November 5, 2014
It’s been written about before, but the truth is that the way that editors want to be approached for contributed content has changed over the last year. Now that more and more companies are starting to see the value of working with authoritative websites, particularly by contributing content, editors are starting to get more emails than ever before—and not all email pitches are created equal.
I talked with some of the best editors in the SEO and online marketing industry and asked them the following questions:
When a writer emails you about getting involved in your content marketing and contributing content, what is it that you look for in his/her email? Are there specific things you don’t like to see with this type of pitch? Have your standards and thoughts on this subject changed over the last several months?
Below are some of the excellent answers we received:
Mainly what I look for in a pitch email is some sort of sign that they are an actual human writer (not a persona working under a fake name and email) that really wants to not only get exposure but also to truly contribute new ideas and resources to our community. At Search Engine Journal, I get about 10-40 new pitches per month, and if they don’t contain any type of personalization (e.g. addressing me by name, pitching a few ideas, linking to where else they have been published), I pass on them 99% of the time. At Search Engine Journal, we created new Editorial Guidelines last year that have helped us not only vet new writers better, but to get on the same page with writers about what is expected of them.
In fact, my Pubcon 2014 presentation covered this exact thing, which you can find here.
When I get a pitch from a new-to-me author, there are a few things that might appear in his/her email that will make me say a very quick and strong ‘No’ to them:
I’ve actually written full posts on what I like in a guest post pitch (found here), and what I don’t. Even though a guest post pitch is often only a few sentences, it’s really easy to screw up. The main things I see people mess up are:
Truthfully, we’ve always had high editorial standards, and we’ve continued to stick to them. We’re very lucky and proud to get awesome people to contribute awesome content to the blog.
We get dozens of submissions for every available slot on the CMI blog, so I’ve developed a sort-of mental checklist to quickly go through pitches and determine if they are worth pursuing. These are some of the top-line things I look for:
I look for sincerity: Contributors who have done the smallest bit of research to find my name and personally address me, and people who have read our blog and know what we look for content-wise. Do those two things and you’re golden right off the bat. 🙂
One thing I do not like—that I’ve seen more of recently—is a kind of demanding tone regarding the amount of links per post and whether or not they will be “follow.” I appreciate the efforts of our bloggers immensely and want to give them all the promotion possible! But at the end of the day, we still need to adhere to Google best practices and look out for the blog.
For more insight into what editors at leading publications look for, check out this post on the SEMrush blog: “So You Think You Can Write? Tips from Editors”
To answer your second question, I started managing the blog a few months before the Matt Cutts blog post that rocked the guest blogging world in January 2014. Up to that point, we averaged one guest post a day, and right around the time of the announcement, we made plans to increase our content production. We had to take a step back: How could we both serve our readers and remain in the search engines’ good graces? Matt later clarified his statements, and we continued to increase quality while avoiding questionable content.
I would say a year ago there was more focus placed on Twitter followers and other somewhat vanity-based metrics to determine prospective contributors. We’ve since opened the blog to include major influencers like Neil Patel and Ann Smarty, but also up-and-comers. I’m proud of this shift. I hope the next big SEO superstar can say he or she got his or her start on the SEMrush blog 🙂
What it is I look for in an email:
One: Signs that the guest poster has done his research and knows what the site is all about. For example, proposed topics that are aligned with the site’s focus.
Two: A well-written pitch in terms of grammar.
Three: A short description of writer’s experience/credentials and samples of related published work (URLs preferred); the shorter the pitch, the better.
Specific things I don’t like to see with this type of pitch:
One: generic openings, which are not even correct – “Greetings for the day!”
Two: obvious templates, especially those with errors such as the link of site. For example, they’re pitching for BloggingPro.com but the URL mentioned in the body of the email is something else.
Three: pitches that say “I have written this post for you. Please publish it.” – without any prior contact at all!
Four: pitches offering titles/topics that are totally not related to the blog. Example: Pitch for FreelanceWritingGigs.com with proposed topics about roofing, house improvement, and dental care.
Five: pitches that ask you what your site/network is all about, basically showing that the guest poster has not done research and has no clue.
Have my standards and thoughts on this subject changed over the last several months:
Definitely. I used to go through every email that came in, either via contact form or my Splashpress email. I’ve since then learned to spot red flags mentioned above and delete emails that only take up my time.
First, I can’t help but notice the style and tone of the writer’s email pitch. Did the writer take the time to read a few of our blog posts to capture our voice in the email? This demonstrates an understanding of audience.
Second, I look for writing samples appropriate for our readers. Can the writer cover topics interesting to our audience at a level that expands their knowledge? Are posts rich in images, examples and resources? Does the writer go beyond just spitting out information and craft articles in a way to keep readers engaged? I also look to see how much the writer’s fans and followers engage with the content. Does the writer’s posts get comments, shares, likes and so on?
And finally, yes, it is important the email is immaculate in grammar and punctuation but I never hold a typo against a writer. Mistakes happen. OK, a glaring, awful butcher of the English language is unacceptable. But I’m more interested in a writer’s ability to either thoroughly instruct the reader on a given topic or to tackle a subject with creativity and a unique, reflective or perhaps even controversial point of view.
To answer your second question, I don’t particularly like a lot of back and forth. Paint me the full picture in one succinct email. I like writers who demonstrate an appreciation of your time constraints. I don’t like having to dig to find out if a writer shares posts on social media. The only thing that’s changed is that again, I’m more tolerant of imperfections. Content is an extremely competitive arena and I understand the pace at which writers have to work. They have to hustle. But a writer truly interested in becoming a contributor will be memorable by demonstrating he or she is an ideal fit for our blogs.
I started accepting guest posts on Basic Blog Tips over 4 years ago and during that time nearly 200 guest authors have contributed content the blog. Most of those bloggers were already on my radar before they approached me about guest posting. I’m active in a number of blogging communities like Blog Engage, Triberr and Social Buzz Club so it’s much easier for members of those communities to connect with me for guest posting outreach. I talk more about my process in this episode of my podcast.
When I get approached by people who use a template email—most of the time I’m not interested. I can always tell when the person hasn’t done their research about me or my blog based on the tone of the email. Of course any email that mentions a “team” of writers gets rejected. Then there are those that are going to provide an article at absolutely no charge or free of charge. I find that type of email very annoying and consider it spam or junk mail.
In the past, the only way I would consider a new guest author is if they left a voice mail for me through my Speakpipe account. That’s a great way to filter out the noise. And I always ask for examples from previous guest posts so I can check their interaction and responses to comments. Something I started doing recently is checking Buzzsumo to search for past articles of potential guests. Just type in “author:author name” to see the results and it does a great job of pulling in their portfolios.
Overall, I’m starting to see a lot more guest posting requests come through from more qualified authors and I find that very refreshing.
We have raised our standards on guest posts over the last year or so – partially in response to Google’s cracking down on guest posts, but more because our blog keeps getting better, and we don’t want to drag the quality down with less-than-awesome content, even if it’s free and requires no effort on our part. So when I get an email from somebody looking into contributing to our blog, I’m looking for positive indicators that the writer understands the following:
I like when people suggest specific topics that they think would be a good fit, versus just asking me what I want them to post. (I don’t know your expertise!) I also like when they send me a link or two to other articles they’ve written, so I can see how they’ve performed. I don’t like when they send me links to completely irrelevant articles (e.g. “5 Ways to Save Money on Your Heating Bill This Winter”). That’s a dead giveaway that you’ll write anything for anybody, and that you’re not particularly interested in nurturing a relationship.
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