We saw this one coming a long time ago. Matt Cutts, Head of Web Spam at Google, has finally lost his patience over “guest blogging”. He has hinted at various points over the last year or so that Google will take a stand against the latest form of web spam. His most recent post was much more direct than a hint, however. “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO”; I’m certain, was intended to be nothing less than a warning towards guest post spam.
“Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.” Matt Cutts.
Unfortunately (like every other decent link building strategy) this method was adopted by the ill-informed and unqualified spammers. Spammers are the envy of every good online marketer. As Jon Cooper suggests, the term “Guest Blogging” has simply been hijacked by spammers. I feel there is still life in guest blogging yet, at least in its traditional sense. Guest blogging has been around as long as the web and certainly a lot longer than Google. It’s an immense platform for branding, PR and audience outreach – you just have to steer clear of the adopted habits of the spammers. The good news is that there is no way an algorithm can 100% identify spam activity. It has to be programmed by a person and therefore means if you stick to rigid rules you should be fine.
The first thing to remember is that low-quality spammers churn out these articles at speed. They have little interest in quality; they just want to produce quantity. This means that they generally stick to a set pattern in each guest post. Usually, they go something like this:
- 300-500 words – nice and easy to churn out and, dare I even say it, spun!
- No links in the body of the post – shows a lack of research on the subject. Link out! It’s important.
- Keyword-rich anchor text links – automatically shows zero knowledge of mainstream SEO trends, therefore, equals spam.
- Links only in the bio – this is a shortcut. It gives the author an easy way of dropping a link.
- On sites with a high ratio of guest posts vs website owned posts – this indicates a low-quality site.
- Low-quality website regarding visually and from a UI point of view – shows that the site was not built for readers/visitors. Instead, it was probably built for making money by selling something (possibly guest posts).
- A high ratio of advertisements – if the ratio is too high this makes the site look lower in quality.
- The website has a broad range of articles, not all relevant – spreading the net wide means they can sell more guest post space and is non-specific.
- Low-quality website regarding their own link profile – more about what constitutes a good link profile here (in my own opinion at least!)
- No (or fake) author social links – check out the social links in the author bio, if they lead to fake accounts it should be pretty obvious.
- Obvious false name – as above. Overseas workers like to use traditional (or they perceive to be traditional names) like “Charles Wellington”. Sorry to any Charles Wellington’s out there!
- Poor spelling and grammar – chances are it has been written by a non-English speaker for a small fee, certainly not a specialist in the topic.
EngreshEnglish – as above.
- The website has a guest blogging category – no comment needed!
- Thin in substance (lightweight/repetitive/generic) – no apparent knowledge of the topic and lack of research. Once the article has been read, you haven’t learnt anything.
All is not lost. As long as you understand why the above traits might be used by Google as spam signals, you can keep your guest posting strategy relatively safe – especially if it only plays a small part in your link profile. To counter the above list, I have conjured up my general rules for safe (hopefully) guest blogging which takes the point of guest blogging back to its roots. You can find a list of link building strategies here.
- Make it epic! Try for 1000 words plus, maybe even 2000-3000 words! Spammers generally won’t (and can’t) put this amount of effort in because they know nothing about the subject and are often judged on quantity (of posts) over quality.
- Link out!!! It shows various opinions on the subject, shows that you have done some research and backs up your points. Try linking out as much as it makes sense to high quality relevant websites and posts.
- I feel like I’m stuck in a time machine for saying this but please don’t use keyword rich anchor text links! By all means use long-tail anchor text and maybe mention the keyword but don’t use exact keyword anchor text. Try something generic like “click here” or “read more over at…” or go branded!
- If you put a link in the bio, be safe and add the NOFOLLOW attribute.
- Check out the websites link profile beforehand and make sure the link would be trusted.
- Try and find a website which generally doesn’t accept contributions. Of course, these require more work, and you actually have to build a relationship with the website owner, but the extra work is worth it.
- Look for niche and specialist websites which don’t have a broad range of topics. Sites with a broad range of subjects tend to (although not always) exist purely for money making purposes.
- Add some meaty data. The post has to have a point and needs to be meaningful. Gather data and show it off to prove your point, the visitors of the post will love it.
- Add images and plenty of them. Don’t go over the top but make it look like lots of effort as been put into the post.
- Put your name on it! If you have to hide behind a fake persona, then it can quickly look like you have something to hide. If you put your actual name to it and back it up with links to your social accounts, it looks much more natural. Even better still; link to your Google Plus account and build your author reputation.
- Share it socially afterwards. Pull in favours, tweet relevant people in the niche and create a dialogue or discussion between them. Don’t fake this step, put the effort in.
Ultimately you have to take yourself back ten years. Forget about the value of the link and think about the value of the visitors and the readership. The link, while being the goal, needs to be seen as a bonus. I’m pretty confident Google will start looking at signals which will firmly split guest blogging into two categories; spam and non-spam.
If you need help, you should speak to a digital marketing agency like Single Grain. Now would be a good time to cleanse your link profile. Check out all the blog post links pointing to your site and see if they align with the first set of bullet points above get them cleaned up. Either NOFOLLOW the links or get them removed altogether.