One of the ways that Google has long determined the influence and reputation of a given website, especially when ranking it in search results, is the number of links that lead to that website from other reputable sources of information in the same industry. This has led to a cottage industry of website owners actively seeking out guest blogging opportunities, where they agree to write a blog post on a related topic for a similar website in their industry. That guest blog post then links to their own website and, in the eyes of Google’s search ranking algorithm, it benefits the site in two distinct ways:
The site gets a new incoming link, and these incoming links build a site’s value over time. Sites with many incoming links are viewed as “popular” in the eyes of Google’s search engine algorithms, or at least that his historically been the case.
The link from a guest blog post actually serves as a sort of endorsement by the site where it’s posted. After all, that site agreed that both the author and their website were knowledgeable enough to provide real value to users. Again, Google has historically used such an “endorsement” to change how highly it values sites that it ranks in relevant, industry-related keyword searches.
Not an Ideal World: How Scammers Have Gamed the Guest Post System
As with all developments in the world of search engine optimization, however, guest blogging has fallen victim to “spam” posts designed to game the algorithmic system that links today’s websites in order when a search is conducted. Increasingly, website owners are paying other websites for the privilege of creating a guest post. Other sites act as “submission mills,” accepting guest posts from virtually any site and industry and posting those written blocks of content on a wide variety of third-party sites. The result is an instant boost in search rankings, but one that has no material background or purpose.
For all of the clever trickery now associated with guest blog posts, it’s worth noting that Google isn’t blind to the “spammy” ways of some website owners. In fact, it has used previous updates to its algorithms to essentially eliminate sites with “spun” content. Other sites, like those with spam content or endless link lists, have also been pushed to the last page of Google’s search engine results for similar reasons. Matt Cutts, who heads Google’s Webspam Team and is a driving force in the company’s search engine optimization efforts, has been releasing a series of videos designed to help website owners rethink the way they use and leverage the power of guest posts on outside blogs.
Increasingly Cynical: Cutts Isn’t Optimistic About Guest Blogging’s Future
In the early days of guest blogging, Matt Cuts and other executives at Google were rosy about the future of guest posting. They touted guest blogging as far more robust than merely linking back to a website using a textual link. Citing its ability to identify professionals in a given industry, and to act as an endorsement of both the writer’s and the linked-to website’s quality, they encouraged people in all industries to embrace the practice in order to keep rankings high in changing times. Over the past year or so, however, Cutts’ videos on the topic have become increasingly cynical about the power, quality, and veracity of guest posts in 2014 and beyond.
Cutts, who spends the majority of his time looking at web trends and how websites are embracing Google’s newest search engine optimization guidelines, notes in recent videos that the quality of the average guest post has gone down in recent years. He attributes a loss of quality to several key factors, each of which has also plagued other common SEO efforts made by Google in the past:
Websites have begun paying for guest posting opportunities, reducing the natural “endorsement” aspect that was once the primary reason for seeking such an option.
Many websites now outsource their guest posting to professional writers or marketing experts, which in turn makes the post sound less informative and more salesy. This does not add the same amount of value that a more traditional guest post traditionally would, which Cutts believes is a significant disservice to the average Google search user.
The entire guest posting process is becoming automated, with “posting mill” websites accepting submissions and posting them to a series of websites entirely without user intervention, endorsement, or comment. That reduces the value of each automated post to virtually nothing, and again does a disservice to the traditional search user without an SEO or marketing background.
Cutts Caution: Recommendations for Avoiding Guest Post Pitfalls
In a marketplace that has increasingly commoditized and automated the once useful guest post, it can be easy to forget the fundamentals of this key backlink building strategy. For those who are new to the process, or those who may have become blinded by the sheer joy of receiving new inbound links, Cutts offered a few “don’ts” to remember when pursuing a guest posting opportunity on third-party websites:
A guest post should never serve as a company’s primary way of generating new incoming links. Instead, Cutts recommends using the guest post as merely one tool in a robust arsenal when promoting a site and boosting its ranking in keyword-targeted search results.
Don’t post the same article on multiple blogs, since Google will almost instantly identify this as low-value spam. As a result, the search engine may view other incoming links to the site more cynically, and tougher scrutiny may be placed on the site’s ranking in search results.
Don’t bombard other websites with “guest post spam.” Authors can ask for a guest posting opportunity while still being respectable, and without sending hundreds or thousands of emails in a desperate attempt to win over more than one industry source.
Resist the urge to “spin.” Google knows a spun article when it sees one, and it will immediately remove the article as a consideration when ranking a site more highly. Instead of spinning one article and guest posting it dozens of times, focus on creating unique, high-value content that adds real value to each site in a different way.
An Eye for the Future: Guest Posts Will Now Be More Tightly Monitored
At the conclusion of his latest video on guest posting and the unique quirks associated with the practice, Cutts wrapped up by noting that Google will be keeping an eye on how people hand the opportunities that await them in the world of guest post opportunities. If an increasing number of website owners engage in the more “spammy” way of doing business with this particular part of search engine optimization, Cutts notes that the company could easily issue another algorithm update that changes its impact on websites altogether.
That warning alone should be enough to stymie the spammers or would-be spammers. After all, even the most subtle changes in Google’s algorithm can have sweeping, months-long effects on websites that find them ranking lower than ever. To avoid pitfalls this dramatic, website owners should simply keep in mind that integrity is central to everything they do. From customer relations to backlink building and more, keeping things honest will keep websites in contention for top honors among both consumers and search engines.
Timothy Carter is the CRO for AudienceBloom. Since 1997 he's been helping businesses maximize their sales revenue from websites via content marketing, SEO and Internet Marketing strategies. Over the years he's written for publications like Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, MarketingProfs and other highly respected online publications.