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There has been a lot of noise recently about guest blogging, and whether or not it is something that Google will crack down on.

Well, the guest blogging Armageddon is upon us, and we have decided to take a safety first approach. 

That means adding nofollow to links in the bios of guest bloggers, something that we implemented yesterday. 

I’ll explain our thinking in a bit more detail. First, some facts…

10 facts

  1. We have always welcomed the right kind of guest bloggers. And we have always turned away the wrong kind. 
  2. We have very, very strict guidelines. 
  3. We do not accept ad hoc, one-off articles.
  4. We have never published advertorial on our site.
  5. We refuse to publish posts that are submitted by guest bloggers but don’t hit the spot.
  6. We really hate self-promotional posts.
  7. We really love practical posts.
  8. We edit all posts on Econsultancy multiple times prior to - and after - publication. 
  9. We are fiercely protective about our brand.
  10. We give all authors a signature - essentially a small bio with links to the author’s website and social profiles (and no sketchy anchor text: all signatures follow the same format, and we editorially control them).

The problem

It’s that last sentence. Google is worried about links in signatures. I guess that can be gamed, on less scrupulous blogs. It’s just that our editorial bar is very high, and all outbound links have to be there on merit, and justified. 

From a user experience perspective, links in signatures are entirely justifiable. I frequently check out writers in more detail, and wind up following people on the various social networks. 

But should these links pass on any linkjuice? It seems not, if you want to play it safe (and we do). 

Can’t Google discount these links at an algorithmic level? Apparently not, though perhaps that’s because there is no standard way of displaying bios and signatures. There may be a microformat, but certainly we’re not using one. 

All signs suggest that we’re talking manual penalties here. 

I’d like to think that if Google’s webspam team was to look at Econsultancy’s content, our guest bloggers, and the way we standardise the signatures, that we’d have no problem. But I can’t bank on that. 

So we’ve made the change. 

Michael Jackson was right

We are not alone. There are plenty of other publishers out there who have a strong guest blogging contingent. They are struggling with this issue too. 

Rand over at Moz asked Matt Cutts about all this yesterday, and I hope a very black and white answer will be forthcoming. 

Let’s see what Matt says. 

I do wonder about how big the problem is for Google, as surely guest blogging is such a small piece of the overall jigsaw. And what about branded content, and native advertising? Where will all of this end?

One final thought: anybody who says links aren’t such a big deal for SEO anymore needs to have a major rethink.

Chris Lake

Published 28 March, 2014 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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Michelle | Wright Hassall

I couldn't agree with your last comment more "One final thought: anybody who says links aren’t such a big deal for SEO anymore needs to have a major rethink" and it is becoming more and more difficult to get *quality* links through perfectly legitimate routes!

Online PR seems to be one route forward, although author signatures poses the same problem with this approach. However, shouldn't you get some credit for your content?

over 2 years ago

Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan, Freelance SEO Consultant at Morgan Online Marketing

While I can see that it couldn't have been an easy decision to make, I think Google's major problem is with websites that host guest blogs but do not have a careful or strict enough editorial process. I don't think there's anything wrong with any of the bio links that you include in your guest posts, and therefore keeping them dofollow should've been fine. They link out to the company name ("Econsultancy"), not exact match anchor text ("digital marketing blog"). But then I'd understand that you'd want to be careful and be on the safe side, especially as Google seem to be very trigger-happy in doling out penalties, but not clear enough on what's worthy of one.

Disclaimer: I've never written for Econsultancy (although I'd love to!), so I'm not trying to say this because I want the decision reversed... ;-)

over 2 years ago

Martin Dinham

Martin Dinham, Managing Director at Channel Digital Limited

There are guest posts and there are guest posts. Anyone involved in online marketing knows this and if Google doesn’t, it still has a long way to go in terms of being the content quality arbiter of the internet.

Sadly, I think you’ve made the right choice in the current landscape, but if sites such as yourself and Moz are forced down this road, then I think Google need to take a long, hard look at their view on guest posting. What next – penalising The Huffington Post ?

over 2 years ago

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Sha Menz

...and why exactly should it matter to me whether a link to my site from any highly visible site like this one is nofollowed?

The primary aim of a link should be to get qualified traffic to my site.

On the few occasions when we have been lucky enough to be mentioned and linked to in a post on Moz, our team has been ecstatic! Yes, ecstatic over a nofollowed link 8O ...because someone just built a bridge between us and more than a hundred thousand potential customers.

Maybe it's just that I'm too old and actually remember when links were about generously sharing the good stuff you know with the people who visit your site.

Honestly, the only people worried about the "SEO" value of a link are SEOs ... the rest of the oblivious world still thinks a link is something that gets you from one site to another because the webmaster wanted to share something cool.

Just a pity after all the warm and fuzzy name changing that it appears the majority of the SEO industry still just want to manipulate search results :(

over 2 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

We feel this is the right decision for now but it is a bit of a shame.

I actually feel the SEO linkjuice *should* be passed through author biog links precisely *because* we've decided to publish the content i.e. our editorial stamp/credibility should be a positive signal to Google and we shouldn't have to worry about that. We should be helping Google do its job.

It appears that Google still isn't sophisticated enough to judge 'quality' well enough to tell the difference between a 'good' site and a 'bad' one. Or, if it is, they aren't telling us.

I'd hope they'll be able to figure out something around this e.g. via a site-level equivalent of Google Authorship that could be administered via Google Webmaster Tools?

Ashley Friedlein
CEO
Econsultancy

over 2 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

It's interesting how much:

A: Google pushed the "Act as if Search Engines & SEO didn't exist" message.

vs

B: How many of their recent changes mean site owners *must* stay more up-to-speed, and do more to their sites specifically to fit in with Google.

over 2 years ago

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Mon

Ashley Friedlein, you said it perfectly: "It appears that Google still isn't sophisticated enough to judge 'quality' well enough to tell the difference between a 'good' site and a 'bad' one. Or, if it is, they aren't telling us. "

So that makes their outdated algorithm very flawed, and it is increasingly becoming the publishers problem, not Google's.

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Dan Exactly. If you have a site, you have to take an interest in SEO nowadays. Even if you haven't 'done' SEO, your link profile can still get you into trouble through no fault of your own.

over 2 years ago

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Arj

I think personally its going too far, how google can decipher if a link is relevant or not on every single website without independently checking it is beyond me.

We have gone from do follow to no follow to possibly not acknowledging you are a 'contributor'

Thanks Google

over 2 years ago

David Sealey

David Sealey, Head of Digital Consulting at CACIEnterprise

As a a publisher, are you making this change retrospectively to all previous posts? It seems like a major overhead for quality content publishers who in reality are providing value to their audience.

over 2 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Michelle - All the usual reasons for guest blogging still apply: great exposure, thought leadership, awareness, traffic, expanding your network, lead gen, etc etc. If you're doing it just for the linkjuice then you're doing it wrong. The credits are still there, it's just that the links do not pass on any juice.

@Steve - We are so incredibly pedantic about this stuff. We have really firm guidelines for a reason. I thought we'd be ok, but we can't take any risks.

@Martin - There are many dozens of sites that are far bigger than us, that have a far greater proportion of guest / bylined / branded posts, and that will be in a whole heap of trouble if the shit really hits the fan.

@Dan - SEO hygiene is rather important, regardless of Google's current messaging.

@Arj - It seems that it can only do this manually. I didn't think we would have a problem if a human being at Google checked in on what we do. But given all the recent noise, for now we're not prepared to take the risk.

@David - We've just added nofollow to all links in the signature container, so yes, it will appear like that on all posts. Not difficult to do.

over 2 years ago

Ajay Prasad

Ajay Prasad, Founder & CEO at GMR WEB TEAM

Matt Cutt is warning those guest blogging tactics that are done for specifically link building. A link in author profile is welcomed. The warning is for guest blogging site that post any content just for the sake of some bucks or for creating multiple pages for their domain.

For me guest blogging is fine if you are looking to share some informative and helpful content on high profile guest blog site.

over 2 years ago

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Kari Rippetoe

'Tis really a shame that it's come to this. While it's difficult to know if Google is indeed going all in or just hunting a few "witches" with these guest post manual penalties, unfortunately those reputable publishers (like Econsultancy and Moz) have to take drastic measures just in case they're next. Really too bad. Sorry you had to do this, guys.

over 2 years ago

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Hiral Rana

BUT We are still waiting @mattcutts to comment on! Considering, Rand Fishkin or MOZ, they publish ONLY quality post, just like Econsultancy people are doing. Then why to bother!

Nofollow is actually not the matter, BUT C'on its kind of giving too much attention to Google's crappy(sometime, though) things.

Anyways, we anyhow have to accept changes you people are implementing. Looking forward to see some positive changes!

Cheers! :)

over 2 years ago

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Elisa

It's the safe approach -- until Google decides that heavy use of nofollow is a sign of "overoptimization" and dings you for that too. They need to figure out a better system for measuring quality than just links.

over 2 years ago

Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan, Freelance SEO Consultant at Morgan Online Marketing

@Elisa - Funnily enough someone made that point on Twitter. They argue that only SEO-savvy blog owners would know to implement nofollow on bio links, and therefore they could be penalised. It could even be seen as a sign of scultping PageRank...

over 2 years ago

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Chelsea

I agree its the best move to make. Working in SEO, i don't like to think guest blogging is completely dead. I echo Matt's comment that guest blogging was around before Google and that rings home as i believe guest blogging is a great thing. However it's better to play safe than sorry and despite a strict editorial process, nofollows seem the safest option.
Also to clarify when i say guest blogging is a great thing, i believe in having industry specialists adding a new opinion to your niche or sharing their experiences - its true nature.

over 2 years ago

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Clive Hawkins

It will be interesting to see how your blog / article contributions change - if there is a big drop in willing authors, maybe they've been doing it for the links in the past! Look at Search Engine Land as well - they are using signature links still without 'nofollow' and you'd think they would be aware of the implications, if there are any.

over 2 years ago

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Rod Banner

I have a huge amount of respect and love for Google but they are becoming more like a controlling parent whose interests don't always seem fully aligned with the kids. My cynicism is growing. Do you suppose there is the faintest shred of a connection with Google's push towards using Google+ as the standard means of identification? It sounds like a conspiracy theory but might 'G+ preferred' be their next push to publishers/contributors?

over 2 years ago

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Henri

Did Rand Fishkin, supposed to be a top SEO, just ask Matt Cutts for advice about SEO?

It would be interesting to see what would happen if tomorrow, absolutely everyone stopped using no-follow completely on everything. No more headaches for Econsultancy and Rand Fishkin about whether to no follow a bio link or not.

What would Google do then? Penalise the whole web? Show empty search results?

To me, no-follow was always a signal that said I cannot vouch for that link. But if I cannot vouch for it, why add the link in the first place? I only link out to sites I choose and therefore never need to use no-follow. The only place no-follow belongs to is in the comment section because I do not manually/editorially add links there.

You SEO people should have ignored no-follow from the beginning. You only played in Google's hand. No-follow came back to bite you in the ass now.

over 2 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Probably the right call for Econsultancy.

So when will the massive anti-trust case against Google kick off?

They have far too much power in this area and zero accountability.
What might be okay for a player with 10% market share is simply not okay for a player with 70%+ (90% in some markets).

Website owners of the word unite!
We need transparency, accountability and an open communication channel to the search engines that rule our ecosystem.

over 2 years ago

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Darren Cronian

If all major publishers nofollow links what future do links have for Google's search results. I can't help but think that it'll have a negative impact on the results. It's also more difficult to measure how much of an authority the writer has?

over 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

This was a good call.

My opinion is close to that of Sha Menz. Comments are primarily about joining the conversation and to a much lesser degree about getting qualified traffic to the commenters' site. I would rather not read comments from people who are mostly trying to boost their SEO ranking.

over 2 years ago

Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan, Freelance SEO Consultant at Morgan Online Marketing

@Pete - The change affects contributor's bio links (i.e. the authors of guest articles), not comments. The comments have been nofollow for years.

over 2 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@Rod/Doug Much as I have a lot of admiration for Google, I too find them increasingly 'worrying'. They have been more powerful than people realise for a long time but this is becoming increasingly evident to all.

And when we start to do things we wouldn't otherwise have done (e.g. the no follow changes in this case) and which, in my view, aren't even the right thing, just because there is a *possibility* it might hurt our search results then something isn't right.

I'm not sure legislation is the right answer but I've been saying for years that Google should have to provide some kind of SLA and/or increased transparency and/or further tools to site owners so they're not trying to second guess.

over 2 years ago

Vincent Amari

Vincent Amari, Online Consultancy at Business Foresights Ltd

So basically any links to anything and you get penalised - Google kills off hyperlinks and the whole point of the internet!

over 2 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@ Vincent. No... a) we are not removing links (only adding 'no follow') and b) only adding 'no follow' to bios and comments. So links in the actual article are still as always.

What Google (rightly) don't want, and nor do we, is people contributing *only because* they want a link to try and boost their rankings.

over 2 years ago

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Geoff Jackson

I think the more authoritative sites that bow down to Google's own artificial shaping of the web by excessive use of the nofollow link relationship is just aiding Google's dictatorship of what everyone should or shouldn't be doing on their own websites.

Wrong move IMO. Google will just continue to do what they like knowing everyone will comply. If more took a stand against them, they *might* consider actually fixing their algorithm to deal with the problem at hand.

Let's face it, probably about 75% of people running a blog haven't even heard of nofollow or understand what it is.

over 2 years ago

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Dave Thackeray

You do know why this is happening, don't you?

Ultimately G+ will be the definitive arbiter of taste and content relevance. It's a one-way road to the semantic web and inbound links will matter little in coming years as the big G makes sure everyone piles on to its social network to wrest away value from Facebook.

There's no doubt in my mind that a new SEO gold rush is almost upon us, and because all the web's relevance will be played out on G+, Google itself will be able to call the shots and manage how we do and do not sing their tune.

over 2 years ago

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Colin McDermott

@Elisa "It's the safe approach -- until Google decides that heavy use of nofollow is a sign of "overoptimization" and dings you for that too."

Aye, there's the rub, Elisa!

We tend to apply a 'test of reasonableness' to things we do ... and back-in-the-day (of building links) we'd say to clients ... "if your website is mentioned in a news story on the front page of The Times and (say) 10k people take it upon themselves to 'naturally' link to you at the same time because they all individually think your site is newsworthy and interesting, Google isn't going to 'flag' you as a 'black-hatter' ... are they ...?"

Well these days, they might well just do that ..!

over 2 years ago

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Paul Gailey

The mother of all ironies is that Nofollowing the signature container will in turn technically break the authorship of guest contributors. which in one swoop negatively affects Google's grand plans, and infact econsultancy suffer as the CTR of their posts will invariably decline - okay sometimes authors recieve authorship by advanced inferred methods by Google lately - but the majority of time, authorship requires a "follow" which remember is short for "relationship follows" - goes to show how daft and recessionary the whole linkeconomics has become.

I'll go against the prevailing wind here and say I think I don't think it was necessary. Why? Had you been penalised, the traffic dip and speed of recovery - by doing what you just have - would have been worth the extra attention that the outrage the internet would have expressed at such an action.

over 2 years ago

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Depesh Mandalia, Head of Digital Marketing at Lost My Name

Google is in a massive state of flux at the moment and the actions Econsultancy have taken are simply a reaction to blurred guidance from Google.

Did anyone read about the site which was penalised for linking to a site which Google deemed to be spammy? A site was penalised for OUTBOUND LINKS. Not inbound, not content quality. More: http://bit.ly/1hXYILN - these were in the author bio...

There's an issue both with the algorithm and with the quality of the human reviews which Google is furiously working on to improve. Hence the info from Matt Cutts on a softer Panda update (more fur?) to reduce the penalisation for SMEs.

Google isn't always right and for those that rely on Google: play the game or pay the price.

over 2 years ago

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Carolyn Hughes

My thinking would be: by adding nofollows to all signature links, you're essentially admitting to Google that your guest blog posts are for the purpose of SEO.

Surely if you left them as dofollow links you would be asserting your belief (and rightly so!) that this is a quality blog, with carefully chosen guest authors?

over 2 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@Paul/Carolyn Yes, we were indeed tempted to stand by our belief that we should keep the 'follow' links. And perhaps everything would be fine. Or, if it wasn't, we could fight it out in public for the 'good of the industry'.

However, this is simply a commercial risk we weren't prepared to take. Which shows just how powerful Google is. We still remember what it felt like to be on the wrong end of Google (see this post https://econsultancy.com/blog/3244-econsultancy-site-migration-and-seo-impact-the-story-so-far) and this graph: https://farm4.static.flickr.com/3488/3253405538_dc46da21bd_o.jpg

A 90% loss of traffic for four months makes you quite cautious ;)

over 2 years ago

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Ian Collie

I think, before crying foul, it is a good idea to remember a couple of things.
1. Google is not the internet, it is the main tool people use to discover things on the internet but it is a for profit company.
2. Google lives or dies by the usefulness of its search results, and by that I don't mean to site owners but to searchers. If Google provide the best results searchers will keep using it and keep clicking on the ads.
3. Google (probably) doesn't hate you.

If everyone was focused on creating useful and interesting sites and linking only to other sites that they believed were useful or interesting and no-one was gaming the system then follow/nofollow etc.. would not be an issue.

There are a lot of sites that exist purely to generate ad revenue, add nothing of value and probably shouldn't be on any SERP (unless you search for "really crappy sites"). The creators of these sites use certain common tactics to fool the algorithm and get ranked, as it is unfeasible to manually check every possible page of every possible search the algorithm has to be tweaked to catch those tactics.

It's not perfect and there are always going to be false positives, innocent site owners tarred with the spammers brush, but from Google's perspective it is better to lose a few legit sites from the index than to serve up thousands (millions?) of spammy useless sites.

The best policy is always going to be focus on your site, do all you can to ensure it has value and don't take the attitude that Google owes you a living, it doesn't, any obligations that Google have are to shareholders and indirectly to searchers.

If your business model relies entirely on organic traffic from Google then you are playing a dangerous game. If you manage to avoid being penalised or falling foul of the algorithm there is always the chance that one day Google will just close up shop. You can't ignore them, they are by far the biggest players in the game, but they shouldn't be your only source of traffic and if they are then you had better play strictly by their rules because they will not shed a tear if you fold.

As far as blogging for follow links, I suspect that the value of being a recognised authority on a big name blog outstrips any link juice as far as revenue is concerned and on the smaller blogs it has always tended to quantity over quality just to get enough links to make it worthwhile.

TL:DR
As has been said by many people in many places already...
If you're blogging for the link juice you're doing it wrong.

over 2 years ago

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Mark H.

Recently I read a post on Guest Blogging stating how to recover from Google Guest Blogging Penalty. One of the way mention over there was to no-follow the links. I think this will definitely help you to get out of this situation.

over 2 years ago

Parry Malm

Parry Malm, CEO at Phrasee Ltd.

Late to the party! But surely guest blogging on reputable sites provides benefit beyond SEO jiggery Pokery. There are a litany of dodgy content sites, not naming names, so this new policy may hurt the pious but it invalidates the invalid. So I reckon its a good thing.

over 2 years ago

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Freya McOmish, Creative Director, Founder at Scandinavia Standard

I'm a little confused, because I see you do have links on guest bloggers and contributors posts, for example, with: https://econsultancy.com/blog/66073-26-clever-ways-to-get-more-phone-leads-with-ppc-cro-part-two/ and https://econsultancy.com/blog/66067-delivering-a-first-class-mobile-site-five-key-challenges/ - did you change your policy? When do you change your policy?

over 1 year ago

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