Picture the scene – you’re an innovative marketer working for a company that is stuck in the past.
They have a website but they’ve never really paid much attention to SEO and they’re certainly not going to give you any money to engage in this newfangled “content marketing” the kids are talking about.
What do you do?
Well, believe it or not, it’s actually perfectly feasible to run a (basic) content marketing campaign on zero budget.
Don’t expect the results to be earth-shattering and remember you will need access to a strong writer to get the great guest posting spots that will form the backbone of your efforts.
However, with these five free tools you will be able to run a shoestring campaign that will demonstrate proof of concept to those holding the purse strings, allowing you to make a strong pitch for the kind of budget you deserve.
Best known as a paid-for blogger outreach management system, Buzzstream also offers a range of free tools.
The most useful of these is the Link Building Query Generator: All you have to do is fill in a few straightforward bits of information and you’re presented with a huge list of potential search terms, which can then be used to look for blogging opportunities.
Essentially, the tool makes use of Google operator searches and the fact it produces a large number of potential queries means you’ll never be short of inspiration.
Sorting through page upon page of manual results can be slow going, so read on to discover the best way to handle the data these searches will produce.
2. The SEOMoz toolbar
Anyone who has spent a bit of time working on professional link building projects will know just how useful all of SEOMoz’s tools are.
But even if you can’t afford the subscription fee for the full package, you need the free SEOMoz toolbar in your life. When installed, it displays the domain authority and page authority of any site returned in a Google search.
For the prospective guest blogger, a high DA in particular is a sign that it is worth approaching a site for a link.
It’s a much more nuanced measurement of site quality than PageRank, a metric which has far less significance than it once did. PR can give you a decent guide to a site’s overall quality, but make sure you check its DA to get a fuller picture.
Tip: If you want to see the DA and PA for a particular page, simply paste the URL into Google and the toolbar will do the rest. Unlike the free version of Open Site Explorer, you are not limited to three uses per day with this method.
3. Google Docs
Hardly the most thrilling of tools you’ll use for guest posting, but having somewhere to keep track of all your efforts is vital.
Obviously if you’ve got Microsoft Excel that works just as well, but if you need a free equivalent then Google Docs is your first port of call.
So what can you do with it?
Well, first off, you can use it in conjunction with the two tools mentioned above.
First, set Google to return 100 search results, generate a search query using Buzzstream, run it and then export the data into a CSV file using the SEOMoz toolbar.
Open that file using Google Docs and you then have 100 prospects that you can evaluate based on site quality and DA.
If you’re a more advanced user of Google Docs you can use a free Buzzstream tool to extract the domains from your list of URLs, export the new list to a CSV and then pull the data into a Google Docs pivot table in order to remove any duplicates.
Spending a bit of time learning various functions and the formulas you can build from them will allow you to unleash the full potential on Google Docs, but even before you reach that stage you should find it useful for keeping track of who you’ve contacted and who you still need to contact.
Tip: Plenty of people have already done amazing things with Google Docs, so try searches like “Google Docs SEO tools” to see if you can find something which meets your needs.
Reverse engineering these documents is a great way to learn what you can do through clever use of formulas.
4. Social Crawlytics
Of course guest posting isn’t just about getting links – it’s also about generating traffic, and what better way to ensure your post will be getting an audience than by investigating a prospect’s history of social sharing?
The quickest way to do this is manually – a glance at their Twitter and Facebook stats should tell you what you need to know.
Remember though, it’s not just about followers and fans – remember to check for regular interactions, i.e., posts being retweeted or “liked.”
Once you’ve found a site that has a good following, you can use Social Crawlytics to help you craft the perfect guest post. The tool crawls a site and identifies the most shared articles, allowing you to create a piece of content perfectly suited to that site’s audience.
Look at the structure of the most-shared pieces and the topics they cover and then pitch something which will complement these posts.
If you do it right, the article will get plenty of visitors and the site owner will be keen to have you write for them again, increasing the chances of your site getting good referral traffic.
Tip: If your company has a blog of its own, you can use these methods to direct your internal content strategy as well.
If that blog is maintained by someone other than you, introducing them to Social Crawlytics could gain you an ally in your push to establish content marketing as an integral part of the company’s strategy.
Recently acquired by SEOMoz, Followerwonk is an excellent tool for finding social influencers operating in the same niche as you.
And, with a little bit of magic, you can narrow the search down to find people who have websites, turning it into a guest blog prospecting tool.
Rather than searching for a blog and hoping it has a good social media presence, this method allows you to find someone who has a good social media presence and a blog.
Simply type your keyword into the main search box, then click “more options” and use a domain extension such as “.com” in the URL box. Carry out your search, and you’re presented with a list of people and details about their social media following.
As always, you’ll want to assess the sites to see if they’re worth contacting, and remember it’s possible to buy Twitter followers, so don’t be taken in by high numbers – always check interaction levels as you want to guest post for someone with an engaged audience.
The tool now includes a social engagement metric, but it always helps to cast your eyes over something to see what you think of it.
Again, look through the account to see how many retweets and replies someone is getting, if it’s none or very few, then your post isn’t going to get a good level of exposure so you can leave them off the list of people to contact.
The next step
Once you’ve built up a list of promising sites using the methods detailed above, you can start pitching guest posts to the owners and, with a bit of effort, you should start getting articles on sites that have highly engaged audience members who are interested in what you have to say.
The upshot of this is greater brand visibility and increased traffic to your site as people click through the link in your author biography to see what else you have to offer.
If you’re not sure about how to go about pitching or creating content, there are plenty of great articles out there offering actionable advice, so make sure you read them.
Reaping the rewards
If all goes well, you should quickly build up a list of good links that are passing traffic to your site — if they’re converting into sales, that’s even better.
Take the relevant data from Google Analytics, create a presentation and dazzle your bosses with it.
By showing them proof that what you’re doing delivers tangible results, you should be able to secure the budget needed to expand your content marketing efforts.
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