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Matt Cutts made his strongest statement yet on guest blogging, declaring it dead as a linkbuilding tactic.
This does seem to be a broad statement and, as Editor of a blog which accepts (and values) guest posts, Google's policing of the internet can be irritating.
Still, there's no doubt that guest blogging has been hammered as a link building tactic, to the extent that we've become tired of guest blogging approaches.
So how will this affect sites looking to accept guest posts?
According to Cutts:
So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well.
Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging as a linkbuilding strategy.
So what does this mean for sites accepting guest blogs?
We have accepted guest blogs for many years, and in part this has helped us to put out more quality content even with a relatively small writing team.
We don't offer links as a thank you for free content, though we do place a link to authors' websites and social profiles in their blog 'signature'. This isn't about links, but instead to provide a way for interested readers to find out more about the author.
In the light of this latest announcement, we may have to review this policy.
According to Rishi Lakhani:
I would go for no follow (on guest blog links). Ideally, I would advise sites NOT to accept a high volume of guest posts at all, especially low quality content. If the post doesn't add any real value, it's most likely seen as spam.
Richard Baxter from SEOGadget advises that sites should be more selective in their choice of guest bloggers:
One piece of advice we give our clients is that they should be very diligent as to who they are accepting content from. Ask yourself: is the author genuine, do they have a strong social following, and are they perceived as experts in the field they’re offering to write about?
The example guest blogging approach Matt Cutts points to is something obviously spammy, such that I can't see any respectable site accepting, and the kind of email we would just ignore.
Still, as we have now expanded our writing team I expect we'll be a little more cautious over what we accept in future, and I do think it's better for us to create more of our own content.
That said, given that we have used guest blogging in the 'right' way, I do feel aggrieved that it seems to have been devalued over the past couple of years.
Perhaps we should call it someting else? Here's some suggestions from @SEOSherlock:
How will Google deal with 'quality' guest blogging?
Cutts did later add some clarification, pointing out that this was not aimed at 'multi-author blogs' and that he doesn't want to 'throw the baby out with the bathwater'.
So how will Google tell the difference between quality and spam in guest blogging? Rishi Lakhani believes all large scale guest blogging is now risky:
Quality guest blogging would be judged on the merit of the site that the post is on and the relevancy of the content to the recipient link. However I think the spam team will judge the volume of guest blogging - if it's fairly high as a link building tactic, it's most likely to be seen as spam.
But is Google able to tell the difference between good and bad guest blogging? Richard Baxter has his doubts:
Of course, there is such a thing as quality guest blogging, but I don’t think Google is terribly good at detecting 'good', 'passable' or 'bad' guest posts. Not without incurring a lot of false positives in its results. My general rule is, if people need to debate the quality of a link that’s a sign it’s not great, and it may mean it’s very difficult to detect with machine learning.
As we saw from early Panda and Penguin, there was a great deal of collateral damage (sites penalised that shouldn’t have been and vice versa) and I suspect deeply that a rollout to programmatically detect this type of activity would be exceedingly difficult and harmful to very legitimate websites.
Is guest blogging still valuable?
I would say yes, though clearly not as a linkbuilding tactic. However, guest blogging shouldn't just be about gaining links. In our case, we insist on a longer term commitment from guests, and we don't accept one-off posts.
Kevin Gibbons has written 99 guest posts for this blog. Here's his view:
I remember we had this conversation last year. My opinion is still unchanged - my answer was back then was that I have written 99 guest posts for Econsultancy over the years, if I had done this solely for SEO I would have stopped at 1! I don't directly work for Econsultancy, and never had, but that doesn't mean that my content on the site should be penalised over full-time employees - and I don't think this is what Google intends to do. A lot of highly respected journalists are freelance, that doesn't mean their content should be valued any less because of the desk they sit at. The problem is these tactics get over-used and start to stand out as SEO footprints, so you do need to consider what this looks like to Google and be selective over publishing only the best content possible for your audience. The obvious signs are clearly things such as links to commercial landing pages, but also poor engagement on posts, and single posts by one author - or even worse to Google, anonymous authors.
For us, guest blogging allows us to publish useful content from a perspective our writing team can't always provide - from the point of view of a PPC manager working for a big brand for example.
In return, the guest blogger receives exposure in front of a readership of digital marketing and ecommerce professionals, and a chance to showcase their knowledge and skills. For me, there's more value in that than a link or two.
As Cutts says, the lesson here is for publishers to be sceptical about any guest blog approaches, and that single-tactic SEO isn't where it's at. Oh. and these guys will need to find another tactic: