Guest Blogging for SEO: How to Build High‐quality Links at Scale

Tim Soulo
Tim is the CMO and Head of product strategy at Ahrefs. But most importantly he’s the biggest fanboy and the truest evangelist of the company. Learn more about Tim

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    In 2014, Matt Cutts, Google’s former Head of Web Spam, announced the death of guest blogging as a white‐hat link building tactic.

    Can’t remember what he said? Let me refresh your memory:

    Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop.
    Matt Cutts
    Matt Cutts, Formerly Head of Web Spam, Google

    But it’s been more than four years since Matt’s prophecy, so where do we stand now? Did guest blogging die?

    Not at all. Thousands of people still use this strategy to build links to their site. It’s just that low‐quality guest posting—think submitting spun articles to places like EzineArticles—is well and truly dead.

    High‐quality guest blogging, on the other hand, is not only alive and well, but also remains highly effective.

    It works so well, in fact, that we use this tactic to build top‐quality links to ahrefs.com at scale. It took us a while, but we’ve now perfected and polished our guest blogging process.

    In this post, I’ll share our first‐hand experience with you. I’ll also explain how we overcame three common guest blogging challenges:

    1. How to find (and never run out of) blogs to guest post for;
    2. How to write more high‐quality guest articles in less time;
    3. How to get backlinks when all the odds are against you

    But first, let’s address the elephant in the room.

    Do you want to drive referral traffic from your guest posts?

    Sorry, but this guide won’t help you with that.

    Generating referral traffic from guest posts is not as straightforward as it seems.

    How do I know? Because two years ago, I asked 500+ bloggers how much traffic they got from their guest articles. The results were disappointing.

    guest blogging study

    The average referral traffic across 239 guest articles was only 50 visits.

    Here at Ahrefs, we pay around $0.30 per click when running Facebook ads for our blog articles. So 50 visits costs us roughly $15 (50 * $0.30 = $15).

    Now consider all the steps required to get a guest post published:

    • Find a decent blog to guest post for;
    • Locate the owner’s email address;
    • Reach out to them;
    • Brainstorm article ideas;
    • Write the article;
    • Liaise back and forth with the blogger until published.

    How long do you think all that would take? 5 hours, maybe more? Even if we value our time at a very modest rate of $8/hour, that’s at least $40-$50 worth of work right there.

    Now, you could argue that the average numbers from just five hundred bloggers don’t mean much, as the results are dependant on so many factors. (e.g., blog size, traffic quality, the resource that you want to send referral traffic to, etc.)

    It’s true, the results do vary a lot, and you can get a ton of referral traffic from your guest articles. However, as there are so many variables at play, this is a topic best left for another post (let me know if you want me to write it).

    That aside, let me show you how to build tons of high‐quality links via guest blogging.

    1. How to easily find (and never run out of) guest blogging opportunities

    Every guest blogging guide gives the same advice — use search operators like these to find opportunities:

    • [your_topic] “write for us”
    • [your_topic] “become an author”
    • [your_topic] “guest post”
    • [your_topic] “guest article”
    • [your_topic] inurl:contribute
    • etc..

    And then you’re somehow supposed to scrape the search results for these search queries.

    And then you need to merge them and remove duplicates.

    And then you need to somehow pull SEO metrics for each of these blogs.

    #tooMuchWork

    Plus, if everyone follows this same process, then everyone finds the same opportunities. Your pitch will be one of the many these bloggers receive every single day. And, chances are, they’ve started to ignore them.

    So let me show you a better way to find thousands of unique and untapped guest blogging opportunities (in less than 60 seconds).

    Enter: Content Explorer.

    If you haven’t used this tool before, it’s like a mini search engine for web content. It runs on a vast database of almost one billion pages (updated daily).

    Enter any word or phrase, and Content Explorer will kick back a huge list of web pages that mention the keyword.

    Let’s try it for “parenting” and see how many results we get.

    Parenting Best Articles

    Roughly 90K! And these are only the pages with the word “parenting” in their title tag(If we open up the search to include pages with the word “parenting” anywhere on the page, we get 800K+ results!)

    But anyhow, we’re not looking for a list of articles that mention “parenting” in their title. We need a list of individual blogs which write about that topic.

    To do this, we’ll select the “one article per domain” checkbox.

    Parenting Best Articles 1

    Now we’re down from 90,195 to 26,248 pages, which belong to individual blogs.

    Hit “Export,” and we now have a list of 26K+ websites where we can pitch guest articles (if we wrote about “parenting”).

    It’s impossible to get this number of prospects in such a short amount of time by scraping Google results (even if you’re as good at scraping as Joshua).

    But if you’re doing things the white‐hat manual way (which is what we advise), you don’t need this many prospects. The solution? Limit this number by applying a “Domain Rating” filter.

    This will help narrow things down to a list of blogs that you feel most comfortable pitching.

    guest post big small fish

    Editor’s note

    Some people think that a low DR‐score is indicative of a “toxic link.”

    This could not be further from the truth.

    Domain Rating (DR) measures the link popularity of a given website. It doesn’t tell you if a site is spammy or if a link from that website will hurt you.

    Google’s “PageRank” formula works on a page‐by‐page basis. Which means you can get a link from a strong page on a weak domain, and vice‐versa.

    Pursuing links from high‐DR sites is generally advised because they tend to have more powerful pages. But some low‐DR sites will grow in popularity and reach a higher DR, so your link may become more valuable over time.

    The bottom line? Don’t shy away from publishing guest articles on legit‐looking low‐DR blogs.

    Joshua Hardwick
    Joshua Hardwick
    Head of Content

    And that’s how you find thousands of high‐quality guest post prospects in under sixty seconds.

    But what if your niche is super small and Content Explorer only shows a few hundred articles mentioning your target keyword?

    Simple. Try some other relevant keywords. And if that fails, go broader.

    For example, when we’re looking for relevant guest post opportunities for Ahrefs, we search for keywords like:

    • SEO;
    • link building;
    • keyword research;
    • anchor text;
    • hreflang;
    • etc.

    But should we ever run out of prospects, we can always go broader and look for mentions of things like:

    • content marketing;
    • startup marketing;
    • digital marketing;
    • growth hacking;
    • etc.

    Another good strategy is to consider so‐called “market overlap.” (We stole this idea from our friends over at Authority Hacker)

    To illustrate how this works, let’s assume that you’re in the fitness niche. You can only guest post for fitness‐related blogs, right? Not so fast. There’s often a way to find some overlap between two seemingly unrelated niches, like so:

    market overlap

    With this tactic, it’s pretty much impossible to run out of guest post opportunities.

    But how do you know that these blogs accept guest articles?

    I mean, when you use Google search operators, you’re targeting blogs with “write for us” pages. Therefore, you can be pretty confident that they accept guest posts.

    But does this even matter?

    Here at Ahrefs, we don’t state that we accept guest articles anywhere on our site. And nor do we encourage submissions with a “write for us” page.

    But whenever someone reaches out and pitches an excellent guest article (like Nat did), we publish it.

    guest post ahrefs

    So if you’re sure you can produce fantastic content, don’t limit yourself to blogs that encourage guest articles. Reach out to all relevant blogs and see if you can get accepted.

    Sidenote.
    Many websites with “write for us” pages are now starting to remove them. Why? They’re sick and tired of receiving lousy emails from lousy SEO firms offering to write them a lousy guest article.

    2. How to write more high‐quality guest articles in less time

    We solved the challenge of finding new blogs to guest post for. But as soon as you load a few thousand high‐quality blogs into a spreadsheet, you’re going to face the next challenge:

    How do you come up with thousands of good article ideas?

    I’m sure you can brainstorm 3–5 good guest post ideas quite quickly. But if you want to scale things indefinitely, you’ll need to generate at 3–5 good article ideas per week.

    How? Don’t worry; I have three great copywriting techniques to help you out.

    1. The Robin Hood technique

    Just in case Robin Hood isn’t a part of your cultural folklore, he’s a guy who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. Do you see where I’m going with this?

    So far, I explained how to use Content Explorer to:

    1. Find tens of thousands of blogs in any niche;
    2. Filter for popular and lesser‐known ones with the help of our Domain Rating (DR) metric.

    But here’s the thing: the popular blogs are popular for a reason, which is that they have tons of great content. Lesser‐known blogs are less popular for the opposite reason: they haven’t yet published a lot of top‐notch content.

    So why not “steal” great content ideas from the top blogs and offer them to lesser‐known blogs?

    Sidenote.
    If you’re a data‐driven marketer, you might not want to limit yourself to top blogs only. You can sometimes find hidden gems on less popular blogs.
    Editor’s note

    When Tim uses the word “steal” in this context, he’s not saying to copy‐paste an article from one blog to another. That’s theft, and it can land you in big trouble. Remember that some publishing companies do have the budget for lawyers.

    What should you do instead? Take inspiration from an excellent piece of content and build on top of it until it becomes “unique.”

    Everything is a remix.

    Joshua Hardwick
    Joshua Hardwick
    Head of Content

    Take any high‐DR blog from your niche and put it into Content Explorer. Look to see which of their articles have the most social shares, backlinks, or traffic from Google:

    Nerdwallet com Best Articles

    Found a good article idea that resonates with you? Put a unique spin on it and submit it to a lesser‐known blog. You’d be surprised how open those small blogs are to high‐quality guest article ideas.

    I’m sure there’s at least one popular blog in your niche with which you can use the “Robin Hood technique” to find a goldmine of proven topic ideas, right? If so, you aren’t going to run out of high‐quality guest article ideas anytime soon.

    2. The Splintering technique

    Here at Ahrefs, we’re big fans of creating long and detailed guides, such as our guide to link building.

    This beast is so big and detailed that we had to put quick links to the chapters in the sidebar.

    The Noob Friendly Guide To Link Building

    By doing this, we can accommodate different types of reader.

    For example, one person may want to know “what kind of links move the needle.” Another might just be looking for “link building strategies.” The quick jump links allow them both to find the information they’re looking for in seconds.

    Do you see where I’m going with this?

    We can break this “hero” article into “splinters” and create standalone articles from it. We can then submit these “splintered” articles as guest posts.

    the splintering technique

    I’ll let you in on a secret: we struggled to keep the chapters of our link building guide as short as they are. The entire guide could have easily been 5x longer.

    But if we were to write individual articles on each of the sub‐topics, we wouldn’t have to limit the word count. This would result in some unique, high‐quality articles that we can publish elsewhere.

    And best of all, those “splintered articles” wouldn’t take much time to write. We did all the hard work already when we studied and researched the topic for our original guide.

    So I highly recommend trying this two‐step content marketing strategy:

    1. Write an incredible, detailed piece of content for your blog;
    2. Break it into “splinters” and submit each one as a guest article to another blog.

    If you’ve already got that first part covered, it’s even easier. Just break your existing long and detailed articles into “splinters.”

    3. The Perspective technique

    Let’s say we used the Splintering technique to turn “Chapter 3: The future of link building” from our guide into a full‐fledged guest article entitled “The future of link building as of 2018.”

    Does that mean that we cannot use this same topic again for writing another guest article?

    Of course not! We can use the same topic many times just by changing the perspective slightly, like so:

    the perspective technique

    I know these topics might sound a bit awkward, but you get the idea, right?

    For each guest post idea you have, you can create a list of unique variations by altering the perspective. Doing this is much easier than coming up with 5–10 unique articles.

    You can even use all three techniques in this order for the ultimate guest blogging workflow:

    1. Find proven content ideas (The Robin Hood Technique);
    2. Break big topics into subtopics (The Splintering Technique);
    3. Cover your subtopic from different angles (The Perspective Technique)

    ultimate guest blogging workflow


    3. How to get links when all the odds are against you

    Everything I’ve told you so far sounds great… in theory.

    But as soon as you take action and begin pitching your guest articles to other blogs, you’ll face a lot of roadblocks:

    • Bloggers might turn down your (awesome) guest articles;
    • The negotiations might last for weeks, or even months;
    • Sometimes they might strip your link(s) from the article without notice;
    • The links that you get don’t “move the needle” as much as you’d hoped.

    We’ve come across all these roadblocks at one point or another.

    Luckily, we developed a few problem‐solving “hacks” that I want to share with you.

    Hack 0. Invest in the quality of your content

    This hack is listed as number #0 because it’s so crucial.

    The whole point of guest blogging as a link building tactic is to get your writing published on legit blogs for free. Paying for guest posts is a direct violation of Google’s quality guidelines.

    Buying or selling links that pass PageRank can dilute the quality of search results. Participating in link schemes violates the Googles Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.

    Some blog owners may be willing to publish a lousy article if you pay them, but they will never post a lousy article for free.

    This is especially true when it comes to getting published on industry‐leading blogs. These guys care about their reputation. They never allow lousy articles on their site (that is unless we’re talking about Forbes).

    So if you want a high percentage of bloggers to accept your guest posts, you need to focus on quality over quantity. Failure to do this will make it more challenging to get published, even on smaller blogs.

    Building a portfolio of awesome articles published on well‐known industry blogs will also help you going forward. If you’ve already done this, use them as “social proof” in your outreach emails. This might even help you to get the green light from blogs that usually decline guest posts.

    To recap: invest more time into the quality of your content. This will make the rest of the guest blogging process much easier.

    pro tip

    Are you familiar with the manual actions given out by Google’s Web Spam team? Then you should understand the risks of publishing lousy guest articles at scale.

    Spun content is a no‐no, as is publishing content from cheap Fiverr writers. But even outside these extremes, content can still be bad.

    The solution is to publish only super high‐quality guest articles. Then, should Google ever decide to review your link profile manually, there’s no chance of them seeing anything remotely sketchy. On the other hand, publishing bad or mediocre articles will arise suspicions and potentially lead to punishment.

    Hack 1. Pitch more blogs than you can handle

    As soon as you try to publish your first guest article, you’re going to realize that it doesn’t happen in a day. Publishing your guest post just isn’t usually at the top of the blogger’s todo list.

    So while you’re waiting for them to reply, why not pitch a few other bloggers in the meantime?

    I’m not talking about pitching them a different article, either. Pitch the same article that you already promised to the first blogger. That way, should the first blogger decline your submission (or fails to reply), it won’t matter. You’ll have a queue of other bloggers eager to publish it.

    But what if that first blogger replies positively?

    Even better. Just tell the truth:

    Sorry, you weren’t responding for a few days, so another blog took this article idea.

    But don’t worry, I’m sure I can suggest something else for you that will be just as good.

    I’ll be in touch with more article ideas shortly.”

    Sometimes, this can make them more eager to accept your next pitch. Why? Because they now know that other bloggers are lining up to publish your guest posts. This proves that you aren’t pitching junk.

    So my recommendation is to send the same pitch to 5–7 blogs. You can then offer the article to whoever replies first (or has the coolest blog, if you get lots of replies).

    That’s how you create a queue of bloggers waiting for your guest articles.

    NOTE. This “hack” takes inspiration from a remarkable book called Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley. It teaches you the benefits of generating more demand than you can supply. Not read it? Buy it here.

    Hack 2. Link to your other published guest posts

    It’s no secret that many blog owners greedily hoard outgoing links. They scrupulously hand them out to only the most deserving of websites. *cough* Wikipedia! *cough*

    Some do this because they’re afraid that Google will punish them for linking out too much (or for linking to a “bad” website). Others think that by not linking out at all, their site will rank higher.

    But there’s no denying that for some, lazy SEOs are the cause. Yes, I’m talking about those who spoil bloggers by offering generous sums of money in return for links.

    So don’t be too upset if a blogger says that you can’t link to your site in your guest submission—it happens to everyone.

    Sidenote.
    Some bloggers will remove your link(s) from your published article without warning. Be wary of this. You can keep tabs on any lost links easily with Ahrefs Alerts.

    But here’s a fun observation:

    Bloggers hate it when you link to your own web properties. But they’re often fine with you linking elsewhere.

    You can use this fact to your advantage.

    Remember the PageRank concept? The more links that point to a page, the stronger a link from that page is.

    So if you have a bunch of live guest articles that link to your website, build so‐called “tier 2” links to them. How? By linking to them from your other guest posts. This increases the power of tier 1 links:

    tiered linking guest posts

    But the fun doesn’t end there!

    You should then reach out to the blog owner and explain that you’ve landed them a juicy backlink from a quality blog. This will be music to their ears, and they’ll no doubt be happy to oblige should you ever ask them to return the favor in future.

    PRO TIP

    You could also link out to those in your industry that you’d love to befriend, then reach out and tell them about the link.

    Giving value up front is an excellent catalyst for long‐term relationships, especially if you don’t expect anything in return immediately. What’s more, should you later decide that you want to write a guest post for their blog, they will be much more likely to say “yes.”

    Hack 3. Write for blogs that have never linked to you before

    It’s quite easy to secure another guest post on a blog for which you’ve already written. But it’s much harder to convince a new blog to publish your work.

    So why bother pursuing new blogs at all? Why not just become a regular contributor to an existing blog?

    Well, according to conventional SEO wisdom, a second link from the same website has less weight than a link from a new referring domain.

    guest post link weights

    That’s why most SEOs recommend prioritizing the building of links from new referring domains…

    … which brings us back to Content Explorer.

    Earlier we found 26k+ articles (on different sites) mentioning the word “parenting.”

    Parenting Best Articles 1

    But how do you know which of these sites have never linked to you before?

    Simple. Use the “highlight unlinked domains” feature.

    unlinked domains

    Just enter your domain, and it will highlight the sites that are yet to link to you.

    PRO TIP

    Do you want a list of only these sites? Hit “export” and select “only highlighted unlinked domains.”

    explore unlinked domains

    This is a great way to discover opportunities to get links from new referring domains.

    But how strict should you be with this idea? Should you decline every offer to write another guest post for the same site?

    Well, Google’s PageRank looks at backlinks between pages, not websites. So if you have the opportunity to become a regular contributor to a top‐notch blog, go for it! Just make sure that you’re not linking to the same pages on your website from each new guest article.

    right wrong guest post linking

    Hack 4. Rewrite your “author bio” once in a while

    This last hack doesn’t have any definitive proof behind it. Just think of it as a piece of SEO advice based on common sense (and my gut feeling).

    Take a look at this screenshot from Ahrefs:

    pasted image 0 2

    You can see that this lady has used the same (word for word) author bio in every guest post she’s written.

    I don’t think I’ve seen any patents around this, but it just feels wrong to give a lot of weight to such groups of links. I mean, despite coming from different websites, they all come from the same paragraph of text, with the same anchor text and point to the same page.

    Perhaps I’m completely wrong with this assumption? But I still think it makes sense to link out to pages other than your homepage from your author bio, at least sometimes. You should also switch up the copy of your bio and the anchor text you use to link to your website.

    This should help to reduce the chances of Google treating those links as unimportant.

    That’s all, folks!

    Congratulations on getting to the very end of this guide!

    As promised, I shared everything that our team has learned about guest blogging over the past few years. I hope that this guide will help take your guest blogging skills to a whole new level.

    Now, I’d love to learn from you! Is there anything you could share about your own guest posting experience that I didn’t mention in this guide? Let me know in the comments.

    Tim Soulo
    Tim is the CMO and Head of product strategy at Ahrefs. But most importantly he’s the biggest fanboy and the truest evangelist of the company. Learn more about Tim

    Article stats

    • Referring domains 171
    Data from Content Explorer tool.

    Shows how many different websites are linking to this piece of content. As a general rule, the more websites link to you, the higher you rank in Google.

    Shows estimated monthly search traffic to this article according to Ahrefs data. The actual search traffic (as reported in Google Analytics) is usually 3-5 times bigger.

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