Blogger Outreach Part 1: Finding Places to Plant Content

Just as digging the turf is the most laborious task for gardeners, so businesses need to prepare the ground before ‘planting’ their content marketing.
This can be a daunting task when faced with the endless, thorn-ridden landscape of the Internet. You have to start by hacking back the undergrowth. There are a number of tools you can use to locate your section of the jungle, and you should draw on all of them to maximize your opportunities for growth:

• Specialist tools such as Ontolo
• Advanced Google searches
• Blog directories and blogrolls
• Competitor Research
• Social media
• Existing relationships

Like all gardeners clearing a plot for the first time, you are always hoping to get your spade stuck on something shiny…so dig deep for that treasure!

Tool 1: Link Prospector
Link Prospector from Citation Labs is a really handy external tool that is worth signing up for. It is straight-forward to use, but some helpful hints include…

• Make your search country-specific
• Try going niche with your keywords – you might find more relevant blogs that meet more specific aims, or unearth a gem no one else has come across
• Use ‘Topical Blogs’ as well as ‘Guest Posting’ to find higher-calibre, relevant sites that you could build relationships with leading to better quality guest post opportunities
• Link Prospector generates substantial lists and you will be tempted to only look at the first few, but it is worth screening pretty far (you might find something your competition can’t be bothered to look for!)

One reason to sign up is to get the really valuable insights from its creator, Garrett French. His tips and articles are a worthwhile read, and his personal customer service – responding to any questions or problems you might have – is next to none.

Tool 2: Advanced Google Searches
Make the most of Google by combining your key word topic with search terms like:
“guest author in URL blog” “guest post” “guest contributor”
“guest authoring guidelines” “guest blog guidelines” “guest posting guidelines”
Garrett French, Citation Labs founder, also recommends more in-depth search techniques, like the tilde (~). On very broad keywords, this allows you to find guest posts in verticals you might not have considered. For a higher level of specificity, combine the tilde with intitle and inurl – [intitle:~finance]. For unexpected results, combine it with the negative operator [~finance –finance]
Your success is enhanced even more by combining any of these with “guest post” eg. [~finance “guest post”].
Garrett also has a top tip for if you need to find opportunities in a hurry and you don’t mind the quality of what comes back – use the inanchor function, as in [~finance “guest post” inanchor:contact]

Tool 3: Ontolo
Ontolo is a pretty exciting tool that you should include in your arsenal. We’ve listed it after Link Prospector and Advanced Google Search because in some ways it combines the best of both of these tools: Google language to define (and refine) your search (eg. Intitle, search colon, minus) – resulting in an instant, comprehensive list. We have found the relevancy of the results higher than in Citation Labs. Your results are accompanied by all the main metrics you require, but the exciting thing (if you have previously been used to spending hours on the trawl) is that it also pulls in contact pages, email addresses, and even Twitter and Facebook links for each prospect. The ‘Find Relevant Competitor Links’ option can be a really good mining tool. What’s more, the lists you create are ongoing. Once you have set up your campaign, Ontolo continues to find sites for you every night and send you updated reports.

Tool 4: Blog Directories / Blogrolls
Pretty much every industry can access lists of blogs in their sector from directories such as Blogarama, Technorati and BlogHer. It is also worth going on a blog hunt…start with a high calibre blog in your field and explore blogs it follows / recommends / interacts with…then go through their blogrolls…and so on and so on. Easy to lose track of time!

Tool 5: Competitor Research
This topic is so big we are devoting a whole upcoming ‘How To’ guide to it in itself…but in terms of digging up opportunities, it is great to find out where similar people are posting content so you can plough their furrow, and learn from them, too. Aside from various techy tools, one quick way of discovering where your competitors have been is follow their ‘Bio Trails’ (most won’t bother changing their bio when they guest post, so all you have to do is find one bio and Google part of it in quotation marks).

Tool 6: Social Media
As you will see in future posts in this series, relationship-building is at the heart of blogger outreach. Make yourself known to potential hosts and they won’t be so surprised when you knock on their door needing a couch for the night. Social media is the best place to start, especially Twitter. Start following all the sites you are interested in approaching and interact – it can be as simple as re-tweeting them or tweeting links from their site. Use Twitter as a link prospector, by searching your feed for ‘Guest Post’ or better still adopting Ethan Lyon’s handy Twitter-pulling tool.

Tool 7: The Middle Men
There are a number of services available linking bloggers up with relevant content. It’s worth signing up to established link-up mediums My Blog Guest (do watch their ‘What’s this all about?’ video) and Blogger LinkUp, as well as checking out new kids on the block Zemanta.

Tool 8: Existing Relationships
Considering the importance of relationship-building to blogger outreach, you could already be sitting on a goldmine. Go through your address book, think about who you know online, and see if anyone could facilitate your content. Do your partners or clients have relevant blogs or websites? It could be a great opportunity for partnership-building. Do you have a blog yourself? Can you reach out to your followers / subscribers to seek out blog-swap opportunities? Link prospecting needn’t be back-breaking if you already have a patch of well-dug soil (for more on the importance of relationships, read our article).

Not all these places will be right for you. Not all these places will accept guest bloggers. Not all these places will even still be running. Manual analysis is crucial. Running SEO checks on each site is one way of deciding how valuable it will be to your business, but first and foremost use your common sense. Consider:

• Will their readers be interested in your message or your business?
• How big is their audience (traffic stats, social media followers)?
• What are their guest post guidelines, if any?
• Can you see any posts that cover similar topics to yours?

And conversely:
• Is every post a guest post? While it is tempting to go for easy catches, it’s not great for your business in the long-run to appear on a lot of SEO-heavy sites

What to Look For…
Any evidence of guest posting?
Usually a search on the site for ‘guest post’ will show this. There may also be a section called ‘Write For Us’ or ‘Contribute’. Sometimes guest post guidelines are hidden on the ‘Contact’ or ‘About’ page. Look carefully at who has posted, what they have posted, and what bio / links they have been allowed in the article.

Links and Bios
The aim is to get a link – but of course some links are better than others…

• The best kind for SEO purposes are links in the body of the article itself – particularly ones that use targeted keyphases in the anchor text. This is sometimes possible in the bio, but not always. The trouble is, this kind of link is often hard to obtain, especially on higher quality sites. Also consider issues like over-optimisation, different keyphrase semantics, and the important of balancing keywords and brand term anchor text.
• Author bio (with link) before the article – the higher on the page, the more SEO value your link has
• Author bio (with link) on a separate ‘Authors’, or ‘Contributors’ page – not ideal for your CTR
• Blogs that allow more than one bio link – great if you are promoting multiple sites, or have different elements of your site to link to
• Nofollow links – not a good use of your time!

Top 5 Digging Tips
1. Dig Big…

Don’t be scared of aiming high. You want to contribute to The Economist? Go for it! Just build an appropriate strategy and work towards it. Use your guest posting in the meantime to build your profile, boost your content ‘CV’ and align yourself with sites you think The Economist would like. Your goal might not be a certain site, but a specific objective eg. an ongoing column or expert residency. You can do that too.

2. Dig Deep…
Don’t just poke the surface. The harder the link is to find, the more valuable it probably is. Remember you are against lots of businesses doing exactly the same thing as you, so keep on digging. Guest posting is at risk of becoming saturated so go beyond the most obvious places.

3. Dig Local…
Who do you already know? Who is already in your Twitter feed? Which of your partners have e-newsletters you could write a column for? Which clients have blogs you could contribute to?

4. Dig the Unexpected…
They may be in the small minority, but some bloggers haven’t fully got to grips with guest posting yet. It is easy to be cynical, but many blogs are still run purely for pleasure, not profession. Don’t discount sites with no guest post activity; approach them instead and get relationship-building.

5. Organisation, Organisation, Organisation!
The only way to keep track of all the information you are generating is meticulous record-keeping. Set up spreadsheets. Have an Access database, or better still, sign up to Buzzstream [more about that excellent CRM tool in Part 3 of this series]. Whatever works for you. But set something up from the beginning that you can use to continue monitoring your progress. This will be vitally important as your content marketing grows – and your business along with it!

Following Parts in the Series:
Part 2: Choosing Your Crop – How to Write Effective Content
Part 3: Sowing The Seed – How to Get Your Content Placed
Part 4: Harvesting The Fruit – How to Maintain Your Guest Blogging Momentum