Update: I received a few dozen emails asking for more details so I recorded a 30 minute video describing my process and the timeline
We all understand the value of guest blogging. It gains you new exposure, positions you as an influencer, and connects you to new publications and sites that are in your industry. It’s a quick and very smart way to bolster your brand and outreach efforts online. So how do you go about doing it?
Sure there are tons of sites out there that “accept guest posts” but you know they’re not worth shit. I’m sorry, but I’m not looking to publish my hard work on your site that gets 100 page views a month, all from people within your company. We all dream of pitching those big league sites and getting back a “yes.” I’ll tell you right now: it’s totally possible, and you don’t have to be a veteran of your industry to make it happen.
I’ve been fortunate enough to contribute to the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, HubSpot, Inc, Business Insider, and more, and no matter what site, it comes from the same methods of hard work. Below is my playbook on pitching a guest post on virtually any publication. No matter how big or small, you need to treat every pitch with the same amount of respect you would want from someone who emails you.
Follow these steps carefully, and you’re going to land that big fish in no time.
Research, Research, Research
Before you even think about opening your email, take the time to research everything you can as thoroughly as possible. The big three are 1) your topic, 2) the site, and 3) the contact.
Research Your Topic
Start by checking out other people who’ve written similar articles or posts. There are very few subjects out there that haven’t already been written about ad nauseam. The trick is to come at it with a fresh perspective and catchy tone. See what’s working for other people first, and then learn how to be original with it from there.
Research The Site/Publication To Whom You’re Pitching
This is important, especially in understanding lead-time. If you want to write an article that centers on Labor Day, you should be pitching it in July, not the third week of August. There’s a degree of turnaround time that can make topical pitches tricky if they’re done last minute. Some sites avoid topic stuff altogether. You have to know that before you write your post & pitch.
You also don’t watch to pitch a blog post to someone on a subject they’ve just published on. Later, in your pitch email, we’ll talk about how you want to prove you’ve done your homework, that means learning what they do and don’t write about, and how you can write something original that still works for their audience and style.
Almost every site has guidelines for pitching. In magazines, you’ll find it in what’s called the Masthead. Here’s an example of HubSpot’s guidelines. For almost any publication or site, they’re just a query away—so don’t be afraid to ask Google for some help here.
Research The Author/Editor
Finally, make sure that you research the person to whom you’re pitching. If you’re writing to the editor, let them know which authors you especially like, and what pieces (from their section of the publication) you especially resonate with.
If you can’t be specific, their going to see right through your B.S. Make sure you know the person, their work, and their style before trying to ask them for something.
Get on The Radar
You are working from the outside in, so it’s important to remember that while outside emails can be helpful, they’re not always the strongest method for getting a response. Try to come up with a few creative ways to make your name more recognizable to someone. Social media makes this almost too easy.
Comment on a Post
Start by engaging in the comments. If you’re doing research on an author or site, you’ll be reading some of their stuff anyways. This gives you the perfect opportunity to slip in a thoughtful, engaging comment. Don’t just say, “Great stuff!” Try asking them a question and starting a conversation.
Reach out on Twitter
I’m pretty active with other users when they comment, and I’m especially active with Twitter users. My main goal is to try and be helpful, so I try my best to reach out to folks as often as I can when they have questions.
The above screenshot is the perfect example of someone who uses Content Marketer and wanted to know more about some technical aspects. If he reached out to me again, I’d probably recognize his name from the Twitter comment.
Approach In Concentric Circles
Not everyone is equally accessible. There’s a hierarchy to these things. Just like you wouldn’t try to email Matt Cutts if you had a question about Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, you’re probably not going to reach the editor on a cold email.
The Writer/Journalist is the outermost ring, the editor is the innermost ring. In my experience, it’s a lot easier to reach out to a writer and have them ultimately introduce you to an editor later on. Be strategic about how you do outreach.
It’s About Creating Relationships
When you’re pitching, you don’t just want to reach out in a way that communicates your intentions as “one and done.” You want to form a relationship with that person that’s mutually beneficial. You have good ideas and info, and they have a good platform. That’s something that can certainly be used more than once.
Don’t Pick Up The Phone
It’s always better to leave things to email.
Crafting The Pitch
First and foremost, you need to find the value-add. Your entire pitch will be informed by showing whomever you’re pitching what your piece brings to the table—and more specifically, how their publishing it will benefit them.
You don’t matter.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, except in so far as it qualifies you to talk about something. It’s not what makes publishing your work appealing.
What the person you’re pitching to really wants to know is what will your article do for them? What value are you bringing to their work by having them publish your writing?
Stop pitching yourself, and start pitching your work. Be confident in the subject that you’re writing about and the strength of the material you’re writing on. Sell people’s interest in it.
If you want stats, use a tool like BuzzSumo to get in the heads of reads and have some real numbers to show for what people like.
Have an Attention Grabbing Subject Line
Subject lines aren’t as tricky as we make them out to be. The below example worked well because it’s a statistic that relates to something near and dear to my heart—growth hacking—and shows that that person knows who I am and what I do.
You don’t have to go more than 8 words or so, but don’t be afraid of being specific. Give the person you’re emailing some incentive to open without sinking to “clickbait” type verbiage.
Keep It Short
Don’t waste time on describing yourself, or even the exact details of you’re going to write about.
What the above example does really well is that it gets straight to the point in the first sentence. If I think the article has legs, then I’m going to look into who the author is, not the other way around.
Don’t use that language along the lines of “if you wouldn’t mind,” the dreaded “please.” Be confident. You know that you have something good, and you’re offering it to them if they think they can use it. If not, you’re going to move on.
Have a Strong CTA
If you’ve got a wishy-washy suggestion as to what they can do with your information, they’re probably not going to be sold on you. Really convince them that using your piece is good for them and their publication
The same person that had a great subject line also seemed to know something about CTAs. This clearly wasn’t their first pitch. It was successful because it outlined next steps, concrete details, and left the ball in my court.
Avoid generic, vague language. Try to stand out, be confident, and be original.
Avoid The Sales-y Bullsh*t
This isn’t a spam email or an UpWorthy article, don’t start by telling them what they think, how they feel, or using that emotional clickbait-y language that everyone loves these days. Start with facts, context, and the meat of your message, rather than some out of place generalization:
My reaction to this: Don’t tell me what I’m frustrated by! My opinion is my own, so starting me off by telling me how I feel isn’t going to win my affection. Show instead that based on something I’ve written, it seems that I may be interested in x, y or z.
Show That You’ve Done Your Homework
It’s OK to be flattering, especially—really, only—if it’s genuine.
This pitch works because it’s engaging, specific, and helpful. It’s also short, but doesn’t miss an opportunity to compliment. You don’t need to effuse someone to make them feel appreciated—it’s just a matter of saying, “Hey, I like what you’re doing.”
Make sure that you target one person at the site or publication, not five. If you do that, you’re just going to diminish your chances of getting it published. Either multiple people are going to assume someone else is handling it, or it’s going to get lost in the noise.
If you pick one person, even if they’re the wrong person, they may ultimately send you to a person or department who’s better equipped to handle it.
Send it to name, not a title
Don’t say, “Dear Editor,” or “To Whom It May Concern,” Say, “Dear [Name]” this gives you a chance to be specific, site specific pieces of their work, and do extra homework to make it feel more personal.
Beforehand, if you were following the other instructions, you’ll have already reached out to this same person on social media, and they should recognize your name at least remotely by now.
Follow up makes people nervous. You don’t want to be pushy, but you also know that inboxes can get stuffed. Is there a professional protocol on exact days or hours? Honestly, it just depends.
For a little bit of clarity, check out this excerpt from the 2015 Writer’s Market:
Writer’s Market recommends reaching out at least three or four times before giving up. People are busy. Don’t spam them every day, but wait an appropriate amount of time between emails, and it’s OK to follow up more than once.
Don’t stop if you get rejected from somewhere. It doesn’t mean you had a bad piece, it means your pitch didn’t work. Maybe it wasn’t the right fit for that place, or you caught the editor on a bad month—but maybe there’s another similar site that’s waiting for a piece like yours.
Outreach is tough, whether it’s pitching a new piece or trying to create new contacts. Either way, you can’t be let down by a couple of hard “No’s.” At least they wrote back! Shape your pitch to meet the next publication’s style and people, and try again. Eventually, you’re going to get an email that breaks you into a whole slew of opportunities for the future.