The evolution of guest blogging

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EvolutionI’ve been watching the debate about guest blogging with interest for a while now, not because I tend to feature or write a lot of guest blogs but because it’s an issue that’s going to affect a lot of my clients in one way or another. Also, I do think that high quality posts from expert contributors have merit in terms of sharing knowledge and adding value to a website.

In case you’ve missed the furore about this topic, the issue of guest blogging has been clearly moving on to Google’s radar for a while now. Things came to a head when, on 20th January 2014, Matt Cutts – head of Google’s Webspam team – published a blog article entitled ‘The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO’. Blog owners everywhere panicked. What did this mean? Would all guest blogs be penalised?

Matt Cutts opened his blog by saying:

Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.

Later in the article, Cutts explained:

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.

 

I read a number of articles with interest at the time and drew my own conclusions. What Matt Cutts highlights in this blog is that the practice of guest blogging purely for link building purposes is flawed and spammy. I couldn’t agree more. Every week, I get emails from people telling me they can give me 300-word blog of ‘unique content’ in exchange for links to their site. They might even send me example articles to read in an attempt to demonstrate the merits of this exchange. I never fail to be shocked by the poor quality of these articles, littered as they are with keywords and irrelevant links.

In these emails (which really are a weekly annoyance), the writer never attempts to find out anything about my client base or pitch an idea that would be relevant and of interest to those clients. These spammy emails feel entirely self-serving on the part of the sender. They have nothing to do with my site and even less to do with my customers.

I can see why Google would want to cut down on the prevalence of these articles, which add little to no value to the sites on which they appear.

 

The guest blogging debate heated up again last week when, on March 19th, Matt Cutts tweeted that Google had penalised a large guest blog network. On the same day, Ann Smarty, founder of MyBlogGuest, tweeted to say that it was MyBlogGuest that had been hit with a major penalty.

 

Ann Smarty guest blogging Twitter quote

 

 

 

 

According to figures, MyBlogGuest had more than 73,000 users in 2013 and more than 256 guest blogs are posted on the site every day. The debate still rages on about the whys and wherefores of targeting MyBlogGuest (I read this excellent article on Search Engine Watch explaining the ins and outs of this case).

So is guest blogging dead?

OK, I want to preface this by saying that I am far from a guest blogging expert. However, I think that guest blogs still have merit if they’re written with the right intent.

Guest blogs written for the sake of link building have little value in my opinion and I can see why they should be penalised. Where I think guest blogs are still important is bringing knowledge and actionable information from an expert to readers who will find that information of real value.

For the guest blogger, I think there is still an opportunity to:

  • Develop your brand
  • Build credibility
  • Bring traffic to your website
  • Get in front of a new but relevant audience
  • Become part of a community
  • Develop your authorship profile

For the website hosting the guest blog, it’s a chance to develop meaningful relationships with experts who share a similar target audience and to present a wider offering to customers. For example, it might make sense for me to feature a guest blog from a web designer (which I’ve done) or from a social media expert (which I plan to do), as these articles can help with aspects of marketing that cross over with copywriting.

Going back to Matt Cutts’ ‘Fall and decay of guest blogging’ article, he cautions:

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 link-building strategy.

I think this is the key point. If you are going to feature guest blogs on your website, you need to be sure of the quality of the contribution and its relevance to your audience.

 

How can you ensure you only feature high quality guest blogs?

Personally, I think I will feature the occasional guest blog still but with some conditions (which I’ve always had). To be on the safe side, these would be my recommendations – again, these are based on my opinion rather than expert knowledge:

  • Only feature guest blogs from expert contributors with whom you have personally connected and know they have a reputable business
  • Check that the content of the blog is accurate, written to a high standard, grammatically correct and in a tone of voice that is suitable for your audience
  • Double-check any outgoing links in the article – Are they relevant? Are they necessary? Are there lots of different links to the same website?
  • Forget about link building!

When I feature a guest blog, I usually create a contributor/author account for them, so that they get their own byline on my website and I use the rel=”author” markup to their Google Authorship. In my opinion, this helps to show the search engines that the contributor is a real person writing good quality content.

This week, I have read a lot of articles on guest blogging that suggest authors use nofollow on links to their website in their guest articles. What does this mean? An article on the Search Engine Land website explains:

The nofollow tag is a way publishers can tell search engines not to count some of their links to other pages as “votes” in favor of that content. Why would publishers need to block such votes? Doing so can help them avoid problems with search engines believing they are selling influence or are somehow involved in schemes deemed as unacceptable SEO practices.

In the comments of his ‘Decay and fall of guest blogging’ article, Matt Cutts clarifies:

If you know the person writing the blog post well, or want to vouch for them, or if the author is happy to nofollow their links, then that changes the calculation – it’s much more likely that someone is looking for a new audience instead of a way to get keyword-rich links.

If you’re worried about featuring a guest post at all, you could always check that the author is happy to use nofollow links in their article. You do this by typing rel=”nofollow” after the link in the href tag – a typical link would look like:

<a href=”http://www.example.com” rel=”nofollow”>Your anchor text here.</a>

With a nofollow link, readers can still click through to the relevant site, it’s just the search engines won’t follow and index the link from your site to theirs. The benefits of writing the post remain focused on getting in front of a new audience, building credibility and sharing knowledge within a community.

 

Broadly speaking, I think that all we are seeing is a stage in the evolution of guest blogging. As a species, it isn’t dead, but it needs to get smarter, more focused and have the right appeal to successfully survive this new phase without penalties.

So, where do you stand on the guest blogging debate? Do you feature guest blogs on your website? Are you worried about being penalised by Google? Is there anything I’ve missed? I’d love to hear on your take on this issue in the Comments below or over on my Facebook page.

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Emma Heasman

Emma Heasman has been an in-house and freelance copywriter for the past 13 years and launched The Freelance Copywriter in 2003. Ever passionate about copywriting, she now works with small businesses to help them write copy that speaks to their ideal customers. Connect with Emma on Google+

2 Responses so far.

  1. I read this with great interest, Emma, purely because I’ve already done three guest blog posts this year! I agree with what you’re saying, they’re only useful if they contain relevant and interesting content and that they aren’t over-used. I only started my own blog at the start of the year, as you know, and it’s already been over a month since I last did a post myself (oops), so my goal today is to get one written!

  2. […] on from last week’s article about guest blogging, I am delighted to feature a guest blog from Dilyana Kotomanova, who is a freelance content writer […]

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