Content marketing is not new in the startup world. Over the years, savvy marketers have realized one of the best ways to grab, and then maintain the attention of their target audiences is with a steady flow of high-quality content.
Regular updates of informative content give existing customers a motive to stick around on a brand’s online real estate, create more opportunities to develop a relationship with consumers, and most importantly develop more trust. And this winning combo should lead to higher conversion rates. Cha-ching!
However, while most startups’ content journeys begin on their owned media channels -- website, blog, social channels -- eventually the time will come when marketers want to reach not only their existing communities but new readers too. After working with startups at various stages of development, we’ve found that submitting guest articles to external or ‘third-party’ blogs and publications is a great way for startups to improve brand trust and visibility.
So let's first take a look at why guest article submissions are important, and then offer some insider guest blogging tips as to how startups can create content which really resonates with editors:
1. Understand the real value of guest articles
While building trust and legitimacy with existing audiences on owned channels is extremely important, the key aim of marketing is ultimately to reach new audiences.
As such, many brands decide to supplement their external PR campaigns, based around interactions with media influencers about company milestones and announcements, with thought leadership submissions to external publications too.
Guest articles are different from other PR tactics in the sense that they are non-promotional. This is something which newcomers to PR world struggle to get their heads around. The main aim of writing and pitching guest articles is not to directly promote a product or service. The main advantages of this tactic are:
- Positioning a brand and its leadership as authorities within a particular industry.
- Driving traffic back to a company’s website.
- Increasing backlinks to a company's website in order to combine SEO and PR strategies
Insider tip: One of the main benefits of this tactic is that startups can contribute guest articles at pretty much any time. While interactions with journalists and editors via press releases are generally limited to big newsworthy company announcements, guest article contributions can fill in the blank spots in a company’s long term PR strategy.
2. Understand what editors (and readers) want
Most leading publications accept submissions from contributors, however, it’s important to first read guest submission guidelines. Most publications have clear guidelines on the type of content they accept, the desired length and format, and also rules about backlinks within the text. Sending over content which does not fit the criteria will not only reduce the chances of being published but also risk ruining relationships with editors.
However, while following editorial guidelines about length and style is important, the golden rule of guest articles is ‘stop selling, start storytelling’. Editors have a keen nose for companies which are trying to promote their products or services either overtly or covertly through content submissions.
The types of content which submissions editors are generally interested in includes:
- Insights into a particular industry, or technological trends
- Reactions to/consequences of current events within an industry
- Data-driven insights
- Business tips which can help other entrepreneurs
- Hacks, and tips which can make processes easier
- Inspiring personal experiences which can offer value to others
Considering the scope of different angles available to them, startups should try to think outside the box and create original content which offers real value to the reader.
While the knee-jerk reaction may be to write about problems which scream “you need us now!” sometimes approaching content from a more subtle and informative angle can improve the chances of being picked up. For example:
(BAD) 5 reasons your company needs a PR company NOW.
3 reasons PR is the only way for startups to stand out from the crowd
(GOOD) 5 tips to get press coverage for your company launch
3 ways to start conversations with media influencers via social media
Insider tip: While listicle articles (5 ways to, 3 reasons that) have earned a bit of a bad reputation due to low quality, clickbait-style articles pumped out by sites like BuzzFeed, editors tend to like this format for business advice articles. Structuring an article in this way offers clear takeaways for the reader, and generally increases the chance of keeping readers engaged until the end of a piece.
3. Plan effectively
As mentioned above, there is a whole toolbox of different angles which startups can choose from when planning their content.
Whichever angle is chosen, the end goal of guest articles should always be to spark a genuine interest with the reader. When startups focus on creating engaging, thought-provoking articles, it improves the chances of the content reaching more people, and improving their brand visibility for a number of reasons:
- If the content is of a high enough quality and adds enough value, the reader is more likely to be drawn to the author byline and check out the site of the contributor.
- If an article deals with a niche topic or furthers the conversation on an existing theme in a unique and interesting manner, it improves the chances of the reader sharing via social within their network of others who may also be interested in the content.
- If a particular theme is trending, it improves the chance of the article not only being shared by readers, but also re-syndicated by other publications, and media influencers.
Like most things in life, effective planning is the key to success.
A good starting point is by highlighting different target profiles of who you want to reach with the content. Once you have different target audiences, it is easier to come up with different angles which might be engaging for these specific groups. You will often find that there are some cross-overs, which will highlight themes which you should start with.
A good tip is to ask your key team members: what are we the experts in? To get the content ball rolling it’s always best to start with what you know.
Once a few potential angles have been shortlisted, it’s always best to do a quick Google search to see if any have already been covered. If you find one or two similar posts, the angle might still be viable assuming you target different publications. However, if you find pages of Google results, then maybe it's better to move into more unchartered territory.
Insider tip: Using tools like SemRush and Moz (which both offer free trials!) startups should assess the keywords, the number of backlinks and referring domains of their 5 main competitors before starting any content strategy. Aside from offering some inspiration, this tactic will also show startups the referring domains which are linking to their competitors. These are the publications which startups should be targeting first, as they are obviously open to covering themes which are relevant to their vertical.
4. Make your post relevant
There is little point in re-hashing content themes which have been discussed to death. Editors are the gatekeepers to their publications’ audiences. As such their main role is to curate content which is engaging, interesting, and most importantly relevant to their readers.
Themes can be relevant for a number of reasons:
- They’re evergreen and always be useful/relevant - for example, business advice
- They demystify an emerging theme or technology which is currently trending
- They offer new, original data-backed insights
- They target a niche audience with information about something which is useful to them
- They tie in with current events or news within a particular industry
‘How to’ articles based around strong business advice takeaways for other entrepreneurs and business leaders are popular with many leading media brands like Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, and SmallBizzTrends.
Building and maintaining a business is hard, regardless of what industry or vertical a company is working in, and many leaders come up against the same challenges throughout their journeys. As such, any article which can offer expert insights based on personal learning experiences, are generally considered relevant by editors from these types of publications.
However, it is important to note that this ‘evergreen’ quality does not apply to all themes. For example, an article de-mystifying the blockchain, or outlining different industries which could benefit from this type of technology would have been interesting, and relevant a few years ago.
However, nowadays, blockchain has been widely discussed and has already entered the mainstream consciousness. As such, to pitch an angle related to blockchain nowadays would require a new angle, piece of research, or case study which furthers the conversation somehow.
When looking at their own team’s expertise, and the proprietary data and research available to them, startups will often realize that the themes which they would like to discuss would be more suitable to a niche audience, rather than a more general business audience.
Targeting niche audiences via industry-specific publications allows startups to go into more detail in their articles and use more industry-specific and technical language. It also increases their chances of creating content which will be 1) original 2) deemed relevant by an editor.
The most effective way of making your contribution relevant is by covering a theme or topic which is linked to trending news. For example, if the SEC has just made complicated new regulations about how brands declare content is sponsored, writing an informative article which teaches startups how to stay in the clear, would be super relevant.
Our account managers ‘media monitor’ specific keywords each morning to see what conversations are taking place in the press about which themes. If they see an important event has taken place which is related to a clients industry, we will then try and pitch an editor an article or interview which uses that news event as a ‘hook’ which shows why that theme is relevant at that particular moment.
For example, we recently noted a lot of chatter surrounding Google’s search algorithm changes, and their effects on the rankings of many leading publishers. We used this trending news event to pitch various editors an angle related to how startups could use SEO best practices to reduce the risk from these types of search algorithm changes.
Insider tip: Pick 5 phrases related to your industry and setup daily Google News Alerts to track these. To find your company’s place in the wider narrative, you need to know what that narrative is.
5. Know who you are targeting
Before writing an article it’s always important to ask some initial questions:
- Which target audiences do you want to speak to?
- Does the audience have expert knowledge, a working knowledge, or no knowledge at all of this theme?
- What’s the relationship of this subject with the target audience? Are they fellow content creators or C-suite? Are they already using the techniques discussed, or just discovering them?
- Where’s the conversation currently at with this subject? What can we add to this conversation?
Having a clear idea of who you want to speak to, and which publication you’re going to be pitching to is extremely important from step one. This will not only define the length and style of your article but also, more importantly, the tone and level of technicality which you use.
For example, if you’re a software development agency, and are targeting a niche publication read by other developers, then you have free reign to use technical language, link to in depth studies, and refer to industry examples which your reader is likely to be familiar with.
However, if you’re targeting the decision-makers at a company, such as the CEO, then you will need to use more accessible language, and explain concepts in simpler terms which a non-technical reader can understand.
Insider tip: Make a shortlist of 5-10 publications you would like to pitch your content to, then take a look at previous articles published on these mediums on similar themes. This will allow you to choose the right tone, length, and style from the outset, and ‘speak to’ particular target audiences throughout your article.
As more and more startups enter the arena every year, forward thinking companies will need to start going a step further to build brand trust and reputation with their target consumers. In the digital age, in which most companies are targeting consumers they will never get the chance to meet face to face, much of this will come from effective content marketing, and in particular through content on third party channels which offer access to millions of readers around the world.
As we always say to clients, guest articles offer the chance to highlight the expertise of your team, show the world why your company is the best at doing what you do, and differentiate yourself from competitors. But just remember, if you are going to put your name on something which will live eternally online, you sure as hell better show the best version of yourself.
This guest post was written by Craig Corbett, Principal at PR agency Publicize, a startup disrupting the traditional PR industry. Conrad Egusa is the Co-Founder & CEO of Publicize, and is a Mentor for the New York Founder Institute. Publicize was founded by Eddie Arrieta and Conrad Egusa when they realized that the PR industry’s business model was broken for startups. Publicize offers cost-effective PR solutions to entrepreneurs priced out of a broken PR industry.
Graduates of the Founder Institute are creating some of the world's fastest growing startups, having raised over $800M in funding, and building products people love across over 180 cities worldwide.
See the most recent news from our Grads at FI.co/news, or learn more about their stories at FI.co/journey.