Guest Posting and the Return to High School English
Anyone who has spent any time blogging is familiar with guest posting. Perhaps you see it as it started; a great opportunity for bloggers to share their knowledge with new audiences and draw traffic to their sites. Or perhaps you have been jaded by bad experiences and associate the term “guest post” with spammy outreach emails and vague posts that offer no value to your audience.
Whatever your experience, guest posting is very prevalent in today’s blogosphere. And because of this, it is very easy to recognize patterns. As a link builder with a strong writing background, I realized the other day that a successful guest post follows the same pattern as a high school essay.
Before I go further, I want to clarify. I am not saying that successful guest posts should utilize the vocabulary and writing style of a high school English student. Though many guest post authors could probably use a refresher in basic grammar, this is not my point. Nor do I think that we should limit ourselves to the five paragraph essay. In fact, constricting guest posts to a single form only results in millions of articles that say the exact same thing and offer no innovation or new information.
However, one thing in particular from my Senior English class stuck out as I was analyzing the critical pieces of a guest post. When learning that oh-so infamous five paragraph essay format, my class was of course taught the basic parts of an essay: The Intro, Body, and Conclusion. As my teacher said “You tell us what you’re going to tell us; you tell us; and then you tell us what you told us.”
A successful guest post has the same repetitive nature, but not just in the content. The post as a whole follows this pattern with the following pieces: The Title, Content, and Links.
There are a lot of components to an effective title, especially when you’re considering how search engines read your webpage. Of course, the main point of a title is to tell the reader the topic of an article. Abstract titles don’t meet this criterion. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid creative titles; boring titles are just as dangerous as confusing ones. Simply be sure to include a keyword pertaining to your topic. This makes it easier for both people and search engines to get an idea for what your post is about.
Including pop culture references or familiar sayings is a great way to draw people in. Adjusting clichés to meet your needs is also a strong tactic. Changing up something familiar is a way to show innovation without alienating your audience.
Title wording is very important. Titling your piece with the subject can work in certain circumstances (5 ways to fund your world travels) but can also easily be played out. If you can Google your title and find the first page filled with exact matches, you’re not stretching your creativity.
It might also behoove you to avoid negative phrases in your titles. People like controversy, but they’re not attracted to blatant negativity. Instead of “Worst Business Blogs Ever” which is sure to be full of condescending statements that likely lack reasoning, consider “Best Ways to Avoid Fatal Business Blogging Mistakes” This way, your audience expects some genuine thoughts in your comments and your keywords aren’t going to be associated with negative words. Though this is a very nitpicky thing, if search engines see that your links are always accompanied by words like “bad” and “worst” along with your targeted keywords, they may get the wrong idea. Again, it would take a lot of posts for this to have a noticeable effect, but if you’re thinking about all the details, you’re putting more thought into your work, which yields better quality.
This is of course the meat of your guest post, as it is the guest post itself. Many writers make the mistake of punching out guest posts without considering the host blog and its audience. They figure since the content is not going on their website, they don’t have to worry about quality as much.
This is so wrong that it makes Richard Simmons in a Speedo look right. Even if you’re guest posting for links, your ultimate goal is to draw people to your site. No one is going to click on your link if it accompanies a crappy article.
Research the blog you’re writing for. Scour their popular posts to find the successful components for that audience. Take into account the blogger’s voice. This is not to say you should change your own writing voice, but make sure that it jibes well with what is already on the site. This way, readers won’t be shocked by something completely opposite of what they visit this particular site for.
Don’t take shortcuts with your content. Every post should be something you are proud of, and that you would want to have posted on your website. And while a guest post should never be a sales pitch, it should leave the reader thinking “I want to read more from this person”.
Most guest posts are accompanied by an author bio, which is where the author can plug themselves. This is not quite “here’s what I told you”, but it is “here is who I am and where you can find more information on this topic or me”.
Links don’t necessarily have to be in the bio though. If you reference something that needs citation in the body, then you can cite an article on your site that addresses the issue. If you’ve covered a related topic, offer that page as a further resource. Some bloggers are hesitant to add in content links, but if you resist the urge to overuse them and make sure they are useful, you should be able to include them. Don’t be afraid to cite outside sources as well. It’s sharing the wealth as well as adding to your credibility.
So while I am not advocating that you write like a high schooler, perhaps reviewing some of the English Class basics will allow you to look at your activities in a new light, and cause you to be deliberate in your tactics.
Sometimes the best nuggets of thought come in an unexpected place. A trip back to high school resulted in an article for me. How do you brainstorm and try to make connections you thought of before?
About the Author
Jeriann Watkins enjoys writing about controversial subjects, including the oxford comma, white-hat SEO, and the existence of Idaho. She currently works for Page One Power, a relevancy first link building company.