Guest article or post submissions can be a great asset to a publication, but they can also be an excuse for bad content to slip through the cracks. Editors as well as guest-post writers must therefore take special care to ensure that they do not lower their usual standards.
I was spurred to write this article after reading a blog post about what makes for a great guest post: Kate Morris's "The Anatomy of a Great Guest Post" at Distilled.
As the editor behind the Wistia blog, I've outlined much of our approach to guest posting. But I wanted to share a more thorough breakdown of how we think about guest content, what we've found makes for the best guest posts, and the suggestions I'd give to someone writing guest content for any publication.
1. Share your personal story
We wouldn't want to outsource the Wistia post about "how to use video in email," for example, but we're happy to outsource a post about "how [company] uses video in email to [achieve a thing]." That's not because we don't think someone else could do a good job creating the former post, but because we're capable of creating that piece of content ourselves. We think we should be the ones who write the more general, go-to resources on our blog.
Specific anecdotes from different perspectives offer something to our audience that we couldn't otherwise provide. As Kate said in her article, "include yourself." Don't be afraid to tell your personal story in guest posts: Editors want your content because they're interested in you!
2. Include your own stylistic flair (to a point)
Don't submit a post that sticks out like a sore thumb among the other content on someone else's blog, and be familiar with their formatting and style, but also don't be afraid to incorporate some of your own personality.
This point especially relevant to guest content that's in the form of video, because it's both a visual showcase of who you are and a way to make a personal connection with the audience.
Unless you're being totally unreasonable, or the publication you're submitting to is really, really serious, showcasing your own style will help you stand out rather than hurt you; and if you cross a line, the editor can nudge you back over it.
3. Don't be pitchy; teach, don't sell
You know those full-page ads in print newspapers and magazines that attempt to imitate an article? The ones with that barely discernable text that reads "advertisement" on the top of the page? Take a step back from the guest post you're about to submit and ask yourself whether a traditional publication would charge you to publish it.
"Pitchy" is something we try to avoid at all costs. Even in our own posts, we try not to sell too hard (sometimes to a fault). Content marketing is about teaching, and if a reader's only takeaway is "sign up for an account," then we've failed.
The same is true for guest content, too. Use guest posts as an opportunity to share your knowledge and insight, and people will look into your product—when they're ready—because you've built trust.
4. Don't write a testimonial
On the opposite end of the spectrum from guest posts that sell the guest's product too hard are the posts that are too laudatory of our product. (Not that we don't love to read them; it's totally flattering.)
But no one else would read our blog if the content was entirely focused on people who already love Wistia. So we try to shift such posts to show how you are using Wistia. That is much more actionable for our readers.
When you're writing guest content, make sure you're thinking about the audience that's going to be reading it and what they want to feel empowered to do.
5. Include actionable takeaways
While the most basic "listicles" feel cheap, we can learn something from the popularity of the format: It's digestible and actionable.
Reuters editor Chadwick Matlin has commented on listicles' appeal to readers' identity: "The best demolisticles [demographic listicles] are the ones that recognize that all we want is for somebody to recognize us for who we are, and who we used to be.
And, in the case of business writing, it can also be about who we want to be, or what we want to achieve.
If you're having trouble parsing out the main points of a draft, imagining what the "Buzzfeed headline" for that article would look like can help. Reconceptualizing "the story of my post-production process" as "5 ways you can trim down your post-production time" (even if you don't explicitly title it that) may help you focus your work.
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Writers and editors alike can contribute to making the world of guest content a much more valuable place by striving for higher quality.
I'll close with a quote from Kate's Distilled post that made me write this article in the first place:
I challenge all of you to do better, and I am taking the challenge myself. Don't let poor quality content slip through the cracks. Don't do things just because you need to hit a metric, get a certain number of links for the month. Write great content for others, that is how guest posting started. Maybe we can get guest posting back to where it started, as a great way to get exposure and help others with the problem of content development.