What is the ROI of guest blogging in marketing?

Updated: Jan 11

To find out, I have analysed 379 guest posts and interviewed 20 authors.


Here is what I have learnt.


This below shows what are the expectations of authors about guest posting within the SEO/ marketing sphere. It’s a reflection of the industry’s perception of what guest posting can do for yourself or your business. They are the reason why guest writing is attractive.





Many authors (61%) are motivated by increasing traffic to their blog and 39% by making money and build their own brand (company/ individual).


50% of them are interested in link building, either for their business or themselves.


Why did I start researching the ROI of guest posting for SEO publications?


Before we reveal the results of this research, let me tell you a short story.


This research is a result of my curiosity and the mistakes I have done when guest blogging. I want to share with you what I have learnt and what 20 global experts experienced.


I have started guest blogging a few years ago with miserable results. I have written for SEMRush.com, Searchengineland.com, Marketingland.com and many other global blogs for a total of more than 30 guest articles.


And my experience was that guest writing is definitely not what I was expecting.


Let me give you an example.


My article from SearchEngineLand.com (the biggest of those websites I wrote for) brought me:




49 visits!


As you can see posting on LinkedIn has almost double the number of visits.


I have asked SEL how many people read my article on SEL. I got the stats for this one article:




Almost 6,000 people read my article with an average time on page of 4 minutes.


And only 49 visits.


The CTR is terrible! I don’t even want to calculate it.


I was inclined to generate referral traffic, and I have realised I should post more often on LinkedIn.


Now let’s look at the indirect results of my efforts.


One company offered me money for links from Searchengineland.com and SemRush.com.


Unfortunately, adding links to a guest post is not allowed, it’s considered spammy. Unless you have a valid good reason, as we will see later in this article.


Another SEO blog, which I have never heard of, saw my article on SEMRush and offered me to guest write for them, imagine that!


“We will share your blog post on our social media accounts”.



So why did I start guest blogging?


As you can probably imagine, I started to question the whole thing.


Is it worth it? Why should I bother? Why are other authors writing so many articles? What motivates them?


Am I missing something?


I was definitely missing something. I just wasn't sure what it was.


I felt the need to understand what makes experts share their knowledge.


That’s why I have interviewed 20 global experts in digital marketing/SEO, asking their thoughts on a variety of aspects around guest posting for large marketing publications.


My objective was to understand what is the ROI.


The publications that I have included in the research were the most notable marketing blogs globally that regularly accept guest contributions:


- Moz.com

- Searchengineland.com

- Marketingland.com

- Hubspot.com

- Ppchero.com

- SEMRush.com

- Searchenginejournal.com

- Wordstream.com


Here is a summary of my findings:


  1. There is almost always a number of surprising outcomes from guest posting.

  2. Guest posting doesn’t have any short-term ROI. It takes a long time, you have to be very good at it.

  3. Don’t start guest posting if your objective is generating referral traffic, it simply doesn’t work this way, except a few exceptions which will be detailed in this article.

  4. Guest posting as a lead generation tool is performing extremely well when compared to alternative methods.

  5. If you want to become better at it, it's highly recommended to create connections with people.

  6. Guest posting is the favourite strategy for personal branding.

  7. Only one author out of 20 uses guest posting as a link building strategy.

  8. 33% of the experts found guest writing to be "not easy". 5.6% found it very difficult. 16.7% found it very easy.

  9. All 20 authors are happy with the outcomes, but more can be done to motivate them.


Experts reported that there is almost always a number of surprising outcomes from guest posting.


I want to focus on why achieved goals don’t match desired outcomes.


In other words, the surprise element.


It’s critical to analyse expectations vs reality of guest writing in order to best assess:

  1. Whether is worth putting the effort in sharing your knowledge with a blog;

  2. How you can pivot your strategies to reach your desired goals;

  3. Which website can best help you achieve the most likely outcomes – yes because not every website was created the same?

And luckily, data is what I have collected to answer all these questions.


I have asked 20 experts a simple question in my survey.



The strong majority of authors at 65% said they have reached some type of goals. 24% of them said “No” and 6% said “not always” and “it’s complicated”.


For the 24% of those who said “No” that doesn’t mean that guest posting didn’t work. They just didn’t reach the goals they set up before publishing.


It’s harder to figure out before you publish what you can get out of it because audience reading your guest posts is reading your articles for different reasons. You have to work harder to figure out what you can get out of guest posting, have a great knowledge of what type of audience you are exposed to and try different guest posts to find out.

It also means some goals were achieved and a lot of unexpected outcomes seems to be the norm.

You might get a job offer when you were just trying to teach the audience a new technique.

In other words, guest posting means that surprises will come your way.


If guest posting is attractive, I wanted to understand why.



88% of the answers said it was about “brand building” and nobody received an opportunity to write a book.


71% of authors reported having "increased the number of visits to their website". Now, don't get mislead by this, even 1 more visit is considered "more traffic".


The expectations/reality gap


If you go back at the reasons why guest posting is attractive, you start to see that expectations don’t always meet reality across all goals.


Here are the desired outcomes not matching reality.


In my survey, I have asked authors to share not only what goals they have set for themselves, but also what they actually achieved.


A very small percentage of experts received a job offer (11%) as opposed to the expected 17%.


56% of authors said they have received more traffic vs 61% expecting more traffic.


Whether this traffic increase was substantial or not, it's not something I have asked in my survey but I have exchanged emails with authors to confirm that referral traffic was terrible. More on this below.


The goal that exceeded all expectations was “brand building” with 83% of authors vs only 39% of them expecting it.


Now, reputation is hard to measure. As digital marketers, we have been trained to measure everything in terms of ROI, metrics, conversion rates, CTR. But how can we measure brand building?


If you are guest writing for the first time, you are probably far away from establishing yourself as an authority in the industry. In this case, personal branding should not be your immediate goal after one or two guest posts.


But what authors said is something that is worth much more than any other alternative when pushing for your personal branding.




Guest posting doesn’t bring any short-term ROI


I love how simply Kirk Williams, owner at Zato Marketing, put it:


[guest blogging has] more intangible value.
That is, the connections and opportunities I've had or made through guest posting are oftentimes the thing that people devalue the most since they can't be tracked, but where I find the greatest LONGTERM value.
IMO Guest Posting is a long-term habit, not a one and done where's the money.

That’s it! simple as that.


Kirk Williams wrote 3 articles on Moz, 7 for SEJ, 1 for PPCHero, 1 for SEL and 4 for SEMRush.


Having a strong web presence, the fact that each blog post is strictly scrutinised and the brand association with names such as Hubspot, Moz, SEJ are all factors that boost your personal branding in the long term.


Alexandra Tachalova, founder of Digital Olympus Conference, was able to secure enterprise-level contracts thanks to her strong presence online.

To achieve this level of personal branding, Alexandra wrote 7 articles on Moz, 26 on SearchEngineJournal and on SEMRush over the course of 3 years.


Approximately the same amount of time, 31 guest posts on SEJ and 5 on SEMRush (not to mention other websites) allowed Julia McCoy to sell more books. She also got an invite to well-paid speaking gigs.


Jenny Halasz, President and Founder of JLH Marketing, is reporting similar non-existing referral traffic:


I have not seen significant direct ROI or referral traffic from writing guest posts, but I believe that they help improve my personal brand.
Many times, I’ve heard “oh I read your articles on…” when introducing myself to a prospect or to a new client project team.

Takeaway: when you start guest posting for the first time, you’ll get a low ROI.

The problem is that many marketers are trained to think about immediate ROI and believe that if they put some effort, they would love to get back something sooner rather than later. In reality, it’s almost the opposite. You put a lot of efforts for months and months until you become good at guest posting but then you start acquiring customers at a very low acquisition cost.



Referral traffic? Forget about it.


Here is what Julia McCoy said about guest posting as a referral traffic strategy, she wrote more than 30 guest blogs for SearchEngineJournal.com.


I haven't really gained a great deal of customers from guest blogging -- which honestly surprised me, since many of these audiences are in the six-figure range (500,000+ readers per month).
Even .00005% of that number would be 25 customers, but we've only gained 1-5 from these platforms.


On exactly the same line the experience of Alexandra Tachalova, who shared with me the disappointment about referral traffic.


Sadly, there's near to zero numbers to share as guest posts don't bring traffic, leads, or clients. Or at least the sites where I write don't really work like this.
For instance, in 2019 I received around 100 users from the Moz blog. I don't consider this as decent traffic.


With regards to referral traffic, I have chatted to Mark Preston who wrote for Moz.com and described what he got back from guest posting:

An awful lot more people are going to read my content if it is published on Moz or SEMrush than on my own site.
This increases my personal brand awareness and I have received SEO training gigs as a direct result of guest posting.

How did Mark do it?


First of all, Mark added his link almost above the fold for everyone to see:





Second, Mark showed a case study about his own website and freelance consultancy. It’s rare to see a blog allowing an author to talk about himself, but in this case, Mark was explaining what happened to his website.


I don’t have data to see how big was the referral traffic, and saying that he received lots of it, is just my opinion.


On the same lines, here is Kelsey Reaves about guest posting on Moz’s blog:


We received several backlinks to our agency website.
I can't say it helped us rank for non-brand keywords (that was never the goal), but we received 2X the amount of referral traffic and leads than expected.

Kelsey went deep with the stats and shared with us what the numbers from that specific blog post:


From the article on Moz.com, we got:
• 7 qualified leads
• Traffic to our agency website grew by 230% WoW
• I was asked to contribute content to 5 other authoritative websites

Kelsey also added her company’s link early in the article where there are more chances for readers to click on it.




When I have tried doing this, the editorial teams removed my links ☹


Takeaway: These two cases seem to support my personal theory: if you add a link at the top, much more likely readers to click and visit your website.

I would advise chatting to the editorial team if you plan to do so because they will remove your links unless you add a specific resource that has an added value for the audience.



Guest posting is a great strategy for lead generation


It’s hard to get referral traffic and expect to monetize if your link is on the author’s bio.


It’s much more likely to get leads from your guest articles.


In fact, the third goal achieved from guest authors was more customers / some monetary value with a good 65% of authors.


But also for this goal, there seem to be different strategies on how to achieve it.

Let’s see the interesting experience of Navah Hopkins, Services Innovation Strategist at WordStream, who walked me through the process of getting a contract worth $3,000 with a new client with guest posting and guest podcasting on the same subject. And she believes this can turn into more in the near future.


What happened is the team saw me on SearchEngineLand.com and were so impressed that they reached out to me to help them to audit their paid media campaigns.
They also wanted me to help them build a case to fire their existing agency because the agency has been inactive and they felt that my clout from speaking and proven track record would help them make the case.

Also, Ryan Robinson, when I asked him whether there was any lead he replied:


High-quality email subscribers/leads usually come through from these guest posts [on SEMRush.com, Hubspot.com and Searchenginejournal.com].

Note the word “usually” which means under normal conditions. In other words, leads are expected from guest posting.


It’s interesting to see a different point of view from another expert, Anders Hjorth, who wrote for marketingland.com, searchengineland.com and ppchero.com.


I like sharing information and I like writing. It seems like one of the best ways of using those things in order to enhance the visibility of my services and of my person.
I think the visibility is the most important thing. Other advantages are secondary but go hand in hand: speaker opportunities, a bit of traffic, a link, indirectly-some-day-perhaps more clients.

He never mentioned leads generation was the desired outcome. That doesn’t mean it didn’t get any leads, it just means they weren’t the desired outcome.


So, based on the above experiences we can all agree, to a certain extent, that there is a positive ROI from guest posting.


The takeaway: monetary values don’t come from referral traffic, more often than not people prefer contacting you directly to discuss a new deal. So, make it easy to get in touch.

For example, SearchEngineLand.com and SearchEnginejournal.com have a button “Contact the Author” where you can send an email directly to the business email address. Alternatively, make sure you can add links to your website as higher in the page as possible.



If you want to become better at it, you need to create connections


I have learnt this myself.

When I was invited to speak at SMX in London last year, I got into guest posting for Searchengineland.com and Marketingland.com simply because I was introduced to the editorial team at the conference. There was an opportunity and I have grabbed it.


I had written my first article on the same subject I have presented at SMX. This was for me a deal-breaker because I have tried at least 3 times to apply as an unknown contributor via the official submission form, without any success for three consecutive times.


Knowing the right people can really make a difference between success and failure.


I am happy to hear Anders Hjorth had the same experience:


My path to writing on SearchEngineLand was opportunistic really - as I was already connected with the right people who could open the door for me.

Because the organiser of SMX is the same company that owns SEL and marketingland.com, it only takes someone to introduce you from the conference to the blog or vice versa.


I don’t have data to confirm it works the same way for Moz and MozCon, SEMRush and SEMRush Live, Hubspot and the Inbound Conference, PPCHero and Hero Conf.


But since all of these websites run their own conferences, I would believe it’s probably the case.


Apply to become a speaker.


My advice is to do some speaking gigs to improve your chances to guest post. When you pitch your guest posts, you should mention you want to write about something you have spoken about at a conference.


This means your content has been proved to work, people have listened to it and someone had the job of selecting it from a large number of applicants. In other words, your content has already passed the first stage of awesomeness.


You can surely increase your chances of being selected as a guest author.



Guest blogging ROI for company owners and freelancers makes lots of sense


If you run your own company and/or you are a freelance, read these advices for 3 top experts.


Manish Dudharejia is the president and founder of E2M Solutions. His answer to my question, “why did you guest post?” he said:


We were having a lot of luck in marketing, yet we weren’t doing much to get our name out there.
Guest posting was the perfect way to get some name recognition with relevant audiences.
We wanted to do a lot of guest posting to showcase our expertise and add insight to the industry.

Manish Dudharejia had a great service to offer and merging this with excellent guest posting boosted their reputation even further.


I have started to see some interesting trends in the data when also Julia McCoy said the same thing:


“Way back in 2011, when I started on my business-building and marketing journey, I heard that 'guest posting' was great for a lot of reasons: SEO, massive audience reach, backlinks, etc.
Some of those reasons today aren't as valid as they used to be, but hearing often-quoted people like Matt Cutts say that guest posting was valuable way back then was a big reason I stepped foot into it.
Also, the bottom-line reason that I was building an audience from scratch and simply wanted to tap into additional audiences and get my voice in front of them, was a big reason.”

Julia McCoy used guest posting as an opportunity to access large audiences free of charge.


Almost the same reason was given by Anders Hjorth, who writes mainly for searchengineland.com and ppchero.com:


I think the visibility is the most important thing. Other advantages are secondary but go hand in hand: speaker opportunities, a bit of traffic, a link, indirectly-some-day-perhaps more clients.

One of the reasons why these 3 authors agree on the benefits of guest posting for branding is because they all run their own companies.


What I am trying to say is that the motivations to start guest writing are different according to the position you have in the company or whether you are an employee or freelance SEO/ digital marketer.



Guest posting is the favourite strategy for personal branding


We have seen above that guest posting is terrible for generating referral traffic.


In fact, here is what Julia McCoy shared with me:


I HAVE gained book sales, well-paid speaking gigs, and publicity/followers that I would not have gained without reaching these audiences.

Indirectly, Julia got amazing results from guest posting, not just referral traffic.


Alex Tachalova explains the real reasons why she puts so much effort into it:


The reason I do guest blogging is more for PR than anything else.
I need to close deals more effectively as we work with a good number of enterprise-level clients, and they want to work with trustworthy experts who have a solid presence on the web.
We've recently closed a deal where a company told us that they selected us primarily due to my personal brand.

Alexandra built herself a strong web presence with consistent, regular guest posting and this paid offer very well.


Oliver Ewbank has the same objective as self-promotion. Instead of leads, Oliver got a job offer from writing for Ppchero.com and Wordstream.com.


On the same level Alessandro Mazzu’ and Gianpaolo Lorusso, founder of AdWorld Experience, the largest PPC conference in Europe, wrote for SEMRush and Ppchero.com for exactly the same reasons:


- Increase their reputation

- Have more customers


And they reported that guest blogging worked very well for them.


And if these stories weren’t enough to convince you about guest blogging for personal branding, here is the experience of Kelsey Reaves:


[the reason is to] Build my personal brand. I'm passionate about SEO and I felt like writing for this publication [Moz.com] was my way of pulling a seat up to the table & firmly asserting my influence and expertise in the space.


Only one author out of 20 uses guest posting as a link building strategy


Link building strategy could take a very long time and an incredible amount of efforts if it was to rely on guest posting. This is why 19 authors out of 20 believed this is a nice added value and not the main reason.


Also, because most of the backlinks are no-follow and there isn’t too much point in trying to achieve them anyway.


I have asked the question to everyone:


Are you using guest posting as a strategy to build backlinks? What are your thoughts on this?


Here are some of the replies showing a trend.


Alexandra Tachalova:

“I link back to my content in my guest posts, but that's a very expensive strategy. We don't use guest blogging to build links to our clients.”

Julia McCoy:

“No. Not at all. I look at the audience value and bottom-line return. I gauge success by results - such as more book sales, a paid speaking gig, one client here and there.”

Lorraine Reguly from Wordingwell:

“I was. I am not doing this much anymore because Google is changing their algorithms and also because I have switched niches.”

Tim Jensen, PP expert for Clix Marketing:

“Not directly – I am not an SEO so it's not a primary focus, but I do stay aware of any opportunities to link back to my company in a legitimate fashion.”

Lukasz Zelezny, SEO consultant, Non-Executive Director at Smarter Media, founder of SEO.London and former Director of SEO at Zoopla:


“No.”

Henneke Duirstemaat, writer, founder and trainer:


“Not anymore”.

On the opposite direction Manish Dudharejia’s quote:


“Yes, we are.
However, the benefits of guest posting go well beyond just building backlinks. In fact, if that’s your only objective, things probably won’t pan out super well.
Even though backlinks are usually the end goal of guest posting, you need to make it clear that you’re primarily looking to add value to the site’s readership.
In other words, you cannot half-heartedly slap a piece of content together purely for the sake of getting a backlink.”

For Manish, link building is a good reason, but not good enough to justify the efforts. providing awesome content is still the main objective.



Other goals achieved: sharing knowledge


The goals that are not entirely achieved but were expected are the following:


- Share knowledge (41% expected this goal vs 12% achieved).

- Invitation to speak

- Job offers

- Link building


Let’s start with sharing knowledge. How do you even measure it?


One way of measuring it is via the number of comments, likes, shares and positive engagement that gives you an indication of about how much readers found valuable what you have written.

I don’t have data to support this statement, this is just my opinion.


For example, on SEMRush, there is a the WOW-score that evaluate posts in terms of how engaging they are. The higher is your score the more engaging people found it. The score keeps track of scroll depth and time on page as two factors that determine the engagement.


For other websites like Moz.com is also easy to understand when a guest was successful in sharing knowledge, which is the number of discussions and comments.


Hubspot, SerachengineLand, SEJ, PPCHero and WordStream don’t allow any comment and hide the statistics and this makes it very hard to determine what you have said was valuable.


Takeaway: When I wrote for SEL and SEMRush, I have always asked to provide the stats for my articles because this means people engaged with them. When you submit your article you normally speak to the editorial team, take the opportunity to ask them about your performance.



Guest posting is, in summary, very valuable for guest authors


I have asked the authors to tell me how valuable was their guest posting experience. With each one of us having different goals, I wanted to summarise the value of guest posting as a total.



53% of authors find it very useful and 6% found it almost useless.


Here is why Anders Hjorth finds it useful:


“Reach, credibility and authority building.
I like sharing information and I like writing. It seems like one of the best ways of using those things in order to enhance the visibility of my services and of my person.
I think the visibility is the most important thing.
Other advantages are secondary but go hand in hand: speaker opportunities, a bit of traffic, a link, indirectly-some-day-perhaps more clients”.

Lukasz Zelezny simply loves sharing knowledge with professionals in the industry. This is the same goal as Navah Hopkins.


Navah, in particular, goes a bit deeper on this reason and explains why sharing is so important and I completely agree with her:


“I love helping people and sharing lessons learned, and sharing insights via guest post empowers me to help more folks.
Secondarily, there is a definite benefit to having my personal brand amplified by association with expert branded publications.
Finally, it can be helpful to have my perspective on multiple brands so prospects and clients gain trust that multiple brands are willing to amplify my voice.”

How difficult was to publish?


This graph shows the level of difficulty of being accepted to publish a blog post on either one of those publications. The data shows that the majority of authors found it difficult but not impossible.






33.3% of the replies said it was not so easy to be accepted to publish, of which 16.7% said it was very easy and 5.6% found it very difficult.


The average is 2.8/ 5 (Not so easy).



How can the blogs increase immediate ROI for the guest authors?


Since it’s not so easy to be accepted to publish and the outcomes require time, skills and experience (and a bit of luck), I have asked in the survey how can the blogs improve the immediate ROI?


  • 22% of the answers said it would be nice to receive monetary compensations

  • 78% said they are happy with the current ROI.


Here are the ideas that emerged from my survey, on how to receive immediate ROI:


  • Provide feedback on the post

  • A score that puts writers on top of a ranking, as SEMRush does.

  • More folks should follow the SEJ example and make baseball cards

  • Include the post in the newsletters

  • Offer gift cards as SEJ does

  • Connections to other publications that would be interested in similar content



Conclusion


With this research of 4,618 words, you can get a sense of which tactics work, which opportunities are available and which strategies need changing.


In guest posting the ROI is positive, it’s long term and it's difficult. Guest posting it can help you acquire new customers with the lowest cost per acquisition. But the general feeling is that you need to stick to it for a long time until you become very good at it.


To improve the immediate ROI there are a few ideas, hopefully, blogs will implement them for the benefits of everyone.

© 2020 by Luca Tagliaferro. All rights reserved.