marketing whole.

b) People were very opinionated on the subject.

I guess that latter point shouldn’t have surprised me, but the level of defensiveness of the term people were most used to and dismissiveness of something different was significant.

Every so often, a discussion with a similar tone (very much including the aforementioned defensiveness and dismissiveness) comes up around the terms content marketing and inbound marketing. Sometimes terms like online marketing and permission marketing get thrown into the mix just to make the whole thing a bit messier.

The result inevitably includes a lot of passionate comments, strong opinions, and lengthy explanations on why varying opinions are more correct than others.

These discussions have been happening with these particular terms for at least five years (exhibit A, from 2010, but for more examples of the tone described, see exhibit B, from 2011). As far as I can tell, everyone I’ve encountered who practices content marketing also considers themselves to be practicing inbound marketing, which makes the passion and disagreement on display in these discussions more than a little confusing.

Here’s my take: I don’t have any interest in defining the differences in the terms, because for all my intents and purposes, they point toward the same sort of work and goals. Some people think term A includes term B, but is broader. Other people argue the same, but with the equation flipped. I think it doesn’t matter much either way.

As a content writer, I relate a bit more to the term content marketing(it’s also the term I came across first, which probably makes a difference), but I immediately related to the ideology behind inbound marketing once I found my way to it. We’re all just trying to create content good enough, people would pay for it (as Jay Baer so memorably put it) on the path getting more customers and establishing better relationships with them.

While it’s valuable to argue semantics up to the point that you confirm you and your audience are on the same page, beyond that it can get more destructive than useful. Both terms were made up within the past few years and both will evolve to mean something different in the years to come. In the meantime, let’s just focus on doing quality work that helps clients and customers alike.

 

*The link to that discussion is here, but I don’t think you’ll be able to access it unless signed into LinkedIn and a member of the group.

Content Marketing Challenges in 2015 (And a Few Solutions)

Since the term started kicking around a few years back, content marketing has grown in popularity every year. For those of us in the industry, that’s good news in the sense of ensuring our work is in demand. But with popularity comes increased competition, and doing content marketing well means facing new and increasingly sophisticated challenges from year to year.

Each year a few different sources release information on the top challenges marketing firms and businesses say they face when it comes to content marketing. A lot of what comes up in these surveys comes down to the five challenges listed below, each of which can be solved with the right approach.

Challenge: Being strategic in your content marketing.

One of the most obvious findings in the Content Marketing Institute’s surveys each year is that businesses with a strategy get more out of their content marketing than those just trying to figure it out as they go.

A strategy helps you connect the dots between the different channels and types of content you’re creating and make sure the work you put into content marketing actually pays off. Without one, you’re more likely to put a lot of effort into putting content out there that no one sees or engages with.

Solution: Stop everything else you’re doing and work on your strategy.

If you don’t have a content strategy yet, get on that right now. If you do, the beginning of the year is a good time to re-visit and evaluate it to see if you can make it better. If this isn’t something you know how to tackle on your own, hire someone who does. It’s too important to skip entirely.

So Many Things To Do ListChallenge: Scaling your content strategy to your resources.

This is arguably harder than creating the strategy. It’s often easier to think of a long list of things you should be doing than it is to actually, you know, do those things. A lot of content marketing is harder and more time consuming than people expect at first and if you overshoot, you’re more likely not to follow through on your plans or to be sloppy with them.

Solution: Build in some flexibility.

A content strategy isn’t a one and done deal. You may find you need to shift your expectations based on what your team can pull off or your budget can handle.

That’s ok. Better to slow down your content production and create the kind of stuff that will really shine than rush it and put out a lot of stuff no one will care about.

Challenge: Creating content that people care about.

I personally think this challenge and the next one are the two most difficult on the list. Everything I said in the introduction about competition is working against you here. How do you make your emails the ones that people open and your business blog the one that people click through to?

Your content doesn’t just have to be good it has to be relevant to what your audience needs and wants to know.

Solution: Talk to your audience and measure results.

You’ve got to go to the source. Talk to your customers or anyone you know that falls into the profile of what your target networkingofflinecustomers look like and find out:

  • What they’re thinking about
  • What they’re worried about
  • What questions and challenges they have
  • What other blogs and media outlets they regularly check out
  • How they find the content they consume
  • How and where they read it (Are they on their phone on the go? Sitting in their office at a desktop?)
  • What kind of topics they find the most interesting and valuable
  • Anything else you can get them to tell. The more you know the better.

For introverts like me, this part can be kind of awkward. But you know who’s probably talking to your audience every day? Sales people and customer service representatives. See if you can’t get them in on it to help you out with this step.

This gives you your start, but part two of tackling this challenge is paying attention to your analytics. What content pieces are getting read the most, shared the most, and commented on the most? Which are driving people to take further action on your site or inspiring return visits? Which are bringing new, relevant traffic to the site?

Track that information, check it regularly, and use it to refine your content strategy as you go.

Challenge: Promoting your content.

You can’t just put content out there and assume people will find it. Sometimes you’ll hear people suggest that works – “if it’s good enough, they will come!” I don’t buy it.

There’s too much stuff out there competing for their attention. You’ve got to put some effort into making sure your work gets in front of the people you want to see it and that they deem it worth their time.

Solution: Make this a crucial part of your strategy.

You’ve got to start thinking about this at the strategy stage. It takes time and it takes a plan. Identify the influencers and top blogs in your industry. Make a presence on social media (not every social media platform in existence, just the ones you know your people are at). Interact with people in your target audience and influencer list and become regular about it.

Creating the right relationships is a huge part of content promotion.

You should also consider paying for content promotion on social media channels and Google. If you’re paying for your content (and you are, even if only in time), it might be worth it to make sure your content is actually being seen. Paid promotion also usually comes with some good analytics that give you a better feel for what’s working and what people are interested in.

Challenge: Finding good people who get content marketing.

While this challenge wasn’t super high on the list, it’s one that’s growing for marketers. As content needs increase, so does the challenge of finding good people to help you meet those needs.

Solution: Talk to me!

Ok, I’m half joking. I’m a pretty great content writer, but by no means skilled at the many other things needed to be good at content marketing. That said, I do try to know as many people good at those other things as possible so I can point businesses in the right direction for what they need. And if I don’t already know someone skilled at the type of work you’re looking for, I don’t mind having an excuse to find that someone so I know them for future reference.

There are some other solutions that might come in handy for this one though:

  • Referrals and networking ­– keep up with any local marketing and content groups and don’t hesitate to ask the people you meet there for recommendations.
  • LinkedIn and Google searches – seems pretty obvious, but the people who rise to the top in searches on these networks are probably pretty good at what they do (although that means they likely don’t come cheap).
  • Invest in training for your staff – help the people you already have become more skilled at content marketing. Saves you a search and improves the employee relationship at the same time since it shows you care about investing in their career.

2015 looks likely to be a good year in the evolution of content marketing. Marketers just keep getting better at figuring out what works and exploring new creative ideas. As content marketing gets more sophisticated, you have to keep up if you want it to pay off for you. A lot of that just comes down to being thoughtful about how you approach it and putting in the work.