The Internet is made of websites both large and small. It’s like a froth of soap bubbles; some are much larger and crowd out more space than others. Many are tiny. As bloggers, most of us toil away on small sites, wishing one day to be part of the bigger bubbles.
Here’s the thing; most of these big sites, like The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, or the New York Times all accept guest posts. You can write for them, so long as you fit what they’re looking for. It’s that set of criteria that really matter. The wall most bloggers run into is that those standards require a certain amount of reputation, a certain level of quality, and some networking on the side.
If you’re looking to get into some of these larger sites, you need to work your way up. Here’s a set of steps and methods you can use.
Everyone has to start somewhere, right? It’s a trivial expense and a minimal amount of effort to set up a blog. Populating that blog with quality content, now, that gets a bit more complex. I’m going to gloss over most of it, though; if you’re looking to write for HuffPo, you probably already have a site of your own set up.
I recommend taking the time to guest post around your industry. Peter Sandeen compiled a pretty good list of sites in various industries that accept guest posts, all of which will have lower requirements than the top tier sites you’re aiming for. Meanwhile, Neil Patel wrote a pretty good overview of what guest posting can do for you and how to do it over at Quicksprout.
Neil’s strategy is generally to cast a wide net and post on many sites, but not too frequently. That’s primarily because he has huge name recognition in his chosen industry. That’s what you’re going for; widespread name recognition as a content producer with a generally high level of quality. You don’t need to be the most exceptional writer in your industry, but you should be in the top 20%.
Social media helps a ton with building a reputation as a writer. You can build a Facebook page for yourself as a professional author, rather than relying on a personal profile. You can run a Twitter account to provide insights, links to your posts, links to other good posts, and a direct line of communication. Google+ allows you to get some SEO value and sharing with a different audience, and you can use it as a supplementary blog for shorter posts you don’t want on your main site.
If on any of these sites you can get verification, do so. Being a verified user is a sign of popularity and recognition, and it helps you in networking and guest blog pitches later on down the line.
One of the biggest and best things you can do with social media is network with industry influencers. Who should you target, though? There are a few options.
This one is pretty self-explanatory as far as these things go. You’ll never get on HuffPo if you’re not posting content of a high quality level. Consider this; when you submit a pitch for a guest post, an editor has to look it over and decide if it’s worth publishing. If it is, they have to look you over and decide if you’re worth publishing. This is a tougher judgment, but many a writer has been turned away as if their pitch was bad, when really it’s their reputation.
It’s rare that an editor will come out and say that “your name recognition on Google is terrible and you’re associated with a bunch of bad blogs, and that’s why we’re denying your pitch.” Instead, they just send the simple form letter that “we’re sorry, but this idea is not a good fit for our site at this time.” That is, if they do anything other than ignore you.
Make sure that if someone runs a search for your name, what they find is a bunch of authoritative content.
This is probably the most work you’ll have to do, but thankfully it’s mostly a one-time process. The list of guest post sites I linked above is a good place to start, but you’ll want to dig deeper into your industry. Identify all of the blogs in your industry, and all of the more high-profile sites like Entrepreneur, Inc, Huffington Post, Forbes, and the like. Any site you might like to write for, add to this list.
Once you have the list, begin to categorize them. You could rank them on a scale of 1 to 3, or one to five stars, or the E to A grading scale. Pick a method that works for you. Put the worst sites, the sites you would barely want to see your content on, on the lowest rank. Work your way up, categorizing sites in terms of quality and difficulty of acceptance.
This is your ladder. You’re starting at the bottom, getting posts published where you can. You’re working your way up, where a post on site A can be a reference to get you accepted for site B, which in turn helps you get on site C, and all the way up.
Each time you approach a site, spend some time reading their recent content. If it’s a large site with multiple categories of content, focus your efforts on the content in the section where a post you would write would be published. You’re looking to identify the sorts of subjects they cover, the depth of detail they go into, the sites they link to, and other indicators of quality. You’ll also want to study their technical details, like word choice, line breaks, use of formatting, subtitles, and tone.
Your goal is to adapt your content somewhat to fit with the site in question. You can’t completely compromise your voice, but you should write for the platform.
This is the other side of the coin; studying the authors rather than the site. Like I said; you aren’t going to compromise your voice. Track down the authors who guest post on the sites you’re targeting, and look at their own blogs. There’s going to be some difference in their writing style, if nothing else, due to the comfort of writing in a platform they control. Check out free guest posting sites here .
Take a look at how much they have to adapt to their platform, and how much they bring with them. This will give you some idea of how much you will have to adapt.
There’s a lot to consider when you’re writing for a site, and a lot of it comes down to technical details. Sometimes you can write a perfectly acceptable, valid, even great post only to have it rejected because it doesn’t fit the style of the site. For example, if you’re writing a deep and detailed case study with a lot of charts and data, it could go great on a site geared for that kind of thing. On a more news-focused site, or on a site designed for more superficial advice and tutorials, it won’t make the cut.
Part of this comes down to formatting. It’s amazing how much more appealing you can make just about any article just by breaking up long paragraphs, adding in subheadings, and narrowing down word counts.
Study these aspects of your target site and see how your content compares. What are the average word counts per post and per paragraph for posts on the target site? How many subheads, on average? How many links? This is all data you can apply to your own writing.
This is a subtle strategy, but what it does is help get your name recognized by the people in charge of the site. Essentially, what you’ll be doing is identifying posts on your target site that are relevant to the content you write, and contributing your insights to the discussion in the comments. These sites tend to love comments. If they have a way to register as yourself, so you get a headshot and link, do so.
This technique is best used for climbing the ladder, unfortunately. It’s less likely to work on a site like Huffington Post specifically, where comments are powered by Facebook and the average post can have dozens or hundreds. The more you stand out in the comments – in a good way – the more you are recognized for your contributions.
The next goal is to study the submission guidelines for the site you’re looking to write for. For example, on Huffington Post, you can go to this form – their submission form – and read what they have to say. Unfortunately, that’s not much. Some sites will have much more detailed information. One thing you’ll find, though, is that the more general the site, and the larger the site, the less they have in the way of restrictions.
This is because they can get away with ignoring pitches they don’t like, and don’t have to justify it within their rules. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who pedantically argue that their garbage posts are technically within all of the rules and thus should be accepted and published immediately.
Some of these sites may not have directly published their submission guidelines, but you may be able to find other writers writing about their experiences in pitching posts for those sites. This one, for HuffPo, is pretty interesting. It also recommends contacting editors directly if you have an email address or other form of contact information. This is a good way to bypass the mash of bad posts, but some editors strongly dislike when writers work around the proper channels.
Your pitch should be short, and it should ideally contain a draft – that you identify as a draft – attached to the post. If your email or contact submission is longer than 200 words, you’re writing too much. Consider a basic format.
This first paragraph of my pitch tells you who I am and gives you just enough background to know why I’m an authority in the topic I’m pitching.
This second paragraph gives you more detail on the pitch itself, the topic of the post and why I think it’s a good fit for your site.
Thank you for your time,
In your email, you should have little more than the elevator pitch for your post. The attached text document will have the actual text of the post as a draft, which you assure the editor is open to critique and changes to better fit the style of the site. You should also include all of the information the editor needs to put your post up immediately, including a headshot picture and a short biography in the same style as the bios published on the site.
Remember where I linked you to the HuffPo submission form, and then I almost immediately linked you to a site that advises you send a contact message to an email directly rather than through the form? These are the kinds of workarounds you’re looking for.
This is where all of your previous networking comes in handy. If you’re lucky, you will have networked with and established relationships with the editors on the sites you’re trying to get on. Networking is always a good idea. Just take this example from Mike Fishbein of Content Marketing Institute. He attended a blogging workshop and through the relationship that gave him, he met Arianna Huffington in person and was personally invited to write for HuffPo. If that sounds like the first and last step of a 30-step process, it’s not; it was pretty much a two-step event.
You might not be able to make such dramatic connections so easily, but you can certainly leverage some benefit from any relationship you make.
Sometimes, particularly for the first contribution you make to a site, the editor will be very picky. I’ve experienced this in writing for several of the sites I’ve named. The editors work as gatekeepers to see how well the writer can adapt to changes, and how well they work with the site rather than against it. They’re testing your ability to adapt, while simultaneously testing how much you’re willing to stand your ground in the face of changes. Once you’ve passed the test, the next dozen posts you submit are accepted with virtually no question.
Be ready and be prepared to work with an editor to change your post to make it more acceptable to the site. They might want you to cut down some of the content, remove specific links, or take a slightly different perspective. If they want to cut something thematically important, or if they want you to change your stance, well, those might indicate that it’s not a subject you want to pitch for that site in the future.
At the end of the day, everything you’re doing is about getting a unique, authoritative post on a high profile site with your name attached. That means the content you produce needs to be high quality. It needs to be unique, in a way that only you can provide. It needs to be something you would be proud to have on your site, or better.
If you’re struggling to find something to write beyond the basics, you may have some thinking to do. You’ll want to examine your position in the community and industry. What makes you uniquely positioned amongst your peers? What makes you stand out? What resources and insights do you have that set you apart? How can you articulate this in a post for a major site?
Once you know what makes you unique, you know what makes you valuable. From there, it’s just a matter of leveraging that value to post where you want.