Perhaps you’ve heard that guest blogging is dead. Time of death can be traced back nearly two years to when Google engineer Matt Cutts declared on his blog, “...stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done.” Lots of people in the startup community have probably heard this, but it doesn’t quite mean what a lot of people assume it to mean.
In the post, Cutts traces the history of the guest blog post back to nobler origins, and follows the descent into spammier and spammier territory until it reached a place Google had to take action against it. But if you read all the way to the end of the post, you’ll see a clarification that is crucial: he is talking about guest blogging solely for search engine optimisation (SEO) purposes - using the backlink to boost your site in search page rankings. Guest blogging as a way to share ideas is still totally kosher.
Now, even on this he’s not entirely correct, and it seems he was being slightly hyperbolic in the post. For example, if you get a guest post published at OnStartups, they give you a “do follow” link back to your startup’s website which definitely gives a boost to your SEO. But he’s right in that the vast, vast majority of guest blogging solicitations are spammy in nature. Small bloggers often fall victim to this as they think these requests are a validation of their hard work on their site, while in reality, they’re predatory in nature. But when the host and guest blogger are both acting in good faith to provide value to their audience first, and themselves only secondarily, there is little risk of any search engine penalty from the venture.
Why startups should guest blog
What Google actually recommends for guest blogging is using a “no follow” link (a link that tells search engines not to follow it, and thus gives little SEO value). That’s playing on the safe side, but it actually presents a good test question for startups thinking about guest blogging. When deciding whether or not to try and have a blog posted somewhere, if you wouldn’t do it if the link would be no follow, it’s probably not worth writing anyway. In other words, SEO should be a distant concern.
It’s always nice getting a strong shot of SEO juice, but the main reason to guest blog is the increased traffic, getting your name and brand out, and social media shares that further fuel the cycle. As a startup, you have a limited audience you can reach, while elsewhere there are existing audiences you can leverage. If you can provide real value to that audience, then there’s a good chance the curator of that platform will give you the opportunity to do so.
How to approach a guest blogging pitch
You should always have at least some familiarity with the site you’d like to pitch to before doing so. Ideally you’ll be a regular reader, but at least you should know their writing style, who their audience is, and the topics they’ve already covered. You’ll also have a much greater chance of success if whoever runs the blog has some idea of who you are. If you have blogs you regularly read and think would be a good fit for your guest blog post, engage with them in comments or on Twitter, share their posts when you think they have value, and pass along things that you think would interest them but that they may have missed.
For your topic, you should obviously choose something that you’re qualified to write. This doesn’t mean that you need to be an expert though. If your startup recently did something unique and got a surprising result, that would probably make a good blog post. Doing research is okay as well; nobody expects you to know everything, and looking things up so other people don’t have to is a great way to provide value, whether as a guest post or on your own blog.
Good topics for guest blogging
When trying to brainstorm up an idea for a post, you’ll likely fall into your normal rhythm of cooking up topics. It’s important to remember that when guest blogging, you’re writing for someone else’s audience, not your own. Think about who they are, what they like to read, if they want something more analytical or narrative, if they want photos or charts, etc. Reading not just older posts on the site, but also the comments on those posts is a great way to get a feel for who the audience is, and there’s a good chance you’ll find inspiration for a topic there as well.
Pitching a blog post without being annoying
You already know what it’s like getting emails from people who want something, so when you pitch your guest post idea, keep that in the back of your mind. Your email should be short and to the point, and you should sum up your post in three sentences or less. Most people get carried away describing their own ideas and tend to ramble. If you can’t describe the post you want them to publish in two or three lines, it’s probably not a good post anyway.
Long live guest blogging!
Guest blogging is definitely not dead, and it can be a great source of leads for startups and SaaS companies. It may be a bit past its prime for SEO purposes, but there is so much more that it can do. It’s really not so much different than your own blog: Provide good content that provides real value to readers and you will succeed. Seek to connect with readers and you will succeed. Engage honestly and genuinely with other bloggers and thought leaders in your field and you will find people are often happy to help you. And finally, never, never, ever be spammy.