Should You Get Paid to Guest Blog?

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ADOTAS – We love guest blogging. Catch us in the elevator here at Movable Media and we might casually tell you that we are, at our core, “an agency for guest bloggers.”

It doesn’t sound that impressive, does it? Guest blogging has been around for a while, and it typically has been a grassroots type of barter transaction that occurs informally, often among the SEO-inclined.

The value proposition behind the traditional guest blog post is a simple one. You (the publisher) have an audience, and I (the guest blogger) have some relevant content. Let’s fuse these things together: I’ll give you the content, and in return can you give me some exposure and maybe some backlinks.

A fundamentally fair exchange — and one we have participated in many times. Quite a few of our favorite publishers have run wildly successful businesses subsisting on a significant portion of guest (i.e., non-staff) provided content.

Author Takes Center Stage

The value proposition, however, is beginning to shift. Perhaps the first indication was at the time of the AOL acquisition, when it dawned on a number of the Huffington Post’s guest bloggers that perhaps they should have been paid a little something for their work.  After all,  “unpaid bloggers” (as Mike Arrington ironically now styles himself) often create a substantial amount of value.

The changing distribution of content is rewriting the value equation of the guest blogger.  In the Naughties (you know, the decade right before this one) if you posted a guest article (or even a book) you probably assumed that Publisher (capital P) would be doing most of the heavy lifting in regards to distribution.

This current decade looks like a self-marketed, author-driven world. Traffic is increasingly generated by author-promoted and audience-shared social media (e.g., Facebook subscriptions, updates and tweets.) Search results are increasingly going to look at the author’s social graph, reputation and credibility.

Boiling it down: when it comes to traffic on the web (tablets will play by a different set of rules) it won’t be the domain, the brand, the keywords, or even the underlying quality of the content that is the primary driver of reliable traffic. It will be the author — based on both their skills at active promotion as well as the quality of their reputation, as perceived by search engines and social networks.

Content + Audience

Back to guest blogging: if the promotional duties now shared between the author and the publisher, should we expect the guest blogger relationship/dynamic to change as well?  In the case of authors who have and can move an audience (and many will begin to) the answer is probably: yes.

Great authors are going to be essential and in limited quantity for brands and publishers alike; the most desirable authors will be the ones who can attract and move a specific audience.  The most successful online publishers already recognize this change (Gawker, HuffPo, Business Insider) and pay writers at least partially on the audience they can bring. Paying on performance inherently recognizes that all authors are not created equal –and authors who move the traffic needle are better (at something) and are simply more valuable.

There is so much content produced every day that an article like this one has no inherent value at all — unless it brings an audience.

To maximize the value of a guest blog, ideally both parties would have shared access to analytics and share incentives, responsibilities, and rewards for promoting the content to an audience. The right approach really works — at Movable Media we saw as much as a 500% lift in traffic per article for one client once we moved from providing “content” to providing “Content With an Audience” — by using authors with audiences, and giving them the tools and incentives to activate them.

But there is no reason why this approach should be exclusive to content marketing — it can and should be applied to all guest blog posts, even those grass-roots intra-blog barter transactions. Except, I suppose, this one.

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