You likely already know that guest posting for your favorite blog or even major publications like The New York Times (hey, why not?) is an effective way to get your ideas, blog, business, and you in front of more eyeballs; build greater credibility and authority; and help and reach MORE people. There’s just one giant question: How do you guest post, especially in 2019??
In truth, not much in the foundational aspects of publishing guest posts has changed.
I know because I’ve been publishing articles on the internet since 2001, including in major outlets like:
Sometimes You Have to Quit to Get Ahead (The New York Times)
These are just a microscopic sample of my 500+ published articles that you can find in those publications (and more) and niche blogs. And none of them happened by accident.
In this article, I’m going to show you the core foundations of how to guest post, even if you’re just getting started. This isn’t textbook theory or drawn from what-if scenarios. I spent years and hundreds of hours making mistakes, road-testing my assumptions, and doubling down on what worked and ignoring what didn’t.
One thing I’ve confirmed in all this time is that the principles of “guest posting” are timeless.
Remember, people have been publishing their ideas and letters in newspapers and magazines way back when, so what worked in 1990 actually still work today — barring obvious differences like the advent of the Interwebz, email, social media, etc. After all:
A good idea worth sharing is worth publishing.
Good writing is still good writing.
And finding the right person to hear your article idea still applies and is more important than ever.
So if you want to SUCCESSFULLY land a guest post in today’s digital age — no matter if you’re gunning for a big-time publication or your favorite blog — you need to focus on doing one thing very, very well:
Pitching, yes, but even before that…you need:
A mouth-watering idea that leaves people wanting to know more.
Writing well also helps, but it’s not the difference maker between those who “make it” and those who don’t. While we’re at it, other hacks like optimizing subject lines or using email templates are merely distractions.
Instead, I’ll show you how to absolutely nail your idea — along with 3 real-life pitch examples (with ideas).
What you’ll read in this article are some of the same principles I’ve used to land my own articles in many major outlets and that I have taught to dozens of students to do the same with success. Use the jump links below to quickly navigate to the right spot.
There are different approaches to guest posting, and the approach I’ll be outlining here is based on the assumption that you probably already have ideas — and butt-loads of them.
I mean, when was the last time you had trouble coming up with ideas? If you have a blog that you regularly post on, I’m guessing probably never.
I want to challenge you to rethink how you approach brainstorming ideas because that’s where most writers who claim ideas aren’t a problem do get caught in a sticky cobweb of their own doing.
You see, you’re likely so used to thinking about writing for yourself or your own readers that when it comes to figuring out what to write for other publications, you’ve forgotten that…
…the article is NOT for you!
Even though you intend to stamp your name on the published article, the article ultimately isn’t supposed to serve you or the readers of your blog. It’s for THEM.
Yes, if you want the editor or blogger of your “target” website to say YASSS to posting your article on their site, you need to engineer the idea to appeal to them and their readers. And obviously, it helps that the article is interesting to you, too.
In other words, which ideas of yours are interesting for the EDITOR?
Only after you approach brainstorming ideas this way and the editor finds your idea interesting that you will likely get more YESES, get more articles accepted and published, be loved by all, save money on your car insurance…whatever!
And now we furrow our brows, looking like this emoji dude 🤨, wondering: how the heck do you know what editors will find interesting?
Is there an app that helps you read their minds? Is it some natural “spidey sense” that some writers have and others don’t? 🤔
Good news: You can learn this!
By the time an editor comes across your idea, they want to know several things:
- Is it complete?
- Is it interesting enough to bring people and traffic to their site? After all, that’s ultimately what a lot of editors care about.
- Does it benefit the readers? If the readers love it, it makes the editor look good.
You can develop this sense of what an editor is looking for by checking your idea against these three fairly reliable markers:
If your idea can really nail one or all of them (THE HOLY GRAIL!), then you’ll have their attention.
Let’s dive in a bit deeper with the three guest post success factors.
Guest Post Success Factor #1: Popularity
Something that’s popular means a ton of other publications have written about it, and people are buzzing about it on social media. Ultimately this means it’d attract more readers, and THAT is the goal of every website. Most editors will have a gut instinct for what might hit or miss. You, on the other hand, could use Google.
If you Google your topic and look into the other articles that are ranking on the first page or two of results, click around and notice things like:
- The number of comments and the comments themselves (who knows what other interesting ideas could come out of reading the comments)
- The number of outlets that covered this (remember news outlets have a fine-tuned radar for finding out what’s popular)
- The number of shares to social media (If a lot of people are sharing, it means the idea is resonating with a lot of people and they feel compelled to tell their friends)
Note that your topic could be topical or be something perennial like “how to train for a marathon” or “how to chop onions and not cry.” Since we spend time on the internet, most of us have a pretty good sense for what’s popular already, but check the indicators above and ask yourself:
How many people are talking about it? And want to continue to talk about it?
Guest Post Success Factor #2: Relevance
Sometimes something that’s relevant is also popular, but this isn’t always the case. Relevance here means that the idea is currently the hot topic. It’s newsworthy. It’s hip and cool. It’s timely. These are all qualities that editors of big news publications in particular would want to see (it all goes back to potentially more eyeballs, after all).
Let me give you a recent example of me taking advantage of timeliness and relevance.
First, a little context: for my day job I work at a personal finance website called I Will Teach You To Be Rich. It was founded by Ramit Sethi, a best-selling author and entrepreneur in the personal finance arena. In late 2018, the stock market took everyone on a tumultuous ride, and Ramit sent me this image on Slack:
And yet…he barely bat an eyelid. Because he was so nonchalant about it, I sniffed a story here.
Here’s a CEO who just “lost” $75,000 and change and was in good spirits, while the rest of Twitter was having an apocalyptic-level meltdown. That’s relevant and interesting!
So we took this story and pitched it to an editor at Business Insider, who LOVED it and very quickly published the story that we wrote:
It got shared a bunch and other websites picked it up, like The Washington Post:
All from one little picture that I turned into something newsworthy because it followed the current news cycle.
Guest Post Success Factor #3: Originality
The third marker of an idea that editors would find interesting is its originality. Obviously, everyone wants ideas that haven’t been done before.
As a side note, one of the most common reasons an editor would reject your idea, if they do, is that they already covered it and you didn’t do a simple Google search to make sure.
It’s actually not difficult to come up with an idea that hasn’t been done before. One near fail-proof trick to make an idea unique is to use your personal experience as a story vehicle, if it makes sense to. Here’s an example:
The above is an actual published article by a student of mine, who drew this article’s inspiration from her real-life experiences. People love to read about other people’s stories and learning about other people’s experiences, especially when they can take away a lesson from the story.
The idea of being a digital nomad and overcoming its difficulties isn’t exactly original, but I put my own unique spin on it because it was based on my unique experiences. In fact, I ended up writing or talking about these exact experiences multiple times on different platforms, including in The New York Times.
Any time you can personalize your idea almost guarantees you have a unique take on it.
Together these three markers are the PRO Formula.
I use PRO all of the time to come up with fresh and unique ideas for various publications. I’ve developed this instinct over many years, but when you’re starting out, I recommend actually putting a little rubber to the road.
Here are examples of pitches that all got responses (though not necessarily turned into a published article).
1. Guest Post Pitch to a Fitness Magazine
This was a pitch by a student who wanted my feedback before he sent it.
Appreciate the reply.
What are your guidelines for republishing, or reworking content? If I submit something now, when will it be live? I want to make sure that I can adhere/write for any particular themes you have. Do you have an editorial calendar?
Here’s a topic idea: The Bodybuilders Guide To Drinking Alcohol Without Getting Fat
— strategies for including alcohol in your diet based on maintaining an aesthetic physique.
— I’d write about which alcoholic drinks are more physique friendly, as well as give some scenarios with food plans to help with evening drinking.
Overall, not bad. “The Bodybuilder’s Guide to Drinking Alcohol Without Getting Fat” is a great one-line pitch. It’s clear, concrete, and well-understood by the editor of a niche fitness magazine.
One thing to note here is that the writer asked too many questions that could distract the editor and delay a response.
If you need to ask questions, it’s best to send them in a different email — preferably as a follow-up and if the editor actually responds in the first place. Remember to check if your questions can actually be Googled. Print editorial calendars, for example, could typically be Googled.
2. Guest Post Pitch to a Craft Beer Magazine Column
Another student’s pitch:
He got a response from the editor, and while he got work out of it, it wasn’t a regular column. My notes to him was that he could’ve made this stronger with more concrete ideas and examples of what the column would entail.
Bring up past examples that the pub has done before (or even other pubs) and share suggestions on how you can do it more uniquely or better, or pick up what’s missing in their coverage.
I will also add that being a regular columnist typically doesn’t happen until you’ve proven yourself to provide value and are reliable over the long term. It’s very rare for editors to give columns to writers whom they’ve never worked with before.
3. Guest Post Pitch to a Fitness Blog With Over 200,000 Monthly Visits
I don’t know if you’re interested, but I’m writing an article entitled “Are you wasting money on these 3 expenses at your gym during the first 3 years?”
It’s basically looking at continuing education, payroll, and equipment from the gym owner’s perspective, and how those 3 expenses can literally take you from the black to the red if not carefully planned.
You only have so many words in the beginning to grab someone’s attention…so don’t use redundant words like “I don’t know if you’re interested…”
The main issue with this pitch is that he didn’t help me understand WHY this is important. There needs to be more context and clarity. On the other hand, this was from someone who had written for me as an editor before, so I was more inclined to open the email and hear him out.
BUT the pitch was so unclear that I had to go back and forth with him a couple of times. If a busier editor had seen this, this likely would’ve been ignored.
Don’t make editors have to chase down your idea.
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