This year, I decided to try something completely new, so I jumped face-first into the world of contributed content. In a short amount of time, I’ve been able to develop and maintain numerous relationships. I’ve learned a lot, from how best to contact websites for the first time, to guest contributor applications, down to the writing process itself.
I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way, so I’m offering up these tips for anyone looking to join me in the content mines of the Web:
1. Be genuine. Step one to a successful new writing endeavor is making sure that you genuinely care about the topic and websites you are exploring. Nothing makes your writing shine like pursuing an idea that is captivating to you.
2. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Present your ideas to relevant websites, even if they seem to be a little out of your league. The more you try to get on authoritative websites, the better your odds for landing more contributions. Have you written about this topic already? Is it a socially engaging idea? If you can envision your piece on a targeted website, just go for it. The worst response is no response. A definitive ‘no’ for one idea doesn’t forever close the door on you writing for that website.
3. Watch your tone. Be aware of the tone you use when filling out guest contribution applications and sending emails. Think rationally about the ways you communicate with site owners/editors and let that transition into your writing. Read through articles already published on the site. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve benefited from simply mentioning or complimenting an article on a website I want to write for.
4. Craft a compelling email subject line. Terri Kurtzberg, professor of global business at Rutgers University, puts the idea of emailing strangers into perspective in her essay, “Overcoming the E-mail Disadvantage“:
Negotiating with a stranger can be intimidating even under the best of circumstances, and having this opponent be faceless and voiceless can add even more discomfort to this process. Previous research has demonstrated that people approach online negotiations with lower levels of trust than they approach face-to-face negotiations…Humor in general is associated with promoting positive feelings among strangers, and may even have a greater positive effect in a tense situation.
Subject lines are the first thing that a person sees in his or her inbox. Humorous and unique approaches reign supreme in most cases.
5. Don’t abandon your content once it’s published. Check in on your articles for at least two weeks after they are posted It’s during this time that you’re most likely to see people commenting. Follow up on questions, check for social shares, and get involved in the conversation about your piece.
6. Stay organized. There are a number of ways to defeat organizational stress. It’s an excellent idea to develop and maintain your own organizational documents. These docs can contain ideas you’ve brainstormed, contacts you’d like to pursue in the future and your articles themselves.
7. Redundancy is your enemy. Red flags go up when you make basic writing errors. Redundancy and run on sentences will not fly. Web content is usually meant to be clear and concise, so make it easy on your readers and editors. Choose your words carefully.
8. Include internal links. Avoid linking externally if there is an internal option. If you are able to provide some internal links, this will make site owners and editors happy. Remember to only provide links that are natural, benefit your piece and your reader, and/or cite a source. The last thing you want is to for your piece to be plagiarized.
9. Anchor text is important. Avoid direct anchor texts such as “click here” or “read more” unless they’re completely necessary. You don’t want to appear generic. Additionally, don’t fill your piece with long-winded anchor text unless it absolutely makes sense. The last thing you want to see is a huge wall of distracting, blue words in your piece.
10. Use Twitter to your advantage. Sometimes finding contact information can be a challenge, especially when you’re just starting out. If you can’t find a way to reach an editor, odds are he or she has either a personal twitter account or one for the website. Journalists and editors seem to gravitate toward Twitter, so odds are in favor of them having a Twitter profile of some form.
11. Find a good image. This one can drive many editors up the wall. Always check the guest contribution guidelines and see if the site requires you to find a featured image. Some editors will be adamant about selecting photos themselves, and others will be persistent that you find one that’s not only captivating but also legally sharable. This post from Designskilz points you in the direction of 30 high quality free image websites.
12. Try to become a regular contributor. Start small and gradually work your way up to bigger and better sites. Do you love writing about new technology and reviewing your favorite electronics? Establish some credibility within that niche and then shoot for the stars. Once you’ve written about a topic and have those articles under your belt, your odds of landing a spot on a reputable, big-name website increase substantially.
13. Provide a call to action. You set the bait and hooked the content, so now it’s time to reel it all in. Compelling calls to action spur reader engagement through comments or social networking shares.
Are you an up-and-coming writer with your own success stories or advice? Share your experiences below and let’s all make progress as writers together.