M.A. Psychology, Oxford. McKinsey Alum. Founder & Editor at TAoL.
Perfect for you if:
- You have something to say but you’re struggling to be heard.
- You’re an entrepreneur or freelancer hunting for links, exposure, and customers.
- You’re curious what it takes to get published by some of the biggest blogs in the world.
Maybe it’s happened to you.
You invested deeply in a piece of writing, carefully crafting each paragraph, sentence, and phrase. Your precious words, you knew they had to be right to attract the right audience – to have the right impact.
You finally hit ‘publish’, and what happened? Nothing. Nada. Nobody read them. Not even your friends and family. No links, no likes, no comments; people said they liked your work, and yet you still didn’t get the right results.
So now you’re wondering: Do you just need to be patient and wait for your traffic to snowball?
Or could it be that your writing really does suck and your wellwishers are just protecting your delicate artistic sensibilities?
The Surprisingly Simple Truth
The solution is simple. To get results and make an impact you must:
- Write about things that people actually want to read.
- Learn to write about them well (and to rewrite them even better).
- Get your writing published where people will see it.
“Smart bloggers know where they want to go, and how to find the right strategies to get there. If you don’t have the right approach, it won’t happen.” – Jon is both an exceptional copywriter and an inspirational teacher. But don’t take my word for it: visit his website, read his story, judge him for yourself.
Though much of his content is free, I was recently inspired by another writer, Benjamin Hardy, to try one of his excellent paid courses. I wasn’t disappointed. Whether you’re a writer, blogger, or entrepreneur I’d strongly recommend taking a look. (N.b., This is not an affiliate link. I’m not incentivised or paid in any way to promote Jon – I just think his work is awesome.)
For now, here’s an insight into the mind of a guest blogging pro and 25 steps to get started on right away…
1. Understand “Why?”
“A blog without a clear goal is like a killer resume without a dream job to apply for.” – Jon Morrow
Ask yourself: Why am I guest blogging? To attract freelance clients? To increase my readership? To develop my writing?
Write your goal down and make it SMART (simple, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound): e.g., I sign up 10 new Freelance clients by XXX
2. Know who you’re talking to.
Ask yourself: What single deep desire unites my target audience? If I could grant them one wish, what would they ask for?
Use desires, not demographics, to describe your target audience. Review Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs if you need some inspiration.
Write your audience’s deepest desire down in terms that would resonate with them. e.g., “I want to be…”, “I want to have…”
3. Pick a corner to fight in.
The blogosphere has eleven major categories, each characterised by different wants.
- Personal finance: save money and make smarter investments;
- Gadgets and Technology: be at the cutting edge, learning tricks and hacks to get the most of what they already have.
- Career: more career success and satisfaction, or make a career change.
- Creative Endeavours: greater creative expression and success.
- Parenting: become better parents and raise healthy, happy, balanced kids.
- Business & Entrepreneurship: success and profitability in (mainly small) business.
- Social Media & Blogging: expand reach and influence online.
- Freelancing: thrive as an independent freelancer working on their own terms.
- Marketing: build trust and sell more.
- News, Culture & Entertainment: keep up to date with and participate in popular culture
- Self-improvement: be happier, healthier, more effective and live a fulfilled, purposeful life.
Ask yourself: Where is my audience likely to be hanging out?
Write your three target blogosphere categories down.
4. Scout high and low for prospects.
Your track record is far less important than you think.
5. Use the 3Cs to eliminate dead ends.
Go through your list and eliminate any blogs that fails one of the following tests.
If you finish with fewer than 5 blogs, return to Step 4 to find more targets.
i. Crowd: Is the audience engaged?
Use comments and social shares to test levels of audience engagement.
Look for a minimum of ~5 comments per post. 10 – 30 is preferable. 30+ is dynamite.
If comments are low or disabled entirely, look for a minimum of ~50 shares per post. 100 – 500 is preferable. 500+ is dynamite.
Check each target manually or use a tool like Buzzsumo to get an overview.
ii. Contributors: Does the blog accept guest posts?
Either explicitly: Look for a “Write for us” link or equivalent in header and footer menus.
Or implicitly: Check posts for multiple authors. Review the author bio boxes for clues. Search the site for keywords like, “guest post”.
To do this type: “site:https://theartofliving.com guest post” into Google, replacing Faster To Master with your target blog’s domain.
Avoid blogs which accept guest posts either by invitation only or rarely at all; focus on easier targets.
iii. Credit: Does the blog credit guest authors in the right way?
Proper credit is critical. Without it, your guest post won’t move you towards your guest blogging goal.
Check the author bio boxes at the end of each post. Look for a bio on the same page as your article that allows you to link freely.
Avoid blogs that direct users to another page for author information. Be wary of blogs that only allow links in fixed ways e.g. “Website”.
6. Draft a well-connected hit-list.
For each target on your short-list, ask yourself: How well does this blog connect with my target audience’s deepest desire (see Step 2)?
Read each blog’s title, tagline, about page, and ten most popular posts. Now rate its chance of connecting with your audience: High, Medium, or Low.
(Look for an on-site ‘Most Popular’ list or use a tool like Buzzsumo to find any blog’s most popular recent posts.)
Narrow your focus to the three most promising targets. This is your hit-list.
7. Work out what keeps your readers up until 2 A.M.
Start with the most promising target on your hit-list.
Read each of its top ten posts; as you read, write down three answers to each of the following questions:
- What desires do these posts promise to fulfil?
- What goals do they help the reader achieve, or use to lure them in?
- What fears do they amplify or offer to cure?
- What frustrations do they empathise with and present solutions for?
Write in the first person (“I want…”, “I’m afraid…”, “I find it frustrating…”).
Read them aloud. If they don’t sound right: try, try and try again.
8. Make your topic irresistible.
Pick the three answers that really stand out to you from Step 7.
Ask yourself: what three outcomes would make this person’s day?
Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. What completed outcomes would genuinely fulfil this desire, move them towards this goal, reassure this fear or relieve this frustration?
These outcomes will be at the core of your guest post. Write each one down and say it aloud. If you can’t imagine someone saying it to a friend, or it’s not a result that would make their day, try again.
9. Grab their attention.
If your irresistible results are your business plan, your headline is your two-second elevator pitch.
An effective headline grabs readers’ attention because it:
- Contains power words that evoke emotion – e.g., 13 Negative Thoughts That Cause Low Self-Esteem >> 13 Toxic Thoughts That Crush Your Confidence
- Is specific – e.g., How to Get More Followers on Twitter >> How to Get 1,000 New Twitter Followers in Just 24 Hours
- Is concrete (i.e., detectable by the senses) – How to Increase Customer Satisfaction >> How to Make Customers So Happy They’ll Call to Thank You
Avoid headlines that are:
- Too clever e.g., How to Get Attention Without Receiving a Detention
- Too cryptic e.g., Are You a Shark or a Dolphin?
- Too long i.e., no more than ~70 characters
“How to” and “List” headlines are tried and tested formats. For practical pointers, see this superb guide on Headline Hacks.
Whatever format you choose, spend at least 30 minutes brainstorming options. Your headline is your first impression – make it count.
Now pick your favourite 3 options to work through the next steps.
10. Make yourself at home.
Take another look at the headlines of the target blog’s top ten posts. Make a note of:
- Format: What kind of posts does it favour? e.g., “How to” vs. “List”
- Length: How long are the shortest, average, and longest headlines?
- Style and tone: How e.g., extroverted or muted are the headlines?
Now, adapt your favourite headlines to fit the house style. This will dramatically increase your chances of getting published.
11. The right outcome starts with the right people.
A successful pitch means putting the right idea in front of the right person in the right way.
For blogs that explicitly accept guest posts: Find and scrutinise their guest posting guidelines to understand who needs to see what and how.
For blogs that lack guidelines but may still accept guest posts:
- Find contact emails on the blog or with tools like Hunter.io or ContactOut.com
- Confirm contact emails using tools like Pipl.com
- For bigger blogs, decide who best to contact (e.g., the owner vs. an editor)
If your primary target specifically requests full article submissions, move to Step 14. Otherwise…
12. Make sure they can’t ignore you.
For blogs with clear pitching guidelines: Read and follow the pitching guidelines exactly.
Otherwise, write pitching emails that are professional, short and easy to reply to. E.g.,
“Hi [FIRST NAME],
Mind taking a quick look at these headlines?
For several days now, I’ve been digging through [BLOG NAME], getting familiar with your style and audience. If you’re open to it, I’d like to write some guest posts for you.
Here are some sample headlines:
- HEADLINE #1
- HEADLINE #2
- HEADLINE #3
Any of those sound like a good fit? If not, no worries about hurting my feelings. I’ll go back to the drawing board and write some more.
[YOUR FIRST NAME]”
13. Pitch like a pro.
Submit your pitch according to Step 11 and Step 12.
If you hear nothing back:
- Follow up politely after 2 weeks.
- Follow up again 2 weeks after that.
- If you still hear nothing back, re-focus on another target.
You may need to invest in your relationship with the target blog before trying again.
If your ideas are rejected:
- Don’t take it personally; it could be the right content at the wrong time.
- Follow up with thanks and politely ask for feedback.
- Incorporate any feedback received.
- Now resubmit or go back to Step 7.
If your ideas are accepted:
- Give yourself a high-five.
- Follow up with thanks and to confirm deadline and formatting.
- Move on to Step 14.
Whatever the outcome, don’t sit around waiting. Go back to Step 7 and get started on your next target. Use your downtime to start building a pipeline of prospects.
14. Surprise and delight them.
Perhaps you’ve had an article idea accepted. Perhaps your primary target requires a full article submission. In either case, it’s content time.
Powerful articles are surprising. Surprising articles are engaging and shareable. To make your article both powerful and surprising, you’ll need to generate some unexpected points.
Take 10 minutes to write down all the points you would expect an article with your headline to raise.
Now take at least 10 minutes to draw up a list of points your reader would not expect you to make. Ask yourself:
- What insights do I have that others won’t?
- What things to many people believe to be true that I know are wrong?
- What tricks/shortcuts do I know that most people aren’t using?
- What conventional wisdom is wrong?
One way to come up with these points is ‘Extreme Inversion”. For an article on weight loss:
- An expected point might be “Stop eating chocolate”.
- The inverted point becomes: “Eat chocolate”.
- An extreme inversion is: “Eat chocolate every day”.
Now try to make a good argument of the extreme inversion – e.g., “Eating a small ration of chocolate each day helps keep more harmful craving-led binge eating at bay”.
Exaggerated inversions must still qualify as good advice. Inverting for the sake of attention grabbing alone will deservedly lose you credibility and readership.
Congratulations! You now have the start of an interesting post that might actually say something new.
15. Get into their heads.
Openings are the next 5 – 7 seconds of your elevator pitch. Get them wrong and it doesn’t matter how good your content is.
One approach is to write a hypnotic opening – one that relates quickly, deeply, and personally to the way a reader thinks and feels.
To craft one, first consider a reader’s inner thoughts when confronting the desires, goals, fears, and frustrations you chose in Step 8.
Try to get inside their heads. Note at least ten potential thoughts and feelings that come to mind. Examples for a personal finance post might be:
- “I’m afraid I will never get ahead.”
- “There’s never enough money at the end of the month.”
Now, as you craft your opening, repeat some of these thoughts back to the reader in a clear progression of ideas.
Write in the second person, “You want…”, “You’re afraid…”, “You’re frustrated…”.
Keep your sentences short, simple, and easy to read.
16. Sketch out your road-map.
Now that you’re in the mind of your reader, and before you jump into writing, take ten minutes to develop a bulleted outline of your post.
Begin with the unexpected points you developed in Step 14. Write one or two sentences that explain and support each one.
For a “How To” post ask yourself:
- What context do I need to establish?
- What are the essential points?
- What are the potential objections?
- What are the possible areas of confusion?
- Does each point follow naturally from the one before it?
For a “List” post ask yourself:
- Which are my best points? Put these at the start and end.
- Are my points consistent with each other?
- What’s the natural order of the points?
Anticipating the gaps in your logic and making a small up-front investment in outlining will save you hours of writing down the line.
17. Motivate and excite them.
With your opening and a rough outline in hand, it’s time to craft your ending. Remember
“Traffic is irrelevant unless it takes you somewhere useful – otherwise, it’s a meaningless vanity metric”. – Jon Morrow
Success comes down to getting your readers to:
- Interact with you by leaving a comment;
- Talk about your post on email and social media; or
- Implement the advice you’ve given them.
To craft a motivational ending, avoid summaries and recaps. Instead make your reader’s day by:
- Reminding them where they started. Revisit your opening. How will feel they when they follow your advice? Paint a vivid picture that shows the benefit of action.
- Talking to them like a coach. Write your best motivational speech and use it to close your post. Use power words to fire them up.
- Telling them exactly what to do. Avoid new information. Restate clear calls to action that have already been explained.
A well-crafted ending is as important as a well-crafted opening. Leave your reader with an uplifting sense of satisfaction and a desire to act.
18. Let it all hang out.
You’ve got all the pieces. Now it’s time to turn your outline into something readable.
Humanity, interest, and passion are the secret ingredients of meaningful and interesting writing. And remember:
“The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway
Don’t stress too much over detail for now. Go with the flow and be light-handed with your criticism.
19. Do the one thing all great writers have in common.
“Rewriting is where the game is won or lost; rewriting is the essence of writing.” – William Zinnser
Expect to spend at least as much time editing your first draft as you spent writing it.
As you progressively refine your entire post, remember to:
Remove fluff – make every paragraph, every sentence, and every word count:
- Avoid restating or diverting into interesting but unnecessary stories.
- Simplify grammar: “There are many people who write.” → “Many people write.”
- Strengthen weak verbs: “Make it clear” → “Clarify”
- Strengthen weak adjectives: “Really sad” → “Morose”
- Eliminate wordy colloquialisms like “the fact of the matter is” or “due to the fact that”
For more ideas on clearing out clutter see Smart Blogger’s 297 Flabby Words and Phrases That Rob Your Writing of All Its Power.
Structure your writing – make it easy to read:
- Use short paragraphs – limit each to 1 – 3 sentences.
- Break every 2 – 5 paragraphs up with curiosity building sub-headlines.
N.b., Treat each sub-headline like a mini-headline. Sell the content that follows to readers skimming through.
- Make each sub-headline irresistible and avoid plain labels.
- Tease your audience by avoiding headline spoilers.
- Make it easy to read and avoid being overly cryptic.
Add styling – add stress, weight, and rhythm to your composition.
- Use italics to stress a word or phrase.
- Use bold to add weight to an entire sentence or paragraph.
- Use bullets to add structure and emphasis to your content.
Craft “Sweater-Knit” copy – draw the reader irresistibly through the content.
- Make each sentence completely dependant on the previous.
- Turn each sentence into a cliffhanger for the next.
Make your readers want to talk about it afterwards.
- Intentionally intersperse snackable sound bites through your composition.
- Write long posts. Pack them with value by pruning heavily and then layering on even more great content.
Make it consistent – make the composition consistent from headline to ending. Look out for:
- Unity of person: Commit to one of “I”, “You”, “He/she/it”, or “We”.
- Unity of tense: Commit to the past, the present or the future.
- Unity of tone: Extroverted or subdued? Choose one and commit to it.
Perform one final check – ask yourself, to what extent is my article:
- Surprising – Is the topic, narrative, character, or outcome something truly new?
- Meaningful – If a million people saw this story, would it make the world a better place?
- Visual – Are there enough visual elements to engage readers who might be skimming on a phone?
- Shareable – Would you share it? Would your friends share it? Most importantly, would your mom’s friend share it?
Strengthen any obvious weaknesses now. You’ll be grateful for it later.
20. Don’t forget the only thing that counts.
Well done on writing your first guest post! Now it’s time to focus back on your goal.
Your author bio is your call-to-action – your chance to get your readers to e.g., visit a “landing page” where they can subscribe to your blog by email.
- Keep it short: no more than 2 – 3 sentences.
- Keep it simple: Say who you are, describe your target audience, and explain how you’re helping them.
- Make it clickable: Include one link only, this counterintuitive tip will actually increase click-through rates. Make the benefits of the call-to-action clear.
21. Don’t stumble at the last hurdle.
It’s finally time to submit!
Follow the submission and formatting instructions from Step 13 carefully. If you submit by email, send your guest post as an attachment.
Now, be patient. Go back to Step 7 to build a pipeline of articles across multiple blogs as you wait for a response.
If you don’t hear anything back, follow up politely every couple of weeks (see Step 13).
If your post is rejected: Ask for and apply feedback quickly and carefully. Now resubmit.
If your post is accepted: Congratulations! Give yourself a high five and move on to the next step.
22. Help others to help you.
It’s totally normal for it to take several weeks for a post to go live after it’s been accepted.
When the day comes, be sure to promote your guest post as you would any post on your own blog:
- Post it to social media.
- Send it to influencers in your niche.
- Write a summary for your email list.
Not only will this increase the post’s momentum, it will also build valuable goodwill with the publisher.
If the deadline passes and you can’t see your post, check in gently and politely to see if you can help things along.
23. Your job isn’t over quite yet.
One of the most important steps in guest posting is the follow-up.
Reply to at least 25 – 50% of the comments people leave. This will:
- Build a dialogue with the people who care about your writing.
- Usually be expected by the publisher of your guest post.
- Promote your work by increasing the total number of comments.
Always take time to thank the people who helped make your post successful. These include:
- The target blogger or editor who took time to edit and publish your post.
- Anyone who greased the wheels through introductions or coaching.
- The supporters who took time to read and promote your work.
- Anyone who links to your post. Why not leave a comment on their blog?
24. Don’t forget: What gets measured gets done.
What simple, single metric could you use to measure success? Pick something that relates to your blogging goal from Step 1.
Don’t know how to use Google Analytics? Learn, or use basic ‘before and after’ numbers within a 48h time frame as a rough proxy.
Be results oriented. Adjust your guest blogging strategy based on these results. Double down on publisher and topic combinations that drive your metric of success.
25. And remember: A rolling stone gathers no moss.
Congratulations! Having your first guest post published is a huge high. Take a moment to enjoy it. Quickly catch your breath. Now return to Step 7.
Momentum is your friend. Do everything you can to maintain it. Make guest posting a habit. Build pitching and writing into your weekly routine.
Chip diligently away at your guest blogging goal with each guest post. Your success is guaranteed.
The Feeling You’ll Never Forget
Maybe it’s happened to you.
You invested deeply in a piece of writing, carefully crafting each paragraph, sentence, and phrase.
But this time, when you hit ‘publish’ your voice was heard. The shares, emails and comments came streaming in. You landed thousands of new subscribers or customers. You feel fearless, happy and fulfilled.
Not only did people read and care about your message, you actually made their day, you filled them with hope, and you may even have changed their lives.
What’s more, you realised something eye-opening in the process. With sufficient grit and curiosity, given just the right approach, you can conquer just about anything you put your mind to. There’s no secret to getting published and changing lives, it’s just a question of attitude and approach.
So tell me, friend: What’s your guest blogging goal? And what are you going to do about it?