How to Recognize a Spammy Guest Post Request in 2018
Guest posting isn’t inherently bad when authentic, credible, and adding genuine value. But sometimes it’s tricky to know whether a query is worth replying to. Here’s how to tell if that guest post request is, in fact, spammy, why it might not be, and if you’re willing to give it a shot, how to figure out if it’s actually worth your time.
If you’re reading this, you’ll already be familiar with unsolicited email offers to “collaborate” on exclusive “high-quality” content for your blog. You may even have followed up on a few of these offers, only to find the results not only sub-par but completely irrelevant to your niche.
Sometimes it’s tricky to know whether a query is worth replying to. A sophisticated spam campaign will have invested enough care in the initial email that you could be forgiven for thinking you’re dealing with a writer who genuinely cares about your blog.
The trouble with spammy guest posts
Guest posting isn’t inherently bad. Blogs need content to attract and retain an audience, and writers and websites need backlinks and exposure to grow. From an SEO perspective, you and your guest writer can mutually benefit each other, especially if both of you are individually developing the authority of your respective brands.
Of course, all these only works when the guest posts are authentic, credible and add genuine value. In contrast, the ‘spammy’ approach is identified by its lack of care — lack of care about quality, about your readers, about your SEO ranking, and about your brand.
So, from the obvious to the discreet, here’s how to tell if that guest post request is, in fact, spammy, why it might not be, and if you’re willing to give it a shot, how to figure out if it’s actually worth your time.
You spot obvious spelling, grammatical or typographical errors in their query
By all means, forgive the occasional slip-up — we’re only humans, after all. But if the sender doesn’t care enough to offer quality on the first contact, it doesn’t bode well for their longer-form content down the track.
- Why they might still be legit: Some requests don’t come from the writers themselves. Maybe the person who contacted you is a marketing coordinator or account manager — someone more interested in building and maintaining a relationship.
- How to follow up: Assuming you’ll be accepting content from businesses that run this way, first decide whether the mistakes discredit the sender’s ability to vouch for the quality of the writer they represent. If you’re still keen to try them out, write back and ask for the credentials of their writing team.
The guest post topic they suggest isn’t relevant to your niche
Guest posts help ensure a steady flow of content on your blog, treating your readers to diverse perspectives within and beyond your niche. But stray too far from your niche and you’re no longer serving the loyal audience that follows you.
A writer who can’t demonstrate this understanding in their guest post request probably won’t contribute content of a high enough quality even if you do agree on a more relevant topic.
- Why they might still be legit: If you publish in a currently evolving sector (eg. tech or science), it’s possible the blogger who contacted you might be pitching an idea that, on closer inspection, contains truly fresh insights not yet commonplace in your niche.
- How to follow up: Before deleting that email, look up the sender to see if the work they’ve published before hints at the specialized knowledge you’d be willing to take on board. If you’re prepared to engage in conversation, be sure to ask why they feel their suggestion would be appealing to your readers. Also, check if their published works aren't copied from others: tools like PlagiarismCheck.org or Copyscape.com will come in handy here.
The sender’s niche or site isn’t relevant to yours
You could argue that accepting a relevant post from an irrelevant source is still a win-win — you get content and they get a backlink. However, there’s always the risk that a writer outside your niche won’t be informed enough to write an article your readers would enjoy.
And what about their site — do you know enough about its niche and audience to feel comfortable linking to them?
- Why they might still be legit: It’s the 21st century. Anyone with initiative and an internet connection is likely to have a side hustle or two. A busy freelance blogger in an unrelated space can still be passionate and knowledgeable in your exact area.
- How to follow up: First, look up the sender to see if they’ve published anything related to your niche. Reference what you find (or don’t find) in your reply, and don’t be afraid to voice your concerns just to see how they respond.
You can’t tell who the sender represents
Ideally, a legitimate guest post author will be upfront about who they are and where you can find their business or website. If they’re sketchy on any of these details, if they won’t reveal the site they want you to link to, if their company name or domain name don’t match what they’re saying in their email, then there’s a strong chance you’re not dealing with a sincere and trustworthy source.
- Why they might still be legit: The person who sent you the guest post request could be a fantastic writer and experienced subject matter expert, but a terrible people person. They may suffer from social anxiety or get nervous when it comes to marketing themselves, but get them on the tools and they’ll send back a work of art.
- How to follow up: Assuming their proposition catches your interest, check up on all the names and titles they mention in their query. If they provide links to their work elsewhere online, look for outgoing links in their article or byline — as a rule of thumb, you can expect to be asked for a similar arrangement. Consider this one a no-go if you find any sign of spammers, scammers, false facts or plagiarism.
Their email opens with a generic greeting
For example, a “hi” with no name, “dear yoursite.com” or impersonal sales question phrased with a hard-sell tone (eg. “looking for great content for your blog?”). This suggests the sender may have harvested your email from a database without making an effort to hide it — or worse, without realizing they should have tried.
- Why they might still be legit: If you don’t share your name on your site or social media profiles, the sender would have had no choice but to find another way to greet you. (This still doesn’t excuse the impersonal sales question.)
- How to follow up: First check your site and social media presences. If your name is too obvious for a sincere sender to miss, you can flag that query as spam. Otherwise, if the rest of their request seems reasonable, ask qualifying questions like why they chose your site in particular, and what it is about your brand that aligns with theirs.
The email wasn’t sent to your address
Check that the To: field in their email isn’t blank. Assuming the sender emailed you directly (and not through a contact form), there’s no reason for them to hide your email address. That is unless they’re contacting other sites at the same time with the exact same message — the very definition of spam.
- Why they might still be legit: Misclicks happen, especially in the age of touch devices. The sender may have intended to send the email To you, but ended up Bcc-ing you instead.
- How to follow up: If the rest of their email seems above board, and googling the sender turns up positive results, consider the possibility of an honest mistake. However, tread carefully if you reply — establish your terms clearly and reiterate your blog’s guest post criteria, reserving the right to refuse publication if the content and backlink URL doesn’t fit.
Before you reply to any unsolicited email
These signs won’t tell you much on their own, but if you notice a few of them in a single guest post request, there’s a high probability that you’ve been hit by a spammer.
Before replying to any unsolicited email, consider that it may be the kind of spammer who isn’t even interested in a guest post. Their aim is to confirm your email address reaches a real human being, so they can send you more unsolicited email in future.
Always look up the guest post writer before replying. Not finding any information on them at all could be reason enough to ditch their query. After all, a blogger who really cares about raising their profile (or the profile of the people they represent) will already have some bylined or branded content online, even if it’s on their own blog.