As the CEO of a content marketing agency, there are few things that grind my gears more than the utter dross I receive on a daily basis from apparent ‘expert bloggers’ hoping that we will publish their work.
I’m talking about 500-word posts which have clearly been knocked together in about three minutes and then emailed to all and sundry in the hope that some undiscerning website owner will blindly publish and provide said blogger with a free backlink. And while, as one of these writers, you may get a few bites when you dangle your click-bait-blog, you’re never going to get a bite from the crème de la crème of tech websites.
There is a fix, however, and it doesn’t require you to embark on a three-year creative writing degree followed by a five-year internship at Epsilon.
Strong headlines are critical to getting your work noticed and we’re never going to publish guest posts with titles we’ve read countless times before. You know what I’m talking about. Things like:
These titles lack imagination, and if you’re going to cover a subject that has been covered by countless writers before you, then you need to be a little more creative. Try these titles on for size instead:
These titles are both catchy and punchy, while also communicating exactly what the reader can expect to learn from the article. This is something you need to get right, because if the title doesn’t make an impact, your guest post is going to be ignored – regardless of the quality of the content.
There are some rules to follow in order to make great headlines, but you’ll still need to be creative. Understanding the science behind a clickable title is all well and good – but it’s only half of the battle.
Now you’ve come up with a catchy title and grabbed your target recipient’s attention, you must keep it. Like many other professionals, our next step when assessing the worth of a submitted article is to see how long the piece is.
I personally won’t publish a 500-word blog post – for one thing, short posts don’t tend to perform particularly well, and for another, you need more than 500 words to cover a topic in any meaningful depth and deliver value to the reader. And here’s a heads-up – those two things are related.
When looking at their own organic traffic, the content team at Hubspot – the leading name in inbound marketing – found that blog posts between 2,000 and 2,500 generated the most. And this matches our own findings here at markITwrite – the leading name in content.
(Image source: hubspot.com)
That’s not to say shorter posts don’t attract organic traffic – and, of course, it doesn’t mean every blog you write has to be a tome the size of War and Peace. However, as you can clearly see from the chart above, 500-word posts are the worst performing of the lot. And so – surprise, surprise – I’m not interested in them. Different websites that accept guest posts will of course supply different briefs to writers. Here’s ours – 1,500 words is the absolute minimum for guest posts.
When it comes to quality, we ask ourselves the following questions:
If the answers aren’t a resounding YES to every single question, we won’t be publishing it.
So, how do you ensure the answer is yes?
For a start, your blog needs to hook the reader in from the very first sentence, and hold their attention right through to the last. This is what we mean by “engaging”. Every word, every phrase, every sentence, sub-heading, image, and stat must add something to the piece and encourage the reader to keep going to the end. The first sentence needs to deliver a square punch to the face to make the reader sit up and take notice, while you continue to pummel them with blow after blow of fresh, thought-provoking material that’s impossible to click away from.
Next, your blog needs to give the reader something actionable they can take away – something of real value that will leave them thinking, “I must bookmark this page as this company may be able to help me in the future.” Here’s a hint to get this right – tell us, nay, teach us something we don’t already know.
As for saying something original, no one is asking you to cure world hunger or strategize a way to colonise Mars before Elon Musk, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a little bold and give an alternative viewpoint. If you can get the reader thinking, you’re onto a winner. Even if most of your article is based on existing knowledge pulled from industry reports, make sure to insert a little of your own insight as well.
Moving on – make sure you provide evidence to back up your assertions. If you’re claiming Apple will sell more phones than Samsung next year, what evidence are you basing it on? Just because you say something, doesn’t make it true. We’re living in a post-fact world, and intelligent readers know never to take what they read at face value. As such, for every fact, stat and statistic you reference, you need to provide a link to a credible source so we can check it for accuracy.
Finally, the standard of your spelling and grammar must be up to scratch. If you don’t know the difference between “there”, “their” and “they’re”, or that the correct pronoun when referring to a company is “it” not “they”, then the simple fact of the matter is you haven’t got the basic writing skills we’re looking for.
This is an area that leaves me in despair at times. When so-called writers send through submissions with the entire text lumped into just two paragraphs, I’m left wondering who on earth would read such a visually-unappealing mess.
A good blog needs to be broken up with images, subheadings, and small paragraphs.
Subheadings serve multiple purposes. Not only do they make the post more appealing to the eye, they afford the reader the opportunity to scan the blog, stopping to concentrate on areas of interest, while ignoring the parts of less significance to them. Paragraphs should be no longer than seven or eight lines. People reading online get put off by large blocks of uninterrupted text and are more likely to click away when confronted by them.
Throw in a few images and the blog starts to look even more interesting. There is some debate out there regarding the value of stock images, and the pros and cons of producing your own vs. sourcing higher-quality paid stock images from the likes of Adobe. Regardless, a blog with images will always look better than one without.
Some people love to add a conclusion at the end of their blog. Personally, I prefer posts that finish on a question. After all, while the number of people who agree with you may be limited, you can be certain that just about everyone loves giving their own opinion.
So, invite the reader to share their opinion at the end of the piece. Even if they don’t agree with you, comments are worth their proverbial weight in gold. The more comments your post receives, be it on the blog page itself or on social media, the more visible it becomes in Google search and on social network sites – and improving our visibility is ultimately why we (and other websites) accept guest posts in the first place.
So, what do you think? Do you have your own red lines when accepting guest posts that I haven’t mentioned? Let us know your thoughts in the comments beneath.