Beyond Self-Promotion: Some Whys and Hows of Guest Blogging

Last week, I bought a book. It is the book adaptation of one of my favorite blogs, Lame Adventures. Yours truly – Madame Tightwad – couldn’t buy this book fast enough and would have forked over a bit more of my money had V asked me to, but she’s a good person and has priced her book very fairly. She lovingly referred to Lame Adventures: Unglamorous Tales From Manhattan as the “Manhattan Project” while it was in the works, and it details her exploits in the Big Apple.

I likely would not have purchased her book if it weren’t for a little thing called guest blogging. I first learned of V’s existence in October 2012 because she wrote a guest post on A Clown on Fire. I clicked over and have been hooked ever since. If we simplify the equation, her guest post equaled a new follower which equaled a book sale. Literal dollars. But big heart symbols too.

It got me thinking about the way effective guest blogging works. We may not all be selling something or even really care about hitting some set of arbitrary pageview goals, but as writers and bloggers, I think we can all agree that getting more return readers is something that we are interested in doing. Guest blogging is a potential way to do it and meet new friends, but so often I glaze over the instant someone puts up a post on their blogs written by someone else. There are two reasons for my indifference.

First, the host blogger often admits in a forward to the guest post that s/he is bogged down with life and that’s why s/he invited someone else to post that particular day. Basically, the guest blogger is a babysitter. Who respects the babysitter? Not me. That’s not to say you shouldn’t invite someone to guest post when you don’t have time to post yourself; just don’t advertise your absenteeism. Frame the guest blogger as someone to look forward to, not just an afterthought to your weeklong red wine binge.

Two, the guest post is often so self-promoting that it’s basically a commercial. Great, so Stanley Steamer is babysitting me. Good times in the blogosphere.

What makes a guest post work? I have a few ideas.

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A good guest post seamlessly merges the style and content of the host blogger with the style and content of the guest blogger/writer. Readers are savvy and they can detect awkward from a mile away. If you ask someone to guest post on your blog, make sure it’s a logical pairing. Even though it was hilarious and awesome when Snoop Dogg made a guest appearance on the Martha Stewart show, the same cannot be said of blogging. If the pairing is too random, your readers and theirs likely won’t hang around until the end of the post. You shouldn’t be carbon copies of each other, but seek out someone whose experience and style fills in the gaps of your own writing.

A good guest post has been given some thought by the host blog. If you invite someone to a potluck, you usually provide general guidelines on what they should bring so you don’t end up with only 9,000 paper plates, 30 pounds of ice, and one dish of potato salad. So it is with guest blogging. When you invite someone to guest post, consider giving them a bit of a prompt if they’re having trouble coming up with something on their own. This is what makes Le Clown’s guest series “A Canadian Clown in Gunland” work. In each post, bloggers lead Le Clown on a tour of their city. This framework is specific yet general enough for the guest blogger to show off their skills to an audience that may not know them. The guest blogger’s style and personality shines through the prompt.

A good guest post is shiny and sparkly and represents the best work a blogger has to offer. I look back at some of the guest posts I’ve written in the past and I cringe because I clearly did not give them as much attention or time as I give to posts for The Waiting. Not only is this insulting to the host blogger who basically invited me into his or her own house, but I also wasn’t doing myself any favors by showing up with less than my A game. Each guest post you write has the potential to bring new followers in, not to mention strengthen your versatility as a writer. Get dressed up and shampoo your hair for once. You will likely want to promote your piece among your own readers. If they click over to your guest post, don’t serve them up some watered-down version of yourself.

Sound good? Want to write a guest post? Want to host a guest post? You know I have some opinions on going about doing that, too. Hang on as the insufferable know-it-allity continues.

Read some solid multi-author blogs and figure out why exactly they are working. Sometimes I hate it when I am looking for a set of instructions to do XYZ and that list includes something as boring and passive as reading. Gaaaaaah. But it’s true that by taking a step back and looking objectively at blogs that aren’t authored by one specific blogger (Kidz Showz and The Official How-To Blog, I’m looking in your direction), aspiring guest bloggers and host blogs can learn a lot about writing in a place that isn’t necessarily their own cozy corner of the Intertron. Multi-author blogs thrive on collaboration and the strength of their many moving parts. They have to have a strong sense of purpose and a clear objective to have any kind of resonance among the blogging community. Figure out what’s working for them and adapt it to your own situation. Even consider contributing to them if you think your work fits in.

Make sure you know the host blogger before you solicit a guest post to them. My friend Jells of I’ll Sleep When They’re Grown recently posted about random companies contacting her to guest post on her family blog. Anyone who is familiar with Jells knows that her writing is fantastic because it is almost exclusively about the everyday occurrences of her and her kids. Her writing breathes because she cares. Her distinctive style is what keeps me coming back. Why would she ever be in need of someone to write filler copy?

Although I know none of you would get all spammy like that (right? Riiiiiiight?), there’s still something to learn: be sure when you pitch an idea for a guest post to a blogger that it fits within the milieu of what they’re doing. Do a quick search to see if they have even run guest spots before. If they haven’t, think long and hard about asking them to host you. Sometimes it does hurt to ask.

Even if you write/host an outstanding piece, don’t expect to get a plethora of new active followers or sell eleventy billion copies of your book. If I have learned anything from the featured post circuit (coughcough humblebrag), it’s that one great blog post will not endear me to the hearts of all readers and writers the world over. The amount of blogs and bloggers is mind-numbing and even though you may get some new followers after hosting or writing a guest post, it is not likely that you will hear from all of them again. But that’s OK. Don’t discredit the subconscious: once someone sees your name and tucks it in the recesses of their mind, they are far more likely to remember you when they see the name of your blog floating around elsewhere. They may click over to you and get to know you better when they see you commenting elsewhere or when someone retweets you.

So, that’s what I think I know about guest blogging. What do you know? Please tell me in the comments.

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69 comments

  1. I think you compiled a very constructive list here!

    A guest-post, in my experience, exists out of a relationship, a conversation triggered by something YOU, as the host, blog about.

    What do you think about this? I think this! Well that’s so interesting, want to do a post about it?

    Guest-posts can definitely be useful for the promotion of your blog, but they can also function to show off your diversity. Take Black Box Warnings, my post ‘Light at the end of the Tunnel’ does not fit in on my blog, but many of my readers are also there. So, to create a ‘deeper’ relationship with my readers, I told my story there.

    It’s a great thing, if handled with care.

    1. Le Clown · · Reply

      Emily,
      Like Daan said.
      Le Clown

      1. I … AM .. IMMORTAL!

    2. You illustrate my point perfectly, Daan. Finding the proper audience for a message you want to spread is so important in blogging and writing in general. There’s lots of stuff that I could put on my own blog but serves other audiences a lot better.

      1. Yes, that, and I’m immortal.

  2. Le Clown · · Reply

    Emily,
    I’ll only comment on guest blogging specifically on collaborative blogs, and how it helped me feature more bloggers I liked without compromising the main voice on A Clown on Fire. Offering a guest spot on your blog is a wonderful way of showcasing bloggers you love to your own audience, and exposing them to a potential new readership. But it is also a great way to alienate your readers if you do it too often, and showcase bloggers that do not have a similar flair to the tone of your blog, as I have learned myself. This is why guest bloggers on A Clown on Fire are per invitation only, and will be asked to contribute solely to A Canadian Clown in Gunland. It ensures a similar tone throughout my blog.

    However, there is a plethora of talented bloggers on WordPress (and elsewhere), some I want to promote, and give visibility to. And this is where Black Box Warnings and The Outlier Collective become valuable. On one hand, I can use whatever exposure I enjoy with ACOF to push and promote these two other blogs, and consequently all featured bloggers. But more importantly, the voice of both of these blogs is the one maintained by the community of bloggers who participate, while respecting only one guideline: writing around the main mission of each blog (mental health for BBW and current issues on TOC). By doing so, I have decreased the amount of bloggers who take the mic on ACOF, and upsetting readers (yes, there were some justifiable complaints), while still promoting a large amount of bloggers on my other platforms, giving them visibility, and create content on the web pertaining to topics that are close to my heart, topics that are simultaneously extremely personal for the contributing bloggers. This is what creates the voice of these other blogs. And everyone is happy. Except the ones that are not, of course.
    Le Clown

    1. I am still immortal, though.

    2. If I teach Guest Blogging 101, I’m pretty sure you could teach a graduate seminar on it. ;D

  3. Great list! I do think it’s important to represent both yourself and the host blog well, and to tone your post to their readers.

    I enjoy guest posting here and there, but I haven’t gotten brave and hosted a guest post yet. That I can remember. I was just thinking about it recently. It’s hard to hand over the keys to the car, if you know what I mean.

    I was approached by someone who wanted me to promote their business in a post, but that was a big NO, THANKS!

    1. Hosting a guest blogger is definitely thrilling in the same way handing over your keys to your newly-licensed teenager would be thrilling, I imagine. When they come home with the car unscathed, it’s a pretty awesome moment!

      I LOVED your guest post on The Official How-To Blog. In fact, that’s how I found out it even existed!

      1. Thank you! I was inspired. My kid is hassled by standardized testing at school. State testing; the real school bully.

  4. I think guest blogging, if done correctly, can be beneficial to both bloggers. It exposes a blogger to a new audience and also exposes an audience to a new blogger. In my recent escapades with guest blogging, and hosting guest bloggers, I have found that both collaborating blogs gained new readership with each endeavor.

    Of course, you’re right when you say you have to bring your A game when you guest blog. First of all, it’s respectful to the blog who’s hosting you. Secondly, you don’t want to showcase anything less than your finest work to a new audience.

    I have found many a new blogger via guest posting, especially from ACOF.

    1. I am so excited about our upcoming collaboration! Thinking about that is kind of what got me to write this post.

  5. This is a great list. Lily’s been asking me to write a post for Kidz showz and I just might do it. :D

    1. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do it! It will be awesome, I know it!

  6. Guest Posting is also a great way to get something said that maybe you haven’t felt comfortable addressing, or simply didn’t plan to address before the guest blogger came forward. This can then be beneficial to both guest and host: it gives guest a medium to say something they may not feel comfortable saying elsewhere, and it gives the host the ability to have that thing said, without actually being the one to address it. Not to say that all guest blogging falls into this particular category (and I’m willing to be a good bit doesn’t), but in those rare circumstances where it does, both guest and host can walk away from the experience feeling that both have gotten something out of the relationship, and in the best situations, that thing they got out is good content and good community feedback. There’s definitely, DEFINITELY perks to guest blogging and hosting a guest blog. I don’t blog anymore, but I can still see very clearly (maybe more clearly now being on the other side of the looking glass) how vital things like this are to creating a high quality website and community.

    1. Totally, totally agree. A lot of the time, I host guest posts because the guest has an experience or a wealth of knowledge that I simply don’t have, but their message is one that I know my audience needs to hear or would really appreciate. I couldn’t say it myself, so I’m grateful for bloggers and writers who view my blog as a platform to get their message across. This is a happy Internet – a place that is safe and where the right information gets into the right hands.

  7. For the guest bloggers I’ve had on Sass & Balderdash, I’ve let them have free reign over what they write, and surprisingly it actually worked out pretty well. I can honestly say the guest bloggers I’ve had generally don’t write with the same time or write about topics that I necessarily would. I think it’s tuned out okay because I don’t generally stick to one theme–the only thing my posts typically share in common is that they’re all written by me in my voice. That said, I sometimes feel weirdly alienated from my own blog when I have guest posts. It’s a great way to get new readers and expose bloggers to your audience, but I still prefer to keep my blog, MY blog.

    1. I know that alienating feeling! It’s almost like you invited a bunch of people over for a party when you were out of town. They went ahead and had a grand ol’ time and even cleaned up after themselves, but it’s still weird.

  8. Good points all! think your title says it best: beyond self-promotion.

    1. Thanks, Rachel! Not that there’s anything wrong with self promotion, but I think people can tell if that’s the only reason you’re writing a guest post.

  9. This is a great post for those interested in guest blogging. Great tips on a topic that I haven’t read much about in the blogosphere. Other than posting an entry on Le Clown’s blog (that guy somehow always gets me to join in…), I don’t do guest posts (or host them). Mostly because I have enough on my plate as it is.

    1. Thanks, Carrie! I was looking for some information on the web about guest blogging and all I could really find were articles about promoting your business through blogs, so I felt like something needed to be said about the cross-pollination of personal blogs.

  10. Melanie · · Reply

    I am embarking on a whole summer of hosting guests on one of my blogs. I put out two calls for guests and they came in like wildfire so the one day a week series I envisioned is now two days a week. For the next fourteen weeks hardly a post will be by me, but every post will be about the central topic of my blog. That is number one most important – that the topic remain consistent, but the personal approach to the topic is up to the guest writer.
    Originally I was going to introduce every guest, but I decided against it. I took time to read some collaborative blogs (thanks to the awesome timing of The Daily Post highlighting collaborative blogs) and noticed that an introduction isn’t the norm, but an “about the author” post post is. Yay for learning. I have a calendar to keep track of who is posting when, who has been invited already as an author, who has accepted, and who has composed and scheduled their post.
    It’s tricky business, for sure, but I think I have it handled well, and this summer story series will be good for me, my blog, and for the guest writers.

    1. I am really looking forward to reading your series! I’m a contributing blogger for a huge parenting website where there are gazillions of guest posts. All I have to do is write the thing and submit if for approval and editing and someone else does the scheduling and all that. The legwork involved it getting everything planned out is by no means small, so I doff my cap at your for getting it all squared away. You are far more organized than I am ;)

      1. Melanie · · Reply

        I owe most of the credit to my readers. So many raised their hands when I asked for volunteers that my concern about not getting 14 was quickly erased when I suddenly found myself with 19. I am overjoyed at the response. Now I’m at the point of asking some others to contribute to fill in the four blank dates I ended up with after adding a second day to the series. Yay!

  11. You are the Queen of the Intertron! I have never done guest posting one way or the other, but this is super helpful:) And wise!

    1. I’m kind of shocked I have never asked you to write anything for my blog! That’s gotta be a huge oversight right there. Remind me to ask you about that next time we talk ;D

  12. I got my copy of Lame Adventures: Unglamorous Tales from Manhattan on Friday– diving in. YAY :)

    1. Me too! I just started reading it last night and I love it, as I knew I would.

      1. LA is so damn funny. Love her!

  13. Awesome post! I feel so privileged to have guest-blogged (and no, I didn’t go into the washing machine first…is that really necessary?)

    1. Your beer stains add to your mystique.

  14. I agree wholeheartedly. Every time a random asks me to guest blog, I MEH all over the place. I have done plenty of guest posts, but it’s on topics I covet (birth posts) or a friend (like you) who had funny things to say. I think developing relationships with bloggers is a must and it’s definitely a slippery slope of asking permission. Like asking to drive someone’s car – you have to know them a little first. And I heart that Krug the Thinker is rocking “Intertron.”

    1. Full disclosure: Krug the Thinker is my real life bestie and she heard me call it the Intertron – a term I wholly swiped from you – when I saw her at Christmas. Jells, you’ve gone viral! :D

  15. I’ve only been asked to guest blog once, and it was really an honor. At first I really worried about getting it right… being clever and edgy enough for the host who’d asked… and then she reminded me that she asked for my take, not my take on what I thought she’d want. Your points are explained really well here. Sharing our platforms with other bloggers we enjoy is always a good thing, in appropriate doses, and helps create a blogging community that I love being a part of. (speaking of community… where is psychobabble? Is Lyssa getting married right now??? I know you’re her right hand blog maiden!).

    1. I know the post you’re talking about and I LOVED it. It represents everything that is right and good about guest blogging!

      Lyssa just now posted as I am writing this! I was kinda nervous she eloped but it appears she has not married yet ;)

      1. I figured you’d know better than anyone what Lyssa was up to… and looky there, she linked to you! I should have emailed her directly, like that special clown, who beat me to the punchline! Alas, I was trying not to intrude. ;-) Thanks for the compliment about the post. It didn’t get the traffic that we hoped for, but I was proud of the work.

  16. Totally agree, especially the bit about guest-blogging can be a lot like babysitting–when that tone comes up I usually don’t bother. I read guest posts like I read regular posts, if I like the premise I’ll gobble it all up. But something about the babysitting part turns me off. That’s why I enjoy reading guest posts on The Clown’s blogs because he doesn’t make it feel like they’re only fillers but that he really wants to showcase them as bloggers. Great points, great post! ;)

    1. Le Clown · · Reply

      HiNaD,
      It’s Le Clown!! After all this time……
      Le Clown

      1. BWAHAHA! I hoped to get away with it but I forgot you have carnies everywhere. Sorry, clown le magnifique.

    2. Ah! I am so glad I’m not the only person why feels that way about the whole babysitting vibe.

      That Clown certainly knows his stuff. We can all learn a lot from him. He’s still trying to teach me to cuss. It may be a lost cause.

  17. Great how-to post, which would have worked perfectly on The Official How To Blog, the greatest how to blog on earth. Or something.
    I also bought V’s book. Just arrived.

    1. It has been a really long time since I looked forward to reading a book as much as Lame Adventures. So far it’s great, as per the usual.

      1. I am humbled and flattered so make me flabled or humterred.

    2. Thanks for the support. Today, my tome received a big paw up from a cat — much nicer than a hiss and finding my left shin substituting for a scratch post.

  18. […] Beyond Self-Promotion: Some Whys and Hows of Guest Blogging […]

  19. Great points, excellent advice! I have had a few guest bloggers and it has been quite fun.

    I get a lot of those spammy guest post requests and I eventually gave into one that seemed genuine – I even made her re-write what she sent me! But in the end it just didn’t quite fit – I ran it anyway and felt really awkward about it!

    btw, know-it-allity is my new fave word.

    1. I am a regular wordsmith ;). I don’t know if you already follow The Official How-To Blog, but a lot of your book reminded me of it. You should totally check it out and contribute to it! I swear they’re not paying me to plug them lol

  20. Emily, this is a very well thought out piece about guest blogging. When LC approached me to participate on his blogroll contest at ACOF, I was hesitant to accept. His site is on steroids and although the exposure would be beneficial to a modest blogger like me, I don’t like to do anything half-assed. I knew that doing it whole-assed was going to be immensely time consuming, and time is something I have in short supply since I lead a life that is on serious overload. For that particular guest blogging stint, this meant collecting images, thinking up a unique challenge, and yes, writing a post that was a reflection of both the host and myself. It would be a sure sign of ingratitude as well as a very dull post to only promote oneself. He also had the foresight to assign me the weekend slot. As someone who works full-time and is seriously sleep deprived, it would have been impossible for me to help field the tsunami of comments that poured in if I were chained to my desk at The Grind. You’re very right that both the host and the guest need to be in sync for this to work well.

    Thank you for supporting my book and I’m very glad a writer as eloquent and gracious as you decided to follow me after that guest blogging stint. Added plus, you can be quite a pistol.

    1. I am so very glad you took the job offered to you by M. Le Clown! I’ve been enjoying your book very much (it arrived since I wrote this) and it’s easy to praise. Nothing makes me happier than a blog that translates well into a book. Maybe except peanut butter and apple sauce. That may make me happier. We’ll call it a draw.

      1. Awwwwwwww, thanks Emily. To be in the company of peanut butter and apple sauce is an honor I’ll cherish for the long haul, especially since they’re two foods that I not only like a lot, too, but my labor camp-worthy almost flavor-free restricted diet still allows.

  21. Good tips, runs off to find guest bloggers:)

    1. You have an open invitation to blog over here anytime. ;D

  22. EXCELLENT post, and I agree with everything you say here, especially the first point. I find it so strange when a guest blogger posts on a blog that is totally outside of the genre of the blog owner. It’s totally fine, but I don’t think it serves the owner or the guest. The followers get something they didn’t want, and the blogger didn’t get good exposure.

    1. So true. In the past I have been really tempted to offer my blogging services to anyone who asked, but often the exposure doesn’t mean anything. It ends up being a lot of work for nothing. And while I’m a big proponent of taking opportunities just to see where they’ll lead me – even if it means making mistakes in the process – my time is at much more of a premium now with the small friend running around and I have to apply a bit more discernment. Thanks, Jen!

  23. Now I feel like guest blogging. No wait. You made it seem hard.

    I think guest blogging is a good mix of matching the blog’s theme with your own voice. Like if you stay over someone’s house you want to be yourself but you also want to follow the rules.

    I’ve never actually noticed anyone write a really crappy guest blog post. I think most people on WordPress actually do take it pretty seriously which is a good thing. We all want the same thing anyway, to get paid the most amount of money we can for doing the least amount of work at something we enjoy.

    1. WordPress is a good place for people who take blogging seriously. (While I wrote that comment, I was notified that FreeOnlineNewsNow and BestWaysToWaxYourMustache followed my blog. Way to subvert me, WordPress.)

  24. That picture of C is the best.
    Such an informative post! I imagine I’ll refer back to it at some point…

    1. Thanks, I downloaded Picasa and now I’m a little obsessed with it. Sepia photos 4eva!

      1. Picasa is amazeballs.

  25. Get out of my head! Seriously, do you just sit around and wait until I need really good advice and then write a blog about it? I was JUST talking to a friend about working on getting some guest blogging gigs. I think I have just been too chicken to venture out. And there is this whole keeping up with lots of blogs that I really suck at. But you have inspired me. But don’t get all excited…that only means I might try to pursue guest blogging in the next year or so. I usually like to wait until trends are over to hop on board.

    1. It is comfy between your ears! I’ve been really trying to venture out too which is kind of where this post came from. Turns out that it’s hard to write for other people sometimes!

      1. I think the hardest part for me is finding a long enough stretch of time to devote to figuring it all out. I like to do my research, and I sometimes have a hard time figuring out where to begin. I get overwhelmed. Where do I find these opportunities? How do I sell myself? Why can’t I get over feeling scummy about trying to get a guest blog spot on a blog I don’t faithfully read and comment on? It’s a hard balancing act, as we all know. This isn’t my job, but I really hope it can lead to something that could be. It’s the old Catch 22: it’s hard to justify spending the amount of time needed on all of this since it doesn’t pay, but it will never pay out if I don’t spend the amount of time needed. Man. I am totally in awe of those of you who have been more successful in working toward this. Just consider me a humble student who doesn’t always do her homework.

  26. My advice about guest blogging? Not to over think it.

  27. Um. I don’t have anything meaningful to contribute. I just want to say I love reading you. Especially at half eleven in the evening when Danda is away. It feels like I have a friend to keep me company.

  28. These are really good tips for someone new to guest blogging, and even for someone who wrote guest posts it’s still helps to have these rules written out.
    Personally, I have a rather uncommon reason for guest blogging (besides exposure): my own blog has such a narrow theme and strict form, that a lot of what I write just doesn’t fit my blog. I think I’ve written almost as many guest posts in the last few months as I have for my own blog. And honestly, I often spend more time on guest posts than I do on my own posts, and both Freshly Pressed posts I had were guest posts. So I think I am overdoing this a little with guest posts…

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