Guest blogging is a complex process. Every blog has unique guidelines, focus, and style you have to follow. Editors are swamped with pitches along with senseless spam and advertisement.

It’s difficult to find an individual approach to each blog, figure out their “thing,” come up with a suitable idea, and on top of everything else, break through all this noise.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t.

There is no magic formula for pitching an article. And, unfortunately, a “one size fits all” approach won’t work . Having said that, there are common “pitching rules” I learned drowning in my own tears.

Jokes aside, it took me half a year to stop getting rejected all the time, and it took me almost a year to become a contributor to a niche leading publications.

So in this post, I’m going to tell about my failures and share 5 rules I learned from my mistakes.

#1 You should have something to show

I’ll start with a small personal story. A few years ago, at the very beginning of my content marketing career, I found a huge list of blogs that accept guest posts (here it is, by the way).

Without hesitation, I submitted all applications under “digital marketing” and “business” categories. So yes, I submitted about 150 applications and guess how many positive answers I got. I got [dramatic drum roll] only one answer. How come I failed so hard?

Almost every guest post form includes the following field: “Share your previously published articles you’re most proud of.” Here’s what it looks like on Content Marketing Institute, for instance:

guest blog pitch form CMI

It’s clear that large publications won’t deal with newbies. They don’t have enough time to do edits several times or explain that straight text without subheadings and lists isn’t something people want to read. They need experienced writers, and previously published posts give them an opportunity to estimate your skills in a matter of minutes.

So what about my story? I got nothing to show, and that was the problem. I filled out all these guest posting forms and attached my worst articles (Were you proud of your first posts? So am I) as examples of my “best works.” This is why all these sites ignored me.

My tip is: Don’t try to pitch large publication if you have nothing to show or you’re not really proud of your articles. Start by writing to small blogs, but write as if you’re writing for the large ones. You should do your best writing for every single blog to create a solid portfolio.

There are small blogs that don’t care about your background. They don’t ask you to show samples or discuss a topic with the editor. They’re ok with you sending relevant article over to them, and if they like this post, they will publish it without any problems.

I have at least 3 great blogs implementing this approach in mind: MarkGrowth blog on Medium, Outbrain blog, or TechWyse.

guest blog submission form

You should look for two types of blogs:

  • Small blogs that accept almost every relevant article they receive;
  • Regular blogs that accept articles in full and don’t care about your background.

Create your portfolio by writing good pieces for smaller blogs. Once you have a solid list of samples, try to pitch large publications.

Let’s get back to my content marketing journey. A year after my failure, I resent some of those application forms attaching my article on Search Engine Journal as a sample. And this time, oddly enough, most blogs accepted my application.

b2c application pitch reponse

I know blogs that accept articles without even discussing a topic with the editor, but I can’t remember large niche publications doing it this way. This brings us to the next tip, which is:

#2 Never send the article in full

In the case of established publications, sending an article in the first email is almost never the way to go. Send your article in full, ask when they will be able to publish it right in the first email, say “thanks in advance” – and the editor will delete your message faster than you can say “why?”

The publishing process takes time:

  • You pitch several ideas;
  • The editor doesn’t like your ideas;
  • You send a few more ideas for consideration;
  • The editor chooses the best idea;
  • You send a brief outline;
  • The editor suggests some corrections;
  • You send the first draft;
  • The editor sends the edits;
  • You send the second draft;
  • The editor, at best, sends you the date of publication.

Here is what the SEJ guidelines say:

SEJ blog pitch guidelines

When you’re sending the article in the first email, it looks like someone has rejected your post and now you’re trying to find the second variant.

So the tip is: discuss the topic first. Even if you have an already written article, even if you’re sure your article fits this blog and meets all the requirements, don’t send it in full.

Your chances of get ingpublished are much higher if you do everything consistently. Also, they’re much higher if you:

#3 Check before asking and read the guidelines

You should keep in mind this simple idea: you’ll find all the information about the site you want to write to on the site itself.

There are a lot of questions you may want to ask: do you accept guest posts? How long should my post be? How many images should I add?

And it’s so embarrassing when you’re asking the editor a question you could easily find on the site without bothering anyone. It’s unprofessional, and many editors might be discouraged from working with you.

I confess I used to reach out to the editors without any research (and make silly typos):

pitch a blog editor

As you see, I was lucky to get a response. But it doesn’t mean you’ll be lucky too. Not every editor would want to speak with the person who didn’t even bother to visit the site before asking questions.

So if you want to know something about a blog you chose for a guest post, glance through the blog, do a little research, and I’m sure you’ll find everything you need.

For starters, find the “write for us” page on the site. Even if you don’t see it on the blog’s homepage, you always can type “{Blog name} write for us” or “{Blog name} editorial guidelines” into Google. If a site has a page with guidelines, you’ll easily find it in the search results.

If you haven’t found the answers to your questions, then you should:

#4 Explore the existing content

Even if the blog doesn’t have guidelines or its guidelines don’t answer all of your questions, existing content can help you figure out what they want to see.

Spend 20 minutes reading posts on the blog, and you’ll find out:

  • What its audience likes
  • Style rules the editors want you to follow
  • How many images/subheadings/words your article should contain
  • If jokes are acceptable
  • Which words in the title should be capitalized
  • How many spaces between sentences should be

Remember: editor will more likely accept your post if you’re not making him/her do additional work. It means that if your post is good, but you forgot to put punctuation inside quotes (as guidelines require), the editor will choose a good post that entirely follows guidelines for the publication first.

Of course, the editor won’t reject your articles because of the mistake in punctuation, but it certainly may slow down the process of publishing in general. So glance through your post and check all these small things carefully.

Also, type your idea into the search box on the blog to find similar content on this topic:

guest post pitch rules

Read the existing articles to avoid writing the same things and decide if you can add something unique to these ideas.

Also, you can even use some tools to find best-performing articles on this blog and choose promising topics for your own article. For instance, you can use BuzzSumo or Serpstat to find the most shared pages on the blog:

serpstat posts with most shares

Reading the best-performing articles on the blog may help you understand what’s the most interested to this blog’s audience. You can sort it by FB, Linkedin, Google+ shares.

You can also use this info to:

#5 Personalize as much as possible

Do you open emails with a subject line like “[URGENT] Premium Guest Post For You!” or “Increase Blog Traffic!”?

bad example guest post pitch email

It’s clear that your email was added to some newsletter base. And if the person didn’t bother to write to you personally, why would you personally open her email?

My tip is: convince them your email wasn’t sent by some automation tool, convince them that you’re writing to this particular blog. Here are few ways to implement this:

Use editor’s/blogger’s name in the subject line

There are a lot of studies showing that personalization can improve your open rates. For instance, this one says that subject lines with a recipient’s first name may lift open rates by 2.6 percent.

emails with recipient's name in subject

Well, there is no big difference in percentages, but there is a huge difference between “Increase blog traffic!” and “Hey Anna, a quick question.” The second variant sounds more friendly and personal.

At least you know this email was sent to you and the sender has spent some time to find your name.

If you’re not sure about the editor’s name, you can add the blog name instead.

Add a small personal note to the body text

If you’re a regular reader of this blog and following the blog’s and its editors’ social media platforms, it won’t be difficult to find something to cling to. It could be:

  • Blog anniversary (“Hey, congrats on your 5th blog anniversary!”);
  • New format on the blog (“Hi, I saw you’ve created a comic on your blog. Great idea! It made my day.”);
  • Editor’s vacation (“Hi, hope you had a great vacation.”);
  • Exciting post on the blog. (“Hey, I saw your recent post on…”)

But don’t pretend you care about this blog/person. Write it only if you really care. If you’ve just found this blog and know nothing about it, ask a question about some recent post.

Do a favor

Comment on a few blog posts, review their e-book, share their post through your social media platforms, etc. If you’re an active reader of this blog, your name will ring a bell in the editor’s head.

The editor will more likely notice email from a person with a familiar name, rather than from a stranger.

Do a little research

  • Find the best-performing articles on this blog and start your pitch with “I discovered that articles about SMM are the most popular on your blog. I came up with the idea of a unique post on how SMM can…”
  • Use SEO tools to find broken links on the blog and write something like “I’m writing to you regarding a 404 error on your blog for the article ‘How to Promote Your Service on Quora.'” To be honest, I was reading your blog because I want to write a guest post for you. And came up with this idea: what if I write a similar article about Quora so that you can update your broken page?”
  • Find an outdated post and say that you’d like to write the new version so that they can link the two posts.

Dos and don’ts checklist

Don’ts:

  • Introduce yourself for too long;
  • Offer to pay;
  • Be annoying;
  • Pretend to be editor’s best friend;
  • Pitch too long;
  • Send an article in full in the first email;
  • Say “thanks in advance”;
  • Ask something you could find without bothering anyone;
  • Ask when the editor will publish your post in the first email;
  • Spam/follow up every day;
  • Behave as if you are doing a favor;
  • Send a newsletter/use automation tools;
  • Be rude.

Dos:

  • Get to the point;
  • Be brief and accurate;
  • Follow up twice with emails, hit them up via Linkedin or Twitter once, and then just stop;
  • Personalize as much as you can;
  • Make it easy to publish your post (glance through the guidelines and check if your post meets all requirements, send in HTML format, provide images if necessary, etc.);
  • Be respectful and polite;
  • Read guidelines;
  • Send good samples;
  • Read existing content.
  • Care about building long-term relationships.

Wrapping up

Your pitch should consist of a greeting, a brief intro, a personal note (if acceptable), samples, a few ideas for a guest post (only titles). Sounds like a lot, but you should do your best to keep this email short.

Personalize, always read guidelines, explore existing content, offer unique ideas, write valuable content, and be polite. In fact, it’s all you need to get published and build long-term relationships with leading publications in your niche!

Do you have your own rules for pitching? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

content promotion

Anna Rud is a content marketing expert currently working at Serpstat, SaaS for online marketing specialists. She's often writing useful pieces on how to rank higher, how to write for the Web, how to carry out PPC campaign and so on. Obsessed with the constant learning, blues dancing, and reading.