When Darren announced he’d hired a Content Manager, one fan commented that she hoped this would ensure greater consistency in the quality of guest posts published on ProBlogger.
That comment points to a conundrum that every blogger faces: how can we assess guest submissions objectively? We probably find it easy to differentiate between a fabulous post and a terrible post, but it’s the gray areas that are more challenging.
Often, we’re too close to our content to be truly objective, and we can spend ages trying to workout what to publish and what to reject. The frustration associated with that can see us throw up our hands and decide to accept any submission that isn’t an absolute shocker.
Obviously, that’s not a great approach—if your guest posters aren’t up to scratch, your readership is likely to be disappointed. Over time, this can make it very difficult to maintain loyalty and, in the long run, it can damage your brand.
Who are you to judge?
If you’re early in your blogging career, you can take the approach that you’re not really experienced enough to judge others’ work. You’ve only been blogging for x months; who are you to reject someone else’s writing? After all, you’re probably trying to submit guest posts to sites yourself at the same time, and you’ll want them accepted. Should you be rejecting the work of bloggers who are in the same position as you?
I once faced precisely this dilemma on a site I was running. Who was I, I asked myself, to sort the good from the bad? There were plenty of approaches to writing that I didn’t like, but that didn’t mean they weren’t good, or valid, or worthy, right?
There was one author in particular who could clearly write, but I didn’t enjoy her work. It was nothing personal; it just was not my thing. I published her anyway—multiple times. The opportunity she gained through my site helped her to obtain book deals, and she’s now an internationally published author. She’s commented to me many times that her publication on my site inspired her to keep going—it gave her faith that she could succeed and helped increase her exposure to peers and publishers.
That might seem like proof that we should publish everything that’s not overtly awful, but it’s not. That one fabulously fulfilling success story is offset by the multitude of bad publishing decisions I made that reduced the overall standing of that site over time. It was the only site in its niche, yet it couldn’t lead the market, since it didn’t represent the best. True, it did include the best, but it also included a lot of less-than-best content.
Getting serious about submissions
If you’ve been less than stringent with your submissions acceptance policy, it’s probably time to get serious about guest submissions to your site.
The first step is to stop seeing your site as a channel (for the sake of this exercise, anyway), and start seeing it as a product in itself. Every piece of content you publish augments that product—for better or worse. Stop thinking “well, this post could interest my readers” and start asking if it will positively, actively develop your product.
In this context, it doesn’t take bad content to undermine your site. All it takes is content that doesn’t agree with your philosophy, support your direction, or speak to your readers the way you want to.
It might seem like this perspective will expand the gray areas of submissions assessment—even the good submissions can be bad now?!—but the fact is that having this as the foundation of your assessment process makes the job much easier.
Now that you’re thinking of your blog as a product, work out, in very specific terms, what it is about your product that people like. Perhaps it’s your practical focus. Perhaps it’s your emphasis on a certain specialization within your niche. Perhaps it’s your personality.
Once you’ve identified these aspects, you’ll effectively have a checklist that you can use as a very basic means to assess every submission you get.
Every time you receive a coherent piece of writing, you’ll get out your checklist. Does it have a solid, practical outcome? Does it address your specialization, or is it too broad? Does it have personality? If you answer yes to all three questions, you could be onto something.
The other great thing about this approach? It makes it easy to identify submissions with potential.
Perhaps you’ve got a good submission that just doesn’t quite have a strong enough focus on practical outcomes. Great. Now that you’ve identified this, you can write back to the blogger and invite them to add more practical information—you’ll probably even be able to suggest ways they might achieve that.
This is how I approach submissions acceptance for any publication I work with. What techniques do you use to work out which guest posts you’ll use?