Are Your Guest Posts in Google’s Crosshairs?
It’s not news to savvy webmasters and marketers that Google has targeted every sort of “self serving” link you can obtain – except for guest posts – so far! Directory links are denigrated, forum links are so watered down that you need hundreds, if not thousands to be effective; the value of reciprocal links expired years ago; and you can’t buy ‘em without risking deep penalties. Low quality links – whether from blog commenting or links from sites with low domain authority can actually harm you, the SEO pundits say. So, site owners have turned to guest blogging with a passionate desperation.
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You only have to look around a few blogs to realize that there are hundreds of rehashed articles on every topic imaginable – not ‘spun’ exactly, but hardly content you could fresh, let alone unique. Even some of the excellent ‘guest blog romance’ sites such as My Blog Guest tend to offer titles you’ve already seen before. How many times should the top 5 SEO tools be presented?
Will Google Denigrate the Value of Guest Posts? You Betcha!
Google made a concerted attack on blog comments – a notoriously abused source of low quality links. You need only consult your own Webmaster Tools to see which links Google “counts” to learn whether blog comments have been effectively wiped out as a valuable source of links. They did that, in part, by raising the bar on domain and page authority. As marketers and webmasters have turned their link building efforts to obtaining guest spots on popular blogs, can Google be far behind in taking aim on this tactic?
The Future of Guest Blogging
It’s Who You Know – And Who Knows YOU! Do establish an ongoing guest post relationship with blogs that are highly relevant to your niche and enjoy strong trust and domain authority. I use both Moz’s Open Site Explorer (http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/) and Majestic SEOs’ tool and publish regularly on those sites. Your relationships are more and more important as Google effectively narrows its sites on lower quality content and links. You are building a brand – whether for your product, service or as a writer – and that takes repetition. Running an ad once on a top rated radio show isn’t worth the cost of the ad – but running that ad day in and day out will build recognition. It’s the same with content marketing – you need to put your message and brand in front of the same audience repeatedly to have a clear impact.
That may seem like a contradiction to the advice you get from most sources: diversify, diversify, diversify. But I don’t mean to suggest that you only write from one or two blogs – or even three. By all means, write for 3 or 4 blogs regularly, and also seek additional venues for your content.
Authorship is Critical – and that may be a good thing or a bad thing.
Today’s advice tends to run something along these lines: Make sure you are linking to your Google+ profile from your guest posts – and don’t forget to add a link to the site where your guest blog was published to your Google+ account contributor. Seems like a sound suggestion, but if you are the only author writing and posting with links back to your site, will that look natural to Google when it targets “guest post spam?”
Imagine a World without Links
In a guest post by the same title on Search Engine Watch, author Andy Betts posited: “Let’s imagine for one moment that we had a world without links. Publishers went back to print material. Do you think people wouldn’t write for [these] magazines and publications and offer thought leadership, best practice advice, and opinions. I don’t think so.”
And that’s a perfect question as we move into the future. If you wouldn’t write the story for the added exposure and value to your reputation, should you be writing the post at all? Every time we do something just for the “SEO” value of a link, we violate Google’s Terms of Service. But we also compromise our own integrity.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs — or Links — in One Basket
In a post Penguin world it’s easy for the webmaster of a new site to decide that directory links are suspect, blog commenting a total waste of time and forum links too time consuming to make a difference and that guest posts are the only answer. Whatever you decide, remember Google knows what a natural link profile looks like and penalizes sites vary widely from the norm. It’s still worthwhile to be in quality directories, some link exchanges are natural, participating on forums and blogs (especially without regard for whether links are followed) remains a normal activity, and it will be always be valuable to have useful articles posted on quality sites.
A Last Word About Quality
Quality has always been the watchword for content development – whether it’s the content itself or where you place it. But quality is a subjective, um, quality – and it’s hard to define or quantify. Google has tried to do it with word count (minimum 550), graphics (must have one on a page) and that old ranking factor, PageRank, that remains an important factor, if only one of 200.
But how do YOU determine your own quality?
I like to aim for thought-provoking – you don’t need to exactly stir the pot (though controversy can be a great way to stimulate your audience and develop a dialogue and even community) but you do need to help your readers ask the right questions and come to new conclusions if you want them to return to your site. Remember, your goal here is not primarily to obtain a link, but to increase your circle of influence, to enhance your reputation as a writer – that is, as a purveyor of information — and to win new loyal readers and fans for your own website, product or service.
My favorite yardstick for quality assessment is a simple question: would I rather post this on my own site? When I find myself dithering about whether I want to find a good home for this article or just keep it under my own wing, I know I have a quality article. As I wrote this article, I had that dialog in my head – should I offer this or should I post it on my own blog. I decided to offer it only if I could find a home where I had published before and hoped to publish again. TechWyse was exactly where I wanted to be!
What do you think? Did this article meet your quality standards? Did it make you think critically about your own content marketing plan? Has it changed your mind or informed your opinion on guest blogging?