Whether you’re looking to grow your own blog or to get more visibility to attract paying blog clients, guest posting is one of the best ways to get it done.
Appearing on a popular blog gives you way more exposure to possible blog readers and paid-blogging opportunities, and generally makes you look more pro. Some guest posts even pay.
The trick is that guest posts for the top blogs are harder and harder to get. Some blogs have stopped taking them, while others are only use their hand-picked, invite-only guests.
There are plenty of blogs left that take guest posts, but it’s more competitive.
Your pitch has to be great
Unfortunately, most aren’t. I know because a few weeks back, I held an open-pitch week for guest posts here on the blog, which I announced on the Make a Living Writing Facebook page.
Some good stuff happened out of it. I ended up assigning 10 posts.
But overall, it proved my rule — the vast majority of the pitches I got fell far short of the quality I’d post here on the blog.
There were 10 basic problems:
1. Dated cultural references
I got one about What Writers Can Learn About Freelance Writing From ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and another about what writers can learn from American Idol.
I received two pitches along the lines of Everything I Needed to Know About Freelance Writing I Learned in Kindergarten.
Using pop-culture references can be a good way to hook readers into a post, but it works better if the references are fresh and current, not 30 years old or more, or going on season 13.
2. No headline (or outline)
Despite my spelling out in my writer’s guidelines that I assign from a headline and outline, I still got many pitches that were a disorganized ramble about their topic and included no headline.
One was simply a headline, with the note “That’s my pitch!” Um, I’m going to need a little bit more info than that.
3. Bad headline
You’d think regular readers here would know of my obsession with writing great headlines, but many still submitted weak headlines. One particularly baffling one was On Key Words and Finding Yourself. Hm?
If you’re already guest posting for a big blog, you might be able to get away with something as obscure as this, but it’s never going to work as a first pitch.
4. No bio
Many posts ended abruptly without giving me any clue about where the writer lived, their experience, or what sort of freelancing they do. There was no link to a writer website where I could learn more about their background.
When I can’t learn anything about the writer, that makes me a little nervous. I tend to pass. Even a single line along the lines of “I am a new freelance healthcare writer based in Houston” would help a lot.
5. Excluded readers
Big blogs succeed by making sure each post appeals to a broad spectrum of their readers. Yet I got pitches such as How Going Gluten-Free Helped Me as a Writer.
Since the majority of Americans are still munching away on bagels and think the gluten-free craze is mostly a hoax, this would probably turn off some writers and draw others into a debate about the whole gluten-free issue. Too off-topic.
Another pitch was How Older Writers Can Thrive Today, a concept that ignores at least half my readers! One writer used Tupperware as a cultural reference, a product many readers under 30 likely don’t know.
Try to give your pitch broad appeal for your best chance at getting the green light on a guest post.
6. No key words
One pitch I got was roughly Getting Organized: Doing the Critical, Prioritizing the Important, and Avoiding the Unnecessary.
Besides being too long, there are no key words in there for freelance writers or productivity. Guest posts always, always need key words for that audience. Otherwise, readers won’t ever find the post on Google searches, which is always an important avenue for attracting traffic. Big blogs know this well, and they’re not going to run a headline with no key words.
7. The usual tips — with no evidence
There were plentiful pitches that proposed basic how-to tips we’ve all heard before, without any indication the writer had experience to share on the topic. The key to successful guest posts around here is the case study — how your personal experience led to these tips.
Sometimes, the tips were dated, too, as with a post that promised one great productivity tip: “Only touch each piece of paper once.”
Given how much most of us work electronically at this point, this tip isn’t just old, I think it’s no longer helpful. Big “no thanks.”
8. I already published that
Since I had just published a guest post about how marathon training helped one writer, I got several more sports-related pitches. Two were about how running helps writers, and one was about archery.
Note: If a blog has just run a topic, it doesn’t mean they want lots more posts just like it. Try a different angle altogether.
9. Headline and outline don’t match
It’s important that a post fulfill the promise of the headline. Some pitches had fairly strong headlines, but the outline didn’t come through.
For instance, one pitch was 10 Fear-Busting Tips for Freelance Writers, which sounded viable. Overcoming fear is a perpetually useful topic for writers, sadly.
But the post outline was just straightforward marketing tips, with no information on how a writer would overcome fear in order to do these marketing activities. The outline didn’t provide what the headline promised, so the pitch didn’t work.
10. I can write that myself (and have)
The secret sauce to guest posts is that they need to bring fresh perspective – something the blog’s main author couldn’t write themselves.
Instead, I got may pitches on topics I often cover myself, such as productivity or using co-working spaces, or How X Unrelated Topic is Like Freelance Writing…but without any new information my blog readers haven’t yet seen.
What got approved?
By now, I’m sure you’re wondering — what ideas pleased this picky broad?
Here’s a sampling of the posts that got approved in open pitch week:
- I Just Got an Article Approved! Now What?
- How I Scored Great Clients Off My Low-Paid Content Mill Gig
- 4 Tips on Article Writing — From Stand-Up Comedians
- My Proven System for Finding Great-Paying Newspaper Gigs
- How Introverted Writers Can Do Painless Marketing
Tasty, eh? I can’t wait to see some of these appear on our regular Wednesday guest-post slot.
Looking at this lineup of headlines, the common theme I see is the unexpected. We don’t expect newspaper articles to pay well, or for introverts to enjoy marketing, or comedians to know article writing…so we need to read these posts to find out how that works! Think about making your headline contain something nonintuitive and packing your post with tips we haven’t seen before.
The big takeaway from my open-post week: Most bloggers don’t know how to pitch a good guest post.
That means if you learn how to pitch and write great guest posts, your blog can grab the spotlight while others continue to wonder how to get their blog noticed.
Have you guest posted? Leave us a link to your best guest post and tell us how you got the gig.