How To De-Scale Your Link Building (Guest Posting) & Avoid Penalties

This post was originally published early last year, and at the time is was a pretty good guide to scaling your link building without compromising on quality. The method we talked about could certainly have been used for lower-quality link building, but our approach was always to use it to keep the link building high-quality and ethical.

Anyway: Google seem to be on the war path against guest posting, since it has become a somewhat spammy practice in many cases. My belief is that guest posting is still very worthwhile, but you have to really work to do it right.

So this post is being re-purposed. Instead of a guide to scaling your link building, we are going to talk about how to de-scale it and how to continue guest posting safely but effectively:

Getting Your Mind-Set Right

The first thing to do in order to guest post safely is to stop thinking about it as a way to gain links – in fact, imagine that every link you get from a guest post will be nofollow. Now that you know this won’t directly benefit your SEO, what are your main goals:

  • To build a reputation as an expert in your niche
  • To reach a new audience and generate traffic
  • To earn links (one way or another) and mentions

Even if the links in your guest posts don’t impact your SEO directly, they can drive traffic and branding which can lead to real, natural links. This style of link building will never go out of fashion, because it is the very definition of what Google wants to see. We’ll go through the process of how to do this below:

Finding Guest Posting Opportunities

In the past, you were looking for as many opportunities as possible to maximize your “linking domains” and get more links. We’re not going to do that any more though. Instead we want to find just the very best websites that we might be able to guest post for in the future.

First, let’s look at some ways to find those websites:

Google / Bing

The easiest way to find blogs of course is Google and Bing. You can start by using a few fairly specific searches, or more general ones, depending on what sort of content you have on your own blog. In the past the common practice was to include things link “guest post” or “write for us” in your query.

Don’t Do This!

This is a sure way to find lot’s of spammy blogs, because there are more spammy and low quality blogs who openly request guest posts than there are good ones. So instead, search for all of the most relevant blogs in your niche. If you have a website about parenting, or stuff for kids, you might use these searches:

  • parenting advice + inurl:blog
  • parenting tips + inurl:blog
  • parenting blog
  • parenting tips blog

These searches may need filtering more and you will get some results which aren’t really relevant, but they will also give you a large selection of high-quality, relevant blogs to choose from.

Open Site Explorer

Open Site Explorer by SEOMoz is a key tool for all sorts of SEO related stuff. In particular though, we are going to use it to check out our competition. Start by finding a handful of sites which rank well for terms you would like to rank for. Pick one high-ranking blog and one high-ranking website or e-commerce store.

Open site explorer screenshot

Go to Open Site Explorer and put in each URL in turn. What we are interested in is the linking domains, since this will list all of the domains linking to each site.

Log-in (or register) and download your results as a CSV file. You can then head over to linkdetective.com, upload your lists of links and get a detailed breakdown by link type. What we are interested in are blog type sites, so filter out any irrelevant links. What you are then left with is a list of all the blogs that are linking to your competitors… Cool huh?

Twitter / Followerwonk

Another source of prospects is Twitter. But rather than going straight to Twitter, let’s look at Followerwonk. You can sign up to Follwerwonk for free, but you will get more features if you are a premium SEOMoz member.

Followerwonk Screenshot

Followerwonk gives you loads of ways to search for users based on what they are into, and more importantly it assigns each user an influence rating. Once you get acquainted with the software you should fairly quickly be able to come up with a list of influential Twitter users and from there you can find their personal blogs too (not all of them will have one, but most will).

Filtering & Storing Your Prospects

There are other places you can find relevant blogs, and hopefully you will come across new blogs on a regular basis, as you will of course be browsing these blogs and reading their posts to learn more.

Once you have all of your lists, put them into one Excel spreadsheet, filter out any duplicates (Data -> Remove Duplicates) and then go through your list and manually check for quality. How you do this will depend on your niche, but remember that the main thing is whether the posts are good and whether the blog has the potential to bring you any traffic.

In any given niche there will be a handful of “top-tier” sites, which you would probably love to guest post for, but right now your chances are probably slim, so find those sites, mark them as “tier 1″ and keep them for later (once you have built up some reputation).

Teir 2 sites are the medium to large sites which are popular, but not quite so high-profile. The exact spec and volume of these will depend on your niche. These are the sites that you will want to target. Any site which is “tier 3″ or lower, can be removed from your spreadsheet.

The Work Flow

We are not going to start by emailing sites out of the blue and asking for guest posts because whilst that might work for many blogs, it is spammy and it’s a slippery slope – so start out as you mean to go on. Instead, the first step will be to read each blog, and leave a comment. Here’s how:

Set up a Feedly Account

Feedly is an RSS feed reader, once you have your account set up you can go and add all of your prospective sites. Put them in a category. They can all go in the same category, but they must be in a category for the next step to work.

Set up an IFTTT Account

It stands for “If This Then That” and it is a great way to stay current with all of your blogs (hopefully you have an RSS feed full). Once you have set up your account, add a new recipe and simply follow the procedure:

IFTTT set up recipe

  • If “Feedly” -> “new article from category”
  • Select your category and click “create trigger”
  • For “that” simply choose “email”

Finish off the set up and from now on you will get an email every time one of the blogs in your feed publishes a new post.

Every time a new post is published, you can ensure that you are one of the first people to read it and leave a comment. Make sure that all of your comments are worthwhile and helpful. Be insightful and leave long, detailed comments which add to the post and showcase your expertise.

Side Note:

For your “name” use your actual name, or “your name @ your business” if you are allowed to. Ensure that you have a gravatar account set up and use a photo of your actual face for your avatar – this will play a vital part in your brand building.

Finally, use your spreadsheet keep track of which blogs you have commented on and how many times you have commented on them. I recommend adding the following columns “date of first comment”, “number of comments left”, “status” and “notes”.

Review Your Analytics

Before you start approaching sites to guest post for, it is worth checking what their traffic potential is. So once you have been commenting regularly on all of those blogs for a few weeks, you can check your Analytics.

Go to “acquisition” -> “all referrals” and review which sites are driving the most traffic

Obviously, the quality of that traffic is important too, so consider things like time on site, bounce rate and any other important metrics that matter to you. Remember that this process is purely in order to rank those sites in terms of how much traffic they can provide you.

Don’t forget to consider how many times you have commented on each site!

Needless to say, the sites that drive the most and best traffic are the ones you should spend the most time interacting with.

Making Contact With Bloggers

You generally only get one chance to ask for a guest post, so emailing out of the blue isn’t a good idea. Some bloggers will say yes, but the most picky ones won’t and you could be burning a bridge by asking.

One good strategy is to give them something first. You could mention them in a post on your own blog, Tweet out some of their posts (include an @mention of their account). Or just email them and say hi / thank them for a post / tell them that you mentioned them in a recent blog post.

Ethical email outreach template

Once you have established a connection, you can ask for a guest post. Be as genuine and down-to-earth as possible and try to line up your approach with their blog and style. I suggest the following:

  • Include their name in the greeting
  • Mention some post of theirs that you enjoyed (and commented on)
  • Come up with a topic that is a good match for their blog
  • Tell them why you think that title would be a good fit
  • Suggest that they NOFOLLOW any links in your post that they want to
  • Point them to another guest post you have published that did well

These last two bits will make it clear that you are not trying to guest post to build links, but that you value the opportunity to speak to their audience. This will make you stand out, because not many people do this. If they decide to nofollow your link, that’s fine because it’s the traffic and branding that you want.

Submitting A Post

This is the part where you actually send a guest post. I assume you know that your guest post needs to be really good. No top quality blog is going to accept second rate content, so if you can’t do this bit, the whole plan falls down. If you need help with your content writing, read this post by Neil Patel on the subject.

When you send a guest post submission, change the status to ‘Submitted’. You can also use notes to record the title of the post and any other relevant notes.

If there is no response after a week or so, chase it up by re-sending the post and asking whether they got it/ read it/ liked it… Again, make a note of any follow-ups.

Remember that the blogger is probably busy, and your post isn’t their main priority in life, so be patient, but give a gentle nudge as necessary and don’t pester. Be open to feedback too.

Earning Links & Traffic

A common mistake when it comes to guest posting is failing to make the most of the link opportunity. A link in the bio that points to your home page is probably not optimal for earning links. What you want is to link to your blog posts.

  • If you can; include a link within the post, to a relevant post on your own blog
  • If you don’t have one; write one & publish it before submitting the guest post

You will probably find that good bloggers are ok with this, so long as the link is relevant – but tell them to remove the link if they want to (this way, if they decide to keep it, it is by definition an editorial link).

The key is to maximize the opportunity to attract readers to click on the link back to your website and ensure that they are arriving in the right place. In order to “earn links” you need to write awesome content on your own blog (see: the most vital aspect of content marketing) and you need to get the right traffic to see your content.

Recording Your Links

Once a link goes live, you will want to record that link for future reference. In your spreadsheet, name the tab you already created “prospects” and create another two tabs called “links” and “connections”.

In the “links” tab you should create a header row with the following headings: “post URL” (the URL of the guest post that has been published) and “link to” (the URL of the page you linked to in the post). You can also include data such as “anchor text” and “publish date” if you want to. Each time you get a new link, come back to this tab and add it.

Recording Your Connections

In the connections tab you are going to record all of the blogs that you have guest posted for in the past. The reason for this is that you are going to be writing for many of them again, and this list will ensure that you don’t neglect any.

You can use whatever heading you like, but I suggest including this information:

  • URL of the blog
  • Name of the owner / editor
  • His/her email address
  • Number of posts you have written for them
  • Date of your first guest post
  • Date of your most recent post
  • Titles of past guest posts

Your New Guest Posting Schedule

From now on there are a few tasks that you need to do on a regular basis in order to ensure that your guest posting remains ethical, effective and non-spammy. You should come up with your own schedule based on what you can commit to but make sure that you include these tasks:

Blog commenting

No schedule needed, just make sure you comment on every new post that you are notified about by your IFTTT recipe. If you find that certain blogs consistently publish posts that are not relevant for you, then remove them from your feed and your prospects list.

Follow Your Own Posts

I suggest checking your live posts once per week. Every week, go to your “links” tab and open every guest post you have had published in the past month. See if any comments have been left, if so, respond to all of them. This will ensure that next time you want to post on that blog, they will let you.

Keep In Touch

Regularly check your “connections” tab. Which blogs have you not posted for for a while? Get in touch and ask them if they would like another post. The more you keep in touch the easier this will be.

Check Your Analytics

You can also see how much traffic your guest posts are generating. Monitoring your analytics and your best traffic sources will give you an insight into which of your posts are most effective. On your connections tab, add a new column “effectiveness” and any blogs that you notice drive a lot of traffic, put “high” in that column. These are the blogs worth posting for more frequently.

Maximizing Your Social Reach

There are many guest posters out there who just write a post for a blogger and then disappear never to return. What you will find is that bloggers really appreciate when you stay in touch and show a genuine level of care for their audience.

As you build these connections, you can maximize your reach by trying to connect on social platforms. All you need to do is, once you have had a post published, suggest that the blogger follow you on Twitter or Google+. If they do, you might find that they follow your own blog and share your posts occasionally.

Whatever you do, remember to reciprocate. Sharing and helping each other is more beneficial for both of you, and these connections will help you to continue to gain a positive reputation in your niche.

What Have I Missed?

I hope I have made it clear in this post that link building now is more about building strong connections and not about building high volumes of links. It’s all about traffic, brand and reputation – not to mention interaction with actual people.

But what else can do you do to ensure that you only use guest posting in an ethical way? Follow us on Twitter and let us know….

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