If you’ll pardon the cliche, an influential man once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
While I presume Wayne Gretzky had little to no experience with freelance writing, his historic quote applies perfectly to this article. How does a writer go about landing a guest post on a site with a high domain authority—that is, a website Google deems hyper-relevant for its subject area or industry, thus ranks high for related search terms? Well, if your philosophy is that there’s no point in even trying, it’s simply never going to happen.
Thanks, Mr. Gretzky.
Intimidation factor aside, these sites often don’t have an open call for submissions. Their editorial standards are very high, and finding a relevant topic that they haven’t covered already isn’t easy. These are only some of the challenges you’ll face when trying to get your work out there.
Still, guest posting on high-authority sites has enormous benefits. You gain authority by proxy and position yourself as an expert. And it can bring additional traffic to your website, both directly from clicks to your site and via the boost in Google rankings you get from getting backlinks.
Here are the most effective strategies you can apply to get your writing published on high-quality blogs.
Prospecting is a numbers game—one that kicks off with solid research. Sure, you may have a particular site in mind where you’d like to see your guest post published, but casting your net a little wider is a solid move.
Create a Google Doc to house all your research. The first entries should be those sites you already know about. Get them all down onto virtual paper. Don’t concern yourself at all with the likelihood of them accepting your proposal. That’s the point of a “dream list.” You’re meant to be aiming for the stars here.
The next step is also relatively easy. Simply Google “Best [keyword] blogs/sites,” and you’re certain to find a list that some other blogger went through the trouble of creating.
At the start, make the keyword as granular as possible. The likelihood of a blog being interested in your pitch is much higher if you’re willing to cater to their target audience.
If you write about digital marketing, don’t start your research with digital marketing blogs. Doing a more granular search will help more when it comes to pitching. For example, you might want to search for sites that specifically publish content about email marketing. Then you can send a more targeted topic pitch, like “Email Subject Lines Guaranteed to Increase Your Open Rate.”
When I tested this keyword, the entire first page of results contained curated lists of blogs covering this specific topic.
You can also use Google to search for specific posts that fall into the same niche as yours: “How to increase my email subscriber base,” for instance. The first five results are guaranteed to be on sites with high authority scores. Make a note of these in your prospect list.
Ahrefs is a fantastic research tool for content professionals. Simply by entering one of the domains into their search feature, you’ll be able to find sites that compete with it in terms of keywords.
Ahrefs also lets you filter or sort its results based on a super handy little metric they call “website authority.” Referring to this piece of data, you’ll be able to identify the big hitters in your niche. Again, don’t be afraid to log those that score really high—the whole point of this exercise is to go after them.
The Ahrefs Content Explorer is also an excellent feature for this purpose. It works in much the same way, except that you won’t find domains related to the one you entered. Instead, you’ll be searching for domains that rank highly for a specific keyword of your choosing.
For some further reading, Smash Digital has written an excellent piece on using Ahrefs for link-building outreach.
Ahrefs is a bit pricey for many writers’ purposes. So for a cheaper alternative, SEMRush offers a free way to search for competing sites. Just enter a website into their Domain Overview search bar, and then scroll down to the Main Organic Competitors section. This will show you 10 sites that compete for the same keywords on Google as your source site.
With your dream list compiled, it’s time to blast off an email telling them what an amazing asset your post will be for them, right?
Well, sadly, it’s not that easy. High-profile sites get a ton of these kinds of unsolicited proposals every week, so you need to really put in an effort to ensure your proposal doesn’t end up buried in a neglected email folder.
When dealing with a respected publisher, you need to go through a “wooing” process. You need to let them know you exist. You need to engage with them in a non-salesy context. If your proposal is backed by some legwork in this space, the chances of it being ignored are much lower.
There’s actually a psychological concept behind this approach. It’s called the mere-exposure effect, and it’s a very effective way of raising your profile with your prospective publisher. The mere-exposure effect states that the more you see or hear something (or someone), the more you like it. Admittedly, there are some obvious caveats here, and we’ll get to them too.
Engaging with your prospect on social media is the easiest way to get noticed. Most high-authority sites will have a very active social media presence. Follow them on every platform and engage meaningfully.
Contribute your opinion if it adds real value. Retweet with a comment that shows insight. Do some research or tap into your own knowledge to ensure that every interaction you facilitate is something that will make you stand out from the crowd. Build yourself a reputation as someone who truly gets what their editorial position on a particular topic is.
Another tactic here is to show that you’ve read and grasped other content pieces that the publisher has posted. Make correlations between their social media posts and content they created.
What’s super important here is that you come across as someone genuinely interested in their perspective. There’s a fine line between being curious/flattering and looking like a stalker. And don’t forget that you don’t want to come across as some sycophant who simply likes or agrees blindly with everything they post.
Remember, you’re a professional; you know what you’re talking about. Illustrate that in every engagement with them.
The same approach can be applied to posts on their site that allow readers to leave comments. Not all publishers have this feature, but if they do, it’s a golden opportunity to raise your profile.
When leaving a comment, you have an even better chance to show your knowledge about a specific topic, since it’ll be within the context of actual content they published. Again, do your research. See what other influencers and thought leaders are saying about the topic.
You’ll often find the opportunity to contribute to a content piece with statistics or research that the author may have missed. For instance, an article about running effective company meetings could be missing an overlooked aspect, like the importance of encouraging team members to follow healthy sleeping habits for an improved chance at success. Use Google to find surveys or data on this topic and link to it in your comment.
Showing that you prize research and data as part of the content creation process will go a long way toward building a good reputation.
Here’s another topic where there’s a fine line between looking like you want to add value or appreciate the content and looking a bit too eager. Only use this approach if there isn’t a comments section on the site.
Ideally, an email directly to an author or the site’s editor should relate to a particular content piece. Be bold enough to suggest an improvement in the article. Suggest some research or a data point they may have missed.
If the article was a list of products or destinations and you have a valuable addition to contribute, get in touch and offer your suggestion. Tell them you’ve had a good experience with it or reference credible testimonials. Suggesting an item that covers an aspect their article missed will be useful to them and thus helpful for building your reputation, but make sure to highlight this to them in a diplomatic way. Be friendly and humble. Don’t try to come across like you know more than them.
Right, with your reputation bolstered and your name a known entity with your prospect, it’s time to get in proposal mode. After you’ve sent the introductory email suggesting an improvement, you can then send an email directly pitching a guest post.
The first thing you need to check is whether your targets have submission guidelines published on their sites. These guidelines will obviously play a very important role in the content of your proposal.
The most important thing you want to look out for here is whether the publication accepts proposals, finished pieces, or both.
It goes without saying, but follow these instructions to the letter. No matter how tempting it may be, veering away from their requirements will seriously jeopardize your proposal. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to show diligence and respect for their requirements.
When you’re reaching out to sites that don’t supply submission specifications, here’s what you can do to ensure your email will be opened and read:
Since this will be the only content the recipient sees, aside from your name, this is a very important part of your proposal. It’s the magic ingredient that ensures the mail gets opened rather than tossed in the bin or flagged as spam.
Keep it simple and to the point. A wordy subject line may get truncated by the email client, and a critical word may be lost.
Be upfront about making a proposal. Don’t mislead your recipient with a “clickbaity” subject, like “The email marketing tip that experts don’t want you to know.” Even if it leads to a higher open rate, your reputation will suffer, as will the likelihood of the proposal being considered. Email clients’ automated spam filters also monitor certain terms. Be aware of this risk.
Highlight the topic of your proposed post. If you’ve done your research well enough, you’ll know that your prospect won’t have covered your suggested content. This will play a huge role in both the open rate and whether the proposal is accepted.
Since we’re specifically talking about high-profile publications here, I’d avoid using an obvious template. You’re not going to be sending dozens of these per day, so don’t be afraid to personalize it based on your knowledge of the prospect.
Use the recipient’s first name. “To whom it may concern” isn’t going to cut it here. You want your prospect to know that you’ve written this email just for them because you value their role in a potential collaboration.
Let them know you’re a reader. Without coming across like a fanboy/girl, make it clear that you understand what their site is about. Tell them what you admire about their editorial voice and the quality of their content. Sending an email that conveys you understand them shows that you’re able to create content that suits their tone.
Be upfront about the purpose of the mail. Make it immediately clear that you are pitching them an idea for a guest blog post. You don’t have to write a full paragraph about your purpose; a simple sentence will do fine. “I’d like to discuss the possibility of contributing to your site with a guest post about [topic]” is a great way to start the conversation.
Tell them a little bit about yourself. Limit personal information to reasons why you’re an expert on a particular topic. Tell them a little about your background in writing for that niche. Include a link to your website and your LinkedIn profile. If any of your posts have been published on sites that are well known in the industry, this is the place to mention it.
Talk about the content of your proposed post. People tend to skim emails until they find the information that grabs their attention, so don’t blast them with a wall of text here. Outline the very basics of your proposed post.
All you need to do here is illustrate that your post will fill a gap in their content stable. If they need more detail, they will ask for it. In fact, this is a great spot for a call to action. “If you’d like to see the finalized outline of the piece, I’d be happy to provide it.”
Use a professional email signature. You don’t need to have any knowledge of Photoshop to craft a fantastic signature. Use a free design tool like Canva and follow best practices to create a good impression.
Keep it short. Your outreach email must never overwhelm the reader with content. Break long sections of text up into short paragraphs. Your recipient won’t want to wade through redundant information to get to the point of your correspondence.
Accept the fact that you’re usually not going to sell them on the guest post with one email. The most likely best-case outcome is a request for more information on the article itself. When they ask for more information, be ready with a great response.
Thank them for getting back to you and provide them only with what they asked. Resist the temptation to give more reasons why this post should be considered. Their interest is there. All you have to do is give them what they asked for.
If you get a rejection from them, respond with a sincere query about why they feel the pitch isn’t right for them. Ask them to be candid with you. Any lessons you can learn from this process will be incredibly valuable.
If you don’t hear back from your prospect, don’t give up. There’s a possibility that they haven’t had time to respond to it yet.
Sending a quick, professional follow-up message also shows them that you’re serious about your work and value the possibility of contributing to their site.
A great follow-up is short and reminds the recipient that you’re eagerly awaiting their feedback. It also eliminates any suspicion that your proposal was part of a shotgun campaign. Refer to the content of your initial email to emphasize this.
Don’t be afraid to send multiple follow-ups, either. Use your discretion. Don’t bombard them daily, but keep correspondence up until you hear back from them one way or another.
Guest posting is critical if you want to build a reputation for yourself or your site. It’s an excellent source of traffic, and it can boost your personal profile immensely.
These rewards are doubled if you land a guest post on a site that has a very high domain authority rank. Pinpoint the sites you want to be published on, do plenty of research, and engage with them both through the comments section and social media to build rapport and truly gain insight into their community.
As a genuine reader of their blog and a valuable writer, armed with thorough research and knowledge, you’ll be ready to craft a solid proposal. Believe in yourself and your ability to create valuable content for any publisher, and your confidence will spill over into your pitch.
Don’t fall victim to impostor syndrome and don’t give up, either. Keep at it until you hear either a yes or a no. More importantly, don’t let a rejection discourage you from keeping at it.
Remember that nothing this rewarding comes easy. You’re going to have to work to win these guest posting opportunities, but it’ll be worth it.
Karl Kangur is a serial entrepreneur, founding his first business as a teenager. He loves to get nerdy about SEO and digital marketing, and deliver amazing results to clients. His doctor told him to stop lifting heavy weights.