The cameo is one of the most beloved pop culture references.

Whether it’s a celebrity dropping by SNL during the cold opening, a TV character making a cross-show appearance or a band bringing out a hometown rocker for an encore, the cameo is a guaranteed hit with audiences.

There’s also a version of this in content marketing: the guest blog. A format that’s risen through the years thanks to the internet, social media and other influences, guest blogging has become a go-to-strategy for marketers to accomplish any number of objectives, such as:

  • Driving traffic by leveraging a well-known name.
  • Providing thought leadership by using SME quotes.
  • Link-building by publishing on highly relevant industry sites.

Guest blogs are valuable marketing tools, but they must be well-thought-out to be successful. For all the spur-of-the-moment feeling a cameo has, most are well-planned affairs. In the same way, your marketing strategy needs to be detailed and comprehensive to maximize the value of posting guest content. A number of items must be addressed, including:

  • Site sourcing.
  • Blogging opportunities.
  • Performance metrics.
  • Networking relationships.
  • Linking rules of engagement.

Here’s a modern guide to guest blogging that will help marketers craft better goals and campaigns.

Guest blogging 101

For a more complete understanding of how guest blogging can complement your content marketing strategy, let’s examine a few important details:

What is guest blogging?

Guest blogging is a tactic that draws visitors to a brand blog or company site. A guest post is written by an outside contributor, often on a topic that has relevance to the featured writer and the website that eventually publishes the content.

Who writes guest blogs?

There’s no real limit to who can write a guest blog, but some of the most common sources include:

  • Business partners.
  • Social media influencers.
  • Subject matter experts.
  • Thought leaders.
  • Brand evangelists.
  • Industry executives.
  • High-profile names (think politicians, activists, philanthropists, entertainers).
  • Business and life coaches.
  • Knowledgeable freelancers.
  • Academics and researchers.

What’s the point of a guest blog?

Guest blogging is a content marketing means to different ends, which makes it valuable and versatile. The tactic can be applied across a number of blog objectives, like:

  • Improving organic keyword rankings.
  • Building a stronger reputation.
  • Becoming an industry authority.
  • Increasing brand awareness.
  • Advancing varying interests and causes.
  • Gaining referral traffic from external links.
  • Generating new social followers.
  • Increasing, over time, Domain Authority.

What does the guest blogging process look like?

When they’re incorporated into a larger marketing strategy, guest blogs can have a big impact in supporting the aforementioned goals. But a lot of work behind the scenes goes on before hitting publish.

The process usually looks like:

  1. Prospective guest bloggers pitching an idea (or being recruited).
  2. Topic ideation occurring pretty much simultaneously with the pitch.
  3. Collaborating on a series of drafts.
  4. Editing for a perfect product.
  5. Publishing!

But that’s not the end yet: Bloggers and publishers then need to promote the piece through different outlets and networks.

Who reads guest posts?

A key goal in guest posting is bringing in diverse or first-time (READ: new) readers. While you might have a core group of followers, guests can bring their audiences into the picture. The guest blog is a great platform from which to broadcast a broader signal across social networks, trade groups or industry circles.

Why even use guests?

An objection that might be raised is why even venture externally for blog posts if you have enough resources in-house? The argument for guest articles at that point is they can leverage knowledge, skills, reach or expertise that your site might not possess on its own. Guest blogging doesn’t have to be the dominant forum for posting but rather a complement to the main theme. Thinking outside of the proverbial box is a lot easier with guest blogging, and it may unlock hidden value for content marketing.

Success depends on a defined guest blogging strategy

Now that we’ve attended to the basics of guest blogging, the real fun begins. It’s time to get down to business and hammer out a strategy for guest blogging that enables content marketing success. The trick to guest blogging is while it may seem effortless, the planning going into it needs to be detailed and goal-oriented. These are five essential planks of a strategy to solidify before even seeing an article draft.

1.  Purpose

The key to capitalizing on guest posting is treating it like any other piece of your larger blogging strategy. That means, before anything else, a purpose must be established to direct all the other blog components that fall into place: topic, author, keywords, goals, metrics, etc.

For example, a blog that espouses thought leadership will be created and measured in different ways than a guest post that highlights a partnership or product.

2. Target audience

As much thought that goes into planning the blog should go into defining your audience. Without a target audience, an otherwise well-developed post could be lost on people who would want to read that blog, but didn’t know about it. Having an audience in view enables brands to get readers’ attention ahead of time and land the blog with a bang, not a whimper.

3. Shape

Guest blogs can be used for various intents, and thus can take different forms to fit the mission. One approach outlined in Hubspot by a guest blog — of course — is the staircase strategy. This technique is suitable for brands that are trying to establish credibility and entails devouring the low-hanging fruit of topics and keywords before scaling up the quality of topics, authors and featured outlets.

4. Promotion

Distribution and promotion of the blog are fundamental to a sound strategy. Social media is of great use here, being an easy way to share blogs and extend your reach with a boost from the guest poster. Using hashtags and sponsored posts can take the initiative further. Conveying the blog through other channels is also a good idea, and can be done through steps like highlighting the blog in an email roundup or sending to inbound site leads.

5. Outcomes

There’s vital importance in having set goals for the campaign, regardless of which metrics are used to gauge success. Having that end in sight can shepherd the project along the desired path. Consulting with guest blog stakeholders, including the writer, will help elucidate the core goals.

Standards help manage submissions and assure quality

In the end, the deciding factor will be the blog itself. While a strategy helps develop an ideal post, that’s just a framework or action plan. The actual writing can be another deal entirely, especially when working with outside parties.

Snags in the production process can be a big problem, however, and may result in scrapped titles, delayed editorial schedules or a rushed blog that doesn’t reflect the best possible effort. Eliminating the chance for any of these production drags is most effectively addressed by creating submission standards that govern the process.

The primary objective of these guest blogging guidelines is ensuring quality and fit for your brand, your blog and your audience. You don’t want to go through the process of accepting a guest post only to have a wide editorial disconnect emerge through the drafting process. It’s best to get ahead of that situation by cutting off any submissions that don’t fit your guidelines before they get too far down the line.

Editorial standards also have the added effect of streamlining production workflows by eliminating unnecessary stages that would have otherwise been part of a less clearly defined process.

Some submissions points you want to be upfront with guest bloggers about include:

  • Your favored blog types.
  • Your preferred tone and voice.
  • Your house style.
  • Your expectations for posts.
  • Your accepted forms for submission (word docs, for example).
  • Your terms as partner.
  • Your promotion responsibilities.

This roadmap for working together helps keep the project concentrated by removing all the noise outside the creative process.

Conduct your own guest blogging

Guest blogging is inherently a two-way street: both parties reap the benefits of a well-crafted and well-executed strategy. In the same vein, content marketers aren’t beholden to just accepting guest blogs; they can pitch their own ideas and get the brand’s voice or message published in other forums.

Here are some of the finer points about the other side of guest blogging you need to know about before jumping in:

  • Research is critical: Coming up with a winning article means researching what your audience is reading, what the current coverage says and which publisher can best support your effort. Doing the legwork is all-important to coming up with a pitch that isn’t a dud. When you know what your audience (existing or desired) is reading about, you can serve them a topic that will pique interest. Understanding the commentary surrounding that topic allows you to be current, which builds credibility and authority. Becoming familiar with your potential partners means not wasting a great pitch on the wrong site, or rehashing a topic that’s been written to death.

  • Pitches need to be refined: The pitch is the guest blogger’s foot in the door, and it has to be perfected to come off right. You’ll get a sense for what your best pitch looks like over time and practice, but some ideal components are a topic synthesis, an angle, a purpose and lots of information for how to get in contact. It’s a bit of a balancing act, having to sell yourself and the blog in what should be a short amount of words, but hitting on the specifics is a good way to start.
  • Outreach continues after rejection: The reality is not every pitch will end up on the page; so don’t be disheartened if one attempt falls flat. The pitch process — regardless of industry — can be a numbers game of throwing ideas like darts and seeing what sticks, and something always does. Remembering this fact can help you manage better relationships between blogging partners. Keeping an active and open dialogue means shopping topics back and forth, all of which might not become fully formed. There’s still value in having working relationships and a network of blogging peers to tap for future projects.

Mistakes to avoid in guest blogging

There are so many moving pieces involved in guest blogging that it can be hard to keep track of everything, which may lead to things falling through the cracks.

Small issues can become bigger problems, and you don’t get many do-overs in guest blogging. And we’re not talking misspellings here, which can be corrected. A lack of strategy is one thing, but an oversight like a lack of inbound links can tank a project otherwise destined for success. No links means no traffic being driven back to the guest blogger’s site, which is a giant waste of an opportunity.

Keeping the process tight and rolling means being aware of the most common pitfalls to guest blogging and avoiding them.

  • Underselling or distorting backlinks: Guest blogs are the perfect location for backlinks, but many authors could be hesitant to even include a link for fear they might be punished by search-engine algorithms. Exaggerated links as a practice did lead to some SEO reform, but backlinks remain integral. Bloggers have to be judicious and considerate in how they feature links in content: like what anchor text they use. Search Engine Journal has some great insight into how guest bloggers can have more natural-looking backlinks.
  • Forgetting to share on social: So let’s say you’ve got a great blog and are feeling great about its quality — but nobody reads it, or not enough people do. A likely culprit is a lack of social shares. Don’t be afraid to advertise your content across all networks: Social discovery is a key way for blogs to gain new audiences. If you don’t have an account for one platform (like Pinterest), create one so you can share through the network and catch some fresh eyes.
  • Not tracking metrics: How well your guest blog post performs depends on what criteria you’re judging it by; and every strategy worth its salt needs to identify, define and track key metrics that are related to the overarching goals. If you want to push the blogs to rank higher for keywords, KPIs like Domain Authority and organic position are suitable metrics. If your goals are a little more intangible, like cultivating a new, broader audience, unique page views and pageviews per session could clue you into how engaged readers are with the content.

Remember the basics, but also innovate

Guest blogging is a formidable tool for content marketers to leverage in their campaigns. Used to accomplish diverse objectives, it’s an all-around means to growing an audience, improving SERP rank and developing an authoritative and credible voice in the industry.

It’s also a team effort, meaning you and your collaborators have to be on the same page and aligned in goals. So long as you take your pointers from above, marketing success is well within reach.

Dom, an English major and journalism enthusiast, was just happy to get a job out of college writing and editing professionally. That it turned out to be in the burgeoning content marketing industry with Brafton was all the better.