After Penguin hit a lot of sites hard last year, it seems many SEOs have turned to guest blogging for alternative methods of link-building.
I see this in the volume of requests I get for guest posts on this blog, and Google presumably sees this in the volume of new links it is seeing from guest blogging.
It seems that Google is now taking a serious interest in guest blogging, so what are the risks for the bloggers and the sites hosting guest articles?
I've been asking some SEO experts for their views on the potential risks and how to avoid them...
There has been plenty of talk about the dangers of guest blogging. Indeed, one of our own guest bloggers was contacted by Google, who pointed at a 'suspicious link' from this site. The link in question was in the author bio under a guest post.
It has since become apparent that the reason for this suspicion was nothing to do with this blog or any links from it, but it was alarming to see our links being highlighted.
We add bios like the one below to all guest authored posts, and they follow the same format. Links are added to authors' profiles in our member directory, their own website or blog, as well as social profiles.
It makes sense that Google should look into this as it becomes more of a link building tactic, but it would be good to have some guidance from the Big G on what it considers 'guest post spam'.
We don't do reciprocal link deals, and try to ensure the quality of guest posts and, while we do link to bloggers' sites in their author bio, this is so the reader can learn more about them if they wish to.
The danger, it seems, is to the blogger who attempts mass guest posting. This seems fair in some ways, as mass posting does not suggest quality content.
This article from SEOmoz is well worth a read, and explains that mass guest posting can create an unnatural link profile.
To get some more clarification on the risks and how Google may target 'mass guest posting', I've asked a few search experts...
How likely is it that Google will start to look into guest blogging or is it already?
Rishi Lakhani, Online marketing consultant:
Google is already looking at it. Chris highlights a very important point in this post.
Among the examples shown to them were their ‘signatures’ on the Econsultancy blog.
Is that a sign? If that isn't, then I can't help you. A huge, editorially controlled, high value site such as Econsultancy was flagged up in Google, when identifying signature links.
The writing isn't just on the wall. It's there in black and white.
Kevin Gibbons, MD at digital agency BlueGlass:
This is very likely in my opinion. Google is obviously fully aware of SEO tactics that are being used, and if it sees them being both over-used and effective, then it's normally time to dial them down a bit!
Google has done similar things with directories, article sites, press releases, advertorials etc in the past, but that doesn't mean all links from these type of sites are bad.
There's one rule in SEO that has never changed and is still the same today, mix it up! Most types of link building, including guest blogging, can be good to throw into the mix - but just don't rely on a single tactic too heavily, it's nowhere near as defensible.
Marc Levy, Co-Founder at 3 Door Digital:
It makes sense that this will be something Google looks into and with news that Penguin 2.0 is going to roll out in a few weeks then it's definitely something to look out for.
Personally I think, when implemented correctly, guest blogging is far more than a link building tactic and if you're working with your business in mind then there isn't too much to be worried about.
How will Google distinguish between 'good' and 'bad' guest blogging? What actions might they take?
Good vs Bad? I dont know. If Econsultancy isn't a safe resource, I dont know what is. But like I said in this post:
If it (the link) isn’t in the main body, I don’t want it.
If they don't link to other useful, relevant resources, I don't want it. In addition, if a site is full of purely guest blogs, I don't want those links.
I really think measuring human engagement is the next step for Google, and something that it has started to look at already.
Personally I think that applies to any piece of content, not just guest posts. SEO activity can often leave a pretty clear link building footprint to Google, type of links and anchor text being the obvious signs - which is why I previously wrote about why good SEOs should look like they don't exist.
But if you mix it up and focus on quality, audience and topical relevancy you normally won't go too far wrong. And as with any type of link building, it's often niche specific - what works in one sector, might not work as well in another (or vice versa) - so it's important to remember you need to be better than your competitors, not the whole of the web!
I believe the 'how' will be very much intertwined with factors that already exist today, like the authority of the posting site, over use of anchor text etc.
Also perhaps some new factors like the authority of the guest blogger (this maybe where AuthorRank of some sort comes into play) and the ratio of guest posts to other content types.
Actions being taken may vary from penalties to just de-valuing of links on posts which are clearly provided by guest authors.
What are the risks (if any) for sites accepting guest blog posts?
Risks for accepting sites, one of the obvious ones, is being classified as guest post blog spam.
Accept too many low quality, too many that manipulate anchor text, too many that are none-too relevant, too many that have no external signals such as social media, then you are asking for your site to be classified as spammy.
Tighten up the acceptance procedures, including the volume of external posts.
In addition, I am advising people to take the guest post category completely off their sites. It's a signal. One that isn't safe any more. Take off author bio "guest post". And specifically, take off any reference to "submit guest post". Future proof your sites.
Firstly, there's nothing wrong with accepting guest bloggers. For example, I'm not an employee of Econsultancy, but I've written around 100 posts for them since September 2008.
That would be classed as guest blogging, but that really isn't the type of activity that Google will be looking to clamp down upon in my opinion. If I was just doing this for SEO value, I would probably have stopped writing here very quickly and spread those articles across 100 unique different sites and domains instead!
But as a writer, I want to publish content to a targeted, relevant and topical audience - and that's what should be rewarded. Guest blogging doesn't have to be a bad thing at all and can definitely work in your favour, especially to help support and extend your team's writing capabilities.
But what you really want is a longer-term commitment that guest bloggers aren't just in it for the link, get them writing once a month, so that they stick around to contribute and add value on a more frequent basis.
I think there could be risks and sites accepting guest posts really need to be careful. This makes sense not just from an SEO perspective but a business one.
Make sure you have a well thought out criteria or selection process for guest posting. Is the author known and/or publishes elsewhere online? Does your site need more content than you currently produce and is the topic something which will interest and add value to your audience?
I really do think sites that produce poor, thin content by overly using guest posts could be affected in future Penguin updates / the Panda algo.
Are there risks for guest bloggers?
Yes there are. You are risking polluting the water with too many, too quick approaches. scale down and advise your clients to scale down the volume.
Should they be looking to avoid some sites or to blog for fewer sites
Avoid sites that:
- Have too many (majority of their content) guest blogs.
- Avoid sites that signal "I accept guest posts. Open to all".
- Start avoiding sites that make too many markers to indicate guest posting.
- Avoid signature links unless they are brand, and or link to authors profile page.
- Avoid anchor text abuse.
- Avoid low relevancy.
- Use Guest posting to strengthen the over all domain authority, relevancy, rather than targeting keyword rankings.
- Avoid sites that have no traffic. There are high authority sites that, if you look at metrics, get nearly nil visitors.
As an SEO strategy in 2013, the focus really needs to be on quality over quantity. One outstanding piece of content that gets shared thousands of times, is likely to be worth much more than 25+ guest posts which no-one really reads.
Good content just isn't good enough anymore, there's just too much competition out there to stand out. My recommendation would be to focus and consolidate your effort to create outstanding content campaigns and reaching out to high quality publications, rather than looking at a numbers game of link volume and guest post placements.
What do you think? Should Google clamp down on guest blogging as a link building tactic? Should sites and guest bloggers be more cautious? Let us know below?