So today we woke to the news that Google Web Spam Chief Matt Cutts has announced on his personal blog:
“Stick a fork in it, Guest Posting is done.”
I couldn’t be happier! It’s about time! The writing has been on the wall for Guest Blogging (solely for SEO purposes) almost since the day it started.
Here’s a brief background:
A few years ago, many website owners and SEOs conducted SEO in a way designed to give quick hits and rank as fast as possible by manufacturing links that point to their website. Links are a major ranking factor so that’s what websites aimed to create.
They did this by using many methods including:
Writing an article on a relevant subject, spinning it (software can go through an article re-wording it to make it appear unique) and posting it all over the web with a link pointing back to your website.
A link to your website from 100s and even 1000s of low quality directory sites (by low quality I mean junk websites that serve no purpose other than to link to websites to help with SEO).
These were particularly abused, simply using services such as PR Web to syndicate a Press Release (that often were not really press releases) just to get a link back from the various sites that publish PR sites content.
There’s a ton more but these are pretty common. You see, none of the above actually gives a fair indication of a websites quality and suitability to rank well in a search engine. Essentially, people we’re gaming the system to get good rankings.
This Isn’t New News.
What they SHOULD have been doing was creating a great website with content WORTH linking too. If people like your website (think editors of industry magazines for example) then they’d be more likely to link to it editorially. The problem was this stuff worked (and it still does to a lesser extent) and as long as it works people will always do it.
So then along came Google Penguin and Panda; two spam killing algorithms that are designed to detect “spammy” tactics and penalise the site in question. This acted as both a blunt instrument, demoting thousands of websites down the rankings but also acting as a deterrent.
I’ll tell you a fact that most people overlook: Googles Webmaster Guidelines have not changed significantly in YEARS. Google has always made it clear that links should be obtained naturally but the problem was, there was seemingly nothing to lose by trying.
There is a tendency in the SEO community for SEO’s to read the guidelines and say:
“They do not expressly state that [Insert spam tactic here] is against the guidelines so I’ll do it!”
BUT, the guidelines do explain that links should act as “Editorial votes given by choice” and makes it clear that link schemes designed to manipulate Page Rank are a no no.
After many SEOs finally started to understand that tactics such as “Article Marketing” were likely to get a website penalised they had two choices:
- Follow the guidelines and perform SEO as it should be done to create long term sustainable results.
- Look for the next “Get ranked quick scheme” and do that instead.
Some took option 1 but many put most of their effort into guest posting primarily to manufacture links, this strategy grew exponentially resulting in Matt Cutts post today. Thing about it though: How crazy does that sound? Google has been well publicised for punishing sites participating in link schemes, Matt Cutts provides regular advice videos, it’s even mentioned in the Webmaster Guidelines yet off they go again, another day, and another link scheme.
Now guest posting isn’t inherently bad. It has benefits and it CAN be used, here’s an example:
I occasionally write for a few industry news sites (Not as much as I’d like to but I’m working on that!), one example would be Search Engine Journal. SEJ is a well respected website and a great source of news in our industry. The Editor, John Rampton, is incredibly knowledgeable in our field and carefully selects which content from which authors to publish. They also have strict editorial guidelines and each writer is vetted before being allowed to post and only when each post is approved (to ensure it’s in the readerships interest) a writer can post an article.
Now compare this to:
I write an article and link within it back to my site with an exact match anchor text term I want to rank for. I submit it to 100 sites that accept guest blogs in the hope I’ll rank better for that particular search term. The article is designed for me and not for the sites readers, in fact since the site publishes ANYTHING that gets submitted it doesn’t really have a readership anyway!
Which one is ok and which one is spam?
And this is the point: in the first situation it’s fine: you’ve earned the right to publish your post and it’s highly unlikely Google will have a problem with it. The second situation however is clearly a spam tactic and is likely to get you into hot water.
The general rule is; the harder it is to get the link, the better the link will be. You can further qualify this by considering if your link will actually pass traffic to your site, if the answers yes then again, it’s likely with posting on because it has a relevant readership.
Now if you have other reasons for Guest Posting on lower quality sites and you genuinely are not doing so for SEO purposes, then simply ensure any links pointing to your website are NOFOLLOW, meaning they won’t pass Page Rank and you won’t be penalised.
When to Guest Post?
We all want links to our websites, of course we do, but if you don’t create content worth linking too, then why would anyone link to you? As it states in the Google Guidelines, the best way to attract natural links to create compelling content that’s worth linking to, so this should be the cornerstone of your SEO efforts. Write blogs for people, make them interesting and relevant for your readers and in time, you’ll be rewarded.
Guest posting on relevant sites CAN be a good idea, providing they meet the criteria above but again, don’t simply do it just for SEO and don’t make it your entire SEO strategy. My advice is to establish consistent content creation on your own website first, do it for a few months or even longer. Demonstrate to the world you can write interesting content and welcome the traffic that creates. No Editor worth their salt is going to accept you as a guest author if you don’t have your own blog in shape.
If you’re unsure about linking to your site from a guest post then just “nofollow” the link, you’ll get zero SEO benefit but benefits such as helping your brand and establishing your authority will still be there. For example; if the Wall Street Journal or the Huffington Post asked me to write a piece on SEO with a “nofollow” link, I’d snap their hands off, even though I wouldn’t get the SEO benefit.
The Days of Loopholes Are Not Over.
This won’t be the last loophole to close, there will be others. SEO is not easy, it’s getting much harder but, if you do it right and you’re consistent you will reap the rewards in the long term. Never be tempted to speed up the process by engaging in schemes or believing promises from SEOs that they can increase your rankings fast, they might work now but your world will implode if your get a penalty from Google.
In the coming days and months there’s going to be a lot of websites anxiously looking at the Guest Posts they’ve written over the past couple of years, if only they’d listened.