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Can Sponsored Guest Blog Posts Hurt Your Rankings?

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There are many guest post strategies businesses can use to improve their online visibility. Guest posting on an external site can pass page rank to your website, thereby increasing your SEO ranks, and can also increase your reputation in your industry and send referral traffic your way directly.Offering guest posts on your own site can help boost your reputation, especially if you can work with major influencers, and can beef up the diversity of your content offerings.

But one form of guest posting—namely, sponsored guest blogs—is perceived as risky. There are a number of misconceptions and fears around sponsored guest posts, but for the most part, the fears are misplaced.

What Are Sponsored Guest Blog Posts?

articleimage829 What Are Sponsored Guest Blog Posts

Let’s start by describing what sponsored guest blog posts are and aren’t. There are some gray areas when it comes to this type of sponsorship, but as far as Google is concerned, the definition is clear. Sponsored guest posts are any type of written post that somebody paid to have published. For example, if you give an external site any form of direct monetary compensation for featuring your work, that’s going to be considered a sponsored guest blog post.

The Problem With Paid Links

articleimage828The Problem With Paid Links

As Matt Cutts of Google has explained and reiterated, buying links for the purposes of passing page rank and manipulating ranks in SERPs is explicitly forbidden, and will earn Google’s wrath in the form of a penalty. Back in the day when quantity was all that mattered to a link building strategy, webmasters would take advantage of the vulnerability by buying up whatever links they could. Today, Google wants to prevent any such activity, so if you’re caught buying a link to improve your rank, you’re probably going to be penalized sooner or later.

However, merely exchanging money for a place on the web is not the problem. For example, Google’s position on affiliate links is one of understanding. Affiliate links are essentially paid links—clients pay hosts a set fee for each click those links earn—but they aren’t penalized, so long as they’re set up properly. This is because the intention of affiliate links is to attract direct traffic, rather than to manipulate search rank—as long as you aren’t trying to cheat the search engine, Google doesn’t care what you buy or sell on the web.

Google’s Official Position on Sponsored Guest Posts

articleimage829Google’s Official Position on Sponsored Guest Posts

In accordance with their stance on affiliate links, Google is perfectly fine with sponsored posts, so long as they aren’t meant to pass page rank. If you pay for a position on an external site, Google’s stance is that the position should not in any way pass authority to the site responsible for posting the content. In effect, as long as you aren’t paying for the opportunity to increase your rank, you aren’t going to conflict with Google’s policy, and you aren’t going to earn a penalty.

The trick is to make it clear that the guest post is sponsored. First, you owe it to your readers to disclose the fact that the post was sponsored. You can do this by introducing the content as a sponsored post, either at the beginning or the end of the article, and including a “sponsored” indication somewhere if and when you syndicate a link to the post through social media. Second, you owe it to Google to disclose the fact that it’s a sponsored post and make sure any links available in the post do are not considered for passing authority. The easiest way to do this is to mark any links in the sponsored content with a “nofollow” designation, which will prevent search engines from crawling those links.

The Benefits of Sponsored Guest Posts

This policy by Google is something of a double-edged sword. So long as you prevent your links from passing authority, you can be assured that Google won’t penalize you for posting sponsored content. However, passing authority is one of the most important motivators for making guest posts in the first place.

Fortunately, paid guest posts still have a number of benefits:

  • You’ll get more brand mentions. Assuming your brand name is mentioned at least once in the body of your article without a hyperlink attached to it, there’s a possibility you’ll get some increase in domain authority. Google views un-linked brand mentions similar to the way it views links—but you won’t be penalized for rank manipulation by including them.
  • You’ll increase your visibility and broaden your audience. As long as your article is published on a reputable source, anyone who sees your brand’s content is going to instantly hold you in higher regard. Thousands of new visitors who haven’t heard of you will suddenly know your name, and thousands of visitors who already know of you will see you as having more authority, thereby increasing your potential to attract and retain customers from your reader base.
  • You’ll increase your direct referral traffic.Finally, remember that including a “nofollow” tag for your links won’t make them stop working entirely—it only puts a mask between them and the search engine bots. People who read your content and see your links will be able to click them and get to your site directly, giving you a new stream of direct, steady inbound traffic.

Are Sponsored Guest Posts Worth It?

If your primary goal in guest posting is to increase your domain authority and thus, your rank in search engines, sponsored guest posts simply aren’t worth it. You might earn some residual authority from brand mentions, and you might end up attracting a handful of secondary inbound links from people citing your work, but since all of your sponsored links will be blocked, the SEO benefits are almost negligible.

If your primary goal is to gain more visibility or more traffic, sponsored guest posts could be worth it. It all depends on the cost of featuring your post, the audience that could potential view it, and the level of authority of the hosting site. For example, if you have to pay $1,000 to have a guest post featured on a site that only gets a few hundred hits a week, it may not be worth it. But if, for $100, you can earn a “featured” slot on the top of a news feed for a major publisher, the opportunity could eventually pay for itself. It helps to know your conversion rate for inbound referral traffic and an estimate for how much traffic the post would generate.

If you’re worried about getting penalized for sponsoring a guest post on an external site, don’t be. As long as your host indicates that the post was sponsored, and as long as any inbound links in your material are covered with a “nofollow” tag, you don’t have to worry about attracting the wrath of Google. However, be aware that sponsored guest posts do not carry the same benefits as traditional guest posts, and sponsorship opportunities are only worthwhile if the amount of exposure you receive outweighs the initial cost. Keep traditional guest posting as the core of your strategy, and treat any sponsorship prospects with a critical eye before moving forward.

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Samuel Edwards

In his 4+ years as a digital marketing specialist, Sam has learned the ins and outs of online marketing. Additionally, he has worked with countless local businesses as well as enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including: NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP, and human rights organization Amnesty International. Today he continues to work with and establish SEO, PPC and SEM campaigns.

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