Rohit is an SEO enthusiast who writes on TechTage. He currently manages his own portfolio of successful content sites. His content has been featured on some of the most prominent websites on SEO and affiliate marketing, including SearchEngineJournal, NeilPatel.com, SearchEngineLand, NerdWallet, AdvancedWebRanking, NicheHacks etc.
Guest posting can be a double-edged sword. Do it well, and it can skyrocket your organic traffic. Do it poorly (and in high quantity), however, and it has the potential of tanking your site. So, it’s not enough to just look at easy-to-manipulate vanity metrics like DA and DR which basically only tell how powerful a site’s link profile is (irrespective of the quality and source of the actual backlinks).
Before discussing the key criteria, let’s get on the same page regarding the pre-requisites:
- A minimum DR (or DA, if you still trust Moz metrics more) and minimum RD criteria set by you, though this’ll vary wildly from one niche to another (for example, it’s much easier to find sites with lots of RDs and high DR in the health & pets spaces, compared to something like immigration or snorkeling).
- Sites that give out in-content dofollow links from their guest posts (because, come on, no matter how much “natural” it is to have both dofollow and nofollow links to your site, there’s no worse use of your time and money building nofollow links from guest posts).
- Sites that don’t only give out links to the authors’ homepages from the author bio section
- Sites that don’t noindex guest posts, or isolate them from the rest of the site by putting them under a discrete category or making them extra hard to find through their site navigation.
Now that these basic points are out of the way, let’s dive deeper into the most significant things to look at while picking sites for guest posting.
Table of Contents [show]
1. Pick Sites with Traffic
What’s the closest method to having Search Console access of a site to know whether that site is valued by Google and doesn’t have a manual penalty? You guessed it right, it’s the amount of organic traffic that site is receiving. I prefer to run a potential guest posting target site through Ahrefs to check its organic traffic numbers before I decide to write for it.
However, there’s a misconception around this that more traffic is always better. Well, it isn’t always the case.
I could have a site that only publishes studies/research on things that don’t have enough search volume (thus the potential to generate enough organic traffic), but it could still get tons of quality links due to the nature of the content. The site could be clean, and booming with link juice, despite not getting a ton of organic traffic. In that case, it’d still make perfect sense to get your guest post published on that site.
On the other hand, weak sites could target high-volume, low-competition keywords (due to low commercial potential), and easily get 20-30K or more traffic and trick you into thinking that they’re great to write for!
Unlike what many SEO ‘gurus’ want you to believe, there’s no magic figure (like 1K organic hits per month) that can ensure that the site you’re choosing to guest post on is a high-quality site. What you can do instead is inspect the traffic of potential targets manually and check not only the quantity of organic traffic that they receive but also the quality of it.
However, sites with decent link-based metrics but very little traffic (around 0-200 per month) almost always tend to be low quality as well, unless they’re brand new sites (which are rare to come across when prospecting for guest post targets), so you can choose to skip such sites with that sort of traffic numbers to save time.
2. Avoid Sites without a Clean Wayback History
Some sites, especially those that are built to sell guest posts, are built on expired domains. The new owners leverage the great metrics of the domain to convince potential ‘buyers’ of guest posts.
This isn’t much different from registering an expired domain and setting it up as a PBN site, so links from sites like these carries more risk than usual.
What’s the easiest way to detect this? Go to Wayback Machine (Web Archive) and enter the domain there. Check the earliest archives of the domain. As long as your common sense is on point, you can tell if the domain was originally meant for something else and is being repurposed now to sell links.
Here’s an example of a domain which was repurposed to sell guest posts:
3. Stay Away from Sites with Shady OBLs
Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, enter the domain, and then head over to ‘Linked Domains’ under ‘Outgoing Links’. Filter by ‘dofollow’ and sort by ‘first seen’. You’ll get a list of the most recent dofollow linked domains from the concerned site.
I prefer to avoid sites that link to adult, gambling, pharma, and other questionable sites, no matter how good their metrics are.
4. Choose Sites without Major Traffic Drops
Sites with significant traffic drops (as shown by tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs) are also a big no-no. These drops can be as a result of an algorithmic or even a manual penalty, so it’s better to avoid such sites to be on the safer side.
5. Go for Sites with a Low Percentage of Guest Posts
Quickly scroll through the most recent posts of the site, and make sure that the majority of them (I personally aim for around 80% or higher) are NOT guest posts. Also make sure that most of them are closely tied to the parent topic of the site.
Usually, guest posts on bad sites tend to be on slightly or entirely irrelevant topics, since their goals are to be as much related to the target URL as possible, irrespective of the general theme of the site hosting the guest post.
For example, if the site is in the health niche, and you spot many irrelevant posts that tie a completely different niche together with health (for example: health & law, health & music, health & outdoors, etc.) — that’s clearly a negative sign.
6. Analyze the Nature & DF/NF Ratio of Referring Domains
Mom blogs are the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of this one. They can have hundreds or even thousands of RDs, and that can seem pretty impressive from the outside. Only when you take a deeper look with a tool like Ahrefs, you can see the real picture. Often, most of these RDs are nofollow, and are generated by the bloggers themselves by commenting on other mom/dad blogs and getting tons of nofollow links that way (usually with ‘name’ or ‘name @ blog’ anchors).
So, first look at the % of RDs that are dofollow. Below 50% is highly suspicious, while I don’t see many legit sites with less than 80%.
Next, browse a few of their links randomly to get a basic idea about the nature, source and quality of those links. After all, it’s still very easy to bump up RD count and link metrics with GSA SER.
7. Multi Niche Check – Basic Design Checking
You need to rely on your gut feeling (which gets better the more time you spend doing this) for this one. Open the site and take a quick look. Does it use a typical free-ish WordPress theme? Does it have tons of unrelated menu links? Does it cover everything under the sun?
Unless it’s Mashable or Huffington Post, it’s better to avoid sites like those.
8. Check for Sponsored Post Labelling
Paying for links is a blatant violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines, and making it obvious is just playing with fire.
If you’re paying for guest posts, it’s a good idea to avoid sites that make it clear that you paid for the post (usually using labels like “sponsored post” or “paid collaboration”).
9. Majority Traffic Location
Non-native English speaking countries like India have a notorious reputation in the paid links world. Many Indian-owned blogs cover anything from Android APKs to cracked themes in a bid to get a high amount of traffic (since they won’t be competing against many reputable sites for questionable or obscure terms).
So, if you’re building links for an affiliate site that primarily targets the US, or looking for guest post opportunities for an UK-based e-commerce site, it’s not natural to have tons of links from sites whose primary traffic region is India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Sri Lanka, etc. instead of your own site’s target region.
How can you quickly check the % of traffic by country? Ahrefs to the rescue once again.
10. Social Proof
While not a necessity, some social proof further indicates that a site has a genuine audience. Check if you can find a link to their Facebook page or Twitter profile anywhere on their site.
Use your common sense to judge the following that they have on these platforms. For example, it doesn’t seem very natural for a site with 100,000 organic traffic to have 250 likes on their Facebook page.
There have been many instances of late where once-popular sites were taken over by new owners for the purpose of selling guest posts, and you can easily notice this anomaly for such sites.
11. Ability to Attract Natural Backlinks
This one isn’t a ‘must have’, and whether you’ll use this as a filter or not depends on the minimum quality parameter that you’ve set for your guest posting campaign.
In short, you need to check if enough posts on a site get natural, dofollow backlinks (on their own, though you don’t have a way of knowing which one’s purely organic and which one’s acquired through outreach).
The easiest way of doing this is again by using Ahrefs’ Site Explorer. This time, go to ‘best by links’ under ‘pages’. Set HTTP code as ‘200 ok’ to only view live and non-redirected pages and sort the results by the number of referring domains.
It’ll look like what you can see above for a site that gets lots of links to many different pieces of content.
Again, it’s not a crucial factor, but guest posting on such a site will ensure that your guest post will pick up some links (you can consider those as tier 2 links) and thus more link juice will flow through to your linked pages.
12. Analyze the Anchor Text Profile of the Target Site
For genuine sites without spammy links, it’s usual to find the majority of the anchor texts to be branded, naked and generic. If exact or partial match anchor texts are the most prominent ones instead, it’s better to avoid such sites.
Suppose, I have an e-commerce site selling readymade mango juice.
Example of a natural anchor text distribution:
Example of an unnatural anchor text distribution:
- mango juice
- buy mango juice online
- cheap mango juice
Here’s a real world example of a site affected by this (screenshot from Ahrefs):
13. Bonus Tip: Judging Email Responses
Suppose, you’re doing email outreach for guest posting and you receive a response like the following:
You can be sure that all those sites are owned by the same entity and are being utilized for bulk link selling. They could even be repurposed expired domains. You could call them ‘good looking PBNs’ at best. After all, the chances of one person or entity owning several ‘legit’ sites all selling guest posts are very slim.
I somewhere read, “a mediocre link is better than no link at all”. In my opinion, however, no link is better than a bad link. After all, it just takes only a few toxic links to get your site penalized. Vetting sites is thus even more important than prospecting for guest posting targets itself, because lots of time and money are involved in the overall guest posting process, and you want to make sure that it doesn’t go to waste.
After you’ve got a list of carefully vetted high-quality targets, focus on providing really high-quality content, as it can result in more eyeballs viewing your guest posts, and subsequently, more links to those guest posts, resulting in more link juice flowing through to your own site.
Did I miss anything? Let me know by leaving a comment below!