A great way to increase your blog publication numbers and drive traffic to your site is creating a guest post program in which writers who do not work for your company produce content for your website. And while guest posting is lucrative for both parties (link exchanges, building a personal or brand portfolio, developing brand relationships), it can be risky, too.
Without proper screening for potential guest authors, you run the risk of having low-quality content filter through your inbox. And if you’re not careful, it ends up on your website’s blog for anyone to see.
If you’re looking for ways to ensure your guest post content is of the highest caliber, here are nine steps you can easily implement to ensure your guest content is as good as the content your in-house writers create.
1. Ask for unique pitches from guest writers
Some websites have a content list they need to get through, which they offer to guest writers if they lack the in-house capacity. But for teams that don’t already have a list of topics waiting to be written, your best bet is to ask the people requesting to write for you for a unique topic pitch.
If a content writer from an e-commerce company reaches out to write a guest post, it’s likely they’ll want to write about any and all things e-commerce. Use their expertise to your advantage, and ask them to pitch topics based on their niche.
It makes more sense to have subject matter experts (SMEs) write about these topics rather than something they have no expertise in (like if you asked them to write about design principles).
Once the writer provides a pitch, make sure there’s an actual keyword attached to the pitch. The Top 10 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Make Money Today! isn’t a good pitch. Let’s discuss why.
First off, what’s the keyword there? “Ways entrepreneurs make money?” That long-tail “keyword” has a search volume of zero – check Ahrefs. Think of your audience and think of the value of the content pitch. Would you ever read an article about the ways entrepreneurs make money? Would anybody else? And most importantly – does anybody care?
If the answer isn’t a hard yes, other people aren’t writing about the same topic, and it doesn’t appeal to your blog audience, it’s not a valuable pitch.
You also have to consider why anyone would trust a random content writer to know about the ways entrepreneurs make money. If the person writing isn’t an expert on the topic or a leader in an industry – in this case, a wealthy entrepreneur themself – they lack the authority to speak on said topic.
A better pitch would consist of a targeted keyword that speaks to your audience, like 10 Visually Engaging Website Examples to Emulate.
This pitch is stronger because the keyword is obvious: “website examples”. The writer, a web designer in this scenario, would be the perfect SME to tackle discussing this topic. Their pitch has a valuable monthly search volume (1,400 monthly per Ahrefs). All of the boxes are checked, which means the content will inevitably be more valuable for your audience – and well worth the writer’s time as well.
As an aside, make sure that when you receive duplicate pitches (e.g. if someone pitches “examples of websites” after the above content is already written), you help the writer come up with a parallel pitch about website design that won’t cannibalize existing site content.
2. Have a minimum monthly search volume behind topic keywords
If you’re using guest posts to grow your site traffic, allowing pitches with no monthly search volume is hurting you more than helping you, as previously mentioned.
So, using a tool like Ahrefs to search keywords and find their difficulty rating (i.e. how many backlinks your site will need to rank in first position for the keyword) and monthly search volume (i.e. how many people per month search the term in question) should be your first step in accepting pitch proposals.
What’s great about this is you get to choose the minimum search volume that satisfies your website’s needs.
If you don’t need the keyword to be a big-hitter like the one above (with 26K monthly searches), you can decide if you’re open to a monthly minimum of 5K, 1K, 500, or lower if you choose. For full transparency, note that the lower the search volume, the less traffic potential the content will have.
3. Make sure your writer fully understands on-page SEO
The hard pill to swallow here is that even if someone knows how to write, you can’t guarantee they understand how to write for SEO. In fact, many writers come from non-marketing business backgrounds without any knowledge of search engine optimization at all. So naturally, on-page SEO would be a foreign concept.
On-page SEO is fairly easy for anyone to learn, and websites like Moz have beginner-level guides to help people learn SEO best practices for free. If you’re unsure about a writer’s credentials – and you really care about top-quality content – you can create an on-page SEO guidebook for your website’s guest authors that links to external learning resources for those unfamiliar with SEO.
That way, all of the basic on-page SEO questions a writer might have can be answered by a handy FAQ guide before a full draft comes through.
Another alternative could be administering a pre-screen SEO quiz, but that could alienate qualified writers who just aren’t familiar with SEO. It’s totally your call.
4. Require or create an outline before writing
Whether your in-house editor is tasked with creating outlines for writers or you have writers create outlines themselves, always make sure you see an overview of what the content they’re writing is going to be about. It wastes your time and theirs for them to write an article that they think is on the money just for you to read it through and realize it’s not the direction you wanted the content to go in at all.
To prevent this from happening, you can do one of two things:
- Require them to submit an outline before writing a full draft
- Have someone from your editorial team create an outline for them
Most people opt to have the writers create their own outlines, so if you choose to go that route, make sure to provide some guidelines as a base for writers to go off of.
Some example guidelines include:
- How their title should be formatted
- How long the content should be
- How many H2s, H3s, and H4s you want to see
- How lengthy each paragraph should be
- What type of visual elements they should include
- What sites they can/should link to
- Whether or not they can use “I/me” statements
Otherwise, have your team’s lead writer or editor develop a content brief (an outline) using your in-house style guide and requirements, from the title all the way down to the conclusion.
5. Enforce a minimum word count
Longer form content performs better. It’s a fact. And anyone can pull a 300-word opinion piece out of thin air and call it a blog. Newsflash: it’s not. It takes a certain level of skill and motivation to write 2000+ words on a topic you claim expertise in. If someone isn’t willing to write long form content for your site, you don’t want them writing for you – plain and simple.
People often pre-write blog posts and pitch them to any site that’ll take them, regardless of the individual site requirements. Some people do this to build out a personal portfolio of guest-authored content so they can create a work portfolio. Some do it to get their brand (personal/business) recognized across a variety of platforms and posit themselves as “thought-leaders” in their given field.
Others, unfortunately, are just mass-pitching content that has already been accepted on another site (which would make publishing their content on YOUR site automatic plagiarism). To better protect yourself from pre-written content that wasn’t specifically curated for your blog’s readers, enforce a minimum word count and refuse to accept pre-written articles.
6. Disallow promotional language
Another reason people are so motivated to create guest content for your website is to promote their brand, services, or product offerings. If you don’t have guidelines for guest posting, you’ll likely get tons of people that use first-person language (I, me, my, mine, myself) or language that talks about their company (our [team], we [do this], etc.).
While people claim that first-person language can be personal, it usually comes off as promotional. On an individual’s own website, first-person language is welcome as it draws a connection between the writer and their readers. But on business-type blogs, relying on first-person language should be strongly discouraged.
If the guest writer is creating an article called 9 Best Link Building Strategies to Use, why does it matter what they personally think? Imagine they write something like: “I prefer the skyscraper method the best because it’s the most useful. We love using this method at my company because we found it brings in great results!” There’s a lot of opinion-based language in that statement, isn’t there?
Yes, there is. Let’s break this down. How is the writer talking about their company’s preferences or personal likes/dislikes helping your readers? It isn’t.
Inserting personal feelings and opinions about fact-based business strategies defeats the purpose of having a subject matter expert (SME) write content on any topic.
To avoid opinion-based statements and language like the above, make sure to create guidelines that explicitly state you will not publish any content written using first-person language. This type of writing often follows biased claims not backed by evidence, only promoted by opinion. Don’t let your blog become an unresearched opinion dump for “thought leaders”.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
If you cannot possibly write about a topic meant to inform your reader without inserting yourself into it, you aren’t writing for them, you’re writing for yourself.
See what I did there? But it’s ok – I can use first-person language. This is my own site. There’s a time and a place for everything!
7. Prohibit promotional links within the copy
Along with promotional language, people are often motivated to write guest posts to insert links to their product pages, offerings, services, or demos. And usually, when people write with this as the motivation in mind, their writing quality suffers severely.
A good way to weed out those who just want to promote their brand versus those who actually want to share valuable information is not allowing links to be promotional in nature.
This means that non-promotional links are acceptable, like blog posts, YouTube videos, infographics, and other non-salesy-type links. Links that are prohibited would include demo pages, registration forms, sign-up sheets, and anything that forces a reader to click through to a page where the guest company can grab info and earn more customers on your behalf.
Obviously you want to give the guest author a few do-follow backlinks as a thank-you for writing on your site, but the type of links you allow them to use will definitely change the motivation behind why they’re writing for you in the first place.
8. Don’t use syndicated content
In short, using syndicated content is lazy and can muddle the waters between unique content and duplicate content. For the unfamiliar, syndicated content (or web syndication) is web-written content that is republished in whole on a third-party site.
Anyone with basic SEO knowledge knows that duplicate content is penalized by Google, and while content syndication and duplicate content aren’t quite synonymous, the similarities are so close that it’s better to not dabble in syndication.
Plus, it means a lot more for someone to create unique content that hasn’t been copy-pasted from their own blog for your site than just letting them re-use an article for their own benefit (i.e. getting links).
As an aside, some people will claim that Google doesn’t care about duplicate content, but in the past they’ve made remarks about doing it and treading carefully if you choose to partake. Just make sure you’re prepared for any consequences you may face if you choose to allow content syndication as regular practice for guest posting.
9. Cross-check their work for plagiarism
While unsurprising, plagiarism runs rampant in the world of content marketing – especially when it comes to guest posting.
In step five, we discussed how implementing a set word count can help weed out content farms and/or people who mass-pitch pre-written content. That is still absolutely true. Even more so, word counts can help weed out plagiarists.
You will likely receive a number of pitches that conveniently have pre-written articles “just for your site!” only to find out they were never written for your site, but got rejected from another site – or worse – were previously published ON another site, but not actually by the person who claims to have authored the content. Either way, this is definitely a good case to make against accepting pre-written articles.
Your first line of defense in checking for plagiarism is having a strong editor with a good eye for these things. A few ways to easily identify plagiarized work are as follows:
- The “writer’s” email pitch to you was littered with grammatical errors, misspellings, and weird (or missing) punctuation, but the written copy is flawless
- The type of vocabulary used in the content seems really mismatched to the “writer’s” natural speaking (writing) voice
- The “writer” pitches content that discusses a specific company – one which is not their own
- The “writer” is overly-eager for you to publish their content because they want backlinks
Plagiarized work comes in various formats, whether it’s 100% copied content that lives on another website already, copy-pasted sections of work with some uniquely-written content, or copied formatting, structure, and/or ideas from another person’s blog.
Your second line of defense – after your editor thoroughly checks the writing for the discrepancies above – is using plagiarism-checking software. Plagiarism software is not foolproof, which is why it’s good to use two or more simultaneously. A go-to is Grammarly, and another strong choice is SEMrush.
Speaking from experience, neither Grammarly nor SEMrush catches all plagiarized text the first go-around; however, each of them catch things the other does not. It’s like having your very own peer review team of editors with an AI-digitized brain.
Most importantly, when checking for plagiarism, even if you can’t prove something outright but have a gut feeling, you’re probably right. As the adage says, better safe than sorry.
Overall, running a guest posting program isn’t easy if you want to do it right. If your main goal is quick traffic bursts that have unsustainable outcomes, disregard the steps above.
But if you want well-written, well-researched content that stays evergreen, you’d do best to follow these tips to ensure your guest content is as high of quality as that of the content your in-house writers produce.