by Ben Steele
So you’ve read through all the advice about how to guest post, you’ve got a lot to write about, and you’ve even researched a little bit of search engine know-how. You’ve learned that you can help the site out by putting relevant keywords in the title of your post and in the subheadings.
You pick your most brilliant idea, and you send it out to the site editor of your favourite blog (only do this one at a time!). But no one is replying to your emails.
It’s probably because you don’t write good emails. Hold on, hold on, I know. You write for a living. You’re an author, a blogger, perhaps an academic or a savvy marketer. You write damn well … But email pitches are a different beast from any of these skills altogether for one, simple reason:
Site editors are sick and tired of sifting through their inbox. The saturation of low quality, unrelated pitches often gets so bad that they shut down guest posting altogether and only accept posts from people they know. You are getting lost in the fray.
What’s Going On?
Black hat SEO tactics are getting less and less effective. Low-quality marketers and SEOs are having to generate superficially and tangentially relevant content in order to build search engine authority. And the best way to do that is to pitch their barely relevant crap at every blog they can find. The results? Editors are inundated daily with email after email, their eyes glaze over and your carefully crafted post idea gets tossed in the junk folder.
This is a shame, because guest posting is a legitimate marketing strategy. When done with care, usability and relevance, it’s a great tactic for your personal brand visibility as an author and expert. If you’re promoting a book, editing services or just your website, guest posting can be a robust part of your marketing strategy. Most sites are happy to let you link to yourself if you provide quality content. Just remember to think very carefully about the relevancy of your landing page to the site’s audience. If your personal marketing strategy doesn’t gel with the site’s subject matter, you’ll get a lot less cooperation from editors.
Not only is black hat behaviour bad for the legitimate marketing industry, it’s bad for writers like you and me who get caught up in the mess.
So, how do you beat the crowd and catch an editor’s eye?
Read the Blog Before You Pitch
Look at the categories. Read a few posts from each, and peruse the comments. Rather than focus too much on the site’s topics, narrow your research and look at their audience. What are their readers saying? Which posts do they respond to, and which do they not? Make their audience your target audience, craft your idea, and your pitch, around that relevance: “This post will appeal to your audience because…”
Get a Name
You won’t always be able to, but try your best to get the editor’s name. It demonstrates at least cursory effort and improves the chances they will give you their time.
It’s All in the Subject
If you don’t get a response, it’s most likely because your email hasn’t even been opened. The subject line is your first and only opportunity to spark the editor’s interest.
Avoid generic phrases
“Love your content!” “I want to write for you.” “Guest post idea … “
If you write a subject line like these, you might as well not bother sending the email.
Your subject should drip with personality
Don’t be afraid to be bold, be creative and be boastful. I know that as writers, our natural inclinations steer away from boastfulness. It’s tough to market yourself. But it works. Remember that your subject line is the hook. It’s all about that click. So if you can make someone giggle, or even smile gently, do it! Everyone has different strategies, but in my opinion it’s worth the risk to be a little wacky.
If you know wacky is a bad idea, be punchy.
If you’re pitching something academic or targeted at business people, the editor may not respond well to eccentric subject lines. In this case, just put the title of the post you’re proposing in the subject line so that the editor knows exactly what to expect at a glance. That courtesy will most likely be appreciated.
Some examples of successful subject lines I’ve used:
- “Real writer comin’ at ya, just try and bat away my slider pitches”
- “A real writer lost in the woods of terrible guest post spinners wants to write for you”
- “Wild pitches appear!”
If I need to be less wacky for a more formal site I’ve also had some success with formats such as “Guest post pitch: (post title)” or just “Pitch: (post title)”
As you can see, I don’t follow a particularly strict set of rules. I like to use words like “real writer,” and I’ll sometimes go ahead and put my post title right in the subject line, depending on whether I feel like the blog editor prefers formal or informal communications.
Get to the Bloody Point
Some people like to include biographical information in an email, and for many of them it’s a strategy that works. I don’t like doing it. I prefer to start with my quick greeting, and then move right into what I want to write and why it will be useful for the audience. Very occasionally, if I suspect that the editor will respond well to a longer message, I add information such as why I want to write or what qualifications I have in the field.
Often, I find that if editors like your idea but don’t know if you’re qualified to write about it, they’ll email you back and ask. So most often I find biographical information unnecessary in the pitch.
If it’s specifically asked for, I will provide links of previous work with my first email. Again, I find that editors will email back and ask to get to know you better if they like the idea. So I only do this if the guest posting guidelines say so. Have I mentioned yet that you should read every letter of the “write for us” page?
Sometimes I’ll even say things like “I know you must be busy, so I’ll get right to the point … ” just to let them know that I’m thinking about the value of their time.
While we’re on the topic of respecting an editor’s time, always write something new and unique. Editors generally aren’t interested in material that has already been published.
Follow up. Now Do it Again. And Again. Once More.
Every once in a while, pop a quick follow-up into the email thread. Nothing fancy. Always be nice about it. “Just popping this to the top of your inbox in case it got lost.” I know it feels like you’re annoying someone if you start following up before they’ve replied — but I’ve had editors thank me for bothering them about my pitches. Because they really do get lost.
On the other hand, some editors are really that busy. Depending on what you read in the guest post guidelines on the “write for us” page, you may not want to send a follow-up until a week or two has passed. Following up too early can get your pitch thrown out, too.
Don’t give up until at least three or four emails have gone unanswered. That can take a month or more, so in the meantime start a new project. Remember: one pitch, one editor. It can be worth the wait: I’ve had folks respond on the fourth follow-up, a month after my initial pitch.
- Read the blog first
- Get a name if you can
- Craft a subject line that’s creative, fun, bold, and confident; avoid generic phrases
- Get to your topic and pitch as quickly as possible
- Explain why your pitch is relevant to the site’s audience
- Follow-up every few days, be persistent
Thanks for reading, folks, and happy guest posting!
Ben Steele suffered a bout of infrequent writing due to trivial matters such as moving countries (again), getting married, buying a house, and navigating a fancy new job. Now that he’s running out of excuses, he’s going back to all those projects he said he would finish ages ago. You can follow Ben on Twitter here.