Remember back in 2014 when guest blogging bit the dust as a viable, white hat link building tactic?
The headlines looked like this:
So where do we stand 2 years down the line? Did guest blogging die?
Well… *SPOILER ALERT*
Here’s a sneak preview of part of our recent industry wide link building survey*:
* Lots more to come on that soon.
So if guest blogging didn’t die — does it still work?
Let’s answer that question with some data.
- A white hat guest blogging campaign case study
- 2 paid guest blogging case studies
- The takeaway from Tim Soulo’s recent study of guest post referral traffic
I’ll be peppering in some cool ways you can use Ahrefs along the way.
You can click those links if you’re interested in a specific section, otherwise, let’s get started!
Case Study 1: How Silvio Used Guest Blogging To Boost His Search Traffic by 20%
Meet Silvio Porcellana.
When he’s not posing with a cardboard box, Silvio is the CEO and founder of Mob.is.it, a tool which helps agencies and professionals build mobile websites and native apps.
Silvio’s website had a common problem:
It needed more search traffic!
He decided to roll out a guest blogging campaign.
Let’s start with the headlines.
Over a period of 5 months, Silvio published 44 guest posts on 41 different blogs.
Which boosted his website’s search traffic by 20%.
So now we know the results, let’s take a look at how he got there.
Step 1: Defining Buyer Personas
Silvio’s first step was to identify specific buyer personas he wished to reach with his guest blogging campaign.
Sounds cool. But, um…
What the heck is a buyer persona?
Basically, it’s a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer. An attempt to get into the head of your target audience.
A well researched persona will cover:
- Who your buyer is (age, location, profession etc)
- What goals drive their behaviours (problems etc)
- How they buy
- What informs their buying decisions
It’s quite a big topic to cover in a few words, so for more on the process, check out these guides:
- How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business (Hubspot)
- How To Create Customer Personas With Real Life Data (ConversionXL)
- Marketing Personas: The Complete Beginner’s Guide (Buffer)
Silvio and his team identified 3 buyer personas for their business.
These would later inform:
- their choice of target blogs for guest posting
- the content/topics for their guest posts
For each persona they conducted keyword research to find phrases that matched their interests.
“We identified 3 personas that aligned with the service offered by our company. The stories, qualities, behaviors and expectations of each persona were elaborated in detail. We then researched keywords that matched their interests and inserted them into an Excel spreadsheet.”
You can use Ahrefs Keywords Explorer to kick start the keyword research process.
Say you run a travel site and have identified that a persona might be interested in cheap travel (pretty likely!).
Start by entering that wide phrase into Keywords Explorer, choose your target country, and hit ‘Explore’.
We’ll select ‘Phrase Match’ from the filters on the left hand side. Looks like we’ve already found some interesting keywords.
To really max out on ideas (and get super longtail), you could repeat the process using one of the promising keywords as a seed.
Don’t worry that the search volumes aren’t huge. This process is about gathering information on the interests of your target audience and the keywords they use.
Fill your spreadsheet with as much as you can, then move on to step 2!
Step 2: Searching For Blogs
With buyer personas identified, the next step was to find relevant blogs which would be receptive to guest posting.
There was only one tool needed for for this part…
Here’s the process:
Start by searching for an identified wide interest and add a common guest blogging footprint.
For cheap travel we could try queries such as:
- “cheap travel” + “write for us”
- “cheap travel” + “guest post”
- “cheap travel” + “contribute to”
Let’s use the first one as an example:
With Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar installed (available for free here) we get a quick overview of each site’s stats.
That third result with a domain rating of 48 looks promising!
While domain rating is not the be all and end all, it’s a good early indicator of a site’s strength.
But you’ll want to click-through to perform some manual checks:
- Are the articles high quality?
- When was the blog last updated?
- Is there much interaction on the blog (comments, shares etc)?
If all looks good, then add the site to a spreadsheet.
Record the domain, the contact details, the potential topic, and the site’s Domain Rating (DR).
Silvio’s team managed to collect 243 potential guest blogging opportunities at first pass.
They then used the quality criteria above to filter them down to a final priority list.
“We collected 243 blogs through Google search. These were then sorted by topic and by domain rating, so we could choose whether to contact the most important ones, the ones in the middle or the less authoritative ones.
We discarded blogs that have not been updated for more than six months, with little interaction and low quality articles.
We chose to contact those with low-medium domain authority first, then the top ones after getting published on the first blog, which also served as a reference for us.”
Bonus Step: Find Even More Content Topic Ideas
By identifying buyer personas in step 1, you should already have lots of keywords you can develop into topics for guest posts.
For even more ideas, you can use Ahrefs Content Explorer to check out what’s hot for your chosen topic.
Here’s an example:
Searching for “cheap travel” and setting “Period” to “Past Month” turns up an interesting result at position 1.
If we click through to the post, we can see that it is based on data from a study revealing the most expensive and (more importantly for us) the cheapest travel destinations.
With a little work, this could easily be turned into a post like:
“Travelling On A Budget: 10 Cheap Travel Destinations To Visit in 2016”
I’m sure you could come up with a better title than that, but you get the idea 😉
Step 3: Pitching Your Ideas
Before the guest post… comes the guest post pitch!
There are 2 tactics you can use here:
- Pitch topic ideas
- Pitch specific title ideas
Both can work, but either way, you’ll want to keep your email short and on point.
The key is that you have:
- a) done your homework
- b) are confident that the idea will be a
goodgreat fit for the blog.
Pay close attention to any specific guidelines the site may have for guest post pitches.
Silvio’s team decided to pitch specific title ideas:
“Choose the topic and make sure to submit it to the blogs that address that same topic.”
This can be done by assimilating (if the blog already has posts on the subject and you can offer them an in-depth one), or by differentiating (there are still no posts about your topic on the blog).
Keep the pitch email simple: who you are, why you chose to contact the blog and the title of the article you want to propose.
Many blogs provide specific guidelines on how to complete the proposed guest post: in such case, take them to heart. A courteous tone and some specific compliments on the blog never hurt.
Cross your fingers and press enter.
So how did they do?
“Out of the blogs contacted in the first month, 55% did not respond, 15% were not interested, while 30% accepted our proposal.
Not bad, but definitely room for improvement.
Take a look at this excellent guide from Jess Ostroff of Convince & Convert for some great ideas you can use to perfect your own pitches.
Step 4: Drafting The Guest Post
Here’s the thing:
Acceptance of a guest post pitch does not equal acceptance of a guest post.
As an indicator, Ahrefs turn down around 60% of drafts that we solicit at the pitch stage.
Here are a few common reasons why.
1. Poor Writing/Grammar
A few minor errors are ok — that’s what the editorial process is for — but a guest post should be well written and engaging with a strong narrative flow.
Prepare your draft, proof read it, sleep on it and then proof it again.
Make sure it is the best it can possibly be before submitting.
You can use tools such as the excellent Hemmingway Editor to check for common errors and simple ways to improve your draft.
2. Shallow Content
We aim to publish high quality, actionable content on the Ahrefs blog. We also like to see real world examples and case studies.
And while word count is not necessarily an accurate barometer of quality, it’s difficult to create something awesome in a technical niche in under 1,500 words.
3. Old News/We’ve Already Covered It
This is not a deal breaker, but when we’ve already covered a topic we at least expect to see a fresh insight/take on it.
Here are some tips from Silvio’s campaign:
“Once your topic has been accepted by the blog, you can start writing the article.
But hold on: you have to go back to the blog that will host you. Review their guest posts guidelines (length of the post, policy on links, images and format), read some articles so that you get an idea of their editorial style and observe the characteristics of those articles that are shared and discussed.
When writing, use bullets and internal titles to make reading easier. Always keep the readers in mind and be exhaustive instead of being long-winded.”
A guest post is your chance to get your brand front of a new audience…
So make it AWESOME.
Step 5: Submission And Follow Up
Once you are happy with your draft it’s time to submit it to your target blog.
At this stage, Silvio’s team found that follow ups and keeping track of correspondence was key.
- Some blogs would ask for revisions
- Others would not respond right away
- Some would be waiting on a confirmed publication date
They decided to use Trello to track the status of each submission.
“A few months after the beginning of our guest blogging activities, we had a fair number of blogs to contact every week. We were expecting a first response from some of them while many others had just to confirm the publication dates. Then we had some content to propose, write, review and publish. We needed a management tool, to share among the team members involved in the activity. We have chosen Trello, which proved to be an excellent solution.”
Here’s a peek at their Trello set up.
If you’re not familiar with Trello, then check out the interactive tutorial here.
Before we move on to the next step, some important advice from Yoda…
The post submission wait can be a frustrating time.
Naturally you will be keen to see your content go live. But depending on the blog’s editorial calendar this could take anything from a few days to a few months.
Patience and professionalism is key here:
- Respond speedily to any requests from the host blog (revisions, edits etc)
- Don’t bombard them with emails — follow up once a week at the most
- Remain friendly and courteous
Step 6: Publication
When a guest post goes live, there are a few things you’ll need to do.
1. Check The Content
First, you’ll want to check everything is ok with the post.
Expect some edits to your draft, but ensure that:
- The post is properly credited with byline and links
- The post is well formatted and positively reflects your brand
- Any in-content links remain in place and are dofollow
Assuming all is good, then…
2. Stick Around
Nothing is more frustrating for a blog owner than unanswered comments.
Be sure you are on hand in the first few days after publication to answer any questions/reply to comments quickly and professionally.
Even better, subscribe to comments if there is an option to do that.
It’s not just about keeping the blog owner happy. Interacting with commenters can drive leads.
“We have paid special attention to respond to comments, even after a long time has passed since the publication of the article. With great surprise, 5% of the people we’ve interacted with in our articles’ comment section have contacted us to activate a demo version of our system.”
3. Share The Post With Your Network
Increase the reach of your post by sharing it with your own network.
At the very least you’ll want to give it a tweet and a share, but if you’re particularly proud of the post you could share it out with your list, or even conduct some email outreach.
The better the post performs, the more you will get out of it, so it’s in your interests to help it spread.
Step 7: Monitor The Results
There are several things you’ll want to track after a guest post goes live.
How many referrals did the post bring to your site?
This might determine whether you’ll want to guest post on the site again in the future.
How well did the post perform on social media?
You can use Ahrefs Content Explorer to check this. Just enter the URL of your guest post and Ahrefs will show you the total number of shares for each network.
Ensure The Link(s) Remains Live
Of course you’ll want to make sure any links to your site remain live.
The easiest way to do this is to set up a backlink alert in Ahrefs.
Just click “Add Alert”
Then enter your URL and select alert frequency (daily, weekly, or monthly).
From now on Ahrefs will automatically send you email reports showing all new/lost backlinks for your site.
So that was the process, now let’s take a look at the overall performance of Silvio’s campaign.
The Guest Posts
A quick recap on the number of guest posts…
“We have published 44 guest posts in 5 months. We were hosted by 41 different blogs with a domain authority between 25 and 77/100.”
How much referral traffic did the guest posts bring in?
“Right after publishing the post, we recorded an increase in website traffic from the direct link, which was more or less significant depending on the case. However, the effect was short-lived.”
So, direct traffic quickly tailed off 🙁
Organic search traffic has already increased 🙂
“Since the beginning of the activity up to this day, we have recorded a 20% increase in website traffic. The domain authority of mob.is.it has risen from 29 to 34/100.”
We can also see the impact of the guest blogging campaign in Ahrefs, which shows a steady increase in referring domains…
And organic keywords…
Was Silvio happy with the performance of his guest blogging campaign?
“So can we say that guest blogging works? We’re still in the early stages to give you a definitive answer, but from an SEO perspective the results are now noticeable. Another positive effect is a gradual improvement in terms of reputation: once you’ve managed to get your posts published on bigger blogs, pitching your next content will be a lot easier. You can save time, resources and energy by showing your previous guest posts to other blogs.”
While a 20% increase in search traffic isn’t earth shattering, the site appears to be on a nice upwards curve.
They have picked up some good quality links and have boosted their Domain Rating to 50.
This will allow them to begin ranking for more competitive terms, which should continue to increase their search traffic.
So I would say it has been a pretty successful campaign!
Before we move on to the next case study, here is some final guest blogging advice from Silvio:
#1 What’s the criteria for choosing the host blog?
“It depends on your goals.
If you want to be known as industry experts or if you want to promote your web page, it is best to focus on blogs with a good number of readers and shares, so that your content will be exposed to a wider audience.
If your main purpose is to build backlinks to the site, then it is essential that you choose a blog that has a good domain authority.
#2 Quality or quantity?
“You would think that quality is the answer: your post would have a better chance of success if hosted in a big, referenced blog that has a wide audience.
However, you have to consider the pros and cons of this choice.
A-list blogs receive a lot of requests. The competition is fierce and it is very difficult to overcome the publishing process.
To test the quality (and tenacity!) of guest bloggers, these blogs usually provide strict procedures to be overcome in several stages: the proposal and acceptance of the title, the outline, and the article itself.
Then the article has to undergo revisions and be formatted.
Finally, there’s the publishing queue: if the blog has a long content line up, your post could be published several months after its approval.
Is it worth it?
We have personally experienced that beyond a certain point the answer is no:
with one of the blogs we had contacted, it took 52 emails, 3 months and 4 revisions to get the approval of the article.
Then the editorial guidelines were changed and the article did not get published anymore.
A smaller blog offers less visibility, but requires less management time.
Our record: it only took 1 week from the initial contact to get published and 3 emails to manage it, including the final one to thank the host blog.”
Case Studies 2 & 3: Paid Guest Blogging Campaigns
Paid guest post links have been around for a while, but the market has exploded over the past couple of years.
Show the dollar, and there are a host of sites that promise to grab you links from high authority domains. These guys even claim they can get you a link right here on Ahrefs for $799.
Guest post links from Forbes and The Huffington Post will set you back a cool $2499.
So do these links move the needle?
To answer that question, we can look at data from 2 sites:
- A travel site who shared the results of a paid guest blogging campaign with us
- A marketing company who recently placed links on inc and entrepreneur.com
For this one I won’t be naming the domains in question because… paid links, google guidelines etc.
Let’s start with the travel site.
Case Study 2: How A Travel Site Hit Page 1 Of Google With A Paid Guest Post Campaign
Well, not really…
But as this one is anonymous (and I’ve been rewatching breaking bad) I figured it would be a good name to use 🙂
Walter runs a cool travel site, which has been growing nicely over the past year.
To give one of his posts a boost he recently tried out a paid guest blogging service and was kind enough to share the results with us.
Here’s how it went down.
Walter ordered 5 guest post links in a package which cost a total of $420.
The specs were:
- DA: 20+
- Trust Flow: 10+
- Article length: 500+ words
- Turnaround time: 2 weeks
The price included creating the content and one dofollow link from the body of each post.
All the links were to the same piece of content.
Did They Deliver?
Within 10 days all 5 guest posts had been placed. Here are the metrics.
So apart from site 3 (TF 6) all metrics were as promised.
How about other quality signals?
- Site Quality: The sites all appear to be genuine, active blogs and I couldn’t spot any connection between them. So that’s a tick.
- Article Quality: The articles are decent quality. Nothing ground-breaking, but certainly original content that would pass a human review.
- Links: The links were placed naturally within content and had varied anchor text.
So that all seems good. How did the links impact rankings?
The main target keyword for Walter’s page is reasonably longtail (6 words) but has decent volume and high competition with a CPC of $4.24.
The guest post links were enough to move the post onto the first page of Google for the target keyword (currently position 7).
This chart from Ahrefs shows traffic to the page has also increased.
So as we can see, the links appear to have had a positive effect.
Was It Value For Money?
Well, let’s compare that cost ($420) to the costs of buying 5 links from a popular PBN service.
So 5 PBN links would cost $649 up front, then a further $109.89 in the first year.
Total cost in year 1: $758.89.
On the face of it, the price for the guest post links seems pretty decent value.
Let’s be clear. These are paid links and if Google catches you buying links they can crush your site.
But I would say that the risk factor here is considerably less than with the PBN.
Overall, Walter was happy with the service he received and the positive impact on his site’s rankings.
“I prefer to do my own outreach based link building, but this service has been perfect for boosting an article I was struggling to get links to.
All the posts were live within 10 days and they quickly bumped me onto the first page for my target keyword.
I’ll definitely be trying it out again in the future.”
Case Study 3: How Paid Guest Posts From Premium Content Sites Boosted A Marketing Site’s Rankings
Ok, strictly speaking this one isn’t a case study.
Above I mentioned a service which is offering guest post links from Ahrefs. As it happens, I recently caught one of these links at the draft stage.
Curiosity got the better of me and I plugged the site into Ahrefs Site Explorer.
Between December 2015 and March 2016, the site picked up links from tech.co, inc.com, business.com and entrepreneur.com. I’ve blurred out the rest so as not to give anything away.
Why was this interesting?
All of those sites are listed in the premium, DA70+ section of the company which claim they can place links on Ahrefs.
In total those 4 links would set you back $4,396!
While I don’t have direct feedback from the company, we can get a good insight into how these links impacted their rankings using Ahrefs Positions Explorer.
And it looks like they did the trick.
As you can see, the premium guest post links correlate with improvements in keyword rankings.
Which of course means more organic search traffic.
So again, this would indicate that links from paid guest posts will improve search engine rankings.
And with data from 3 sites it’s pretty safe to say that building links through guest posting remains an effective way to increase your site’s organic traffic.
“building links through guest posting remains an effective way to increase organic traffic”Click to tweet
But let’s answer one more question before we wrap.
Are Guest Posts A Good Source Of Referral Traffic?
Only joking! I’m sure you know Tim already — he’s the head of marketing here at Ahrefs.
Tim recently conducted a HUGE survey to answer this very question.
In total he reached out to over 500 bloggers and collected data from 273 guest posts — published across 78 blogs in the marketing niche.
After crunching the numbers, here is what he discovered:
Average referral traffic from a guest post in the marketing niche was a hugely underwhelming 56 visits.
“While reaching out to hundreds of people I have collected the exact traffic numbers behind 239 guest posts that were published on 78 blogs in the marketing niche.
So do you want to know the average referral traffic across these 239 guest posts?
Not impressive, huh?
You can easily get visits for as low as $0.10 via Facebook ads, which makes a guest article with 56 visits worth about $6.
How pathetic is that?
But I’ll tell you more.
Out of these 239 guest articles, 35% generated less than 10 visits and only 15% generated more than 100 visits.”
There’s a lot more data in the original post and some great advice on getting the most out of your guest blogging campaigns, so make sure you check it out.
But in terms of guest posts driving referrals — at least in the marketing niche — the takeaway from Tim’s research was clear:
Guest blogging is NOT a great source of direct traffic.
2 years on from its supposed death, guest blogging remains as popular and effective as ever for SEO.
Whether you choose to conduct a transparent, white hat campaign, or pay a third party to speed up the process, links from guest posts should positively impact your Google rankings.
A word of warning however:
If you do choose the second option, then make sure that you are getting links from genuine independent blogs and not veiled blog networks.
Always do a quality check and trust your instincts.
Over To You
Do you use guest blogging in your own link building campaigns? Any questions, or insights you would like to share? As always, all feedback is welcome, so please leave a comment below!