If you’re familiar with SEO in any degree, then you’re probably aware of the power of backlinks. Acquiring backlinks can be a complicated and often difficult process. With so many ways to gain links, it can be difficult to find a strategy that is safe, affordable and scalable. When done right, acquiring backlinks through guest posting can be one of the best overall methods.

Guest posting isn’t perfect, and like all link acquisition methods, it has its risks. In May, Google released a statement regarding poor quality links found in contributor posts. Google warns that when the main intent is to build links in a large-scale way back to the author’s site, these practices are in violation to Google’s Guidelines. However, Google does not officially discourage guest posting, stating, “Google does not discourage these types of articles in the cases when they inform users, educate another site’s audience or bring awareness to your cause or company.”

So what’s the best way to gain backlinks through guest posting? Here are a few tips that stay within Google’s guidelines, benefit site owners and most of all, provide results for your SEO efforts.

Finds Relevant Sites that Accept Guest Posts

It is crucial to find sites within your niche or industry. Nothing screams spam like getting backlinks from a completely irrelevant site. For example, if you sell barn doors then you want to get backlinks from sites about home improvement, interior designer, DIY blogs etc. You wouldn’t want backlinks from sites about video games or fitness. The more relevant the site linking back to your site is, the more natural it will appear to Google.

So how do you find sites to post to? There are numerous paid tools you can use to find sites. However, simply using Google Search can produce excellent results. Use search parameters in Google to narrow your search. These are a couple search parameters that you can use:

  • insite:“accepting guest posts” keyword
  • insite:“guest post” keyword
  • inurl:“contribute” keyword
  • keyword “guest post guidelines”
  • keyword “submit a guest post”

By replacing keyword with your keyword, you’ll start to find sites that accept contributors. Again, ensure that these sites are relevant to your niche or industry. There are a lot of spam sites that will accept anything. You want to avoid these sites.

It’s important to evaluate your outreach strategy and adapt as necessary. Vary your search parameters depending on what results you’re finding and the niche or industry that you’re outreaching for. Simply switching between “insite” to “inurl” will display different results. If you’re still not finding sites then just try a good old fashion Google Search without any search parameters. This usually produces a broader range of sites, but that might be just right for your industry.

Qualify the Site

The first thing to look for on a site that accepts guests posts is the posting guidelines. This usually gives a good idea about what the site expects from you and what you can expect from them. In addition, most guidelines will say something about including backlinks in your post. Some sites will not accept any articles with links, while other sites will remove links if they appear to be spammy. Never reach out to sites that ask for money in exchange for backlinks. This is specifically against Google’s guidelines and if done enough, the site could be penalized.

Next, check the domain authority (DA) of the site. As a rule of thumb, never reach out to sites with DA below 20. You want to be looking for high-quality sites. Sites that have a DA below 20 typically will not be the quality that you're looking for, and will pass less authority to your site.

Check to make sure the links are followed and the blog posts are indexed. You can do this manually by checking the source code for nofollow, or noindex tags. If the site has a decent DA, but has nofollow links, you can still reach out and contribute to this site. Diversifying your backlink profile with follow and nofollow links will appear more natural to Google, and ultimately help your ranking strategy. However, there is essentially no value in a noindex blog post. Avoid these sites, as they will not help your strategy.

Reach Out to Prospect

After you’ve thoroughly qualified the site, reach out to the website via email. This can usually be done through a contact form on the site. However, you’ll be more successful if you can find a contact email on the site. This can take some digging, but if you can contact an actual person you’ll have greater chance of getting a response back.

Try to be as personable and specific as possible when reaching out to new sites. There are a few things that you should include in each email. Let the contact know that you aim to provide free high quality content to their site. Follow this up by adding some ideas for future articles. Also, provide the contact links to your previous published work so that they have a sample of your writing. If you don’t have any published work yet, you can post for free on Medium or Kinja, and send them links to those pieces. Most importantly, display thorough knowledge and enthusiasm about their site. WebMasters like to know that their site is enjoyable to users.

Provide Only High Quality Content

This is perhaps the most important step. Poor quality content is the number one reason that content partnerships end. Ensuring that your content, as Google states, “informs users, educates another site’s audience or bring awareness to your cause or company,” will keep your partnership happy and be an ongoing resource for you to gain backlinks.

There are ways to acquire backlinks that might seem easier than guest posting. However, what you sacrifice for ease of use is typically quality of content and quality of backlink, which isn’t worth the risk of getting penalized. Guest posting can be time consuming, but when following these steps it will provide the best and safest ROI.