Climbing The Ladder To Guest Posting On Tier 1 Sites

Content marketing is all the rage these days and, if you are pursuing guest posts as part of your link-building strategy, it is critical to target the highest authority sites possible.

You want to find the sites where your presence builds your visibility and reputation (regardless of SEO) and where the links might get clicked and bring you traffic. In addition, you are not looking to get one article published there — you are looking to become a regular or even to get a column.

Getting into these sites may be hard, but we are not going to simply hope we can. We are going to commit ourselves to getting there, and we are going to make a plan.

Identifying Tier 1 Sites

Start by building a list of the very top sites (“Tier 1 Sites”) in your space. Your goal is to get links from these. What is a Tier 1 Site? For simplicity’s sake, let’s call them the 10 most important sites in your market. Let’s define Tier 2 sites as the next 40 and Tier 3 Sites as the next 50.

Tier 1 Sites That Take Guest Posts

The buckets I created above are obviously arbitrary. If you are a local business owner, there may only be two Tier 1 Sites (perhaps the two most important regional newspapers) for you to pursue. Use your own common sense to adjust the bucket sizes. The most important thing is that you have multiple buckets and that there are no questionable/crappy sites or sites with low relevance even in Tier 3.

The first step in identifying targets starts by sitting down in a conference room (or on a conference call) with your team and making a list. For solopreneurs, this step involves sitting down at a computer and doing it yourself. If you are in the business and are passionate about the business, you already know most of the targets. You can do this — no tools required.

Once you have this initial list, supplement it by speaking with your peers in your market space. Talk shop with them. Talk about the top journals and sites out there related to the market. This may help you expand your list a bit. Notice that I have not used any tools yet? That’s because I believe in people first.

Lastly, you can supplement this by performing competitive backlink analysis. You can use tools such as Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO to help you with this.

How do you separate the target sites into tiers? I am fan of using human judgment to pick all of the Tier 1 sites instead of metrics like PageRank. This goes back to the sites you came up with while brainstorming with your internal team and talking shop with your peers. For the Tier 1 sites, you should just know — or else you don’t know your business that well!

Don't Be Obsessed with PageRank

Once you are done with that, you can now start using PageRank and social engagement-like metrics to try and decide what goes into Tier 2. I would emphasize high social engagement metrics over PageRank as a measure. PageRank is, and always has been, a poor measure of authority. Besides, the sites with the best social engagement are going to win in the long run, anyway.

As for Tier 3, you put the rest of the sites in here, provided they meet a minimum quality metric and are highly relevant. Relevance is defined as having a prior track record of publishing highly-relevant articles. It does not have to mean that the site only publishes relevant articles — sites that publish other topics can be okay.

To give a Tier 1 example of a general site: being published in the Huffington Post is okay, even though they cover many topics, as long as you are not the first in your general topic category. This same concept applies to any site you might target, regardless of the tier in which you place it.

Okay, You’re Nuts! The Tier 1 Sites Won’t Speak With Me!

Few people have the opportunity to get into Tier 1 Sites. It is not something that is easily done, but it can be done. Let’s talk about how. The first question is, can you get into Tier 2? Or, do you have to start with Tier 3? Let’s assume Tier 3 for now.

Go ahead and get it started. Work on getting Tier 3 sites to accept content from you. Make sure you are hitting the themes that appeal to people on each of the sites you target. Before you write the first line, study what others have published on those sites and analyze which articles generate the most engagement (social shares and comments).

Invest the time to make your articles awesome.

Submit your first article and review the results. Remember, we are looking for ongoing relationships with these sites, so check out how the engagement you generated compared to other authors on the site. Did you get more engagement or less? If less, see if you can understand why so you can adjust. If more, see if you can understand why so you can repeat your success!

Keep doing this until your engagement is consistently outperforming the content published by other authors. Once you have done this for a few months, guess what? You are now ready for Tier 2.

Climbing the Latter to Tier 1 Sites

Rinse and repeat this process in Tier 2. Get to the point where you are consistently outperforming the other authors on the Tier 2 sites where you write. Establish a track record of doing this for 6 months or so, and then … yes, you are now ready for Tier 1.

Any time you pitch a new site, make sure to point out to them the other content that you have published that has performed particularly well on those sites. This is your calling card, and it gives you the credibility necessary to garner consideration from top sites.


Of course, all of this assumes that you can bring enough value (and invest enough time) to produce content worthy of these types of publications. Not everyone is a gifted writer, or an expert in their field, and you do need both of these to target Tier 1 Sites. If  you can’t do it yourself, figure out how you can get someone working for you who can author articles for your byline.

Climbing this ladder into the Tier 1 Sites for your space takes a lot of work; it is a big commitment, and you need to be patient. But, it can be done. What are you waiting for? Can’t reach the finish line until you get started!