Here's a question we get a lot from clients: What is a guest post? How is it different than a regular blog post? A Guest Post is an article written and posted on someone else's blog. When you write something on your own blog, it's just a "post," but on someone else's blog, the writer is a ‘guest’.
Guest posts are valuable tools for reputation marketing and reputation management for several reasons, like getting your brand mentioned or occupying branded search query results. But most people use them to embed backlinks for SEO reasons. Guest posts are often abused, though; we'll address abusive aspects later in this article.
If you have found someone else's blog to write on, then you are the 'guest author'. We'll assume you are doing it both to get the word out and hope to get a link back to one of your own web properties.
The basics of guest posting
Here are a few guidelines about writing guest posts you should know. There is a lot of information on the internet about this subject, and we have included links to many good resources at the bottom of this article. But here are the quick and simple basics.
Important Things to Remember About Guest Posts
- Guest posts must be well-written. Search engines are beginning to get choosy, and people are too.
- Posts need to be on-topic. People must want to read them to get maximum value. You don't want people coming to your post and then clicking back to search results because the posts are irrelevant, as bounces can devalue your post in Google.
- People should want to share your posts using social media. Sharing increases readership. In reputation marketing, social media sharing helps spread the word.
- Outbound links you place in your posts must be helpful and relevant to the article. Make sure that the anchor text over the links is accurate.
- Don't post on sites that post a lot of guest content because the links are pretty much useless.
Who can write a guest post
Almost anyone can write a guest post, but few can write a really good one that goes viral. You can't generally "make" a post go viral. But it does not need to go viral. It just needs to be helpful, on-topic, and well-written to generate traffic and link juice over time.
A good guest post is on-topic, relevant, and of various lengths. Most guest posts are between 500 and 1000 words, but folks like Neil Patel say they should be much longer. More like 2500 words. Data suggest that more content means your web page has odds for a high position in Google results. But writing long-posts is not absolutely needed. It's more important to write a good post, than a long one.
For a detailed overview of how to write a post for people and search engines, check out this post about SEO-enabled articles.
Sometimes it's worth it to hire a professional to write guest posts because doing so consistently is essential.
Blog post headline basics
Let's say you are in the llama shaving business and that the search phrase you want to protect or improve is 'Lloyds Llama Shaving Business'. In this case, you may have written articles for posting on someone else's blog, and those posts may have had titles like these:
- Best Shears for Shaving Llamas
- Top Ten Llama Shaving Questions Answered
- Llama Shaving Secrets Revealed!
- Legendary Llama Shavers Throughout History
- Restaurants in New York That Allow Shaved Llamas
If you're a llama shaver, these are accurate (and compelling) headlines for your niche. Remember, the objective of a headline is to get clicked in search results which will then improve online marketing search volume.
But also keep in mind that some headlines can be clickbait. Clickbait headlines are meant to bait you into clicking (hence the name) but the content doesn't always measure up to what you were expecting. Sometimes it does, though.
Here is an example of a clickbait headline:
You Won't Believe What Doctors Found in this Girl's Abdomen!
It's a clickbait headline because it creates an information vacuum in your mind, it's sensational, and it prays on humans' FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
Headline ideas for guest posts
Common blog/guest post headlines include the following ideas. These are meant to be the seed for your headline creativity:
- What is...
- How to...
- Tips for...
- Examples of...
- Best examples of...
- Benefits of...
- Alternatives to...
- [Process] template...
- [Product] vs. [Product]...
- How to fix...
- How to use...
- How to integrate...
- How to cancel...
Embedding relevant links
Within each of these articles is an opportunity to embed a link. Here's an example: Let's say you are doing some reputation marketing, there are the web addresses of three positive web results you want to promote. One of them is your own website; the other two are existing positive articles about your business that already show up high in search results but not high enough.
The three URLs you might want to promote might be:
But people don't just want to reference your sites. They want to reference other authorities as well. You've got to give the people consuming your content what they want. Outbound links to other sites like the best llama shears, the right time of year to shear, where to buy a good llama, etc., are all important to the reader.
So in the first article 'Best Shears for Shaving Llamas,' you'll want to embed a link to lloydsllamashaving.com. Your article might look something like this:
Best Shears for Shaving Llamas
One of the most often asked questions about llama shaving is 'what are the best shears?'. We've tried all kinds of shears from the The Heiniger Llama Kit to Wizard Shears. At Lloyds we've found the best ones to be the Wizard Shears...
The paragraph above has the word 'Lloyds' as a hyperlink to another site. And if you were to click on the link, it would take you to the website lloydsllamashaving.com (if you do actually click on it, it will take you to our home page). Your website or blog will probably make this very easy so you don't need to write any HTML, but if you do, here is what it might look like:
Link anchor diversity
Guest contributors often make the mistake of focusing on keywords in the anchor text, which looks suspicious to search engines. When links look artificial, Google discounts them.
Ideally, the owner of the site upon which a blog post is published should always be able to approve any backlinks and anchor text, and even change the anchors or links to more relevant posts on the same target site. Doing so helps with link diversity.
Here's why that's important: By letting the owners of the blogs you're posting on edit the anchor text of the link text, you will end up with a broader array of natural backlinks.
But how many links should a post blog post have?
The answer is: Zero if the links aren't relevant. But if they are relevant and helpful to the article, you need to place the right number of links; there is no set number. The question is, "will a link improve the piece?" If a link doesn't make the post better, then don't add it - even if it's a link to your own material. Quality is important, as you'll see in the final paragraph of this article.
But, if you still need a guideline, then generally place just one link from a guest post into every 500 words. So a 1000-word guest post could handle up to two or three links. Even if your guest post is incredible, too many links can make it appear spammy, even if it's not.
Remember, blog posts are about the reader - not your need for linking.
Abuse and the demise of guest posting?
Way back in the before-time, in January 2014, Matt Cutts of Google said:
"Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company."
Has guest posting died since then? Nope. But web spam has to a large degree. We don't think that guest posting in and of itself will ever die. Imagine major publications without contributors. But as various Google upgrades like the latest "helpful content" update in 2022 continue to roll out, abuse of the practice should wane.
We think Google uses stylometry to ID authors
What's "stylometry"? Stylometry is the practice of identifying an author based on their style of writing.
There may be something to Google's disdain for SEO practitioners overusing guest posts. At Reputation X, we believe that Google uses a form of stylometry along with many other methods, such as link profiles and IP addresses, to identify blogs and authors using guest posts to build links.
Why patterns in posts matter
Imagine one author writes 100 blog posts in a month, all of which have a link to one specific website. Google can easily figure out that all those posts exist for SEO reasons. When Google sees this practice, they discount the link. In other words, each link becomes useless. It doesn't pass "juice" and is therefore not helping the SEO of the target site. Google can see most of the web, so patterns like this are a dead giveaway and easily picked up.
Why blog networks are bad
Thousands of sites exist simply to sell links.
Here's how it works: A person buys an article on the site, places content, embeds a link to their site, and it gets posted. The idea is that Google will find the article, follow the link to the target site, and count the link as an authority signal - eventually helping to rank the target page higher in search results. This practice was standard until 2012 when Google made an update to defeat Private Blog Networks (PBNs). But people still try to sell blog posts on networks, even though the links are useless (and often expensive).
An entire industry devoted to paid guest posts
There is an entire industry based on paid guest posting. An SEO guest post writer may generate thousands of articles on different subjects for placement under various names on many sites. But if Google uses stylometry to identify that author across many sites, they can then identify the sites that probably sell links in guest posts. We think this is one of the methods Google's Penguin update from 2012 uses.
So if you're going to use guest posts for SEO, beware of using sites that do it regularly, or worse - all the time. You'll spend money, but the links won't count because Google's Penguin algorithm update runs in real time. No one will tell you the link isn't passing authority, not even Google, and certainly not the person who paid for the link.
Reputation X never uses blog networks when contributing content for reputation marketing reasons, and you shouldn't either. The thing is, it's not easy to identify blog networks unless you have a view from on-high like Google does.
The rule of thumb is this - if it smells like a blog network, it probably is.
Google wants guest posts to include nofollow links
In this tweet John Muller of Google said " if you're providing the content/the links, then those links shouldn't be passing signals & should have the rel-sponsored / rel-nofollow attached."
Google is asking blog owners who allow guest posts to tag the links from their blogs with NOFOLLOW or a similar directive so that Google knows the link may not be trustworthy - even if the link is completely trustworthy.
Nofollow links might hurt SEO
It will be interesting to see how many bloggers add the Nofollow attribute to outbound links. Why? Because adding rel-nofollow to outbound links removes much of the incentive for people to contribute content to a blog as guest contributors. Some people just want to get the word out, but in our experience, most people who contribute to blogs are hoping for a link.
Why? Because fresh, high-quality content is a big SEO signal. It then follows that by adding NOFOLLOW attributes to all links, as a matter of course, could also hurt the Google rankings of the blog. Do we know this for sure? No. But we suspect it could happen in many cases.
We'll just have to wait and see what happens.
Resources for guest posting
Reputation X - The Big List of Guest Posting Sites
Our Write for Us Page (only very high quality Reputation or SEO-related content)
Neil Patel - Content Marketing from Scratch
Wikipedia - What is Clickbait?
Yahoo - Clickbait Headline Examples
Kissmetrics - Ultimate Guide to Guest Blogging
ShoutMeLoud - Examples of Sites that Accept Guest Posts