I’ve emailed almost 100 potential guest contributors for the Autopilot blog.
The gamut of responses I’ve received includes:
- The resounding, “Yes, I would love to!!”
- The semi-committed, “Maybe later”
- The, “Uh ok, sure, I’ll do it”… followed by radio silence
- Nothing. No reply.
Contrary to what a million different internet marketing articles would like you to believe, I’ll tell you the truth: Landing guest bloggers is hard.
Here’s a screenshot from my inbox to show you how much back and forth may be required:
19 + 26 + 34 + 5 + 6 + 19 = 109 total emails to land 4 out of 6 guest bloggers. Seems like a lot of work, right? It is.
But the end result is a diverse set of expert voices on your blog, plus the opportunity to reach new audiences when the guest contributor shares the article with their community.
- What I wish I knew when I started A/B testing by ConversionXL’s Alex Birkett
- How startups can unlock organic growth by Weebly’s Adam Tanguay
- Approach your data like a historian by Analytics Pros’ Cali Pitchel
- How to actually measure your marketing ROI by AdRoll’s Jonathan Koo
They’re all great pieces that we could have spun up internally, but we would’ve lacked the unique perspective of our expert contributors.
To help demystify the process of landing guest bloggers, I’m going to give you a behind-the-scenes look at my email thread with Buffer’s Kevan Lee that led to the creation of 7 expert copywriting tips for growth hackers, curated by experts.
I’ll explain what I sent and why, plus share some tips along the way.
The first outreach email
Cold emails to potential guest bloggers are basically the content marketer’s version of outbound emails.
You have to write a subject line the person wants to open, show that you’ve done your homework, and make a compelling enough offer to respond to (even if you’re asking them to do something for you).
Here’s the email I sent Kevan when trying to accomplish all of the above goals:
The key is to try and make your first outreach email as personal as possible. Busy people get tons of random emails asking them to do things every day, so you have to stand out from the crowd by tailoring your message to the individual.
In Kevan’s case, I asked him to share his “writing insights” in the subject line. Since his entire personal blog is about writing, and he is the main writer for Buffer’s blog, asking him to share his writing insights made sense.
I use the same subject line structure for others, but change it slightly to match the person’s expertise.
For Cali, it was analytics; for Alex, growth marketing; for Frances, surveys (since she works at SurveyMonkey). In my experience, this approach is effective at getting the initial open because “your” is like music to a recipient’s ears and the subject line compliments them as an expert (which they are, so it’s not disingenuous).
Other intentional things from the first outreach email to Kevan:
Show you’ve read their stuff. “I’ve been following along with your content for years now — your focus on quality, in-depth content for Buffer truly stands out from the crowd. 😊 As a blogger myself, I know how much work it takes so I admire your craft….and how fast you do it.”
They’re the expert. Convey that you’ve read and admire their stuff, even if it’s just one legit article of theirs that you’ve come across.
Make a clear ask. ”As the editor of the Autopilot blog, I’m always keeping my eye out for great content creators (and you’re amongst the best), and wanted to ask…would you be interested in writing a guest post?”
Don’t hide the fact that you’re asking for something. Be direct. Get to it before the person starts to wonder why you’re emailing them in the first place.
Offer to pay (if you have the budget). “I know that your time and knowledge is valuable, so we would happily compensate you for the post.”
I’m lucky to have a budget to pay guest bloggers. It’s not huge, but I can use it when needed.
There’s plenty of people who are beginning to build their audience that would be happy to guest post for free, for the exposure. But there’s others like Kevan who already have an audience and whose time and expertise is valuable enough that they’re only willing to play ball if you pay them.
Pitch the high-level topic you’re imagining. “I’m thinking something around social media that we could link back to Buffer, or something around writing that we could link to kevanlee.com.”
Plant the seed of the topic you’d like the person to cover. In a later email (which I’ll show you), you’re going to suggest article ideas, but for now just give the high-level idea of what you’re thinking.
Also, mention that you’ll link back to their personal blog or company. That’s another way to show what’s in it for them, especially if you have a high domain authority.
Sweeten the deal as much as possible. “I think your voice would be helpful and insightful to our email list of 60,000 marketers and business owners.”
When you email a busy expert with a proposition, the question they’re asking is, “Is this worth my time?” Throw in your traffic numbers. Highlight how many people are on your email list. Communicate anything that would be valuable for them.
Don’t make them feel guilty if they want to say no. “Are you interested? Let me know, and we can talk through details from there. No worries at all if now is not a good time. Have a great rest of the week, Kevan!”
Unlike those email opt-in forms that make you feel bad for not doing something, offer the person a guilt-free way out.
People have goals, responsibilities, and bosses. Your guest post might be the last thing they want to add to their plate.
Remember: A person guest posting for you is more gift than obligation.
So, what was Kevan’s response to my initial outreach email?
He had follow-up questions, which is totally normal.
The first and second and third and fourth follow up
Going from initial outreach email to finished blog post requires numerous in-between steps. You have to…
- Get the initial “yes” from the guest contributor
- Decide on a topic together
- Nail down a timeline
- Share your blog guidelines
- Write the first draft
- Edit the piece
- Review the final draft
- Publish the post
Like a typical marketing funnel, the guest blogger (or you) may get held up or go silent at any step throughout of the process. Prepare yourself mentally for this so you don’t get stressed out when it happens. It’s up to you to move the process forward by following up — without being annoying.
The “decide on a topic” email
You will succeed at landing more guest bloggers if you execute on this one thing: Make things as easy as possible for them. The more decisions you put in the other person’s court, the less likely they are to take the next step. Not because they’re a jerk, but again, because it’s your job to drive the process forward. Value their time more than your time.
Offering topics is a great way to do that. Here’s the “decide on a topic” email I sent to Kevan:
If your potential guest contributor looks at the topics and says, “That one looks good,” then you’ve succeeded.
To increase the chances of that happening, send article ideas that are in your contributor’s wheelhouse and that your audience would dig.
Other things going on in this email:
Provide a refresher. I’m just following up about you potentially guest posting on the Autopilot blog. As a refresher, we talked about a post that would be 1000–1500 words.”
I sent this follow-up email a month later, so providing a refresher eased us back into our previous conversation without jumping into action steps too fast.
Pick the article idea you like the best. Out of the article ideas you send, highlight the one you prefer. This still gives the contributor ownership of the choice but guides them in the direction you think may be best for your audience.
Ask, “Do any of these stand out as a post you’d be interested in writing?” I’m saying this again because it’s so important: The person should be able to say, “I want to do that one.” This is your main success metric for this email.
He narrowed it down to three, then I responded with, “Let’s do the copywriting tips for growth hackers post.”
He also said, “You’ve made things so easy for me.” Awesome. Yes. That’s the goal.
The “how’s the post coming along?” email
You only send this email if the person hasn’t sent you a draft by your agreed upon timeline. It’s a way to bring the article top of mind while genuinely offering to help.
Notice the refresher, the ask about the status of the post, and the offer to help move things forward.
His “the draft is ready” email
Isn’t it beautiful? If there aren’t a ton of directional edits you want the writer to make, you can handle the copy edits from here.
The final review email
After you finish final edits, send a little something like this…
In this email, your ideal response from the guest blogger is “the post looks great.”
Ways to make that happen include:
Share what you changed. “I eliminated a few sections, tightened up the language, and cut it down from 2500 words to 1600 words. I’m ready to go live with it and can take care of everything else from here if you think it looks good.”
This instills confidence that the post is ready to go.
Ask, “Can you give it a read through and comment with any changes you’d like to make?” You want the final thumbs up from the guest contributor just in case they see any last minute red flags. If you stick to their core message and tone of voice, but make the writing stronger, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
Say thanks. “Thanks again for this post. I think it’ll be really helpful for Autopilot’s audience. :)”
As a content marketer, you know how hard it is to create a solid article. So express your gratitude.
The “It’s live!” email
Send the article link to the guest contributor once the post is live, like so…
Keep it simple. Say, “The post is live!” Share the link. Say thank you again. Then celebrate!
Bonus: Add a “Share this on your social channels” reminder, if you’d like. I personally don’t include one because the contributor usually shares the post anyway. But if you do go this route, send pre-written scripts the person can copy-and-paste or modify however they want, like in this email I sent to Susan Su after we published 5 email templates from 500 startups:
Just make their life easier
No content marketer bats a thousand when it comes to landing top guest bloggers. But if you make their life easier by doing your homework, sending a personalized outreach email, offering topics, following up, and closing the loop, you’ll increase your chances of knocking a few out of the park.
What’s your process for landing top guest bloggers? Any insights or tips you’d add to this article? Let us know in the comments.
Originally published at blog.autopilothq.com on September 21, 2016.