Sponsored blog posts are one of the most undervalued and misunderstood forms of digital advertising. With small key changes to your strategy, you can make sponsored posts your best performing advertising channel.
What is sponsored content?
Sponsored content is digital content created by an influencer and hosted on their website or social channels. It could be written, photographed, shared, reposted, or mentioned.
In this article, we’re talking specifically about sponsored blog posts (also known as sponsored articles). These are articles paid for by an advertiser to be written and published on an influencer or blogger’s website.
When sponsored posts go wrong
Many advertisers commission a post to be written about their product or service on a site that appeals to their audience and wait for the sales or leads to come in.
The post reads like a boring press release. It rarely works.
If a post provides little value to the reader, it will quickly get buried by new content and disappear. Just read this blogger’s perspective on how sponsored posts written like advertisements fail miserably.
Here are a few examples of this advertorial style:
- BugHerd: Using BugHerd to Track Visual Feedback on Websites
- Vettery: Vettery: The Hiring Marketplace to Land Your Dream Job
The lifespan of a post like those above is short and the advertiser is unlikely to recoup their original investment.
You just lost time and money.
How to commission sponsored blog posts properly
Here’s your number one focus point: Choose topics that cover the pain points your product or service solves without over-promoting yourself.
Look at this great example by the folks at FreshBooks on FreelancersUnion.org: How to get faster payments from your clients. Now think of the bad ‘advertorial way’. It might read: Use FreshBooks to get faster payments from your clients.” That sounds like an ad, not an independent and trustworthy opinion.
Get your sponsored post to rank on Google searches by focusing on specific problems people actively search to solve
When a freelancer is searching on Google for the answer to “get faster payments from clients”, Freshbooks is hard to miss:
- The post on FreelancersUnion.org ranks #3 for ‘get faster payments from clients’.
- The first two results are from freshbooks.com
- #8 is another sponsored post from them on Forbes.
The search term is listed on their own site as a key feature of their product. It’s clear the team at Freshbooks has a strategy. They want to show up for the key pain points their product solves.
Here’s another example from a web development company called WebsiteSetup: How Much Should You Get Paid To Build Websites In 2019?.
Because of Smashing Magazine’s well-established SEO presence, this post ranks #1 on Google for “how much should you get paid to build a website”. The post was written 18 months ago and according to SimilarWeb, it’s still one of the top traffic sources for WebsiteSetup and they are still fully booked 3 months in advance.
Writing valuable content isn’t the only factor. You need websites with a strong SEO footprint.
If you want these posts to rank high in search for years to come, pick publishers who are well established and have a solid SEO footprint.
Check the Domain Authority Score
The best way to judge a website’s SEO value is by checking its domain authority score (also known as a DA score).
The domain authority score will give you an insight into how the publisher ranks on search today. It’s also an indicator of how they will perform in the future. You can use AHREFs of MOZ to reliably check how they rank. If you’re starting out, you want to work with a blog with a higher DA than your own. If you’re more established, you want a blog with a DA score above 50. Anything below 40 isn’t worth much, and above 60 is excellent.
If a website accepts “do follow” links for sponsored posts, it could seriously hurt your own websites SEO rankings.
Another great indicator of future SEO performance is the acceptance of “do follow” links.
Google asks publishers to mark any links within a sponsored post as `nofollow` or `rel=sponsored`. Until earlier this year, Google wouldn’t follow these links or use them to calculate SEO rankings. They recently changed their policy and the algorithm now uses these as “hints”.
A publisher who is willing to skirt Google’s rules, has a bleak SEO future And that means your sponsored post will quickly disappear .
If you have been told that “do follow” links are necessary because they count as backlinks:
- Sponsored posts are not intended to give you backlinks to boost your SEO presence. But rather to send you qualified leads.
- Google doesn’t care what the reason is. If they think you’re cheating the system, you’ll receive a penalty.
The whole ‘buy backlinks’ strategy is a terrible idea. Google has been targeting paid links for years. They introduced the ‘nofollow’ rules back in 2005. To put that into perspective. that was two years before the iPhone was released. The last time paid backlinks were a viable strategy, people were using flip phones and listening to Kanye West’s Gold Digger.
In summary, if Google detects sponsored links that are not correctly marked, it can issue a penalty. Not only would your sponsored post disappear on search, but your domain would also suffer.
How to set a strategy to get high-value content that ranks when your customers search for a solution to a problem or an answer to a question.
Do this well at the start and it will pay off for 3+ years.
All it takes is a bit of extra work and you will be miles ahead of your competition.
Before commissioning a post, ask yourself if your sponsored post falls into one of these categories:
- A solution to a common problem
- An answer to a searched for question
Create a sponsored post strategy that works:
- Pick a few pain points that your product or service solves.
- Type those pain points into Google and see what results you get. If that suggestion box with a ready answer pops up, you know competition to rank in the top 3 result will be heated. If not, it’s an easy win.
- Do some light SEO research. You want to figure out what keywords will work best.
- Research websites who offer sponsored blog posts. You can do this via Paved’s Marketplace.
- Make a list of possible sponsorships. Look for a DA score above 50 and make sure they follow Google’s guidelines.
- Contact the website publisher and agree on who writes the post. It’s best for the publisher to write the post in their usual style (and most prefer this)
- Hit approve and publish. Keep an eye on your inbound traffic from the post via Google Analytics.
If you pay for an advertorial-style post, you waste money.
This strategy for sponsored posts doesn’t cost extra.
Appcoda has a post from Hired (Where can you earn the most money as a software engineer?) and another advertorial style post from their competitor, Vettery (A Hiring Marketplace built for Developers).
It’s likely they both paid the same amount for those posts but the post from Hired will keep showing up on Google for software engineers looking for new jobs. The post from Vettery is buried under layers of new content.
Which post would you rather pay for?
Writing high-value content on blogs with high SEO rankings will continue to drive traffic to your site months and years into the future.
Sponsored posts are a long term strategy. Unlike an ad that lasts for a few seconds as a reader scrolls by, these articles last for years. Make them good.
Sponsored content is powerful. Done right, you get leads, traffic, and over time, an organic search boost. Just don’t write it like an 800-word advertisement.