We’ve touted the many benefits of guest blogging a time or two before. Between earning some credibility, generating traffic and building backlinks, it’s pretty much a no-brainer that you should be using this strategy. The relationships you build from running a guest blogging campaign can prove invaluable later on, too. To put it simply, there’s really no legit argument against guest blogging as a marketing tool.

If you’re convinced, the next step is figuring out how to go about it. So we’ve put together this guide to get you rolling and walk you through every step along the way. Ready, set, go!

1. Establish your guest blogging goals

What do you want to accomplish? Is your sole purpose to generate backlinks? Do you want to get exposure on prestigious industry sites to boost your credibility? Are you hoping to drive traffic back to your site? All of the above? It’s important to recognize what your goals are, because it might impact how you pitch publishers. And, it’s just flat-out good to have a plan, period.

2. Identify guest blogging opportunities

After you’ve figured out what you want to accomplish, it’s time to identify some prospects. We suggest using a spreadsheet or another tool to document the sites you want to reach out to. You’ll use this same tracking mechanism as you go, so do yourself a favor and start now with your prospects list. Remember, planning is important, and a tracking sheet of some sort is part of being organized.

Here are a few things to look for when you’re seeking opportunities:

  • Good traffic and established authority in the space. Industry associations are a great place to start if they have a blog or resource area where it would be appropriate to publish a guest post.
  • Regular social activity. Getting a guest post placed with a blogger who is active on social media means you’ll get more exposure for your effort. Most make a practice of sharing guest contributions across their social networks, so you’ll get your work in front of a larger audience.
  • Look for sites with a target audience overlap. It doesn’t have to be entirely focused in your specific niche, but it should be relevant.
  • High PageRank,  SEOmoz Domain Authority and lower Alexa rankings are good metrics to look for which point to the value of getting a backlink from each site. Keep in mind, however, that backlinks from lower PR sites that are highly relevant to your niche can also add value. And, sites with high PR and Domain Authority might be harder to secure—they’re probably inundated with guest post requests. So find the right balance.
  • Look for active blogs with an engaged audience. Do the posts get shared across social media by readers? Are there Likes, Tweets and +1s? The more activity blog posts receive, the better your odds of having readers do some of the marketing for you.

3. Where to find prospects

So where do you start to look to find all these prospects? The Web is a vast territory. There are a bunch of tools (yea, tools!) and platforms designed to help people like you find opportunities. We’ll save that for a future roundup, but here are a few to get you started:

If you’re following industry leaders on social media, such as Twitter, you’ve probably come across posts from guest contributors a number of times. If you’re using that tracking spreadsheet we mentioned earlier, it’s easy to keep a running list of possible publishers by copying and pasting those links into your document when you find them.

4.  Ideation

Okay. You’re set up with your tracking mechanism, and you have a list of publishers you want to reach out to. Now, what are you going to pitch them? The next step in the process is ideation. Come up with a list of relevant and engaging topics—two to three targeted to each publisher is a good starting point. Here are some criteria for coming up with great guest blog ideas:

  • Always, always read through the publisher’s existing content first. Get a feel for the tone, style and topics they typically cover. Target your ideas to match those factors.
  • Think outside the box. You want to offer something they can’t get anywhere else. This is especially important if you’re not an established brand within your industry yet. In other words, it’s a lot easier to secure a guest post placement if you have a recognizable name. If you don’t, you’ll need to offer something of high value, something that will both entertain and engage the publisher’s audience. Otherwise, what incentive do they have to oblige your request? Make sure your topics stand out from the pack. Stay away from the mundane and go for the totally original.
  • What types of articles have been published by other contributors? Always analyze this to see what types of topics seem to work for the publisher and adapt your topics and titles to match this style.
  • Use valuable data where possible. Again, if you’re not an already-established name, you’ll need to add some credibility to your work. Referencing established data and metrics will give your ideas some substance.
  • Make it relevant. Never pitch a topic that will benefit you but not the publisher. It must be relevant to their audience. If you can’t come up with a topic that’s relevant to both you and the publisher, you might be targeting the wrong publication.
  • Avoid topics that will result in a self-promotional post. Bloggers don’t want to publish an advertisement for your company. They want content that’s valuable to their readers. Period.

5. The pitch (a.k.a. Outreach)

Now it’s time for what is arguably the most critical component of your guest blogging campaign: The Pitch. Why so critical? This is the step that makes or breaks your placement. A wrong move at this stage and you could lose any opportunity of ever securing a placement at a target publisher.

Keep in mind that well-known websites are likely bombarded with dozens of requests to submit guest posts every single day. So your pitch must stand out from the crowd. That’s why it’s important to come up with compelling topics, but your pitch has to be compelling enough to grab attention and keep them reading.

If you find a site that has guest blogging guidelines published, you’ve got one thing on your side. A few rules of thumb for pitching:

  • Read guidelines thoroughly, and COMPLY when you send your pitch. If the site prefers to see full posts, you’ll need to jump to the next step before you even pitch the site. Prove you can follow simple instructions and you’ll be one step closer to getting in the publisher’s good graces.
  • It’s also a good idea to follow the publisher on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social networks before you pitch them. If they have a newsletter, subscribe to it.
  • If you’re planning in advance, start becoming active by responding to their blog posts and engaging them on social media before you pitch them.
  • If there are no guest post guidelines, find out what the specifics are before you submit your post. For instance, most publishers prefer to include a link in the bio area instead of the main article. You’ll want these specifics in advance so you can format your post appropriately and avoid rejection simply because your post is too self-promotional or you’ve placed an inappropriate link.

Your pitch should be customized and personalized to each publisher you’re reaching out to. Here are a few additional components to include in your pitch:

  • Start with an attention-grabbing hook. If your post will address a commonly asked question, for instance, lead in with something like, “I have an idea for a guest post that will answer a question I see has been burning your readers’ minds.”
  • Include examples of previous posts.
  • Add some information about your background and expertise.
  • List your topic ideas, but mention that you’re open to specific topics at the publisher’s request.
  • Focus on what’s in it for them, not what’s in it for you.
  • Close with a call-to-action. Ask for the placement. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.

6. Create

After you secure a placement, it’s time to create your post. ‘Nuff said. The nitty gritty of creating engaging content is a whole topic in itself. And we trust that you’re either a good writer or you have a content writer on your staff who is capable of producing top-quality content for your guest blogging campaigns. (Hint: If not, now’s the time to get one. You should always send exceptional content as guest contributions, so make sure it’s top-notch!)

7. Promote your guest blog contributions

It doesn’t end with getting a guest post published. Once you have a post live, you should promote, promote and promote some more. This accomplishes two things:

  • Gets you more exposure for your post.
  • Gets the publisher some added exposure, making them more likely to work with you again in the future.

8. Track, monitor and analyze

Keep using that tracking sheet you started at the beginning of this process (or document within an outreach tool, if you’re using one). Keep track of when you’re reached out to each prospect, what the response was, if any, any information or guidelines they provide you, topics you pitched, when you submitted your post and when it’s been published.

From that point, you want to analyze which posts have been most successful and replicate that strategy in future posts. Stay on top of your documentation. You’ll thank us later, when you’ve become a pro at securing guest placements, built tons of backlinks, established yourself as a leader in your space and become a widely-published, recognized thought leader.

So there you have it! It’s really that simple. Keep in mind that you won’t get a 100% response rate, especially at first. It takes time to refine your pitch and learn to generate relevant and engaging topic ideas. Don’t get discouraged. Follow these steps and stick to it, and we promise you’ll be reaping the rewards after a few weeks or months of consistent effort.

We want to hear your guest blogging success stories! Share your tips for increasing your odds of acceptance, outreach resources, guest blog platforms and other resources you’ve found useful with us in the comments below.