When you finally get accepted to write a guest post, the last thing you want is to have your article canceled or rejected. So if you want to know 5 things that will get your blog post tossed out, or even worse, have you blacklisted from a site, read on.

Here’s what you need to stop doing so you can get published:

  1. Ignoring instructions and guidelines.
  2. Plagiarising (stealing people’s work).
  3. Submitting content with typos, misspelled words, and grammar errors.
  4. Using images without permission.
  5. Speculating, assuming facts, and making false claims.

1. Stop Ignoring Instructions and Guidelines

A Busy City Intersection With Cars Turning Right
Photo by the author

Otherwise known as not following directions, this is a non-starter of gigantic proportions. But, why?

Let’s review the hoops you’ve jumped through that successfully got your foot through the door to submit a draft.

  1. Someone actually read your email! You were lucky enough to get noticed.
  2. The editor liked your samples and ideas and asked you for an official pitch.
  3. Naturally, your pitch knocked it out of the park. The editor approved your guest post and gave you submission directions and guidelines to follow.

And then, you throw caution to the wind by not following the instructions.

Here’s how your disregard for procedure gets interpreted:

  • Too good for guidelines
  • Absent-minded
  • Didn’t read the “memo”
  • Can’t be bothered
  • Don’t care about wasting people’s time
  • Rookie (or unprofessional)
  • Details aren’t important

Not exactly the ideal qualities of a good writer.

If a blog site has submission directions and guidelines, that means they want to help you get your stuff published. Not following instructions is a sure way to delay or cancel your guest post altogether. Don’t “shoot yourself in the foot,” as they say.

Pro tip: Be proactive! If you didn’t get a set of clear submission instructions and guidelines, ask for one.

2. Stop Plagiarising

“At its core, plagiarism is an ethical issue. A writer who submits plagiarized work is committing theft with the hope of benefiting from that theft.”

Jennifer Calonia from Grammarly

Since you’re submitting curated work, don’t be surprised if your writing goes through a check. We run all submissions through a plagiarism checker as any responsible blog should.

Just say no. Don’t be a thief. Short and sweet.

Pro tip: Run your content through a plagiarism checking tool before submitting your draft. Reword anything questionable that comes back.

3. Stop Submitting Content with Typos, Misspelled Words, and Grammar Errors

A Graded Paper With Typed Text And Red Correction Marks
Image by the author

Remember when you were in high school (aka, secondary school) and your teacher graded your paper on Jim Morrison and The Doors? And, your paper was chock-full of red marks? Submitting work with typos, spelling errors, and grammar issues guarantees you’ll get back a “paper” with red marks. Don’t relive those nasty feelings of shame and disappointment.

There’s really no excuse not to use a spellchecker. I think it’s harder not to use a spellchecker since they come built into common editing apps. And, if you’re the avid writer (which you proudly state in your bio), then invest in a professional grammar checking tool or service. You’ll be glad you did.

Pro tip: Based on personal experience, automatic spelling and grammar checkers can still miss errors. Because of that, these tools are excellent for making that first pass. So, you or someone else should still proofread your work.

4. Stop Using Unlicensed Images

Just because an image is on the internet doesn’t mean you can use it in your blog post.

The photography portfolio company, Format, says, “Whether it’s photography on your hard drive, online portfolio website, or a post on your Instagram feed, with this ownership, you have exclusive rights to your image according to the Copyright Law of the United States of America.”

You’re breaking the law if you’re using images without proper licensing or permission. Be professional and get your images the right way. There are a ton of stock photography sites out there. Or, be original and make your own photos or illustrations!

I bet by now you’re expecting to see a link to a listicle of top stock photography sites. Sorry to disappoint. I’d rather share a post that lists 10 popular sites where photographers submit their images. That’s sorta like a list of restaurants where chefs like to eat.

Pro tip: Here are some legit places to get images, for starters.

5. Stop Speculating, Assuming Facts, and Making False Claims

An Open Small Notebook With A Pen On Top Of An Open Hardback Book
Photo by the author

Do you fact-check much? Hopefully, your answer is a resounding, “Yeah! All the time!” If you want people to believe you, you need to prove and back up your claims.

According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, “Responsible, credible authors will cite their sources so that you can check the accuracy of and support for what they’ve written. “

Like the other no-nos that made this list, we’re surprised how often we get a draft loaded with assumptions and made-up facts. Here are a couple of real-world assumptions we’ve seen:

Example 1

“A successful marketing strategy and its execution ensure the success of a business.”

Not only is this vague, but it also makes you wonder how does a successful marketing strategy ensure business success? Where’s the proof?

Example 2

“Many organizations now use marketing automation tools for increasing their sales.”

Are there stats to back this up? How many is “many”? It’d be more believable to cite a percentage from a reputable report or study.

Let’s try to make that claim credible. What if we wrote this instead?

Rewrite of Example 2

According to a March 2020 marketing automation report, about 50% of surveyed companies use marketing automation. And, within the first 3 years of launching marketing automation, organizations saw a $5.44 return for each dollar spent.

Besides wanting to be a trustworthy writer, here are 3 more reasons why you need to back up your claims:

Pro tip: Here are 2 telltale signs that you need to add credible references:

    1. Your content has no links whatsoever in sections that have 200 or more words.

    2. The entire piece has only internal links.

Do These Things for the Win

A Lone Jogger Runs On A Path Through A Field Of Tall Grass On A Tropical Mountain Ridge
Photo by the author

Congratulations if you made it this far. That means you’re ready to go above and beyond to get published!

Now, what if you want to make your editor say, “Wow!” when they get your submission? If so, then you’ll want to do these things:

Do your homework

  • Read the blog that you want to contribute to: We almost always get an email that opens up with, “We love your blog.” But, when we ask what they loved about it or which post they liked best, all we get are crickets (i.e., no reply). Just like researching the company you’re applying for a job, you should read the blog you want to write for.
  • Ask for the blog’s content style guide to follow: Hopefully, you already got a link or copy of the blog’s content style guide when your pitch got approved. If not, ask for their style guide. If they don’t have one, they should recommend which guide to use. Worst case scenario, you let them know which style guide you plan to use when you write your draft.

Cross your Ts and dot your Is

  • Prep your images: Ensure you’ve correctly licensed all free and paid images. Include licensing and attribution (credits) info with your submission. If you used a free microstock photo, share the file download link. If you use your images, make sure they meet the blog’s image specs and the image filenames are human (and SEO) friendly. Lastly, write up alt text for each image.
  • Make an SEO-friendly description of your post: Just because you have strong writing skills doesn’t mean you can write for SEO. Learn how to write SEO-friendly post descriptions, aka meta descriptions. Then, start including a meta description in all of your draft submissions.
  • Give 2-3 title options with headline analyzer scores of 70 or higher: The title makes people click as “they” say. The hook makes people read. You want people to open your blog post at least. You need a title that works for you and the blog you’re writing for. Don’t limit yourself to just 1 title. If you want to bump your “wow” factor up a couple of notches, give 2-3 post titles, so your editor has options. Run all of your titles through a headline analyzer. Do your best to get 70 or higher analyzer scores.
  • If you added a backlink to your site or previous work, make sure it adds value and let the editor know: Being allowed a backlink to your portfolio is a fabulous professional courtesy. But, you gotta make sure the content you link to fits into what your post is all about. Also, if it doesn’t fit and you don’t let the editor know that’s your allowed backlink, they’ll most likely cut or replace it. The worst part about injecting an inappropriate link is that it makes your integrity questionable. Don’t take that risk.

Be Outstanding

We always notice (obviously in a good way) when a guest writer does any of these things during the submission process. One word of warning: If you do all of those suggestions, be ready for another guest post invite and even referrals to other blogs.

Parting Thoughts

&Quot;Don'T Downplay Your Genius&Quot; Painted On A Street Wall As A Woman Walks By
Photo by the author

Good is the enemy of great.

Jim Collins (author of Good to Great)

In my humble opinion (IMHO), the one thing that will make you a great content writer is your ability to empathize. You might be scratching your head and wondering, “What does having empathy got to do with writing?”

Empathy has the power to transform your writing mentality from being ego-centric to reader-centric. With more empathy, you’ll:

  • Automatically begin reading the blogs you want to write for.
  • Follow publishing instructions and style guides to make it easier for the editors to publish your work.
  • Do your homework and figure out what the blog’s audience loves and what causes them pain.
  • Mindfully choose more accurate words like calling people (um) people, visitors, readers, subscribers, customers, and humans (not the mind-numbing word “users”).

And, one day, when you’re pitching another guest post article, you’ll catch yourself writing, “Here’s what my content writing can do for you and your readers.” Which is different from your standard, “Hey, look and me and check out who published my awesome stuff.”

Are you ready to write some content? Make sure you read our post on effective writing strategies next.


This article’s featured image comes from Mark Chaves on Unsplash.

The filler text in the marked-up image comes from Hipster Ipsum.

Special thanks to my wife for proofreading this post.