What Freelance Writers Need to Know about Guest Posting

guest-postingGuest posting has been a somewhat controversial topic lately. I listed guest posting in my list of bad writing gigs a few weeks ago and sparked a discussion.

One reason guest posting is currently looked down on is the huge quantity of spammy guest posts that have flooded the content arena.

In this post, I’ll take a closer look at guest posting. First of all, I’ll discuss the definition of guest posting. I’ll explain why I think guest posting is often (but not always) a bad gig for writers as well as website owners. Finally, I’ll discuss the right way to go about creating content.

What is Guest Posting?

It can be hard to nail down a precise definition of guest posting.

Basically, guest posting occurs when a website publishes a post they did not create themselves.

However, this description is misleading.

Many website owners and multi-author blogs don’t create their own content, relying instead on high quality content from a variety of sources. Plus, business owners often hire a professional writer on a freelance or permanent basis to create well-written posts and articles for them.

Even though the site owner isn’t creating their own content, these aren’t really examples guest posting even though they are sometimes referred to as guest posts.

In the comments to my earlier post on bad writing gigs, one of my respected writing colleagues pointed out that guest posters are not paid. Her point that guest posts are unpaid is actually one of the reasons why I included guest posting on my list of bad gigs for writers. But I think there are also some exceptions to the unpaid “rule“.

For example, I’ve seen ads from marketing companies who are looking for writers to create (and place) guest posts for blogs that they don’t own. So, I suspect that some guest posts are written for pay–it’s just not always pay from the website owner where the post appears.

Which brings me to some of the problems that have cropped up as a result of guest posting over the past few years…

Problems with Guest Posting

Guest posting used to be more respectable. Not quite ten years ago, website owners often exchanged blog posts with other site owners who they knew and respected. It was a way to get more and often better information to your audience.

All that changed when:

  1. Site owners got greedy. Soliciting guest posts meant you didn’t have to pay a writer. Some site owners were even willing to publish anything from anybody.
  2. Marketing companies got involved. Guest posting was seen as a cheap way to promote a product or company. Marketers pushed to get posts published on as many sites as possible.
  3. SEO specialists started using guest posts to manipulate search results. The result was the publication of a lot of posts that otherwise never would have been published.

Naturally, all this led to a general deterioration in guest post quality. Today, sadly, many guest posts are hastily written and devoid of any real value to the reader. No wonder guest posts have a bad name.

If you own a website or if you’re a freelance writer, you’ve probably experienced the problems with guest posting firsthand. I know that I have.

I’ve gotten emails from those who want to publish posts on this blog that have nothing to do with the blog’s topic. I’ve also been “invited” to provide guest posts (for free, of course) on other blogs when it makes no sense for me to do so. Of course I always say “no” to these requests.

Bad guest posts are never welcome anywhere. But there’s always still room for good content and that includes high quality guest posts.

How Good Are Your Guest Posts?

If they’re anything less than excellent, you’re in trouble in today’s content arena.

But can you tell the difference between a piece of quality content and one that’s not so good?

If you’re not sure about the quality of your posts, use the following checklist to evaluate them:

  • Does the post target your audience? Your content should be targeted to your readers. If your content is all about you, it’s probably not targeting your audience.
  • Did you do your homework? Research your topic and link to your sources where appropriate. Don’t just make suppositions, support your statements.
  • Did you write for people, not machines? A few years ago “SEO writing” was quite a fad. Content that is artificially constructed for the search engines is often not of high quality.
  • Were you thorough? If your content doesn’t tell your readers what they need to know, it’s probably not high quality content. Make sure that you have covered the topic in enough depth for your content to be useful.
  • Did you use web formatting? A pet peeve of mine is writers who create online content as though they were writing an academic essay. Learn how to format your posts to make them scannable and then do it.
  • Did you check over your work? Nothing can derail a post quicker than a bunch of typos, spelling errors and grammar mistakes. Proofread your content and if possible have a second person read it.
  • Is the content unique? Sadly, many guest bloggers create one post and submit similar variations of that post to many sites. That approach really doesn’t help your reader who may be researching the topic and needs a variety of sources.

Where you publish your guest post is also very important.

Where to Submit Your Guest Post

If you do decide that you want to write some guest posts, does it matter which website publishes your post?

Of course it does.

Here are some factors you should consider when deciding whether to write a guest post for a specific website:

  1. Does the site address the audience you are trying to reach? This is especially important if your reason for guest posting is to attract writing clients. If potential clients don’t read the site, writing a guest post for it wastes your time.
  2. What sort of traffic does the site get? Many look at this question from a page rank or link type of stance. For most writers that’s probably the wrong approach. Traffic is important though, because if no one sees the website no one will see your guest post either.
  3. What is the quality of the other content published on the site? Like it or not, if you are publishing bylined content on a website, your name could be tied to the quality of the other pieces on the site. This caution also applies to sites with objectionable content.
  4. Do I have some other reason for wanting to guest post on this site? Is the website owner a good friend of mine or a respected colleague? If so, writing the guest post may be a gesture of goodwill on my part. Am I trying to build up clips for my portfolio?

Writers aren’t the only ones who have to be careful about guest posts. Website owners should be cautious as well.

What If You’re a Website Owner?

If you’re a website owner, you can still consider the occasional guest post. However, limit yourself to guest posters who:

  • Provide high-quality original content.
  • Have expertise in their field.

Check guest posts carefully to make sure that they are unique and free from obvious errors. Remember, what you publish affects your site’s reputation.

Remember that while occasional guest posting can provide some variety for your readers, when it comes to consistent quality there’s really no substitute for professional writing.

Your Turn

What do you think about guest posting? What did points did I miss in this post? What experiences have you had with guest posting?

P.S. If you’re trying to get started as a freelance writer, you have alternatives other than guest posting. To discover what some of those alternatives are, check out the ebook I created with Carol Tice. We cover how to identify your best opportunities and go over the best first markets for new writers.

Comments

  1. says

    Excellent piece Laura. Like you, I’ve been inundated by large numbers of inappropriate pitches for guest posts. Most I just delete. The worst get designated as spam.

    I’ve only accepted a few guest posts on my site. They were from experienced people writing about topics that interest my audience of freelance writers.

    For me, the main takeaways from your post is the importance of both quality and relevance.

    • says

      Thanks for your comments John.

      As you point out, quality and relevance are the most important points of the piece. I can’t emphasize their importance enough.

      I have to say, I was a little nervous about publishing this. I know that there’s still a large group who push guest posting, but I think it’s important for writers and site owners to understand that guest posts are NOT a magic bullet for attracting clients or web traffic.

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