If you're writing or accepting guest blog posts in hopes of achieving a search engine optimization (SEO) benefit, stop it. Now. So said Matt Cutts, the head of Google's Web spam team, in a much-discussed blog post published on Jan. 20.
"Okay, I'm calling it: if you're using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop," Cutts wrote.
But does this mean guest blogging is dead? Not so fast, SEO experts say. There is still value in the practice, as long as it's done properly and for the right reasons. Long live guest blogging.
Cutts: Guest Blogging Too Spammy
In his now-infamous post, Cutts wrote that guest blogging over time has become "a more and more spammy practice." As an example, he quoted an email he received in which the (obviously clueless) sender offered Cutts money if he would publish a guest blog post that included "a dofollow link or two in the article body." In short: The sender wanted to buy links from Cutts—a "clear violation of Google's quality guidelines," Cutts pointed out.
A "dofollow" or "follow" link is desirable because it can pass PageRank to the site to which the link points. PageRank is a Google scoring system that, combined with hundreds of other signals, helps the search engine determine how high a web page should rank in a relevant keyword search.
"So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it's just gotten too spammy," Cutts went on. "In general I wouldn't recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn't recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy."
After his initial posting stirred up a firestorm in the SEO community, Cutts expanded with additional context and clarification. "There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.)," he wrote. "Those reasons existed way before Google and they'll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there."
Cutts added that "multi-author blogs" weren't in Google's crosshairs, either. "High-quality multi-author blogs like Boing Boing have been around since the beginning of the Web, and they can be compelling, wonderful, and useful," he wrote. Instead, Cutts made clear that what Google doesn't like is "guest blogging for SEO purposes."
When Cutts speaks, the SEO community listens—especially now. In the past few years, Google has aggressively updated and even overhauled its search engine to penalize low-quality content and spammy link building and other SEO tactics. So far, it's unknown outside Google if the search engine giant plans to update its algorithm to automatically penalize low-quality guest blogging, or if penalties will be administered manually.
The New Rules of Guest Blogging
Cutts' proclamation left many small businesses, marketers, and others wondering what to do next. What type of guest blogging is acceptable and worthwhile, and what's likely to put you in the Google doghouse? Here's what some SEO experts have to say.
Guest blogging still has value
"There's nothing like a quality guest post to get your name in front of a different audience and generate direct traffic back to your site," advised Andy Beal, founder of Marketing Pilgrim, in a blog post.
Focus your efforts on enhancing your brand and reputation
"We have long maintained that guest blogging needs to be focused on brand and reputation," wrote Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting in an email newsletter.
"Fear not, [guest blogging] remains a viable activity, but it cannot be viewed as for SEO purposes only. In fact, you will get the best SEO benefit by viewing it as primarily for branding and reputation purposes. The point is that Google wants to value endorsements you get by highly trusted authoritative sites. Not tons of domains, but a small number of highly trusted relationships where you publish content of very high value.
"Focus on high value and high relevance and small quantities," Enge added. "It is also important that you have other elements in your overall mix of promotional strategies" in addition to guest blogging.
Behave as if there is no Google
Blogger Christopher S. Penn wrote that we should "be happy that guest blogging for SEO is dead." Penn explained that the "impending death of guest blogging for SEO purposes" should result in less "garbage" online to compete against. In turn, target audiences will have an easier time finding "the good stuff."
Penn advised that online marketers should "behave as if there were no Google." Put another way: create content that will serve your target readers' interests, rather than to try and game the Google system.
"Would you still pursue guest blogging if there was no SEO, if Google wasn't looking over your shoulder?" Penn asked. "Yes, absolutely. If Oprah Winfrey emailed me and said she wanted to guest blog here, I'd say yes."
Don't accept guest blog posts unless you know the author
Many SEO experts agree with Cutts: only accept posts from writers you know personally or, failing that, from those you know by reputation. Ideally, look for authors who are recognized subject matter experts with something interesting to say and a strong following. These qualities will help give your blog greater visibility and reach.
Don't label guest blog posts
"Google can't algorithmically differentiate between guest blogs and other kinds of articles," explained Elisa Gabbert in a Wordstream post. "Blogs and websites aren't legally bound to disclose that anything they publish is a guest post or not a guest post, and in some cases it's just a matter of perspective. There's no foolproof way for Google to determine the motives of any given author, whether they wrote and published something for links, exposure, money, or pure altruism."
Bottom line: There's no reason you must label content as a "guest blog post," Gabbert added. "If the content is valuable to your readers, it shouldn't really matter where it came from."
SEO experts agree: Whether you're writing a guest blog post or accepting one on your site, focus on quality. If the content is unique and authoritative and adds value, Google won't penalize it. Also, the content will be strong enough to earn links from other websites—which can help the content's search engine ranking.
James A. Martin frequently writes about SEO, content marketing and social media. Follow him on Twitter, @james_a_martin.
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