Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? / It took me years to write, will you take a look?
– Paperback Writer, The Beatles
“The Medium is the Message” has never been more true than now. Building a brand means being on the right websites and the right accounts, owning the right keywords and attaching to the right hashtags. In terms of influence, the Superbowl Ad has been displaced by the viral video; the catchy jingle has been replaced by the challenge; the thought leader has replaced the celebrity; and mindshare has given way to data-driven ideas like search-engine optimization (SEO) and domain authority.
But the goal remains the same: build a loyal audience. The difference is that millions of us are the brand. So we need to build up ourselves, which means that we need to establish trust virtually. One of the most effective tools is the guest piece, an opportunity to display our expertise–and maybe our charm–in front of someone else’s audience. But how do you get on their stage? That depends on what you want.
Find your niche
Where you end up depends on where you begin. So if your background is in business and entrepreneurship, find the best outlets in that niche. Google the top sites that offer contributorship access, then focus on a short list of 10 or 20. If you don’t have a portfolio or if you’re new to writing, start with the low-hanging fruit. You might even consider writing a newsletter for Medium or Substack, which will build your portfolio and get traffic. Once you’ve got enough content and attracted an audience, use those sites as a platform to pitch more selective outlets.
If your goal is to write for a top-tier site like Forbes, you’ll probably need a few stepping stones. Almost everyone gets rejected the first few times; don’t be afraid to lower your expectations a little and try something more accessible–Entrepreneur, or Inc., for example–until you have a solid portfolio of three or four outlets. Then start raising the bar. Just remember that the best sites may not want what you think they want, or even be the most worthwhile. Check out their domain authorities. Go for the outlets with the highest scores.
To Pay or Not to Pay?
That is the question! Several well-known magazines have had paid programs for some time and top tier sites like Forbes are worth paying for. But if a website has a domain authority of less than 90, you should probably pass–unless you’ll be publishing a lot or doing e-commerce and if the website is tailored to your target audience. Just know that you won’t get the credibility of a large magazine, though you will reach a niche audience.
Respect Your Domain Authority
Ultimately, we want a guest piece to increase our SEO and domain authority. While most sites will not link to your website, they should feature an author bio that links to your website. So while you may not see a direct benefit in terms of traffic or leads right away, each article will help a little bit. If I have 20 articles on Entrepreneur, for example, only the first two may boost traffic back to my website, but getting those next articles out will help with SEO. It’s important to optimize those articles to rank for whatever keyword you’ve targeted.
Of course, it also helps to write an article that’s so compelling that people click on your bio. Both scenarios will increase your SEO by increasing traffic to your site, without a huge social media presence.
An industry secret is that most outlets are actively looking for content. If you submit a completed article or even some timely ideas, they’re likely to bite–if they think you’re an expert.
Therefore, the most important thing is to be considered an expert in a specific field. If you’re really good at something, even playing video games, you’ll probably get picked up. But make sure that you’re adding value and information that’s not easily found elsewhere. And always polish!
Pitch or Story?
While it’s nice to have an entire story written that you can send to multiple publications, each site will want an exclusive. Pitches are more flexible. You can pitch three or four topics that are very similar and leave it to the outlet to pick whichever topic they’re most interested in. Then continue pitching the rest.
Influencer or Thought Leader?
It’s very easy to get discouraged by rejection letters (or none at all) so remember that you’re always just one viral piece away from being considered a thought leader, even if it takes 100 articles that no one reads to get there. What really matters is how many people are engaging with your information. Are people actually taking action on it? Is it useful to the audience? Is it relevant? Do people trust you?
Whether you want to be famous or you just want credibility is an important question to ask yourself. It’s helpful to remember that an influencer is someone who’s trying to impact people and make a difference in their lives whereas a thought leader can be more circumspect. Also, an influencer is often trying to sell products now, while a thought leader is building a reputation by selling themselves and their expertise.
Make sure you know which one you are, or want to be.
Building a Repertoire
The Internet may be a big place, but that doesn’t mean you can just copy and paste the same article on multiple outlets. Every article has to be unique and even in a virtual world, plagiarism is, well, plagiarism. It’s great to be prolific, but if you’re going to have 10 articles on the same topic, each one must stand on its own.
And even though you may consider yourself a distinguished guest, most articles should be about the topic, not you. Overt self-promotion is frowned upon, even in the world of paid media. The good news is that there’s a reason that you’re an expert in your field, so there are ways to make the piece about you–as long as there’s more nuance than self-indulgence. Feel free to discuss your journey and teachable moments but keep in mind that you’re a guest, there to entertain and educate an audience, then move on to the next one.
Guest article written by Scott Barnick, co-founder of OtterPR – a fast-growing, innovative and creative company building thought-leaders and top-tier clients.