First off, a clarification.
In January 2014, Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts – the voice of SEO – sent panic through the digital marketing communities when he announced that guest-blogging was ‘done’. ‘Stick a fork in it’, Cutts said.
Google had long derided guest-blogging, but this was the first definitive statement on the practice. This sparked much debate – even today, many are unclear on what, exactly, Google’s stance means for guest-blogging. Should you do it? Should you accept guest-posts? Are you risking a Google penalty if you include a link back to your website in your guest post?
The basic premise of Cutts’ – and by extension Google’s – issue with guest-blogging was not the practice itself, but the use of guest-blogging purely for the purpose of gaining backlinks. A few days after his announcement, Cutts posted a short clarification in response to the many queries he received:
There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there. I changed the title of this post to make it more clear that I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.”
Google’s issue has never been with guest-blogging, as such, but with people trying to game the SEO system – you could theoretically write a guest-blog and fill it with a hundred backlinks to your own site, thus artificially boosting your Google ranking. That’s no good – Google frowns upon any kind of non-genuine linking practices, but if there’s a clear purpose for a link, if there’s solid logic for including a relevant connection, that’s not an issue.
The fact is, guest-blogging is, and remains, one of the best ways to boost online exposure and reach a wider audience. In fact, I’d argue that it’s an almost essential practice for many brands in reaching to their target audience, at least in the early stages of establishing their online presence, as you can get your content in front of the right people where they’re already at. Done right, targeted guest-blogging is one of the best, most intelligent ways to boost brand awareness and individual or brand profile.
So with that, here are some ways that you can utilize social media audience data to target, track and create the most resonant guest-blog content for your unique audience.
1. Where to guest-blog
As with anything social media and digital marketing related, it’s important to approach your guest-blogging efforts with a clear plan. Sure, you could just look up the blogs with the biggest followings and web traffic and try to get your content hosted on them, but what you really need to know is where your target audience is at, and what the people you need to reach are reading. One of the best ways to do this is to analyze the Twitter profiles most commonly followed among your target prospects.
To do this, you first need to work out who you want to reach, and what individuals or companies you need to get your content in front of. They may be people working at a specific company or in a certain sector; they may be people in a target region; or maybe they’re influencers who can amplify your content to the audience you’re seeking to reach. Whatever the parameters you use, you need to go through and gather a listing of individual Twitter profiles of the people or brands you, ideally, want to get your content in front of.
SocialBro is one of the best Twitter analytics tools on the market, one that really is worth checking out. A very cool, and slightly under the radar, function within the app is the ability to compare users. With your list of people you need to reach, what you can do is input the Twitter profiles of three of those users at a time and compare the profiles they’re following to find community intersections (you do this by using ‘Account Comparison’ in the ‘Analytics’ menu). This will bring up a bubble graph like this:
If you click on the link at the bottom of the screen indicating accounts followed by all three, it will take you to a listing of all the Twitter profiles that these three users follow in common:
From this list, go through and find any blogs that these people all follow. Targeting your guest posts to those sources will increase the potential of these users seeing your guest posts, as these are blogs they’re all following – the more following in common the better. Unfortunately, you can only compare three users at a time, but the process is relatively quick. You could easily sample a cross-section of users and gather a listing of the most followed blogs among the people you most need to reach. Once you have that list, look up the blogs, see if they accept guest posts, and then focus on getting your content published with them.
As you already know, since your target audience is following these blog sources, you’re increasing your chances of being seen by the right people and boosting your business profile among those you want to do business with. This helps build awareness, profile, and reputation with the specific people you need to reach- even if the blogs you target don’t have the largest audiences, your audience is among them, the people most likely to actually do business with you.
2. What to blog about
Now that you know where you need to be, the next step is to know what to blog about. Doing research on the identified blogs will give you some idea of the content they publish, the topics they’re interested in, etc. You also need to have a clear understanding of your own guest-blogging focus, of what it is you’re trying to achieve through your posts. But what if you’re still not 100% sure that what you want to say is what your audience wants to hear?
In order to fully maximize your results, it’s good to research what works. BuzzSumo is a content discovery tool that locates data on content, influencers and audience. This data is extremely valuable in determining not only what content you should produce, but where you should focus your social efforts.
So let’s say you’re an accountant and you’re thinking of creating content. You can put in ‘accounting’ as a search term and BuzzSumo will present a listing of the most shared content for that topic from the last day, week, month, 6 months or year:
Clicking on any of the column titles for the social network shares will sort the listing by most-shared for that individual network, showing you what content is working for your subject of choice on each of the major platforms. You can also export the list and total the share counts for each, giving you an idea of which networks are generating the most discussion for your industry.
There’s a range of options here for filtering and extrapolating further insights into the content that’s generating the most social media discussion in your specific niche or industry: ‘View Backlinks’ shows you the articles and websites that have linked back to each post listed; ‘View Sharers’ shows you the people who’ve shared that post to their followers. Another important option to note for the purposes of determining what to blog about is the country filter on the left-hand side of the screen. Here, you can narrow down the results to your region specifically, giving you a listing of the content generating the most social media attention, both in your industry and locale.
This data enables you to make a more informed decision on what to write about for your blog. Looking through the listings, you might come up with ideas and thoughts on the subjects being highly shared. You’ll likely have your own perspective and thoughts on topics or questions that are gaining significant traction, and these ideas should inform your content direction. The more you look, the more you’ll find in BuzzSumo, and the better equipped you’ll be to make decisions on the best content direction for your site.
Tracking Social Shares/Conversations
A great way to build community and connections with relevant industry connections is to acknowledge those who have read and shared your content. To do this, of course, you have to know who’s sharing your content. While some people will alert you by direct mentioning you when they share your content on a social network, many people won’t include your Twitter handle when they tweet a link back to your content, or won’t direct mention you when they share on Facebook or LinkedIn.
So how do you track mentions? Enter Hootsuite. Hootsuite is a social media management tool that enables you to monitor and keep track of all your networks in one dashboard. What Hootsuite also does is search social networks for mentions. This works best in Twitter (because Twitter’s data is the most open and accessible), but you can also track mentions across most other platforms, including Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Reddit.
One of the best ways to use Hootsuite for listening purposes is to set up Twitter search streams for mentions of your posts. To do this, you need to first connect your Twitter profile to your Hootsuite dashboard. You then need to set up individual Twitter search streams for the names of each of your posts – Hootsuite’s free version will allow you establish up to 200 streams, all of which can be used for searches, if required.
In this example, I’m tracking mentions of my post titled: ‘Thought Leadership is an Attribution, not and Aspiration’. By tracking the name of the post, as opposed to my name, I’m ensuring I capture all mentions, including those who don’t specifically note my @ handle. In fact, when setting up search streams, I specifically remove any mentions of my @ handle by adding “-adhutchinson” to the query – if I’m ever directly mentioned, I’ll be notified in my Twitter Notifications, so I don’t need to know about those references in search streams also. So in this case, my full search query would be:
‘Thought Leadership is an Attribution, not and Aspiration – adhutchinson’
This ensures that the search listing is only of mentions of my post that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. Once active, Hootsuite’s search will detect every mention of this post on Twitter, enabling me to respond and thank the sharer, potentially opening the doors for further communication with that person. Now, I’d suggest not going in with the hard-sell as soon as you make first contact. I have gained a heap of followers and connections through simple acknowledgements, and have found numerous new people to follow based on their interest in my content. Hootsuite search will also detect mentions of your post in shortened links – so even if the user doesn’t directly mention the exact title in their tweet, you’ll still be alerted of any posted links to your posts.
Sharing content is a big part of the Twitter experience, and being aware of how and where your content is being distributed can be of significant value. Even if you don’t think your audience is on Twitter, it’s worth setting up search streams to confirm your thinking, and be assured that you’re across all discussions around the guest-posts you publish.
Guest-blogging is a great way to get your brand message in front of the right audience and raise awareness of what you offer. Done right, it can go a long way towards linking your offerings to your target audience and generating business relationships. It takes time, but having that visibility among your peers and prospects, building that reputation – these efforts will pay-off through increased opportunities and contacts. Done the right way, targeted guest-blogging can be a powerful element in your overall social media strategy.