In January 2014, Google’s Matt Cutts weighed in on the merits of guest blogging:
New blog post: The decay and fall of guest blogging http://t.co/P0BnRufnKQ
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) January 20, 2014
In his article, Cutts observed that “guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.” But that’s not the whole truth. In the article comments, Cutts himself added an important clarification:
Of course, if you know the person writing the blog post well, or want to vouch for them, or if the author is happy to nofollow their links, then that changes the calculation–it’s much more likely that someone is looking for a new audience instead of a way to get keyword-rich links.
Simply put, spammy guest blogging is done. High quality content remains just that, whether authored by you or by people you know and vouch for and who have specific expertise. It’s a valuable addition to your site.
Attracting high quality content from industry experts can be a problem for those running WordPress-powered sites. Great authors might not want the hassle of managing a user account on your site. You might not have the time to train or assist authors in the basics of writing and editing a post in WordPress. At the same time, the user account in WordPress is the principal way to identify an author, and without appropriate recognition, guest authors might not be willing to contribute content to your site.
In this article, we’ll provide a solution to these difficulties. We’ll describe an easy way to collect guest posts without requiring a guest author to log in and to give authors of quality content the recognition they’ll reasonably expect.
Our method won’t completely eliminate the need for you to do some pre-publication editing, but it will keep you fully in control of your site’s content quality. You’ll need to keep and exercise that control to avoid the pitfalls of guest posting.
Create a Generic User Account for All Guest Authors
Our simple approach starts with a generic user account that will be shared by all guest authors. We won’t be using an author profile (other than a profile that indicates this is a collection of posts by guest authors), but we will be personalizing author information in a subsequent step.
Visit Users->Add New in your WordPress dashboard and add a new user with a Role of Contributor. A Contributor can write and manage his own posts, but he can’t publish them. It’s always best to use the role with the least privileges required for the task.
Our generic name of guestauthor is a nice reminder of the purpose of this user account. Since this is a generic account for all guest authors, use an email address that you control and click the checkbox to Skip Confirmation Email.
You now have a single user account to hold all of your guest posts.
Personalize Your Guest Author Information
By default, posts created using a generic user account would display that user’s information on theme templates that show author information. Since that information is generic, you’ll need a way to personalize it with a name and a URL to attract guest authors capable of writing great posts. Such authors will want recognition, and a link to a page about the author’s background helps to support the post content.
We’ve created a handy plugin that personalizes author information. Our wpPERFORM Guest Author Info plugin allows you to store a name and a URL in custom fields, and it adjusts the author information shown on that post to make use of these custom fields. Go ahead and activate our wpPERFORM Guest Author Info Plugin. This plugin has no settings; it only makes use of custom fields you create on each post. If the fields exist, the plugin makes use of them. Otherwise, author information is displayed based on the user assigned to the post.
For some users, custom fields might not display on the WordPress post editing screen, but that’s easily fixed by adjusting your screen options.
In WordPress, the dropdown list of custom fields is limited to custom fields you’ve previously used. On first use, you’ll need to get the required custom fields into your database and keep them there until you get your first guest post submission. You can accomplish this by creating a new draft post with the required custom fields, but you’ll need to keep the draft until another post is created with the custom fields. Alternately, you can add the custom fields to an existing post, but remember that if you add them to a published post, your entries will alter how that post appears unless you use care to match the custom field values to those already used by the post.
As shown in the screenshot above, the required custom fields are
guest-author-url. The field names must match exactly, so typos will break the expected behavior. Both of these fields are completely optional. With our plugin activated, if either field exists, the value of that field will be used to override the data WordPress would otherwise display.
Since this technique uses a generic user account, if a guest post does not include the
guest-author-url custom field, the link to the archive of the author’s posts will take a visitor to all guest author posts. That might be desirable, such as showcasing a collection of articles by industry experts.
However, to attract great writers and fully describe their backgrounds, the generic approach might not offer enough recognition. The
guest-author-url custom field allows you to include a link to each author’s About page. For this field, you should enter a valid, absolute URL. If the URL doesn’t pass even basic validation, our plugin will set the link to a blank ID on the same page.
guest-author-url should point to an About page whose focus is describing the post author. It could be a page on your site or on the author’s own site. But the page should be just that – a page about the author. Other URL’s, such as the home page of the author’s personal web site, typically aren’t focused on describing the author and might be seen as unhelpful or too promotional by your visitors.
As an aside, another use of our plugin is to bypass the common behavior of linking an author’s name to an archive of his posts. Even for regular (ie, not guest) authors, you can use the
guest-author-url to link to that author’s About page on your own site instead of a post archive.
Use Gravity Forms To Collect Guest Posts
Gravity Forms post fields allow you to gather the essentials of a post in a form: the title, body, excerpt, tags, category, images, and custom fields. Settings on form fields insure that the form submission will only create draft content. Even if a guest author were to access the generic user account created in a previous step, its Contributor role means that a more capable user will have to publish the post for it to appear on your site.
Customize the Post Body Form Field
The real fun happens on the Properties tab of the Body field.
As shown above, you’ll want to make some settings here to keep full control of the content on your site:
- Set the Post Status to Draft – you’ll decide if and when to publish the post;
- Set the Default Post Author to the generic user account you created and leave unchecked the Use logged in user as author setting;
- Optionally choose a Post Category – we used a category specific for guest posts here which we’d change to the appropriate category prior to publication;
- Optionally set a number of Maximum Characters that matches the content you’d like guest authors to submit;
- Make this field a required field – after all, you want guest posts with meaningful content.
On wpPERFORM this can be further tweaked by setting a minimum and maximum of number words in the post body by activating the Gravity Perks plugin by Gravity Wiz and making use of the GP Word Count perk.
A minimum word setting is helpful to prevent potential authors from submitting very short or thin content. If you elect to activate the word limiting feature of Gravity Perks, we recommend that you don’t make use of the Maximum Characters setting. In that situation, both the character and the word limits will be enforced, which might confuse your writers. You can also apply Gravity Perks word limits to post titles to guide your writers to keep them short and attention-grabbing.
We love using the GP Word Count perk in this situation, because establishing both minimum and maximum word counts provides clear publishing guidelines to prospective authors. Clear guidelines will save time during editing and reduce misunderstandings should you choose not to publish a submitted post.
Use Custom Fields for the Author Name and URL
In this step, add 2 custom fields to the form and assign them to the specific fields you previously set up for our wpPERFORM Guest Author Info plugin. Let’s start with the Guest Author Name.
For the custom field that will represent the Guest Author Name:
- Set the Field Type to Single line text;
- Set the Custom Field Name to an existing field and choose the
guest-authorfield created in a previous step;
- Make the field a required input;
- Optionally set the Maximum Characters to avoid breaking your theme layout.
For the custom field that will represent the Guest Author URL:
- Set the Field Type to Website;
- Set the Custom Field Name to an existing field and choose the
guest-author-urlfield created in a previous step;
- Optionally make the field a required input
If you give your guest authors the ability to supply a URL, you’ll want to make sure the URL points to an About page that is focused on describing the author and otherwise meets your content quality standards.
Add Image and Other Post Fields As Needed
To collect images to be used in the guest post, add an Image post field for each image that you’d like to collect.
Images will be automatically uploaded to the WordPress Media Library and attached to the post. Typically, you’ll want to identify the first image (and only that image) as the Featured Image. Gravity Forms can also capture the Title, Caption, and Description fields supported by the Media Library; you should click the checkbox for each field you want to request on your form.
If you provide the ability to upload multiple images, we recommend that your form field descriptions identify how the images will be used in the post. For example, if the first image you collect is the Featured Image, you’ll need to include that information in the field title or description; it’s not otherwise shown on the form.
Adding images to posts likely represents one of the biggest editing burdens you’ll take on when accepting guest posts. Attached images won’t appear in the body content, so you’ll have to edit the draft post prior to publication and add them. Gravity Forms does most of the heavy lifting by uploading the images to the Media Library and collecting important image data, but it’s up to you to click the Add Media button in the post editor and place the images as you see fit. In addition, Gravity Forms supports adding images to the the Media Library built into WordPress; image management plugins such as NextGEN Gallery that work outside the Media Library are not supported.
In this discussion, we’re skipping over the Excerpt, Tags, and Category post fields, but they’re available if you need them.
Add Other Fields To Complete the Form
We’ve focused on the post fields required to collect a guest post, but a good form should collect additional information, such as:
- Contact information for the form submitter, which might be different from the guest author;
- Pre-publication notes or instructions for you as site administrator;
- Confirmation that the content is original and the submitter holds the copyright to images submitted.
For example, your guest author might want to specify when the post should be published or to provide locations in the body content where the attached images should be inserted; a Gravity Forms paragraph text field is an effective way to collect that information.
Create a WordPress Page For Your Guest Post Submission Form
At this point, you’ve created a form to capture the essential elements of a guest post submission. The next step is to put that form along with your guest post requirements on a page to collect guest posts.
Here’s where you’ll outline your content quality guidelines and let prospective guest posters know about the field requirements you specified on your form.
For this type of page, take care to keep the URL short by editing the slug portion of the permalink. Your page title should be inviting, but your slug short be short and easy to remember, as in
Customize WordPress Admin Screens To Show Author Data
When you make use of the
guest-author custom field, our wpPERFORM Guest Author Info automatically adjusts the author name displayed both on the front-end of your site and your WordPress dashboard administration screens, such as the post list. By default, you can’t show data from a custom field such as
guest-author-url in the post list, but you can take more control of your administration screens by activating the Admin Columns plugin.
Here’s a screenshot showing the completed result of collecting a draft guest post using the technique described in this article, combined with adding the
guest-author-url custom field to the post list:
In this example, the Author name shown (i. e., “Doug McArthur”) is the value from the custom field; he’s not a user registered on the site.
Customizing the post list in this fashion makes it easier to identify posts that require further editing because of incomplete or incorrect data.
Let Guest Authors Review Their Draft Posts
Posts created via your new form have a draft status, and by default draft posts are only visible to logged-in users with appropriate roles. We set out to collect guest posts without requiring contributors to log in, but guest authors might want to review the submitted post prior to publication. You’re likely to make edits to the draft submission, and you’ll show respect for your authors by confirming those edits with them before they appear live on your site.
To enable non-logged in guest authors to view a draft post, activate the Public Post Preview plugin. Once activated, the plugin will allow you to create a special link on a per post basis that you can share with the guest author of that post.
The special link will be active for 48 hours. After that, you’ll need to re-create the link. Anyone who directly visits the special link in that time period will see the draft post, but the link isn’t otherwise discoverable on your site.
Once your editing and review process is complete, you’re all set to publish! On publication, the guest post will make use of the author information in the post’s custom fields if your theme otherwise displays author info.
Hopefully, our method makes it easier to attract guest posts and to recognize the contribution these authors make to your site.
You’ll do well to circle back and re-read the cautionary words of Matt Cutts at the beginning of this article. If you use this technique to attract low quality, spammy guest posts from people you don’t know, you’ll end up hurting your site. You’ll lower your overall content quality, and you’ll see traffic from organic search drop. A good rule of thumb to avoid this trap: if you get an unsolicited offer for a guest post, it’s almost certainly spammy and low quality.
Instead, encourage guest posting by providing a more welcoming front end for talented writers that you know, especially those who are recognized by the target audience of your site. Your guest posters will benefit from increased exposure, and your site will benefit from fresh voices who have knowledge worth communicating.