Over the last two years, Matt Cutts has been a leading spokesman for the death of guest blogging. His post from January – The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO – is widely cited as the turning point where guest posting turned from a shady-yet-effective technique into just-over-the-line black hat. Webmasters have begun to fear guest posting and the boogeyman of a Google penalty that is sure to follow.
The line is blurry, though. What’s the difference between a bad guest post and a legitimate guest post? Where do they draw the line between guest post and occasional contributing author? How does this affect authors who contribute to multiple blogs, or blogs with multiple authors? Is guest posting as a whole truly dead, or are there exceptions to the rule?
The Short Answer
Yes, guest posting for SEO is dead. No, guest posting as a whole is not dead. The issue is complex and it’s hard for Google to automate the decision. If you picture the continuum of guest posting – from spam posts on one end to quality contributions on the other – as a grayscale bar fading from black to white, Google is capable of automatically identifying and penalizing the black-gray 45 percent. The white-gray 45 percent is legitimate and valuable, and thus not penalized by Google. The middle 10 percent requires manual decisions and revisions, which can change over time.
The Panda updates are a good example; all of the sites initially hit by the update were in the black 45 percent. The sites that are hit in the following revisions are in the middle 10. There’s no “guest post update” to watch, nothing Google has named, but the concept is the same.
The Long Answer
Guest posting is still perfectly legitimate when done correctly. You need to stay well into the white-side 45 percent if you want to avoid the potential penalties associated with manual decision making and algorithm updates. Like many things in modern SEO, this is a matter of providing value for your readers above value for the search engine. As Cutts said; guest posting has just gotten too spammy to allow it to continue as it has been.
How Guest Posts Were Abused
To learn how to use guest posts properly, you should know what happened to earn them the spam label.
The idea of guest posting has long had merit. Writing a post on another blog, generally a blog that’s more popular than yours, shared some traffic and generally earned you a backlink. This gained favor predominantly when nofollow was becoming the standard for comment links and other links the blog owner didn’t control directly. A guest post would, generally, include a followed link that passed PageRank to your site.
With this being the case, many low-quality blogs began using a machine gun approach to guest posting. They would run searches to find dozens or hundreds of blogs in their industry and send off form letters to every single one of them, asking for a guest post slot. In exchange, these webmasters might offer a guest post slot on their own blog, or – more commonly – a small cash payment.
Primarily, this worked because the payment transactions were hidden from Google and the reciprocal exchange of guest posts is not in itself spam. However, building too many guest post links in too short a time resulted in a highly unnatural link profile, which was called out as spam. In response, webmasters started extended their guest blog solicitations in phases, making the link building look more gradual.
Still, the problem at the core was one of money and value. Google highly dislikes money as a factor in SEO performance. If it’s possible to pay for a top spot in any way, the technique used to do it will be penalized. Google wants to minimize the impact of budget on SEO.
No matter what, there will always be larger, better funded companies pulling ahead over smaller, low-budget businesses. Google just strives to keep the playing field level. Those high-budget companies will still have to invest in the same techniques as the low-budget competitors; having a budget may mean hiring better SEO professionals and buying better content, or it may mean investing in companies that charge more for less, allowing competitors to invest wisely and pull ahead.
So to pull this back to guest posting, the fact that you could buy guest posts on high-PageRank blogs to give your site a boost was, naturally, a bad thing. Google has drawn the line in the sand and determined that it just won’t tolerate it any longer.
How to Guest Post Properly
As always, the secret is not really a secret at all. It’s something Google has practically been screaming in the faces of webmasters for years. Provide value to your users.
Say that to yourself. Provide value to your users above all else. If including a keyword lessens value, don’t do it. If accepting a guest post from a low quality site lessens value, don’t do it. If adding an extra link – or removing one – lessens value, don’t do it. If fluffing up a piece of content to meet a word count, or trimming decent content to meet a shorter length requirement, lessens value… you guessed it.
With that in mind, how do you guest post effectively?
• Make sure the content is valuable on its own, no matter what blog it’s on.
• Make sure the link adds something to the content and isn’t thrown in as a non sequiter just for backlink purposes.
• Make sure the post fits the blog it’s posted on.
• Make sure the links are nofollowed, particularly if the post is paid.
• Make sure you aren’t doing too much, too fast.
So let’s examine each of those in detail.
Make sure the content is valuable on its own, no matter what blog it’s on. Basically, make sure the content is something worth reading. Make sure it’s something you would post on your own blog, no matter the author.
Make sure the link adds something to the content and isn’t thrown in as a non sequiter just for backlink purposes. It’s particularly bad when a link is obviously tacked on to generic content just to have a link. It’s better to link in the content to your related content than it is to link in the author bio to a homepage.
Make sure the post fits the blog it’s posted on. Don’t post something contrary to the main themes and opinions of the host blog. Don’t post something in a completely unrelated niche; even if the content is valuable, the users don’t care.
Make sure the links are nofollowed, particularly if the post is paid. This is a big one. Followed links pass PageRank, and followed links are the primary goal of shady guest bloggers. If you’re providing value to users first, a nofollow link is perfectly fine. It does the job; it funnels traffic to your site and it builds brand awareness without artificially inflating PageRank.
Make sure you aren’t doing too much, too fast. Again, too many guest links in too short a span makes for an unnatural link profile, which is detrimental to your site as a whole. Pick and choose your guest venues carefully; quality over quantity rules here.
Done properly, guest blogging is safe and effective. Done poorly, it’s asking for a penalty. Don’t pick the wrong side of the middle 10 percent.