The aftermath of Google’s Penguin update has seen a lot of speculation as to which factors might have caused sites to be hit.
The overwhelming message is that Google is becoming more proactive and stricter when dealing with link spam.
There are plenty of great blog posts out there looking at what type of unnatural links might have influenced drops, so instead I decided to look at how the Penguin update might change guest blogging.
The purpose of guest blogging
Guest blogging generally refers to a blog post or article that is written by a party not connected to the hosting site.
There are many reasons people engage in guest blogging.
For writers, guest blogging is a good way of growing their readership by getting in front of an audience they wouldn’t normally have access to.
In many verticals you’ll see bloggers doing guest-post exchanges as a way of increasing their presence in their network. At other times you’ll see well-established blogs offering up-and-coming writers a chance to have their voice heard on a bigger stage in exchange for some great content.
Then of course you have the monetisation of guest blogging through ‘sponsored posts’. This activity is carried out for commercial purposes by brands, or agencies acting on behalf of brands.
The main reason it’s carried out is for link building, but it’s also done to help promote certain products or services, or increase brand awareness.
Why guest posts are beneficial for websites
For those charging for guest blogging, it’s a steady form of income.
Other benefits include having additional fresh content to increase traffic. This traffic could come through increased visibility in search engines or sharing via social media. A lot of the time writers who are invited to guest post are expected to help promote the content they have written to their own audience.
Exchanging guest posts is also a good way of building relationships with other bloggers in your network. Many bloggers often form communities within their niche and guest blogging can help with the sharing of ideas.
Should websites be fussy about which blog posts they accept? Can a bad blog post harm a site’s reputation?
Not every blog accepts guest posts; in fact guest posts are quiet controversial in some circles. Some blogs feel they are diluting their own voice by accepting them.
I personally believe it can be a good thing to have a new voice on a well-established blog as long as the content is interesting, well-written and doesn’t stray too far from the blog’s topic.
That said, there are a large amount of badly-written guest posts out there that are merely breeding ground for spammy SEO techniques. I’m talking about articles that bear no relation to the blog and have keywords randomly shoe-horned in.
What qualities should you look for in a guest blog site? How can you measure these qualities?
When I first began looking into sourcing guest posts, I was using Open Site Explorer's domain strength as an indicator of sites to target. But as I went on I started to be more open-minded taking on a more holistic approach.
Firstly I’ll look at the site and see whether it looks good. There are quite a lot of blog networks out there that use cookie-cutter templates to roll out blog after blog with the intention of selling links. It’s no surprise that Google has started to target these networks by de-indexing them completely or dropping the value of their outgoing links.
If you come across a blog through a source other than Google, it’s worth giving it a quick search to see if it’s being indexed. It’s a five-second task, but one that shouldn’t be ignored.
Next I’ll look more closely at the quality of content, post-frequency, number of social shares, and the level of engagement of some of the posts. I also look for how frequently guest posts appear.
A couple of years back many sites in some verticals were becoming completely over-saturated with side-bar links pointing to hundreds of different sites. Hopefully it’s not going to get like that with guest posts. I tend to shy away from blogs that publish guest posts more frequently than their own content.
Common methods of sourcing guest blogs
Google is probably the quickest way. If I was looking for a travel site, a simple search of ‘travel guest post’ or ‘travel sponsored post’ would return a few pages’ worth of sites to sift through.
Google’s algorithm is probably the most powerful tool that is freely available, and at the same time generally the cream will be rising to the top. You can do similar searches within Twitter that will give you a real-time stream of sites but a lot of them can be of low quality.
However, the problem with solely using Google is that it’s such a widely-used tool, meaning that you’ll be finding the same sites as everyone else. Also a lot of the time I might want to find a site which isn’t actively advertising or disclosing guest-post opportunities, or who haven’t yet engaged in it.
Another method is too use a backlink tool like Open Site Explorer to see where other sites are getting their links from. If your aim is only to replicate what your competitors are doing, then this is a very useful process. Often though, you’ll need to go a step further to find those sites that might make a real difference.
Social media monitoring is a great way of sourcing sites away from the well-trodden path. Tools like Brandwatch are not only great for sourcing sites; they can also perform network mapping and discovering what topics are being talked about the most. This can help you form a content strategy rather than just tackling one site at a time.
If your aim is to increase brand awareness or find sites to promote your services, monitoring tools will allow you to build a larger view of the network and establish key influencers.
They are also great for monitoring your own brand. People who are already talking about you are a lot easier to get on board when it comes to guest blogging. There are also the opportunities for collaborations; that’s as long as that aren’t being negative about you!
Approaching a guest blog site
The best way to approach them is to do a bit of research beforehand. See what their preferred method of contact is and look around the site to find their name (usually in the ‘About’ section). If you can’t even be bothered to do that, then why should they take the time to read your email?
Take the time to read a bit of their content and talk about the stuff you like. Don’t just attach a ready-made article to the email and ask them if they want to post it. Show that you have an understanding of their blog and their readers and offer content that is going to be tailored for them.
One or two examples can be good to show the quality of writing you are able to offer, but I wouldn’t go openly flaunting all the sites I’ve had guest posts featured on. An example of some content on your own site might be better than showing an example of a guest post.
Don’t use a general email template for outreach. It’s pretty obvious when that’s been done and a lot of bloggers talk to each other regularly. A generic email to hundreds of different bloggers is sure to get noticed within the network.
If you are going to be lazy and hit everyone at once, then make sure you BCC! There’s nothing worse for bloggers than receiving an email saying write “I really like your blog” then seeing 50 other email addresses are copied in. The only response you will get is a dressing down.
The best approach for links in guest posts
Some sites set a limit. For those that don’t I would never go over three links to one particular site. Anymore than two seems to be over-egging the pudding these days.
If I am dropping links in, I want them to seem natural rather than shoe-horned. I’ll almost always include a brand link, and, if I can, a reference link to another authoritative external site. Rather than looking at it at building links on one individual site, I think of it as a larger scale process to build quality links on a number of sites over a length of time.
I’ll space out how regularly I’m posting content, and ensure I diversify my anchor text. Targeting the same keyword over and over on every site may work in the short term, but with their talk of Google targeting links with over-optimised anchor texts, it might come back to hurt you down the line.
So how will Penguin effect guest blogging now and in the future?
I think Penguin will probably have more of an impact on paid posts. I think it’ll close a lot of doors for people using guest blogging to build links.
Bloggers will start to be more cautious about what content they are accepting. It’s too early to tell but Penguin seems almost too big to ignore and it will definitely change things.
For link builders, try to be more natural in your approach. The agency model of SEO generally means that a fixed media spend is allocated to link building each month. If I was putting out five articles containing two links each and every month, then surely that would start to look suspicious to Google?
It is also not desirable if all the sites you choose have the same domain authority, sit within the same vertical, and have the same keyword-rich links pointing back to the client site. It just won’t look natural to Google.
Penguin should allow link-builders to be more creative and relaxed with their approach. If you have a client who is desperate to get as many links as possible with the same money keyword till they rank number one, then it might be time to explain to them that it’s simply not sustainable.