October 21, 2014

7 Mistakes Guest Bloggers Make


UPDATE: It seems my break from guest posts is well-timed, as Problogger is predicting that Google may start penalizing blogs that allow guest posts later in 2013. The news has been rippling through the blogosphere for several weeks now. 

At best, guest posts offer readers a different perspective and the blogger-in-chief a breather from producing blog posts. At worst, they’re robotic dribble filled with spammy links. In the past several months, I’ve gotten so many guest post pitches in the latter camp that I’ve stopped accepting outside posts while I regroup and rethink the process (next week’s guest post is a notable exception). Apologies to those of you who’ve pitched me guest posts recently, but I suspect you don’t actually read this blog, and I feel a responsibility to those who do read it to maintain a certain level of professionalism and originality.

Here’s a list of mistakes I’ve seen again and again in guest post pitches. Some of these are applicable to freelancers pitching to magazines and websites, but hopefully none of you, my dear regular readers, are committing any of these faux pas.

  1. Not following directions. I have a page on my blog that clearly outlines my guest posting process, yet someone emails me asking if I accept guest posts at least once a day. When you’re pitching a website, magazine, or blog, take a moment to click around the site and see if they have a submissions page or a writer’s guidelines page. You’ll save yourself and your editor a lot of time and frustration. Then follow the instructions to the letter. For instance, my guidelines suggest sending a specific idea and formatting your email subject in a certain way. I don’t have time for a lengthy email exchange in which I ask a series about you and your idea (and I’m guessing editors at websites and magazines don’t either), so just tell me what you want to write about and why you’re qualified to write about it. Don’t expect me to brainstorm for you when I don’t even know you or your writing.
  2. Pitching off topic. If I had a dollar for every email pitching me a guest post about life insurance/pest control/luxury travel/online degrees/penile enhancements … well, you get the idea. A magazine for dog-lovers in Boise does not want your article about how to buy cheap printer ink, just as my blog does not need guest posts on any of the aforementioned topics. Know what your target publication covers and pitch an idea that fits that audience and their needs. Occasionally I’ll get a guest post that’s kinda sorta almost a fit for my blog but it misses the mark because it keeps referring to my readers as business-owners or entrepreneurs. Well, yes, freelancers are business-owners and entrepreneurs, but those aren’t the terms I’d typically use because freelancer is more specific. What terms does your target publication use?
  3. Relying on generalities. Of the guest post submissions that actually cover freelancing, many of them fall into the trap of generality (and yes, before I cracked down on guest posts, some of them appeared on this blog and still do because I’m too nice to delete them). They rehash the same  tired service topics and listicles we’ve seen on every other freelance writing blog. And often the advice is as generic as the topics themselves. Use anecdotes and examples to illustrate your tips (for instance, “I once had a client who ___, so I ____  and the result was ____ …”) and choose colorful language to keep readers engaged.
  4. Writing like a robot. Again, read the website/blog/magazine you’re pitching, then try to match the editorial voice of that publication. I welcome guest bloggers whose voice differs from mine, but too often, they don’t even have a voice. They’ll write sentences in passive voice with lots of flabby, over-blown language like “It is generally recommended that business owners typically choose to examine their business and management strategies several times a year in order to achieve the best outcomes.” Say what? For most service pieces, it’s fine to use “you” (or the implied you) and speak directly to the reader. And don’t use 15 words when you could get your point across in five.
  5. Resisting edits. When I publish a guest post, it reflects on the guest poster and on me. I reserve the right to edit posts (perhaps adding a snappier title or smoothing some transitions), but I try to make it a collaborative process and get the contributor’s OK on revisions. Some pull a Houdini and disappear, while others demand to know, diva-style, “how dare you edit my writing?” For those who typically contribute to content mills, revisions might be a foreign concept, but it makes both of us look better. If something is unclear to me, it’s likely to unclear to some of my readers. If something reads like broken English to me, I’m probably not the only one.
  6. Following up a zillion times a day. Sorry, but when I get an email that’s not even addressed to my name, I don’t always feel obligated to respond. Sometimes that results in a flurry of increasingly frustrated follow-up emails. That energy would be so much more productive if it were channeled into researching blogs instead of blindly pitching. Also, when you contribute to someone’s blog, you don’t get to dictate when your post appears. If you write something worth publishing, and I tell you, “thanks for this! I’ll get back to you on scheduling,” it does not give you license to demand that it run that week or ask multiple times a week when it will run. Checking in once a week is plenty. In the meantime, you might research other blogs or brainstorm other guest post ideas.
  7. Disappearing once the post appears. If you’ve written a really good guest post, it’s likely my readers will have comments or questions. Stick around and engage with them. Tweet your post. Thank your host. I’ve found that so few guest bloggers do this, but it really makes a good impression when they do. Likewise, if you’re writing for a magazine, don’t go AWOL once the article appears and you cash your check.

Your turn! For those of you who accept guest posts, have you run into these issues? Are there others you’ve noticed? Do tell!

Comments

  1. Love this, Susan. And yes, I’ve run into these very issues. The most recent was an email from someone who could have hit the mark, but she failed to understand the audience.

    I’m a big believer in you have to read the blog you’re pitching the story to. I think the ones that get me are the ones saying “I’d love to write a guest post on getting your degree for your blog! I’m sure your readers will love it.” Really? How would you know? You never looked or you’d be sure of the opposite.

    This latest one is from someone claiming to be a blogger. Really? You’re doing a lousy job — you never sent a link. Sheesh.

  2. There is a flipside to that as well, Susan. I’ve been doing a few guest posts recently and have found that a lot of bloggers aren’t social media savvy and hence I receive no benefit at all from having spent a lot of time writing an original and informative guest post. For instance, one blogger linked incorrectly and so no one could get to my website. I notified her immediately but it took her three days to fix it, by which time the readership had already moved on from that particular post. Others have misspelled my Twitter handle or failed to mention it at all when promoting the post even though they’ve put their own Twitter handle in (pointless).

    Great post and thanks for letting me rant!

    • Susan Johnston says:

      @Mridu: How frustrating! Can you repurpose the post for your own blog perhaps? With some guest bloggers, I’ve had to chase them down for their bios or Twitter handles, which is why I always include it when submitting a guest post. Based on your experiences, I’m not sure that guesting blogging is as valuable for either party as it used to be.

  3. I have noticed a similar flurry, often getting identical ‘pitches’ to my 2 blogs that are the exact same. Depending on my mood, I will write them explaining what they did wrong–in polite terms.
    I have never had a guest post because no one with relevancy has asked. In part because I’m not large enough…however I have written a number of guest posts and enjoyed the process. And, gotten an increase in engagement as a result.

  4. Whether it’s guestposting ot pitching an article, I practically have OCD, checking everything so many times. The last thing I want is to annoy the editor. Because I know I get angry when people pitch me totally unrelated things, and it is just common sense. I can totally relate to your frustration.

  5. Guest posting is all the rage lately- the SEO blogs have been singing praises for ages. It’s great advice, but all some new bloggers see when they read that is the perfect shortcut to millions of readers. Then the spam comes. They google for lists of blogs that accept guest posting (yes, there are lists) and start working down the line.

    • Susan Johnston says:

      @Blaire: Thanks for your comment! You might check out the link I added at the top of the post, because it seems I’m not the only blog taking a break from allowing guest posts. In fact, Problogger is predicting that Google has start penalizing blogs that allow guest posts later this year, so I’m glad I’m not using them as much anymore.

      • I love Darren’s posts- been following him since he first got ProBlogger running! I agree with most of what he says in the article. Personally, I never understood why blogs will mark posts as guest blogs when the author blurb is enough for that. And guest blogging is an engagement tool, not the link-building trick that it’s being touted at by a lot of SEO blogs.

        I hope Google doesn’t penalize it though, I love guest blogging. It gives me an opportunity to write about the topics I normally wouldn’t write about since I own niche sites.

  6. I’m with you — I pay for guest posts to my blog, and often the actual post turned out poorly, even though the pitch was good. I even had one longtime professional writer turn in a post that was so poorly written and organized that it wasn’t worth my time to edit it, so I paid her and never ran the post.

    Now I want to see the whole post and make a decision from that. And now I’m sure to tell guest posters that they need to publicize their posts on social media and respond to comments. I even had one pro writer argue that she shouldn’t have to respond unless the commenter left her a direct question! Like you would ignore someone who walked up to you and made a statement about your work, because it wasn’t phrased as a question?

    Good to know about Problogger…I’m off to check out that post.

  7. Thank you for this post Susan! Someone recently asked to guest post on my blog b/c it was an issue we were talking about on LinkedIn and I liked her comments. I believe her to be an independent copywriter and I will check the copy for obvious links (other than her own), but I’m not sure how you really tell with people you don’t know/follow (other than obvious spammy companies and SEO companies which usually end up in my spam folder anyways) except to say sometimes we might make a mistake, but the best we can do is lean towards the cautious side (or maybe that’s just my style!)

    One piece of advice I would add for writers interested in guest posting, is stick with the reputable websites you know and you’ve been reading. When I wanted to do a guest post (one of my few), I chose yours because I’d been following it, and had gotten a lot of good, professional advice from it. I also trust Linda Formichelli’s blog–I had taken one of her e-courses on pitching and I knew her blog to be reputable. Same goes with Kelly James Enger’s blog, etc….so I guess I would add to stick with what you know:-)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] other day when I was doing research I came across an article titled 7 Mistakes Guest Bloggers Make. In the article, Susan says that she receives so many bad guest post pitches that she has stopped [...]