Posted by EricEnge
When you first start in content marketing, you usually have little to no audience of your own for your content. If you’re a major brand, you may be able to develop this quickly, but it’s still extremely helpful to get visibility on third-party sites to grow your reputation and visibility as a producer of fantastic content, and to also net links to your site.
This can come in the form of third parties linking to content on your site, or getting guest posting or columnist opportunities on those sites. A key stage in that process is creating a pitch to the site in question, in order to get them to say “yes” to whatever it is you’re requesting.
The hardest part of writing any pitch isn’t the creation of the pitch itself. It’s the legwork you have to do in advance. Successful pitches are all about preparation, and frankly, there needs to be a lot of it.
To illustrate this, I’m going to walk through the process using a fictitious landscaping business, describing what they might need to do to start successful pitching of the content they plan to create.
Step 1: Competitive research/identify topic areas
You aren’t ready to pitch until you understand what else is out there. You need to visit major sites and see what they’re writing about landscaping and related topics. You also need to see what your competitors are doing in terms of content marketing.
If your competitor has been proactively doing content marketing for two years, it’s a good idea to see what areas they’ve been focusing on. For example, if the competitor has already established themselves as the thought leader in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) landscaping, perhaps your initial focus should be on something else.
Perhaps you can concentrate on specialty areas, such as prepping your yard for a wedding reception, a graduation party, or the integration of an in-ground pool into the yard.
I’d start by pulling raw data from tools such as Open Site Explorer, and getting the Domain Authority data on the links they have. I did this for one landscaping business, and here’s a snapshot of the highest-authority links they have:
For this company, it would be interesting to see what they’re doing with ThisOldHouse.com. That looks like a key relationship for them, as they’ve received 131 links from that site. Ultimately, what you would do next is dig into the details of each of these sites, find out why the competitor got the links, and uncover what it tells you about your opportunities.
Step 2: Identify target sites
Who covers topic areas similar to yours? Have they published third-party contributions before? You can obtain some of this from the competitive research you went through in Step 1. But, to take it further, I did a search on “landscaping ideas”:
This brought up a bunch of high-authority sites to check out. As a next step, I collected data on their Domain Authorities, and then dug into whether or not they accepted guest posts. The search query I used to get information on whether a site accepts guest posts looks something like this:
After doing that, we can assemble the data into a table that looks like this:
This now helps you understand who to potentially pitch. Important note: Don’t limit yourself to guest posts. With very high-authority sites like many of these, you may want to explore becoming a columnist. Pitching a column may be even easier than pitching a guest post, as it suggests that you are interested in a long-term relationship, which may be of greater interest to the target site.
In addition, explore whether or not the sites in question do interviews of experts on different topics. This could be another way to get your foot in the door.
Step 3: Line up your experts
Having a legitimate expert writing for you is a crucial part of any pitch. Successful off-site content marketing requires you to get placement on some of the top sites covering your market. You won’t succeed at this unless you have someone creating content for you that really knows their stuff.
It’s great if the subject matter expert (SME) is you, or someone working for you. This makes pitching your expertise easier. However, if no one inside your business has the time, you can rent (contract) the expertise. Either way, make sure your author is a legit SME.
If you need to rent your SME, there are many ways to go about identifying someone. Here are some potential approaches to use:
- Search the sites you identified that accept guest posts, and find out who is writing them. A query such as: “guest post” site:bhg.com is pretty effective for this.
- Search related hashtags on Twitter, such as #landscaping and #gardening, to see who’s sharing related content.
- Try other Google search queries, such as “landscaping design articles” or “landscaping books,” and identify the authors.
- Search Amazon directly for landscaping and gardening books.
You get the idea. Once you have identified a bunch of people, you have to start figuring out who might be a potential author for you. Keep in mind that you’ll need to pay them to write on your behalf, and you’ll have to help them line up places to write, as well.
You don’t need the absolute top name in the market, but you want someone who can credibly write unique and valuable content for you (you want what Rand calls 10x Content).
Step 4: Identify the target topic
Once you have your writing team identified, work out with them what types of content they can help you create that meets these three goals:
- Fits your competitive strategy per Step 1.
- Might be of interest to your target sites.
- Matches up with what your SME can write.
The topics you pitch need to be different for each site. Let’s say we’ve decided on BHG.com as one of our sites of interest. As a first step, you can try searching the query “site:bhg.com landscaping” (quotes not required):
This does not yet solve the problem for us, as it shows over 6,000 results. The good news is that this site covers the topic a lot; however, you’re looking to see what gaps there may be in their coverage, and then see if you can pick something that will be supplemental to what they already have published.
Since 6,000+ posts is a lot to look at, let’s see if we can simplify it a bit more. Here’s a follow-up search:
This idea assumes you’re able to create content around the topic of landscaping for colonial homes. Assuming you are, you can go through this and start trying to figure out what type of content you can create that the site hasn’t seen before.
This is an essential part of the process. Your goal is to come up with a topic that comes across to the editor you pitch as offering unique to value to their site. This is what the first four steps have been about. Don’t go past this step until you have the first four steps nailed.
Step 5: Research the people you will pitch
We’re getting close to pitch time, but we have one more research step left. First, figure out who it is at the target site that you are going to pitch. Usually, identifying the editorial staff is pretty simple. In the case of this CountryLiving.com site, they have an About page, which shows us who their editors are:
Next, start researching the various editors. Do they publish on the site? Read what they’ve written. Are they active on social media? Start following them there. Advance points for establishing credibility by having meaningful interactions with them about their articles in their social feeds before ever sending them a pitch. At a minimum, make sure you learn what you can about their likes and dislikes.
Step 6: Craft the pitch
Finally, we get to write our pitch! Steps 1 through 5 are about making this step the easiest of them all. Let’s start with three rules:
- Personalize every pitch. No automatic pitch-building whatsoever.
- Know what your key value proposition is, and lead with it.
- Keep it short. Get right to the point, and don’t waste their time.
Those are the three most important things to remember. To satisfy rule two, start figuring out what the lead of your pitch is. Brought in a well-known expert? Lead with that. Groundbreaking study? Lead with that. Filling a void in the content-published-to-date on the target site? Lead with that.
This is where your pitch is won or lost. The major pitch elements are:
- Your lead value proposition up front.
- Something that shows you’ve done your homework.
- The specific nature of the request.
- Additional required background.
Here’s an example of a pitch:
Even though I’ve included some areas that need filling in, don’t confuse this with being a template that you auto-populate. The comments you make on what they’ve already published and the nature of what you’re suggesting to them are all custom.
Also, if your author or your business is really well-known, then that might be the lead value proposition, rather than the content. In that case, lead with those facts, cover the proposed article topic in the second paragraph, and structure the email differently.
As I noted in the beginning, successful pitches are all about the preparation. Treat each opportunity to pitch someone as special and rare. After all, if you sent them a crappy pitch, and it shows you didn’t put in any special effort, you may have burned that bridge permanently.
That can be very costly, especially as your reputation and visibility continues to grow over time. Do all the upfront work correctly, and the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts will be greatly amplified.
We all like to get an edge on our competition, and one of the best ways to do that in content marketing is to master and perfect your pitching process.
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