The author’s posts are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Guest posting is a method of link building that seems to have been done to death over the past year. I’ve seen endless articles that discuss the latest advanced search operator that will help you find new guest posting opportunities.
For me, this approach to link building seems a little too linear, and the processes involved are very convoluted.
When you think about it, there are thousands of SEO companies, webmasters, and bloggers that are all running the same kinds of queries within Google. This means that the competition you’re facing to actually gain a guest post opportunity (never mind finding one) is insanely high.
The typical approach to guest posting is as follows:
- Use an advanced search query (footprint) to find a list of websites that take on guest bloggers.
- Scrape the results and organise them in a manageable format, for example, an Excel spreadsheet.
- Gather extra domain/webpage statistics on the list of websites to find how authoritative they are (i.e., Domain Authority, Page Authority, CitationFlow, TrustFlow, etc.).
- Filter through results to identify the high-quality targets based on a set of criteria.
- Gather contact information for the major targets.
- Build a content pitch for each of the targets and begin an outreach campaign.
- Follow up on responses and get content writers to write articles for the successful pitches.
- Send over the content to the link targets that have approved your guest post request.
- Earn a backlink from within the article’s author bio.
I’m not saying that this process doesn’t work. In fact, I’ve written several tutorials on ways to improve and perfect this process in the past. What I am saying is that there’s a better approach to take than this.
Quick Note: This article is fairly lengthy, so if you don’t have time to read it now, either bookmark it and read it later or you can download the full PDF here to read at your pleasure.
Authors instead of websites
If you look through the process above, it’s all focused around looking for websites that will publish content that you provide them with. Once this transaction has taken place, it’s time to move on to the next website.
This kind of process isn’t too far away from the churn and burn methods that make up a lot of black hat link building.
What I propose (and what I’ve been doing for some time now) is that we approach this from a different angle. Try starting with authors.
Influential authors and bloggers have the ability to not only write great content, but they have access to channels that they can distribute the content through. Additionally, these authors will often have lots of existing relationships with big industry publications that can be taken advantage of, giving you a competitive advantage.
Considering this, it makes much more sense to be building relationships with authors instead of webmasters, especially when it comes to scaling high-quality link building.
Using this method myself, I’ve managed to build links from the likes of Forbes.com, Business Insider, The Chicago Tribune and many more.
The author outreach process
Like with guest posting, this approach can be scaled into a structured process. The big difference here is that we’re not going to start with Google.
Here’s an overview of the process that I take:
- Find good quality content relevant to my niche that has been shared heavily.
- Find the creators of the content and the sites that they’ve posted on.
- Gather extra stats on the authors to find out how authoritative they are (e.g., social influence, contributor list, etc.)
- Filter through the list to identify major targets.
- Reach out to the list of authors and build relationships with them.
- Work with them to create quality content assets.
- Utilise their distribution routes and contacts to build links and social signals to the assets.
Step 1: Finding popular content
This stage is important for a number of reasons. The first reason is that it allows you to understand what type of content seems to perform well within your niche. The second is that is gives you an idea of who the top authors are, and the third is that you can see the websites that are benefitting from working with top-quality authors.
To find the types of content that are performing well, I call in the help of a few different tools. The first tool that I use is BuzzSumo.
BuzzSumo is an incredible new tool that allows you to scour the web to find popular content relevant to your niche. The tool also allows you to gather social media statistics on the content as well, which can then be exported to a .csv or .xls file.
Using the food industry as an example, you can search for “recipe” within BuzzSumo’s “top content” search to gather a list of great content.
Within the screenshot above, I’ve filtered down to only search for guest posts and infographics from the past six months. This usually means that it has been written by an author that writes for multiple publications.
You can then export all of the data into a spreadsheet by clicking the “Export” button to the right of the search bar.
I tend to do this for a number of different types of content within my niche and collate the spreadsheet data into one central spreadsheet. This just gives me more data to work with.
Note: Alongside BuzzSumo, I will go through and find niche-relevant community sites to find other popular content and scrape it into a spreadsheet. For example, within the digital marketing niche, there is Inbound.org or GrowthHackers.com.
Bonus: You can view my full video tutorial on how to use BuzzSumo.
Step 2: Finding the content creators
The data that you get within the BuzzSumo export is awesome. Not only do you get a list of the content URLs along with the social shares across each network, but you also get some information on the authors of the content.
This comes under the “article_amplifiers” and “article_amplier_images” columns. Now, you don’t get this info for all of the URLs, but on the ones that you do, you will get the name or pseudonym of the author as well as the URL of their profile image.
The first thing that I do with this data is filter out any content that has a small amount of social shares (I usually calculate this relatively in comparison to the other content across my niche).
Once I’m left only with top-performing content, I will do some reverse image searches (head to Google Images and click on the camera icon in the search bar) on the URLs within the “article_amplier_images” column to find the social accounts of the authors that have written them.
The screenshot above is the results of a reverse image search on one of the top URLs from within my BuzzSumo export. Here’s the content in question:
It turns out that Kris Carr is a New York Times award-winning author and has also made a documentary called Crazy Sexy Cancer. I think that it goes without saying that having a relationship with Kris would be hugely beneficial for any food-related content marketing campaign.
To quickly find the names of the other authors that aren’t listed within the BuzzSumo spreadsheet, I use a little bit of XPath that I learned from Richard Baxter’s MozCon presentation (thanks, Richard!). Here’s that code:
=XPathOnUrl(<strong>INSERT</strong> <strong>URL</strong>, "//a[@rel='author']")
You’ll need the SEO Tools plugin for Excel to run this within Excel. Also, you’ll need to replace the “INSERT URL” section of the query with the URL of the webpage.
Apply the formula to each of the URLs within your spreadsheet and go make a cup of tea. After a few minutes, you’ll have a load of author names magically appear within your spreadsheet.
Note: This method won’t gather all the author names, as it only works on content that has a rel=author tag attached to the author’s name. All the same, it’s pretty useful.
Now that you’ve gathered that load of author names, you can start gathering more data about them. I’ll come back to this though, as I’m going to show you some more ways of finding influential authors first.
Another feature of BuzzSumo is its “Influencer Search.” This works in a similar way to Followerwonk’s Twitter bios search tool, but it delivers some slightly different stats.
Staying with the example of the food niche, I’ve typed in “food blogger” into the search bar.
Unlike Followerwonk, BuzzSumo gathers stats about the URL on the Twitter user’s profile. This can give us an idea of the authority of their website as well as their social stats—perfect for identifying influential authors.
Like with the other BuzzSumo search, there’s an export feature so that all the data can be collated into a spreadsheet; I’d recommend doing this.
Additionally, I tend to create private lists within Twitter that have loads of niche influencers within them. This helps me stay on top of what they’re talking about and also any new content that’s coming up in the future.
The above screenshot is an example of a list that I use for one of my other clients. If I were you, I’d get in the habit of using Twitter lists because they really do become invaluable over time.
The next tool in my armoury is Social Crawlytics. This is another free tool that gives you an incredible amount of data on top-performing content as well as the authors behind it.
This is where I then go back to my content spreadsheet and pick out a few of the domains that seem to be regularly appearing as top content producers. I’ll then run a couple of reports within Social Crawlytics to get some more stats about the authors.
Note: Social Crawlytics is a free tool, but you are limited in the amount of data you can use. You can get extra access by tweeting a sponsored tweet on their behalf or by getting in touch with the team there.
After around five minutes your report should be ready, and you’ll get a breakdown of the most popular content, the top authors on the website, and the different social networks across which the content has been shared.
Authors aside, this is fantastic data to look at in order to find out what type of content performs best within your niche. This could turn out to be invaluable for your content marketing campaign moving forward.
Unfortunately, you can’t export the author data to a spreadsheet, so this may be a small amount of manual work that you’re going to need to do. What you can do is export all of the “Page Level Results,” i.e., the most popular content on the site.
Once you have all of the most popular content on the site, it’s just a case of using the XPath command to grab some more info on who wrote each piece. Here it is again:
=XPathOnUrl(<strong>INSERT</strong> <strong>URL</strong>, "//a[@rel='author']")
Another tool that I use, which I’m sure a lot of you will be familiar with by now, is Followerwonk. I use Followerwonk pretty much every day, and it’s a fantastic way of finding influential writers that also have the ability to get your content in front of lots of eyeballs.
I put together a short video tutorial on the process that I take. Give it a quick view below:
Video source: http://findmyblogway.com/building-content-team-build-links/
Step 3: Gathering author stats
After gathering a large amount of data about the different content that’s popular within your niche as well as all the influential authors, it’s important that we have some metrics to understand the relative importance of each author. Likewise, we need to get information on their social media profiles, websites, etc.
Here’s the information that I gather on each author:
- Full name (This should already be present from the previous step.)
- Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. URLs (You can pick and choose which are relevant to your niche.)
- Profile image URL
- Email address (if possible)
- Follower/Following count
- Social Authority (Followerwonk metric)
- CircleRank (CircleCount.com metric)
- Virante AuthorRank
- Website URL
- Contributor domains
You may not need all of the information above, but the more you have, the better.
There are two approaches that you can take with gathering this data. The first is that you can follow a few of the tips that I outline below and gather the data yourself. The second is that you can work with a freelancer on oDesk to do the data gathering for you.
If you decide to go with Option 1, I can help…
- First things first, you’ll want to create a new spreadsheet and collate all of the information that you already have on your authors. This involves:
- Copying over the author names, profile image URLs (if present) and any social accounts from your BuzzSumo export
- Pasting in the users from within your private Twitter lists
- Copying over the authors from your Social Crawlytics reports
- Organising the data into a manageable format with uniform column titles
I tend to start with Twitter. If I only have a name of an author, then I find that getting their Twitter account is the easiest thing to do. I do this in a number of different ways:
- Google “their name + site:http://twitter.com” or use the internal Twitter search. This usually works for names that are less common.
- Look within the author bios of their content, as they will usually link to their Twitter profile.
- If they have a profile image within their author bio, you can do a reverse image search on the URL to find where else it appears (authors will usually use this within their social media accounts).
- Search their name or website URL within Followerwonk.
Website URL and Twitter follower count
Once you have the Twitter URLs of each of the authors, you can use some more XPath to quickly scrape extra information on them. This time, John-Henry Scherck is the man to thank for these formulas (full article here).
To find the website of a Twitter user, you can use the following formula on their Twitter profile URL:
Obviously, replace ‘TWITTERURLHERE’ with the profile URL of the Twitter user. Then, use this formula to pull in how many Twitter followers that they have:
Email address and other social networks
Once you’ve pulled in the website listed within the Twitter profile, it’s time to call on BuzzStream.
Upload the list of URLs and wait about ten minutes for BuzzStream to gather all of the data. Once it has finished, you’ll have a plethora of contact information, including their email address, Facebook and Linkedin profiles, domain metrics, and contact form URLs. This can then be exported and formatted into your master spreadsheet.
Using BuzzStream is a huge time-saver within this stage and can often result in you gathering most of the required info. In particular, it’s good for gathering email addresses.
Also, give this article from Matt Gratt a quick read as he walks you through how to use BuzzStream with Followerwonk.
Once you have someone’s email address it becomes a lot simpler. Don’t worry if you don’t have this though, because there are lots of tools that can be used to gather even more data, even quicker.
One of the best tools that I’ve been working with recently is the FullContact Person API. You get 250 successful fetches for free with Full Contact, and then you’ll need to pay for more ($99 should be enough).
Using this API, you can pull in the social media profiles, email addresses, location, website, phone number and more. All you need is one of the following to start with:
- Their email address
- Their Twitter URL
- Their Facebook URL
- Their phone number
Note: The tool has about a 60% success rate, but this varies depending on the data inputted.
Websites they contribute content to
I recently wrote a pretty extensive post about following the paper trail of authors in order to find out where they are posting content. You can give that full post a read for the full process, but here’s a breakdown:
- Find their Google+ URL by either searching within their author bio, scraping it via XPath, reverse image searching their profile image, or searching within Google+.
- Scrape the list of sites within the “contributor to” section of their profile.
- Use ScrapeBox to search content for their job title and company name. This is usually what an author will put within their author bio section.
CircleRank and Social Authority
These next two metrics have to be gathered manually (as far as I know). I haven’t found any way to bulk search for Followerwonk’s “social authority” metric or for CircleCount’s CircleRank metric, but if anyone has, please let me know!
The CircleRank of someone relates to their authority within Google+. You can gather this information for free by typing in their name or profile URL here.
Unlike CircleRank, the “social authority” metric from Followerwonk focuses on a user’s authority within Twitter. This can be gathered by searching for their profile within Followerwonk.
A few of you may be aware that Virante recently developed a handy little tool that measures the “AuthorRank” of an author online. One thing to note here is that Virante’s AuthorRank has nothing at all to do with Google’s pending AgentRank update.
In a nutshell, the tool looks at the number of links pointing to the author’s Google+ profile as well as the authority of the websites that they contribute to. This relies wholly on the author having an updated Google+ profile.
All the same, I love extra metrics to work with. More data = more refined results.
This can take a little time to gather for your whole list of authors, but it can be a great way of comparing the quality of authors.
Step 4: Finding the content influencers
By this point, you should have an impressive spreadsheet full of data on the top authors within your niche, complete with tons of contact information.
Before I go and start building relationships with these writers, I like to find out a little more information on who their content advocates are. By this, I mean that I will find out who is regularly sharing their content.
To do this, I use Topsy.
The above screenshot is the output of Topsy’s “social search” for my “Ultimate Guide to Running Online Competitions” article.
Topsy will show you who has tweeted any given URL, and more importantly, you can filter down to only find “influential” Twitter users.
When you build relationships with influential authors, you also inherit their following of influential followers. For me, this is a much bigger pull than any domain metric. It’s a challenge to get your content published on a high DA website, but getting your content shared by a highly influential person within your niche is a much more difficult thing to achieve.
This is why influencers are just as important as the authors.
Once I’ve filtered down my list of authors, I build profiles for each of my main targets based on their influencers and potential social reach. For even bigger projects, I try to understand who influences them.
It’s a matter of going and entering some of the content URLs from each author to see who is sharing their stuff. You can then create a separate sheet for this information and use it to understand the value of each author.
Note: Like with the last section, it is not a necessity to get this data; but the more information that you have on the authors, the content within the industry, and the people who are sharing that content, the better the results of your campaign are likely to be.
Step 5: Building relationships with the authors
The next stage is to form relationships with the authors/influencers about whom you’ve gathered information.
The relationships that you build can have many different motivations behind them and offer a host of different benefits. Of course, the main thing that we’re looking at here is building links; however, having influential writers on board can mean that alongside building good-quality links, you can be generating traffic, collecting lots of social signals, and increasing the value of each link over time.
A quick shout-out
Before I get into the process of building relationships, I want to show you a couple of examples of SEO agencies successfully using influential writers to benefit their link building, content marketing and social media strategies.
Two companies that I’ve been particularly impressed with over the past year in particular have been Hitreach and iAcquire (Note: I have no affiliation with either company).
iAcquire has done an awesome job working with a number of industry influencers to produce content for its blog. The likes of Kristi Hines and Joel Klettke have been regular contributors on the blog and have consistently written articles that have driven through a ton of traffic.
If you take a look at the “hot” section of Inbound.org, just about any new post on the iAcquire blog will have a place within that page. Alongside this, they’ve dramatically increased the amount of social shares on the blog posts.
Another thing that I noticed with a lot of digital marketing writers (I do this myself) is that they will often link to other articles that they’ve written for other blogs. This alone can help generate some relevant backlinks.
Hitreach does a similar job but uses a more diverse number of authors and content formats to offer some really great content.
I’ve been following a lot of their video series where they interview industry experts to get their insight into different topics. They’ve always had big influencers within the niche involved in their content, which has meant that the posts have gone crazy across social media.
Back to building relationships
The first thing that you need to establish when forming a relationship with an influencer is their incentive.
What will motivate them to work with you, and what will they expect?
If you don’t have a whole lot to offer them, then the answer to this question will likely revolve around money. This is often the case, but that isn’t really a bad thing.
I always dedicate a set amount of the marketing budget for working with influencers. I never work with a “one-size-fits-all” content writer, because I believe that you get so much more value from placing these funds into the hands of influential authors.
If you pay an influential author to write a content piece for you, you don’t just get a piece of content; you have a powerful distribution route as well.
What you need to make a decision on is the perceived value of each of the authors. Ask yourself if it would be more beneficial to spend the majority of your budget on working with one big author or with a few slightly less influential authors.
This will be largely dependent upon your niche and your stature within your niche. Likewise, you will often have a lot more to offer if you have a big stature within the industry, especially if you have a big social following that you can share content to. Remember that writers want as much exposure as possible, so use this to your advantage when negotiating with them.
Here are a few ideas on what you can offer:
- A link back to the author’s personal site within each post
- A featured section recommending their services on your website
- Bonus payments if they reach X social shares on a post or X views/visits
- Free use of your services (e.g., If you’re a SAAS company, then you could give free access to your writers.)
- Free/discounted products (e.g., Let’s say that you’re a travel agent. You could offer discounted flights/hotels to your travel bloggers.)
- Offer to share the other content from the author to your mailing lists and social following (only do this if you have a significant list/following).
Offering bonus payouts for gaining X social shares/traffic is a great way to incentivise the authors to push out your content. I also like to give out monthly content performance stats to any writers that I work with to keep them closely involved in the project.
Another thing that I do with any of the writers that I work with is to set them up within my CRM so that I can easily assign tasks to them and keep track of what’s needed from them and what they’ve done. For this, I use HighRise, but you could use a whole host of others depending on your preference.
Step 6: Creating quality content assets
If my end goal is to build links, I always look to build good-quality content assets within my site in order to gather organic links (i.e., people have found my content and editorially linked to it as a reference point).
Alongside this, I also look at building these content assets outside of my own site and within industry-leading blogs/publications to build powerful links directly to my website. This isn’t exactly an organic link, per se, but it’s a great way to drive through links to your site (as I’m sure you’re aware).
Traditional guest blogging looks at content as a secondary factor, with the authority of the site that the content’s being placed on being the primary factor. Within my campaigns, the content is always the primary focus.
Having a plethora of content that covers a range of topics within your industry is a sure-fire way to create a thriving link building ecosystem. Not to mention the fact that it will bring a ton of traffic to your site.
Now that you have some great writers on board, this can become a reality.
What content works within your industry?
In Step 1 above, I talked about how to find popular content within BuzzSumo. This is where you can go back and refresh your memory on the types of content that are performing well within your niche.
Alongside this, I like to use Social Crawlytics to find out what’s working for my competitors. This is something that I didn’t really touch upon when I mentioned Social Crawlytics above.
The above screenshot is of a Social Crawlytics report on Moz.com that I recently ran. It gives a full breakdown of the most shared content across the site, segmented by each social network.
When I’m looking for content ideas within a new niche, I tend to pick a handful of the top publications within that industry along with a few competitors of my client, and then run a report through Social Crawlytics.
From this, I can export the top performing URLs to Excel and gather their page titles using the SEO Tools plugin. To make things a little easier to visualise, I sometimes import all of the page titles into TagCrowd in order to make a tag cloud consisting of the most common phrases within the content titles:
This is a great way to find popular topics and themes.
From this, you can then work with your writers to build full titles for articles that will suit what is popular within the industry and what they have expertise in writing about.
Step 7: Utilise the authors’ distribution routes and cash in on links
This is the stage where you really can cash in on the link building side of things.
By now, you should have a few influential writers on board and an idea of the content that you’re looking for them to produce. All you need now is a distribution plan.
Content on your website
Understandably, you may want to place some of this content within your own website (probably within the blog, if you have one). This can be used as link bait or to drive through social signals and traffic direct to the site.
With this option, you’ll really want to utilise the social media channels of your authors and maybe even their personal connections within the industry to drum up some engagement.
Within my travel blog, I always ask my writers (as part of our agreement) to ensure that all content is shared at least 2-3 times across all of their personal social media accounts and their travel blog accounts. It’s no coincidence that all of my writers have big social media followings focused around the travel niche!
As a result of this, I get nice spikes in traffic from social sources each time my writers share the post. It also helps that each of my writers has a “Melted Stories Contributor” badge on their site that links back to my blog (Melted Stories is the name of my blog in case you were wondering!).
I’ve also found that influential writers are great for getting content picked up and featured on bigger news sites or industry-leading blogs, which helps a great deal in driving through organic backlinks via mentions of your site.
Lastly, many of your influential writers will be active within relevant communities. This gives you a lot of scope to bring in more traffic.
With my travel blog writers, I always ask that they share each other’s content with the major travel communities. Again, this helps me see big traffic spikes and nice, juicy additions to my mailing list.
A perfect example of this within the digital marketing niche is with Inbound.org. Having content written by some of the top contributors within the Inbound.org community will almost guarantee you a feature in the “hot” section for a day or two.
Content placed outside of your website
This is really where I get a lot of value from my writers outside of just content production.
From the analysis carried out in the first few steps of this process, you should have an idea of the different places where your writers are regularly producing content. Using this information, you can get an idea of where you might get some links from.
Let’s use the digital marketing niche as an example again (just to keep things simple).
If you wanted a link from Moz, Search Engine Journal, and Search Engine Land, what would be quicker—spending months building relationships with editors and content managers to try and gain an opportunity or paying existing contributors to write on your behalf?
Starting to see where I’m coming from?
Now, I’m not saying that all authors will do this; for example, if I was asked to plug a link to someone’s website within my next Moz post, I’d happily decline. That being said, I do often link to other content that I’ve written elsewhere from within my Moz posts.
With this in mind, you could have your writers create content within your site, cash in on the organic links and social shares, and also give them an easy way to link back to your website in industry-leading publications to which they have access.
Once you’ve started building out a number of content pieces, linking in from the sites to which your writing team has connections becomes a walk in the park.
Some people will say that this is black-hat SEO or that it’s just the same as paid links, but the reality is that this method is no different than that of guest blogging. It’s just done in a much more effective and scalable way.
I tend to ask my writers for a list of sites that they’re able to contribute to, and I can then map out a strategy for approaching each.
Also, if you’re an agency that has a number of clients from one niche in your books, there’s no reason why you can’t be linking to multiple clients within one post, making it much more scalable internally.
Don’t let quality slip
From my experience, running simple “guest blogging” campaigns can often lead to less of a focus being placed on content. As a result, quality slips.
Just remember that content is key to getting great results from your link building campaigns, so this should always be priority number one. At the end of the day, your brand is being represented here, so make sure it is a true reflection of your business.
Working with influential authors isn’t just about building links; it’s also about being able to create content that your target market is genuinely interested in and is distributed in a way that will get it in front of them.
I spend a large proportion of my day building relationships with influential authors and industry influencers, and I’d recommend that any SEO do the same. Likewise, if you’re a business owner looking to build your brand’s presence online, these are the guys/girls that will be helping you to achieve this.
Don’t underestimate the power of an author!
- Forget traditional “guest blogging” campaigns and think more about authors.
- Content marketing should be the backbone of your SEO campaign.
- Spend time to identify the influencers within your niche.
- Quality over quantity!