When Guest Posts Fail


No one likes to feel rejected, especially in forty point font (true story), but success isn’t a guarantee in our industry. For every success I would wager that link builders and marketers face three times as much failure and rejection.

At Outspoken Media, we’ve had guest posts work very well for the purposes of link development, social media and reputation management. We’ve also seen guest posts present a huge time suck and little return if something goes wrong. And when it comes to guest posts, a lot can go wrong because you’re dependent on someone else to accept and publish your work.

While training our newest additions to the team on how to find and pitch guest posts it became apparent that some of the greatest lessons we had came from our mistakes. So, I tried to come up with the most common guest post failures and how to plan for and handle them. This post is meant to give some insight into how we think about these hurtles and how to rebound quickly. You might have a different set of experiences and techniques, feel free to share yours in the comments.

Below are four common situations where guest posts don’t live up to the hype and what you can do about them.

You’re Getting No Response

You have to follow-up. For everyone that takes things personally (Hi!) no response *can* be a polite way of telling you to go away, you’re a horrible spammer and you should probably just stop breathing. I would wager that more often than not no response means you had the wrong contact or they were just sick, on vacation, busy or maybe your initial email got caught in their junk folder. If you really want that guest post, go after it by setting a time frame for follow-up and modifying your methods as needed.

If you can define your method for contact management (something every PR and salesperson in the world understands!), half the battle is won. At Outspoken Media we’ve historically used spreadsheets to track ours, but more and more we’re turning to tools like Raven. Besides tracking keyword rankings, website analytics and social media metrics, we can use Raven to queue up sites for pitches, track initial contact, task follow-up, add notes and manage (and now find!) contacts.

Don’t let your guest post fall on deaf ears, be persistent by following up in a week and building a system that reminds you to do so. Be careful you don’t become obnoxious about it though. :)

Different Topic was Requested

What do you do when you’ve already written your content, but the website owner doesn’t want it? There are several schools of thought here. At the risk of sounding like Chris Winfield, take a lesson from Jay-Z and move “on to the next one.” You’ll find another home, but you have to be fast about it if you’ve only got so much time to get the job done.

In my experience with really competitive or small niche industries, there are less opportunities for guest posts, so moving onto the next site isn’t always going to be the right answer. If that’s the case then you modify your post and get something that fits their needs over asap, just make sure it’s still relevant to your goal. This is when having experienced writers on your team is even more invaluable.

Your Post was Rejected

Why was the post rejected? Maybe you forgot to woo your blogger or you didn’t follow their editorial guidelines. Make sure you ask for those *before* you send over your post. Unless you wrote the post with their site in mind, you’re going to have to customize it to fit their guidelines before you pitch/send it.

Did you write content that wasn’t a good fit for their community? Maybe the post was great, but your title wasn’t up to par with their expectations. Before you reach out, make sure you understand the tone and angle of their site. The last thing you want to do is pitch a blog known for controversial and provocative content with a boring tutorial. It’s a waste of everyone’s time when you don’t do the research and honestly try to give them something their community will respond to. Besides the benefit of getting your post published, if you do write content for their community, you stand a much better chance of having it read and shared.

What if the post was rejected because the blog already covered your topic? I’m noticing a pattern here… DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Before you pitch a site do a site: search on Google for your topic to see if it’s already been written. If you find something on the subject (which you probably will), that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pitch them, just make sure you update your post to acknowledge their content and build off of it rather than regurgitating it. Your post also shouldn’t just be about me, me, me. Give back to the community or your insincere motivations will shine through and of course you’re going to get rejected.

Your Links were Removed, Nofollowed or Redirected

What. The. Hell. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing your post get published without your link(s) in it, with the anchor text edited, with the link nofollowed or a little more nefarious, the link was run through a redirect. Just like above, do your homework. When I’m finding sites to pitch I’m looking for posts with outbound links. If they never link outside of their own content then the best I can hope for is the branding benefit, in which case I better not be pitching just for SEO! If I’m looking to pitch posts just for link development, then I need to make sure the outbound links in their posts are direct, followed links. The exception here might be if you’re just looking for exposure from an A-list site, then who cares about nofollows!

Every situation is unique and I think your options for this guest post failure depend on “who you are.” If you’re posting as a persona or ghost writer then you probably don’t want to call attention to the link(s) you really wanted. If you’re a real person or brand then you have more room to take issue with the situation. For the latter, I like to start by politely asking what happened. Sometimes it’s a simple technical glitch from copying and pasting the post into their CMS. If the change was intentional then you’ll need to ask what the reasoning was and explain that you put links in the post that you felt were relevant to and supported the content.

The key here is that your links really did need to support your content, it’s not enough to just say they did, they really have to point to superior sites, content, tools, etc. Make sure everything is linked to with purpose and again, this is where a great writer becomes invaluable.

As a last resort for personas and ghost writers, you might want to request that the post be removed, but I’ve never liked this approach. It’s pushy and can cause some bigger problems. Let the website owner know that you’re disappointed and really wanted the published work to be your own and wish they would have come to you before making those changes. In many circumstances we’ve had the website owner apologize and agree to do so in the future. That keeps the door open for a more long-term relationship and now there’s even a dialogue about links, which could be a good thing.

If you’re publishing content as yourself, on behalf of a real individual or a brand, then I would explain that you provided high quality content for their site with the understanding that it would be published as-is. Depending on the Internet marketing skill level of the person you pitched, this may become a healthy negotiation, be as simple as asking what happened and getting the links inserted or it could get downright ugly. You need to control the situation.

As long as you follow some simple guidelines you can usually overcome those guest post failures. Here are some guidelines for successful guest posting:

  • Do your homework
  • Draft pitches to cover your bases
  • Quickly identify problems with your techniques/searches
  • Think creatively to try and salvage a situation
  • Make a fast, informed decision and stick to it

With so many different reasons to pitch a guest post I don’t see this marketing method going away anytime soon (even if it is so 2010). Happy guest posting! I’d love it if you would take a minute to share some of your failures, rejections and war stories below.

Your Comments

  • Kristi

    Great pointers. I find the hardest thing can be just maintaining the relationship through the whole process of getting a guest post up. You can try and interact with them on Twitter, Facebook, and through email but when something goes wrong.. Awkward!!

    Especially talking people through the whole ‘how to link’ thing. If their blog is on Blogger and half the time they have no clue how to insert a link. Ugh.

    People need to take some tech classes.

  • Unmana

    Does this mean I can start pitching for a guest post here? Or does it mean you’re just preparing me for failure? :P

  • Hugo Guzman

    You provide some great tips here, Rhea, but I think that your first paragraph hits home the most for me.

    Like most sales scenarios (and make no mistake about, guest posting, is a type of selling effort) you’re going to get way more no than yes.

    For me, the key is to not take the “No’s” personally, maintain my professionalism, and not slip into the pitfall of creating grudges because someone rejected me. This applies not only guest posts but:
    -link requests
    -Twitter follows
    -Conference pitches
    -etc, and so forth

  • Val @ Web Tracking Guide

    All good points, making a nice article.

    As for me, I don’t see a reason to take a rejection personally. If your post is any good, someone else will pick it up very quickly. And those A-list blogs receive an overwhelming amount of submissions, so it is completely natural that they pick only the very best.

    Great point about follow-ups. To prevent having to follow-up repeatedly, or waiting indefinitely long for the decision, I add a time limit in a follow-up that I send the next week. If the blogger cannot review my submission in two weeks, then I just move on with a clear conscience.

  • Moosa Hemani

    point are great! i had a issue with one of the blog like i send them the guest post they make the post live but OBL were no-follow, we didn’t talk over this before as i though this is pretty obvious and then i just leave the post as it is may be because the post of driving considerable traffic to we desired website.

    But now i think leave the post and be careful for the next time is not a good practice you should talk to them about it as well and also you should be very careful about these kind of guidelines…

    Also, i think blog owners who allow guest post should mention the clear guide lines about links and other related things in order to have healthy connection with the guest writers….

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Moosa, I agree about the website owner taking responsibility for the conversation, but many will not. It’s up to you to broach that subject beforehand and control the situation. Good luck with future posts!

  • MikeR

    We’ve been using Raven and we love it. We’ve never had a true link building strategy and Raven has helped us make it a part of our daily work. Highly recommended.

  • Jenn@ t1 service

    Rejected in 40 point type??? Ouch! Appreciate the recommendation for Raven. Am checking it out. Managing an internet presence is getting more complicated every day, so it’s nice to have tools that aggregate services.

  • Michelle Fox

    Hi Rhea! My concern/frustration is on the other side–as someone who publishes guest bloggers. I don’t understand why I have to ask a guest blogger to respond to comments they receive on my blog. I always follow-up with my writers, but when I’m the guest blogger on other sites, I’m always eager to read and then reply to the comments I receive. Am I missing something?

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Hi Michelle, long delay on my end, but it’s been that kind of month, very busy! Good thing though, right? :D

      Re: asking guest bloggers to comment on your blog… As the publisher of that content, I would hold myself to the standard of wanting to respond, too. But, let’s be honest here, many guest posts are coming from individuals that may be marketers and PR professionals who just want exposure or SEOs that simply want a back link. In those cases, they’re in and out. There’s no longevity or genuine interest in the community.

      In working with our team of link builders, we’ve had to train them to take more time, really understand a website and invest in the community. And ultimately, we realized that if they had to be trained on that, they were the wrong fit for us. Hope that addresses your question!

  • Andrew @ Blogging Guide

    This post is one of a kind. Many posts out there deal with the other side of guest posting, on how to do it, where to guest post but not many tackle about this – the failures that we encounter when guest posting. And it’s a truth, it’s just not being highlighted and these sure are great tips to handle such no’s. I encounter this but I always remind myself that successful people does not get discouraged by no’s but is actually challenged by them.

  • TechChunks

    I’m newly starting guest posting on other similar niche sites/blogs and your points are going to be really helpful. Thanks. :)