A few weeks ago I spoke about how guest posting was hurting freelance bloggers as it had accustomed many website owners to getting free content in exchange for a simple link back. This was a follow up to a post I wrote last year about why bloggers offering their content for free was hurting all of us.
I really did not think I would be revisiting this subject so soon, however two days ago Matt Cutts (the head of the Google webspam team) published an article on his blog entitled “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO“. In the article, Matt spoke about how guest blogging is finished due to the rise in spammers using it to promote websites.
I encourage you to read Matt's article in full. However, in this article, I will quote the parts which I feel are relevant to the discussion.
Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things in the SEO space: a trend starts out as authentic. Then more and more people pile on until only the barest trace of legitimate behavior remains. We’ve reached the point in the downward spiral where people are hawking “guest post outsourcing” and writing articles about “how to automate guest blogging.”
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 SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.
Hearing the head of Google's webspam team say that “guest blogging is done” was music to my ears. I hate guest blogging. I find it insulting to be asked by websites with no traffic to write for them for free in exchange for a text link back. I'm sorry, but links from websites with no traffic do not pay the bills!
Ever since Google launched their panda update in 2011, many people have struggled to drive traffic to their websites. Particularly low quality websites and SEO companies who used black-hat techniques to get their clients up in the rankings.
Unfortunately, most of these people turned to guest posting for traffic. That is why Blogging Job Boards are full of guest posting job listings.
These people are going to have to look for traffic elsewhere; because guest blogging is finished. You heard it directly from Matt Cutts himself. It's done. Move along people…nothing to see here.
Or is it?
Matt added a note to the end of the article that attempted to clarify his point. It was clear that some people were unsure as to whether guest blogging is now deemed “illegal” in the eyes of Google.
It seems like most people are getting the spirit of what I was trying to say, but I’ll add a bit more context. I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there. I changed the title of this post to make it more clear that I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.
I’m also not talking about multi-author blogs. High-quality multi-author blogs like Boing Boing have been around since the beginning of the web, and they can be compelling, wonderful, and useful.
So there you have it. Guest blogging is dead, but high-quality multi-author blogs like Boing Boing are wonderful. That clears everything up…..hold on. WTF!!!
Therein lies the biggest problem with all of this. I am 100% behind Matt Cutts on why guest blogging needs to stop and why Google need to take action (this post is certainly not a criticism of what Matt is trying to achieve). Though we need to be realistic: Website owners are not going to stop using guest blogging to build traffic until it stops being effective.
That means that Google needs to start taking action. And how are they going to do this? How are they going to decide which blog posts get penalised and which do not?
The big question is this: What constitutes a high-quality article?
Let's take Matt's example and look at Boing Boing. It is not a website I follow, however I have been aware of the website for many years.
I clicked on the home page a few hours ago and looked at a random article. This is the article: http://boingboing.net/2014/01/21/pbs-newshour-scientists-searc.html.
And this is what I saw:
Try not to be distracted by the avalanche of banners that are surrounding this one-sentence article. That is something we can discuss another time.
Today, we are trying to break down what a high-quality article is. By the looks of it, all we need to is write a sentence, quote a paragraph and then link to the video and transcript. That's quality baby! Hey, if it works for Mashable, it can work for Boing Boing.
As you know, bloggers place their links in their bio. This particular bio contains a link to the author's website, a link to Virgin America, a link to the author's Twitter account and the author's email address. Four links in total.
Here is the HTML code for the bio:
<! – AUTHOR INFORMATION – >
<p>Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist <a href="http://xeni.net">Xeni Jardin</a> hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on <a href="http://virginamerica.com">Virgin America</a> airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. <a href="http://twitter.com/xeni">@xeni</a> on Twitter. email: <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a>. </div>
The key thing to note is that none of the bio links are tagged no-follow. Not that this should surprise you. We all know that large airlines are allowed to break the rules and post their links wherever they want.
Let me stop the sarcasm for a second and clarify something. I do not ever insert no-follow tags unless the website in question is a known spam website. The way I see it, I would not link to a website or page in the first place if it was not relevant. More importantly, I do not believe I should be deciding who gets juice and who does not. I leave that to Google. That is, after all, what they do.
Nor am I trying to criticise Boing Boing. If all that is needed for an article is a video, one sentence intro and quote, why should that be a problem. Website owners should not be forced to write more than what is necessary.
But we are back to the question as to what constitutes a high-quality article. If Google want guest blogging to stop, they are going to have to take action and penalise websites that use it to promote themselves. Can they actually do this?
I can see how they can penalize poorly written spinned content, however how they can determine the quality of an article that is original? And they cannot simply look at the number of tweets or likes an article has to determine quality. Websites such as Mashable can get thousands of shares with an article that has one line of text and an embedded YouTube video. That does not prove its quality. Conversely, an article with few social media shares does not prove that it is low-quality.
Matt used Boing Boing as an example of a high-quality website. Whilst they do publish lots of great articles, many are short news reports (the content equivalent of a retweet). Are they going to punish Boing Boing for such a poor article? Are they going to punish them for placing a link to a billion dollar company in the bio? Of course not.
Google has a very bad habit of punishing the little guys and letting the big guns off with murder. I realise that sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory, however there are many examples of this happening in the past that can be found online. Just recently, the venture capital funded Rap Genius pleased innocence to spamming the web. The fact that they were added back to search results so quickly shows how valuable pays to have good contacts in California. Sorry, but “We didn't know” should not cut it when someone's hands are caught in the cookie jar (but I digress).
I do not actively accept guest posts on this blog, however I would not necessarily turn down a request from a friend to publish a post on this blog. Would I be penalised for letting them do so? Would it make a difference if I had paid for the post?
I am also curious as to what defines a multi-author blog. If I pay people to post here from time to time, would this blog become a multi-author blog? Or do I need to find the golden ratio of articles from the main author and articles from others?
Kudos to Matt Cutts for getting people to discuss the negatives of guest blogging again. As someone who earns money from freelance blogging, I am 100% behind any campaign to reduce the popularity of guest blogging as it has hurt bloggers immensely.
My intention of this post was not to criticise Matt; it was to illustrate that quality is very subjective. It was to ask the question of how are they going to penalise websites who use guest blogging.
I really wish this kind of announcement wasn’t published. To many people read way too much into this and this leads to a whole web scared of having anything to do with ‘guest blogging’ and we’ll now probably see many businesses requesting the removal of ‘guest posts’ and low quality blogs demanding money for doing so.
The reality is though, nothing has changed. Artificially sourcing links via any means will always be against Google’s guidelines. Great contributions to blogs that have a real audience, with real interest, that serves great value and that you’d vouch for, is never going to cause a problem.
Contribute to blogs because you have something worth saying that the readers want to hear. As soon as your objective becomes for the benefit of a gaining a link, you’re on rocky ground and what is being produced is not natural. Great content naturally earns links. If you’re providing value, others will link to it.
The fact that Matt’s announced this though doesn’t mean anything will change. Nothing at all will. In ten years time, we'll still be receiving these trashy emails that mention ‘high quality guest postings’ for ‘high PR’ websites or some other nonsensical garbage in the same way we still receive bucket loads of spam about article submissions, search engine submissions, web directory submissions, social bookmarking and web 2.0 links – and any other absolute tripe.
Geoff is 100% correct. Nothing has changed. Google may not like the fact that guest blogging is used to promote websites. Neither do I. However, the reality is that nothing has changed.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Particularly from those of you who have used guest blogging to promote your websites.
Thanks for reading,