Guest posts can be a good way to fill a gap on a busy week, and increase your reach on search engines through meaningful external links. But if you are trying to grow your business you shouldn’t accept just any offer for guest posts. Find and when and how a guest post can help you build your business and what kind of contributors to avoid.

Last week, one of my editorial clients – a divorce lawyer – sent me a potential guest post written by her husband – a clinical psychologist – for review. She wanted to know if it could be useful to help attract clients. I was happy to tell her that guest posts are a great way to build your business, assuming they are done the right way.

What is a Guest Post?

Before jumping into the strategy of recruiting contributors, let’s be clear what a guest post means. A guest post is generally written by a professional outside your organization. It is not a testimonial written by a client (although those are great for your website too) or contribution from a different member of your firm. They are also not generally paid placement of advertisements by other companies. Guest posts generally include an out-bound link to the contributor’s website or biography online. In some cases, they can also include an endorsement of the writer by your company or organization.

Be careful before you write that recommendation. By appearing on your site the contributor already has a sort of “seal of approval” from the business. Writing an explicit endorsement can cement this relationship. Be sure you can put your name (and your brand) behind the content of the post before it goes live.

When Should You Use Guest Posts?

If you never recruit guests to write for your blog it will be up to you to create 100% of your content. But if all of your content has someone else’s by-line, you become a curator. So how do you know you’ve hit the Goldilocks zone when it comes to guest posts?

First, avoid guest articles for at least the first couple months of your blog. This will give you time to settle in to your tone, firm up your keywords and your focus, and develop a strong readership. Even if you want to do a writing blitz to generate more content for your new site, it should still all be your own (or at least ghostwritten to look and sound like you).

Next, decide how much of your content you want to outsource. Guest posts can be a great way to share the load and take things off your to-do list, but you should have a clear plan in mind about how often you will feature a guest voice. The ideal answer will be different depending on your industry and your focus, as well as the frequency of your posts. But it is probably a good rule of thumb that your readers should hear from you (or your ghostwriter) at least as often as they hear from someone else.

Finally, consider whether you want to spread your guest posts out or use them to fill in a particularly busy season. For example, a tax attorney may find it beneficial to schedule a series of guest posts in April, when her attention will most certainly be on other things. But a business lawyer, whose work doesn’t have quite the same peaks and valleys may do better spreading guest posts out over the year. You can always keep one or two posts in reserve to cover that week you unexpectedly spend two days in depositions or 12 hours at the negotiating table.

Who Should Write Your Guest Posts?

If you decide to recruit contributors on your website directly (rather than through one-on-one conversation), you can expect a flood of proposals from people looking for ways to feature their new product or service. You will also get bids from freelance writers looking for exposure and maybe a bit of money for their post. While these may be easy ways to fill your blog quota, they aren’t necessarily the best way to build your business.

Instead of accepting all comers, consider curating your guest posts. Choose professionals in industries related to yours. Recruit your referral partners to write for you. You may even want to feature a near-competitor who focuses on some part of your business you would rather send elsewhere. For example, a business and commercial real estate attorney’s guest posts may come from:

  • His favorite commercial realtor, who has worked with him on dozens of leases over the years
  • An up and coming developer who could become a recurring client
  • A business coach who specializes in growing small businesses
  • A residential real estate attorney who will handle the foreclosure cases the host hates doing himself

What Topics Should a Guest Post Cover?

Guest posts should provide useful content. They are generally the same length as your normal content – although featuring a guest writer in a longer “white paper” can also be helpful to your readers. Useful guest posts should address topics your regular readers could find informative or relevant to their issues. That means they should be somewhat related to your primary keywords.

They should also provide a different perspective than your readers would otherwise hear. Maybe the contributor has certification or training you don’t. Maybe they come at similar instances from another perspective. Here’s where my editorial client comes in. As a divorce attorney, she helps couples peacefully resolve their marriages and negotiate the transition to co-parents of their children. Her husband, the psychologist, has experience with couples’ counseling. His perspective as a therapist is different than that of a legal counselor. He can provide her readers another take on their upcoming family law issue.

Where Should You Contribute Guest Posts?

There’s a lot to be said about writing guest posts for other websites. Too much for this post to cover, really. But one thing to consider is whether you can offer to write reciprocal posts for your guest bloggers. This can be a great way to signal a partnership to your readers (who may follow you on social media and find out where else you are writing). It can also strengthen your SEO by building in links from other websites to your content. While this will cut into the time-saving benefit of recruiting guest bloggers, it can be strategically beneficial for growing your business.

There are lots of pros and cons to guest posts. They can provide great benefit to your readers, or they can distract from your business. But if you use them strategically and carefully curate your contributors, you can easily use guest posts to distribute the work of writing content and still help your business grow.

Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She writes blogs and websites for lawyers and small businesses. If you need help creating content for your website, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.