The writing has been on the wall for at least the last few months and finally Matt Cutts has come out and said it – guest blogging for SEO is dead. If you have been following Matt Cutts, you know that the Head of Google’s WebSpam team usually picks his words very carefully, and qualifies his statements a fair bit. Not so in this case.
Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things in the SEO space: a trend starts out as authentic. Then more and more people pile on until only the barest trace of legitimate behavior remains. We’ve reached the point in the downward spiral where people are hawking “guest post outsourcing” and writing articles about “how to automate guest blogging.
So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well.
Such an uncharacteristically decisive statement by Matt Cutts has certainly caused great alarm among traditional SEOs – yeah, even White Hat SEOs. Guest posting was seen as the last bastion of link building and with this announcement, SEOs are going to have to take a hard look at their current strategies.
If you’ve been running a blog, I’m sure you must have received unsolicited email asking if they could contribute content (usually in the form of a blog post) to your website in exchange for a link. This is what is known as ‘guest blogging’ – writing blog posts for other websites in the hopes of getting a dofollow backlink to your website.
It’s an attractive proposition for website owners as it lifts some of the burden of content creation off their shoulders. For link builders, they get a legitimate contextual link to their website, thus helping them gain authority and improve their search rankings.
Among other link building tactics, guest blogging has been seen as more laborious and expensive, but with greater rewards. It was also considered a penalty-proof method of attaining links.
Not for much longer.
How Did We Kill Guest Blogging for SEO?
If you are posting a high quality article to an authoritative website in the hopes of increasing your readership and reach, then you probably won’t be in any trouble.
The issue is that guest posting can be outsourced and automated to a certain extent. A lot of guest posts from cheap writers are low quality and does not provide any useful information to the reader. So now we are seeing many more SEO companies offering ‘guest posting services’ at a low price. What kind of quality can you expect from a US$20 guest post?
It takes a lot of time and effort to build a relationship with an editor, conduct intensive research on a topic, write an in-depth article that’s useful for a reader and get it approved on an authoritative blog.
There will always be the temptation to just create your own website and post any so-called ‘guest posts’ there. Typically, these websites will be built on expired domains and will display high Toolbar PageRank (TPR). For those who don’t know any better, they might mistake such websites for authoritative ones and won’t ask any questions if the SEO company creates a backlink from such websites.
Since we all know that Google’s TPR is hardly updated, a website with a TPR of 8 might have an actual PR of 0 (quick refresher, TPR is the PageRank that Google releases to the public, but it might not be the actual PR they are using in their algorithm as TPR is infrequently updated). This is quite common when it comes to expired domains. We saw many TPR7-9 websites being reset to 0 when Google refreshed its TPR in December.
This increase in the number of low quality guest posts and websites set up purely to accommodate such guest posts have led Google to declare this SEO tactic dead.
How Google Might Implement a Guest Blogging Penalty
Of course, it will be interesting to see how Google chooses to implement any penalties to spammy sites. Here are several ways I believe they could do it:
Reporting + Manual Penalty – At the outset, Google might impose manual penalties on sites with low quality guest posts. They already have an online link spam report where people can report spam, paid links etc. They might encourage webmasters and SEOs to report low quality guest posts and apply manual penalties on either a website or page level.
Algorithmic – Google might decide to implement an algorithmic penalty similar in function to Penguin or Panda that targets low quality guest posts. This won’t be particularly hard to do as most guest posts leave an obvious footprint. For example, they might decide to automatically nofollow all links within the author box. An algorithmic adjustment / penalty will be the desired outcome for Google, as we know that they would rather find solutions that can scale. The difficult part will be ensuring that there won’t be too many false positives.
Of course, it might also be that these recent announcements by Matt Cutts and John Mueller (he advises guest bloggers to nofollow their links) are Google’s attempt to get the SEO industry to self-regulate (for now). White Hat SEOs who think they might run the risk of an impending guest blogging penalty might now be crafting emails asking webmasters to nofollow the links in their guest articles.
Other Tactics SEOs Have Run into the Ground
As I mentioned, this isn’t a particularly surprising turn of events. SEOs as a group tend to abuse once-legitimate tactics to the extent that Google has to start penalising us for it. Just some of the tactics SEOs destroyed:
- Press Releases
- Guest Books
- Forum and Comment Links
Guest blogging looks set to join the list soon (or it already has).
What Does This Mean Going Forward?
Quality Guest Posts Still Good Tactic
Firstly, it should be noted that high quality guest posts that provides value to the reader is still a legitimate tactic. Google will only be targeting low quality guest posts on spammy websites. However, that’s not to say there won’t be any collateral damage.
Also, don’t forget that Google has been pushing their G+ Authorship quite hard recently. It seems certain that AuthorRank will be implemented and it will be used to determine the quality of a guest post (and will spark another cottage industry, but let’s cross that creaky bridge when we get to it).
Strategy, Not Tactics
More importantly, we need to stop focusing on SEO tactics and look at strategy. SEO is already evolving into a complete different animal than it was three years ago and we have to adapt. By the end of the year (even now, actually), we will not be able to talk about SEO without talking about content marketing. And content marketing is more than just churning out a few blog posts and guest posts a month.
The problem is, most of the clients in Singapore and Malaysia are still focused on rankings. For every pitch that we go to, we get asked the same questions:
- Can we rank for these keywords?
- How long will it take?
While ranking is still important, we will have to move the conversation to other aspects of digital marketing such as building trust and authority and increasing conversions. We need to create personas, create compelling content that moves the prospect further along the sales funnel, determine conversion metrics and many other activities. The problem is that if we only focus on rankings, then conversations will only remain on a tactical level.
- How many links will you build for me every month?
- How will you be building those links?
- What types of links are they?
While these questions are fine, they should be asked within a larger context.
Content marketing is still a very new concept in both Singapore and Malaysia, but I foresee that it will become a necessity (and a buzzword) within the next year.
Should We Still Do Guest Blogging for SEO?
Yes, guest blogging for SEO is still fine, but with a few caveats.
Do not be overly concerned with generating links, and choose a target website based on its ability to increase your authority and bring more readers to your website. When you start looking at guest blogging from that perspective, then you will stop trying to place your articles on any spammy websites that will accept it.
This will also force you to create higher quality articles, as such websites have better editorial standards.
What do you think of Matt Cutt’s announcement? Will you still be doing guest posting? Let us know in the comments below.