How I made my guest post a massive success [CASE STUDY]

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I was so excited the first time I had a guest post go up.

I could see it – the article would go up, people would read it, our work would be lauded, and voila – we would be swept up in the glitterati and the business would boom.

The reality? The post went up, three people commented saying this was cool, and then… crickets

After that humbling experience, I set out to reverse engineer what made other posts successful, and how I too could do the same.

NOTE: For this article, I am going to assume you are guest posting on a reputable site.

What guest posts really are

On the basic level, a guest post is an exchange:

  • You provide the publication with valuable and interesting content with a unique perspective.
  • The publication provides you an audience and the social proof of having your name attached to that organization.

Don’t underestimate how much social proof can matter. There is an entire cottage industry of people charging thousands of dollars to write about you on Forbes or Entrepreneur or Inc or other established brands – it makes you look good!

(We can get into this later, but the easiest way to spot someone like that? They own a PR company and only write about their clients… without disclosing the relationship. It happens a lot more than you’d imagine.)

But as I learned, taking a naive approach of “okay I’ve written something, people will flock to it because it’s on X site” is doing it half-assed.

Instead, you need to be strategic and leverage the brand to get greater exposure.

I am going to break down step-by-step how I got a guest post on Ramit Sethi‘s GrowthLab, and how I was able to make my How to take Fridays “off” (and still be insanely productive) a huge win for both him and me.


Step 0: Build something awesome

To start, I had known Ramit for a couple of years. We had talked on the phone a few times and met up for coffee when I visited New York. I won’t claim we are BFFs; Ramit respects what Examine.com is and how it has stayed true to its mission, and I appreciate how Ramit has carved out no-nonsense as his brand.

For those unaware, Examine.com analyzes and sums up nutrition and supplement research. Roughly 70,000 people visit us every day.

Without Examine.com, it would have been far tougher to reach out. If you’re a young blood trying to figure out how to make it… try making something first, and using that as your calling card.

It’s a lot easier to connect with individuals when you’ve helped create something that kicks ass and takes names.


Step 1: How to get the guest post (do your research)

Every organization treats guests posts differently. Some want an idea (pitch). Others want an outline. A few want a completed article.

Step 1: See how they handle guest posts

Before I even approached Ramit about writing a guest post, I spent a couple of hours researching how he handled guest posts.

Some things I read:

Step 2: See what others have done

I then went out and read some of the guest posts on IWT. I got a feeling for what worked, and what didn’t.

Step 3: Come up with ideas

Finally, I started brainstorming ideas and crafting simple outlines. I wanted to make sure I could write about topics that would be of interest to Ramit’s audience.

Spend time researching and understanding what is expected out of a guest post, and then brainstorm ideas that would work for them.


Step 2: Be Proactive: The Pitch

Having communicated with Ramit, this meant I had also communicated with his executive assistant (EA).

Check your ego. People place too much self-importance on themselves and think they should only talk to the person-in-charge.

Use the team members! It’s why they are there, so help them do their job.

So, I emailed the EA (didn’t even bother Ramit) and said hey – I’ve done my research, what is expected of me, and I’d like to pitch a guest post.

She immediately replied and connected me with Ryan, his Senior Editorial Director.

(I have no clue if the EA talked to Ramit or not)

Ryan and I got on the horn, we talked about what the mission was for IWT and GrowthLab, and I promised to send him a few ideas. I then did a quick outline for each and sent them over. Ryan got back to me, said he liked a few, and then connected me with Chloe, the person in charge of GrowthLab.

(I have no clue if Ryan talked to Ramit or not)

Time to write.

The entire process was butter smooth. His EA knew who I was, and by knowing what kind of content they wanted, the conversations I had with Ryan and Chloe were short and immediately fruitful. We went quickly from an idea to “let’s do this.”

(I have no clue if Chloe talked to Ramit or not)

Use the team and work with them.


Step 3a: Make it Easy

Chloe and I worked together to hammer out an outline, and then I started fleshing it out.

Listen… I can’t believe how much garbage writing I’ve seen. Yes, Chloe is the “editor” (and thus her job is to edit my work), but there’s no reason to submit rubbish.

Put in the time. Write without distractions (I close everything that could distract me and play music). Make sure it flows. Give it a personal touch and make it accessible and actionable.

Edit it. Edit it some more. Come back the next day and continue to edit it.

Don’t rush it.

Don’t submit verbal vomit.

Take the time to craft something so when they’re editing, their only thought is “this is an easy read.”

Honestly, if there’s one thing you leave with this after you read it, it’s that – make other people’s lives easy!

Rule #1 should be to put yourself in their shoes and think “how can I make this easy for them?”

While writing, I’d add comments about where images could go. I explained my logic. I hedged and asked for help when I needed it.

I spent the time to make it worthwhile.

Ryan had even asked me if I had any deadline (to coincide with a launch).

“Nope” – I was here to make it easy.

I delivered when I said I would. I followed up and stayed on top of things. I took none of the feedback personally.

People want to work with people they like. Make their life easy, and they’ll love working with you


Step 3b: Concurrently to your writing, you should be networking

My writing process is simple: I let an idea percolate, I throw an outline together, and then I start researching what others have written about each point.

The research serves two purposes:

  1. To learn from others. It lets me go down rabbit holes, which is fantastic for general learning and understanding.
  2. To say hi to smart people and also build up my network.

#1 is easy, and pretty much everyone does it.

#2 on the other hand …

I’ve been doing this for years, and of the 1000+ entrepreneurs I have interacted with, less than half a dozen do this.

Any article I come across that I find interesting, I tweet it out. I then reach out and say hi. I explain how I came upon their content, what I’m researching, and if they’d like to read mine when it goes live.

It’s a great way to reach out to a person with purpose.

Read my article on how I got 27 bakers to make chocolate chip cookies. It’s the same process – give the email you’re sending the personal touch with purpose, and people will response.

Brian Dean of Backlinko SEO always says he contacts 100 people before he puts anything live (just typing that left me exhausted).

Me? I aim to reach out to 11 people (I decided any number that you cannot count with just your fingers is a big number indeed).

In the case of my article for GrowthLab, I emailed 13 people while doing my research. 7 of them replied and were interested in learning more.

Network Correctly!

Let me be very clear – when I say email, I don’t mean a haphazard “hi check out my article.” I don’t mean some mass email garbage. And I definitely don’t mean something you outsource to a virtual assistant.

Those 13 people I emailed? It took me just over three hours to do.

I read their article. I read other articles they had written. I checked what they were up to on Twitter. My goal was never to just email them and promote my stuff.

My goal was to build a relationship with them. This is basic networking, and to me, that’s synonymous with making friends. If you go out with that mindset, it becomes easy.

I’m going to write about networking soon, and there’s a reason I get roughly 50% response rate on cold emails.

Contact people who have written about what you’re writing about to give them a heads up on your upcoming article. Make sure you make it personable and not a dull cold email.

Interested in networking?

I’ll be talking about how I’ve built up my network by helping others. Join the SJO.com Family and learn from my years of experience.



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Step 4: Now that we’re live, time to promote

Once the article went live, the real work began.

I shared it via Facebook and Twitter (multiple times).

I emailed the SJO Family (which you should join as it’s the greatest thing ever).

I spread the word over on reddit.

Those seven people that replied? I let them know it was up. Most shared it on social media, and a few of them linked to it from their respective websites.

One of them writes for LifeHacker, and he posted it on the site: A Three-Step Plan to Productive, Stress-Free Fridays.

So instead of resting on my laurels, I went out and let people know. I marketed it to people who I thought would find it relevant.

Once it’s out there, make sure people notice your content. The Internet is awash in content, and it’s your job to get the word out on it


Step 5: We have lift off

For those that have been part of SJO.com for a while, you’ll remember I went through this same process when I wrote about why I don’t take VC funding.

After I had promoted it, the Globe & Mail team saw it was a popular article on their site, so they bumped it to their homepage.

It was a no-brainer for them – the article was getting traction, so give it more exposure.

It’s a beautiful cycle that feeds itself… and it’s your job to get it going.

The same kind of no-brainer happened here.

Seeing how popular the article I had written was (the LifeHacker write-up got 15,000 pageviews alone), it was included in their Friday round-up email.

This resulted in the article blowing up even more, and the cycle continued.

Organizations will push articles that are getting momentum. It’s on you to get the ball rolling.


Step 6: Say thanks and unlock the Golden Goose

As of right now, BuzzSumo says the article got 1000+ shares, with 112 of them on Twitter.

I kept an eye on the Twitter search results (here – always use “latest“) and thanked people as they shared it.

I also checked for any backlinks to the article. A dozen people linked to it from their site, and I reached out to every single one to say thanks.

I showed them appreciation.

What was awesome was that every single one said they loved the article, and that I should let them know if I write anything more.

This is the golden goose!

  1. People who share content help spread your message. By connecting with them (and showing appreciation), they are much more likely to spread your message.
  2. Ranking high in search engines is still contingent on getting links, and here they are happy to do so! More backlinks = more traffic = more

People hear about how Google sends us over 50,000 visitors a day to Examine.com (we rank top 5 for keywords such as vitamin D, fish oil, melatonin, creatine, and more) and they think we’ve figured out some secret. NOPE – we just cultivate strong relationships. And anytime someone does link to us, we thank them!

There is no trick. There is no secret sauce. It’s just showing gratitude.

Build relationships with those sharing and linking to your content.


Net Result

What did we end up with?

A BIG win-win for both parties.

According to BuzzSumo, my article is the most shared article on GrowthLab (we’re ignoring their guides or optins).

#2 is Ryan Levesque’s “6 productivity hacks that tripled my income.”

As a brand, Ryan blows me away.

As an article, that headline of “tripling your income” is way more appealing than mine.

Howbeit, due to my strategic approach, my article ended up being a bigger hit.

Of course, if Ryan had what I had done, his would have BLOWN mine away.

For Ramit, this was a net win.

GrowthLab got more traffic.

GrowthLab got more exposure.

GrowthLab built up more backlinks (lifehacker.com is a powerful domain, and this was the first time it had linked to the site).

Instead of focusing on virality (which gives you a one-time boost and then passes), the lingering effects of those backlinks will add up over time.

Most importantly for Ramit, he made sales. I’ve had about a dozen people ask me about his products in the last 90 days, and I know three people purchased because of this guest post.

For moi, it was also a net win.

SJO got more exposure.

SJO’s email list grew by several hundred.

SJO got more backlinks too.

Most importantly, I was able to build relationships with some interesting people.

It all adds up.

I focused on making it a win-win, and it yielded excellent results


Bottom-line: the article How to take Fridays “off” (and still be insanely productive) got over 22,000 visitors.

Would it have gotten that if I hadn’t taken a pre- and post- article approach? Never in a million years.

Instead of taking a shotgun approach to guest posts, posting the same similar drivel over and over everywhere, take the time to craft something unique, reach out to people who may be interested, and develop relationships.

Strive to build a strong foundation instead of chasing the latest viral sensation.

If you’re ready to learn more about my approach and thoughts, definitely join the SJO.com Family below.

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