Once upon a time, guest blogging was seen as a time-honored practice where worthy writers and content developers were offered new platforms to share ideas and discuss issues. Sure, they might have plugged themselves with a link or two back to their own site, but it was a mutually beneficial arrangement for both writer and web host, something that increased popularity on both sides. In the beginning, Google either didn’t notice or didn’t mind the self-promotion that went along with content collaboration.
Things have changed, however, and they continue to do so with each passing day. Web hosts are turning guest blogging into a business determined by profits and page ranks; Google has begun re-writing its algorithms to crack down on fraudulent links and scammers trying to make a quick buck.
Is guest blogging on its way out? What exactly is Google doing to combat its abuse, and what does this mean for those who are still abiding by the system? What defines a guest blogger, anyway? Here’s a quick guide to understanding the world of guest blogging through the lens of the world’s biggest search engine.
Guest Blogging As A Science
One of the most important parts of a website is its SERP, or search engine results page. This will determine where it shows up to anyone searching for its keywords.
It’s common knowledge that any website not on the first 2-3 pages of Google’s search results might as well not be on the Internet at all. Think about it: How often do you go beyond the first few pages when searching for a recipe or software hack? Getting on page one of Google is the holy grail for web hosts and online marketing strategists everywhere.
It isn’t an easy task, however. Google’s spiders create a complicated web of indexing, analyzing and cataloging websites, and figuring out their methods has given birth to the entire SEM/SEO movement. One of the ways they determine page ranks has been latched onto as one of the easiest to understand:
The more other websites link to you, the higher you’ll climb in Google’s page rankings.
This is where guest blogging offers an easy way to juice up your rank. Say you’re a printing specialist and you’re looking for a way to drive up traffic to your office supply website. By offering yourself as a guest poster to business blogs, paper companies and print advertising websites, you’ll not only raise awareness for your services in general, but you can also link people to your business “for more information” or “if you need printing services yourself, click here.” You’ll gain readers, expand your demographic and boost your page rank.
It sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it? But there’s a dark side to guest blogging, one that’s starting to grip Google, the biggest SERP provider of them all.
Professional Criticism of Guest Blogging
According to Matt Cutts, the current head of Google’s Webspam team, guest blogging is a practice best avoided by any serious web hosts or online business professionals. In a post titled “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO,” Cutts highlights several big problems with self-promotion through other blogs, including:
*Potential spam links embedded in your site without your knowledge
*Violations of Google’s quality guidelines
*Trends of guest blog outsourcing that anger Google teams
Google doesn’t like illegitimate links, you see. For the same reason that you can’t open a thousand $10 domains and spam them with links to your real website, you can’t offer someone a guest post that links yourself a dozen times. You’ll get in trouble with Google’s spambots. You might even negatively impact your host’s SERPs.
While guest blogging can help you increase web traffic to your site, Cutts says, the increasing monetization of SEO and links-for-pay means that guest bloggers are starting to come under scrutiny as Google attempts to tighten the noose on those who abuse the system. Its spam teams are training themselves to root out hosts who think they can manipulate their SERPs, and their net may catch other, more innocent web hosts in the crossfire if they keep so-called “bad company.”
According to Cutts, the risks of guest blogging simply outweigh the benefits. He advises against accepting any guest bloggers unless you know them personally, and he advocates extra caution if you’re relying on guest blogging as a link-building strategy.
Consequences of Bad Behavior
What happens if you do get caught manipulating SERPs by Google? Just ask Rap Genius, the song lyric website that suffered the consequences of link-baiting in December of 2013. After promising a link on their website in exchange for others peppering their blog posts with Rap Genius “affiliate links” – aka the bare bones of guest blogging – Google intervened with a vengeance, striking the site from its search engines. Users searching for “Rap Genius” will be offered results from its Wikipedia page, its social media accounts and even new articles about its fall from grace, but not a single one will actually link to Rap Genius itself.
Rap Genius issued a public apology and eventually brought their marketing strategies in line with Google’s policies, but the damage was done. Their founder estimated that the site lost thousands of visitors per day while they “work[ed] things out” with Google.
Before you accept a shady offer from an unknown guest blogger, ask yourself it it’s worth the damage you might incur later.
The Art of the Nofollow
What if you like guest blogging? Do you have to give it up completely just because of a few bad eggs?
Not if you’re smart.
Some guest bloggers, mindful of Google’s wrath, have begun sharing their content and linking back to their websites with a “nofollow” tag. This little piece of code stops Google’s spiders from counting it towards SERPs, which means losing out on a legitimate boost from external links, but also protecting one’s website from looking suspicious to automated systems that don’t know the difference between a hundred genuine sharers and a hundred paid links.
Nofollow was actually created by the indomitable trio of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, so it’s a real and effective tool against link-baiting. It’s simply a sacrifice that many guest bloggers aren’t willing to make. In a world where SEO and SERP are kings, nofollow asks them to deliberately give up an advantage in promoting their site, and they just aren’t ready or confident enough to do so.
They may change their minds, however, if Google continues to crack down on bogus links and underhanded techniques. One day it might be the only way one can guest blog.
The Future of Guest Blogging
Despite scammers, setbacks and questionable tactics, guest blogging will always have a place on the web. In a post entitled “Why Guest Blogging Will Never Die,” digital marketing specialist Joe Pack argues that guest blogging is just too valuable to go away, even with Google de-valuing it more every year. For one, it’s a genuinely useful practice among publishers looking to increase their website’s prestige or welcome fresh voices into their midst; on the flip side, it’s also a great way to put yourself out there and expand your readership if you’re the one doing the guest blogging. Another, sadder reality is that many naive web hosts will continue to be taken advantage of by scam artists offering fraudulent posts in the name of “free links” and “affiliate partnerships.”
With the landscape of guest blogging changing every day, only one thing is for sure: Google is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to search engines and the way they regulate user content.
What do you say, readers? Are you a guest blogger? What do you think about the future of your craft? Is Google doing enough to distinguish links-for-pay from legitimate content, or do you think they’ve gone too far?