Guest blogging is a slightly sensitive subject today with the release of Google’s WebSpam team’s update to lower the quality rating on the practice. Let’s be completely transparent when talking about guest blogging and its current market state for search now. This isn’t something we can honestly say we as inbound marketers or SEO’s didn’t see happening. In fact, Rand Fishkin, at MOZ headquarters 2 weeks ago tackled this in his Whiteboard Friday titling his most recent post “Why Guest Blog Posting is a Slippery Slope”. This couldn’t have come too soon now that Matt Cutts has released his WebSpam Team to tackle the subject and practice. This is something I have researched heavily for our agency, so we stay on track with client content publications and ensure always the best practice.
Not 3 days after Rand’s article was published, Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s WebSpam team announced that “Guest Blog Posting is dead”. In case you missed his posting, I have pasted in the his quote below from his site:
“If you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.”
Unfortunately, yet again, this comes from the massive amount of spamming and black hat abuse by SEO’s, web marketers, and abusive tactics like blog spinning and guest blog automation – which reduce the quality in guest posts overall. This has cut-rate blogs that have produced hundreds of thousands, if not millions of articles over the past two years with little to no value at all have essentially spammed the search engines by abusing Google’s quality guidelines.
Google and the WebSpam team now has to implement stops “to a once respectable blogging technique” as Matt said, when written from the perspective of popular and authoritative writers who offer valued insight in their respective fields. Now, more than ever, Google needs to take action and implement changes to account for the massive influx of low quality content being developed and spammed out using blogs resulting in less than desirable content results – which Google puts as its highest value for the end users.
I have embedded a video here where Matt discusses and addresses Google’s view on guest blogging for links now. A couple of key take away’s from this video include:
PRO TIP: If you are going to link to outside sources in your article::
- Don’t use keyword rich hyper-text links in your posts (use something like link here) as an example, where the word in blue has no meaning and sends no quality signals to the engines to determine its weight or have a measurable impact, and reference.
- Use only <rel=nofollow> meta field on links in your guest posts, which remove any value and PageRank from being passed onto the site, reference, source link, article, examples, etc. By using this tag, it strips all value from the link, passing no PageRank, removing it from the equation when Google analyzes the page content and link profiles.
Matt did go onto support in his comments by saying that “If the links are no-followed, and they don’t affect PageRank, it would be outside the scope of my team at that point. A high-quality guest post with no-followed links can still be a good way to get exposure to a new audience, build branding, etc.”
GUEST BLOGGING ……WITH A PURPOSE!
Guest blog posting shouldn’t be used as a tactic for link building – ever. It never should have been in the first place, but ultimately, like any and all SEO tactics that are new or trending, they become overused, and more often than not abused. Thus the reason by Google and the WebSpam team to have to treat it that way.
Matt Cutts says “Stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.”
It ought to be about continuing to build great content that informs, educates and resonates with the masses. Something that invokes conversation, and engagement, thus answering the overall question or query searchers originally had when visiting Google.
Dr. Pete from Moz had an interesting approach by saying “You’ve got to make sure you’re not a one trick link-building pony. I mean, any time you base 80% or more of your link profile on one tactic/gimmick, you’re going to eventually be in trouble. The problem isn’t guest-posting, it’s abuse.” Use guest blogging as a means to build reputation and brand, but do so a little bit at a time.
If you don’t take the time to note and follow the guidelines and suggestions below, Google will give you one heck of a smack in the face, thus taking you out of the game!
IS GAINING LINKS THE ABSOLUTE END RESULT IN A BLOG POST?
Blogs and writing should not be about gaining or building links. We should never write a blog post with the goal of ‘getting links’ and that being the end result of your work. Yes, of course it’s a natural evolution when writing and sharing a legitimate piece of valuable content that drives sharing, interaction and conversation. These type of high quality posts will draw links naturally as people will find ways to support it through the web as a resource.
I myself often share and link to valuable content online all the time, (through social media, blogs, articles, social profiles, commenting in UGC communities, etc) in hopes that someone else might be able to learn something new from what I just read. It’s never about linking for benefits of search manipulation.
I think that’s the key point to take away. High quality blogs will naturally get social shares and mentions, UGC comments and build communities around content, while at the same time building a trustworthy back-link and natural looking link profiles. It’s done indirectly as a result of the high end content quality and time put into the articles research.
Matt went on to say that he’d based on the current state of guest blogging and how spammy it has become, he’d “expect Google’s WebSpam team to take a “pretty dim view of guest blogging going forward”, although it would likely not impact high quality blogs with authoritative writers who have influence, and gained trust and authority online.
Elisa Gabbert over at the Wordstream Blog wrote an article in reiteration to Matt’s post, in which she suggests just the opposite of guest blogging being dead. She goes on to say and point out that “Google can’t differentiate between guest blogs and other kinds of articles.” She also suggests that the category and theme of guest blogging are murky at best.” I disagree with her perspective in regards to identifying low-quality blog content, and I think Google has done a very good job of identifying the low quality content and removing it from it’s index.
Now, if your reading this, and do have a blog, you might want to consider the following points when reviewing the quality of your site, blog, and content. Ask yourself “do I have a low quality blog”, and if so, “what can I do to improve it using the resources mentioned above”?
A GUEST BLOG HOW-TO.. MAKE IT AUTHENTIC!
A few things Matt Cutts points out in his video (and that I completely agree with), is analyzing what your blog should include and avoid having any kind of ‘Paid Links’ or ‘links passing PageRank value’ associated with it. When looking at setting up a blog and using guest blog posts, or aligning that with a content marketing strategy, develop a well thought out plan with effective deliverable’s to keep it in line with Google’s policies.
Take-Away Points when reading between the lines:
- Don’t accept just any writer wanting to post articles!
- Keep content focused and centered around your sites niche.
- Develop social circles that can share similar content, information and data.
- Develop significant content that has real value for readers.
- Know who this person is that wants to ‘guest blog’ – Research them online.
- Verify credentials as a professional in their field.
- Verify the influencer/writer social outreach and profile.
- Have true authority and knowledge on the subject matter.
- Avoid all keyword text dropping, and anchor text manipulation.
- No paid links on the page of any kind.
- Stay away from any low quality guest blogging sites.
- No spinning content of any kind! Write unique content all the time.
- Remember to use the <nofollow> tag and not pass PageRank value in links! (critical)
Matt’s point is to highlight all low-quality or spam sites delivering below average content in their link building and content strategy. Strategies around guest blogging, need to be carefully planned and executed if you are considering building valuable and worthwhile content that is viral and educational to the web. Be very skeptical, “or at least caution” as Matt said, “when someone reaches out and offers you a guest blog article”. In a nutshell, do your homework!
A FEW SIGNS YOU HAVE A LOW QUALITY BLOG – ALERT!
First, quality is a very subjective term, but in Google’s eyes, it seems very clear cut, and that’s what the quality guidelines they share with us are for. If you want to gain insight on what a quality website or blog might include, what it is Google is looking for, what not to do, or better yet, what you should be doing, you only need to zip over to the Quality Guidelines and take a peek (link provided in the PRO TIP below!)
Take a few notes from this guideline when planning your sites content or blog content strategy, because the sooner you accept these guidelines (as rules really Google enforces), the better off you will be when launching or building your blog and/or website over time.
PRO TIP: Don’t switch to the Dark Side by taking the easy way out!
3 Tips on How-To Improve Your Blog
Here are some points to note and perhaps address on your blog, if you take some of these away and develop them out for your own sources.
- There are no images on the blog? Images when used correctly act as graphical cues to readers and viewers. They help break up the content while at the same time, increasing the readability of the page. Your bounce and exit rates will likely increase with heavy text related blogs, which can lose the reader’s attention quickly. Custom images will help spice up the life of any blog page and article, while also showing readers the page was taken care of. Don’t shy away from naming the image correctly, and using IMG ALT tags to identify it more clearly for the visually impaired.
- No Interlinking – Not taking the time to interlink your blog content (internally or externally), to relate content or articles previously discussed within your own site, shows lack of management and care. Blogs with text heavy articles which don’t link internally to related content, are also missing opportunities to keep readers intrigued and informed on similar issues or solutions relating to the very article they are reading on your blog! Not to mention the benefit of increasing your sites crawlability and indexing depth when trying to find deep pages on your site!
- Be Personality Driven – Don’t let keywords consume your ideas or valued content. Find the topic you want to address, and write for the people, not search. Let the article do the work for you with regards to offering quality value content, and outbound links.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT BLOG POST?
Here are some great tips in a recent post by @jennita (Community Manager at Moz) which were compiled in an email thread discussion about the very dreadful “guest blogging” technique now abused by most. Everett Sizemore an Associate over at Moz, contributed in the thread with Jen and listed the points found below. Things they looked at involved how Google might identify how posts are spammy.
I have pasted in some of their points taken away from the thread.
The key take-away from the Jen’s Moz article, was to“essentially, be a real person, write posts with a purpose beyond just building links”… Ultimately, the links will come with time!
- Develop a relationship with the publisher outside of “guest blogging platforms” in order to customize the relationship better.
- Pitch a series of content instead of one off “guest post”. (Get them to become a regular contributor )
- Describe yourself as an “expert contributor” not a “guest author”. Explain the difference if you have to, and explain to the publisher why this is better for their site.
- Don’t contribute to sites that want to publish your content under a general “guest author” account. Always insist on your own contributor/author account, and markup with <rel=author>.
- Work with authors who have (popular and authoritative) Google profiles to which they can add contributor to links. If they don’t have one, help them get one.
- Go back to the same authors for similar content to develop them as experts in a specific niche (e.g. if John Smith did an article for a client on PBX solutions and you have need for another piece of content about VOIP, office phone systems, etc… go back to John Smith again)
- If the resident authors don’t have their bio below/above every post then our content shouldn’t have one either.
- Stop thinking about links. Think about traffic and exposure instead. Links are fine if they are relevant, but don’t let a <nofollow> policy keep you from contributing to a major site with lots of traffic in the clients’ niche.
- Track the right metrics, which starts with aligning our goals with the clients’.
Follow and use these tips, and you’ll be SAFE from a Google’s WebSpam team review!
PRO TIP: When reviewing the items above, you might also want to consider that the Webmaster Team’s Central Blog points out to improve when building high-quality sites. These site development guidelines might be outdated in that they were written by the team back in 2011, but if Google wrote it, I would highly suggest reading and pulling points out when developing out your blog strategy. Blogs are still websites and guest blogging is still very much a part of that niche.
CREDIBILITY GOES A LONG WAY
A few key points you could consider when looking over blogging, and keeping it in the green zone:
- Make SURE your content is unique, NOT copied. Use CopyScape to verify the quality of the content submitted online.
- Take various sections of the article written and search Google using quotes “”. This will allow you to see if any various parts have been copied word for word from another source.
- Real people! Verify and ensure that these people are creditable and verified in their niche. Check their social circles, link profiles, and professional backgrounds.
- If you do have someone posting, verify every link they use or insert! Read the text thoroughly, and check for authenticity. Don’t let a rogue link drop make their way into your site and cause you a headache!
Here are a few takeaways when building a strategy around links and their use inside blogs and guest blog posts. I have included some bullet points below with various things to think about when planning and managing a blog which has guest posting involved.
- When pitching articles and content series (once approved) publish only too one 1 select site. Don’t duplicate the effort in hopes of gaining more inbound links. This will lead to duplicate content on multiple sites which will alert Panda filters at Google. Stay away!
- Use links wisely in your articles. Don’t overuse them in having an overabundance. (There is no real minimum or max), just don’t spam or overuse them. Always keep the user in mind. Link helpful resources that support a point or conclusion.
- Be helpful for the end user – link to quality and helpful content that will aid visitors in their search for answers. Always be thinking about the end user.
- Avoid anchor texting or linking with keywords if the link has no bearing on the article you have written on (in case).
- Use the <rel=nofollow> tag for links in/on any Guest Blog post for your site. This will help you avoid Panda and Penguin filters and assert that you don’t pass any value or Pagerank through the link profile to outbound links.
- Research out appropriate blogs online that will help you in your niche. Make sure to establish contact with them and build a relationship.
- Be very selective of where you will post as an author, or publish as a blog. Don’t’ spam your blog profile with any links. Be descriptive. Also, being selective and finding high end web blogs and sources for content distribution is where you need to focus your efforts.
- Be on top of current SEO industry news (with regards to the search engines) and linking profile data. This will help you effectively develop and maintain a successful search marketing strategy. By being ahead of the curve, you stay ahead of the curve!
Other than pointing out specific things in his latest video from Webmaster World, Matt Cutts didn’t specifically say how to deal with guest blogging. The easiest strategy to follow is to tread very lightly while maintaining a professional outlook, and be conscious of how and what you are creating online. I can’t begin to tell you how important this is……. Quality over quantity at all times!
I recommend if you move forward with it, you do it with the customer in mind, and ensure to create the highest valued content through quality research and presentation.
DON’T WASTE VALUABLE TIME….. BLOG WITH A REASON!
I can’t stress this enough! Create content, even content using guest posts, but do it with a hefty amount of common sense, research and add as much value to it as you can. Having and using this knowledge will help you plan an effective blog strategy for content development through inbound marketing that will be successful with Google and the masses. Make sure to have a purpose in what you are creating.
- New market audience exposure
- Branding your content and your clients content
- Increased traffic through inbound marketing (content development)
- Authorship and Reputation – Very important!
- Reliability & Trustworthiness
Any links you share in these types of posts, which are used to manipulate PageRank will directly violate Google Webmaster Guidelines and result action on their part from the WebSpam team. Matt Cutts strongly urges everyone to focus on ‘content altruism’ and “not ruin it for others for personal gains”, intending behavior which tarnishes the goal of creating great content for knowledge. By using the various tactical things mentioned in this article, they align with Google’s view, and thus, helps us all contribute to a more sound web and social framework.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU AS A BLOGGER?
Ultimately, Google has really changed the landscape of how content is being graded, thus affecting content by ‘’hammering down on low quality content”. Matt did go onto say that “Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things in the SEO space.” – These once valuable tactics just gets overused and abused by spammers, which takes the quality and value out of it for the professional bloggers and writers bringing value.
Hopefully, your Guest Blog Post strategy is being implemented with common sense and best practices. By creating and adding value to the content you are writing, it adds credibility to the authorship you are trying to build. @jennita from Moz had a few strong key points that were addressed in an article she wrote, and I think they were AWESOME! I have inserted them below and give her full credit for identifying the points to watch for. For quick reference so you don’t have to searching for them! Thanks to her great suggestions we have identified areas of improvement!
- If you’re searching for a place to guest post, query your network first.
- As Cutt’s hints, don’t “cold call/email” a request for authorship. Establish a relationship with people who manage the site, blog, or business.
- Stay away from blogs that are maintained mostly by outside content, unless it’s a community of bloggers — for example, Social Media Today.
- As you determine where you want to be published, think about your value-add in terms of where you’re most knowledgeable. Focus on a niche that’s key to your audience.
- Be picky about where you get published, and what you will publish on your own site.
- Ask yourself, “What makes it worthwhile to publish elsewhere, rather than on my own site?” (Hint: Building your brand vs. leveraging someone else’s, earning new audience recognition, traffic, branding, etc.)
- If you pitch an article to multiple sources, don’t approve publishing of the same article across different sites.
- Reserve the right to refuse posts. Don’t accept any willy-nilly who wants to post on your site.
- Have created and approved user accounts and moderate them the same way. Ensure that their profiles are real and they are someone of value.
- Define your content using “rel-canonical” tag.
Danny Sullivan points out to Matt in his blog post comments (scroll down to his comment post at the bottom of the article) that most forms of content generation that once had value, have been in some way, analyzed by Google and weighed down in the results, making it much harder for SEO’s and inbound marketing specialists to create content that has both substance and value.
To quote Danny in his comment “Your update helps Matt (blog post), but no widgets, infographic’s, press releases, directories, and now guest blogging, etc,— the list is getting tiresome. Google basically doesn’t want people trying to build links any longer, despite that having been Google advice for many years.”
Danny is clearly frustrated by Google’s actions and makes valid points in his argument. But in defence to Google, Matt does go onto summarize by saying that ‘not all guest blogging is bad’. In moderation, when done properly and using the techniques mentioned above to keep it clean, authoritative and high quality (refer back to this documents points) will not yield you penalty markers from Google’s perspective. Only those who abuse the tactic, don’t follow the guidelines and those who don’t use plain old common sense, will result in penalties which will yield loads of work in link profile analysis, management and removal. No fun for anyone!
AUDIENCE MARKETING. IT IS THE FUTURE
Cyrus Shepard who works for Moz on the Content Team has noted and helped identify that content marketing is part of ‘distraction marketing’ in today’s content space, and lost its luster. We need to look at it in a new way and reinvent the way we do things. The old content marketing method, where low quality content has enveloped the web with spam is something of old now. Where ‘audience marketing’ should be the focus of your content development. Cyrus going onto state that ‘well intentioned marketing folks, perhaps losing the value of this message, now produce content for content’s sake, while forgetting the audience it was created for’. As we should be creating content for ‘audiences’, we need to make that shift to ‘audience marketing’ – creating specifically tailored content that helps educate.
His theory (and content strategy practices at Moz) also state that “we should not measure content by how much we produce, but rather how the audience responds to that content.” A few points to consider as KPI’s which reflect the metrics and focus on the “experiences that matter”. This should be considered when we are exploring guest blogging as a method for sharing valuable audience driven content. Some of the questions Cyrus analyzes, and that can be applied to guest blogging, when reviewing content developed include:
- How many times do they share the content?
- Talk about it online?
- How long do they stay on page?
- Do they comment and interact with it?
- How many other pages on our site do they explore? Jump too?
Cyrus also identifies 4 key points that the Moz team focuses when working on and building audience driven content. Leveraging these points with your strategy will help you maintain the highest quality possible when developing out content. These focus on the ability to:
You should check out his blog here. He’s always has insightful writing into the SEO and inbound marketing/content space that help us as marketers. The points they present will help any company serious about building an effective content and guest blogging strategy, all the while keeping it in line with Google’s best practices.
Ultimately, if Google continues down this road, and continues to hamstring content development with regards to social sharing through links, we need to get ahead of the curve and think outside the box and create strategies and link building concepts that are new.
In my professional opinion, and based solely on the changes Google is making of late, they need to consider finding other metrics to help quantify the ‘voting’ and valuation of links for the web, as a measurement of value, trust and authority.
Matt Cutts says in his video that Google doesn’t have a version of their search index to the public with links turned off, but does state that they have run experiments internally, and as a result, the quality was “much much worse” than expected. Check his video out there:
In the meantime, while they Google continues to refine its search algorithm’s, I suggest following the guidelines they set as best possible, by creating and contributing to a cleaner and more efficient web by managing your content, strategy, and your social profiles with the utmost care.
ULTIMATELY…..IT WILL PAYOFF!
Following these professional guidelines will truly help you build a solid blog, even using guest posts with authority and in tandem, a content strategy that you can use and leverage professionally.
Ultimately, stick to these guidelines for your inbound marketing, create value, use supporting sources and comparisons when writing, write for the people and not search, and keep building content that strives to be the best. It will pay off!
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