On January 20, Google's Matt Cutts blogged about "The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO." Cutts' position? If anyone is using guest blogging as their primary way to gain inbound links, they're abusing the system.
"If you’re doing a lot of guest blogging," he noted, "then you're hanging out with really bad company. ... Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things in the SEO space."
By today's standards, quality content is content worth reading. In an ideal world, the web would be synonymous with quality. In an ideal world, content generation would also be a measure of one's altruism: a selfless act for the practice and betterment of others (particularly the web overall).
Content altruism, therefore, could be defined as the practice of adding value to the web without regard for one's own gain. Instead, content would be there for others to gain something. It would make you feel something -- move you, help you (reach a goal perhaps), inspire you, and so on.
Alas, that’s not the world in which we live. And as Cutts' comments bring to light, content, through guest blogging, has become polluted -- yet again littered by spammers who seek to gain their own rewards in the form of links.
But does this mean that all guest blogging is bad? If so, what should I be doing differently?
My answers? No! And nothing!
What Cutts says isn't any divergence from how you should've been approaching content marketing and guest blogging all along. As a refresher, here’s what that should look like.
What Content Should Look Like
Content on the web includes information and shared experiences that may provide value for an end-user/audience in specific contexts. Quality content, however, is more than a topic written with impeccable language bereft of grammatical errors.
Quality content digs more deeply, provides a new angle, makes unusual comparisons, and offers your own voice, your own experience, and your own interpretation. It is a value-adding component of useful media (whether written text, videos, or images, something else) to a specific target audience. It must be something different enough to provide value in a way that no one else is.
How to Implement Links in Content
A good piece of content also uses reference points and resources to make a case, such as statistics to support your points. It’s basic proof of concept. So, with links embedded in content, the idea is to reference a relevant or useful resource. Duh, right?!
Well, the key here is to not litter content with useless links.
Be user-friendly. Be helpful. Don’t be deceitful or selfish by taking your ideal keyword and linking it to your or other's related content (which, by the way, is sometimes not even relevant content, like when you link to just your homepage). So, in this case, avoid anchor texting and link spamming your guest post.
According to Simon Penson, Managing Director at Zazzle, "The problem is that a lot of link builders have indeed dragged what is a very white hat and value-adding tactic through the mud by attempting to describe spammy link building under the same name. Guest spamming should be devalued, but we should also be very clear that creating quality, value-adding content for relevant sites is still very much part of digital PR and always should be a major part of your digital marketing armory."
What This Means for Authors
Ideally, you're pursuing blogging from the best practices angle: you're tied to the vision and goal of adding more valuable content to your site and that of others, building online credibility, and establishing recognizable authorship for yourself.
Here are several tips to get you started -- or assist you in continuing -- with guest blogging that's valuable
- If you're searching for a place to guest post, query your network first.
- As Cutts hints, don't "cold call/email" a request for authorship. Establish a relationship with people who manage the site, blog, or business.
- Stay away from blogs that are maintained mostly by outside content, unless it's a community of bloggers -- for example, Social Media Today.
- As you determine where you want to be published, think about your value-add in terms of where you're most knowledgeable. Focus on a niche that's key to your audience.
- Be picky about where you get published.
- Ask yourself, "What makes it worthwhile to publish elsewhere, rather than on my own site?" (Hint: Building your brand vs. leveraging someone else's, earning new audience recognition, etc.)
- If you pitch an article to multiple sources, don't approve publishing of the same article across different sites.
What This Means for Publishers
Some publishers may rely heavily on content from others in order to meet their publishing quotas. I think that's okay, but this strategy shouldn't be 100% of your efforts (Note: I'm not talking about community-driven sites. And it's worth adding that those aren't the sites that Cutts was talking about either.) But, publishers do need to discriminate who and what they publish.
Some Tips to Protect Yourself
We can understand if there's some hesitation to have guest posts featured on your blog in the wake of Cutts' comments. What I'm here to say, though, is that there are still plenty of ways you can do so -- you just need to make sure you're publishing guest posts in a way that protects your brand:
- Cutts didn't give any concrete recommendations in his post about how to deal with guest blogging if you continue doing it. Personally, I think maintaining a conscientious approach to guest blogging -- the stuff we're outlining here -- won't get you dinged by Google's algorithm. But that's just my opinion. If you're really concerned, one way to safeguard yourself is to update your blogging guidelines to reflect that any piece of content will only give one "follow" link per domain. Similarly, you can add "no-follow" HTML to links when you have multiple links to the same domain. While, this won't prevent spam, it will avoid problems with passing PageRank since Google won’t crawl through to those sites.
- Only accept unique content. This one may be a little tricky to verify, but it doesn’t hurt to do a Google search with the author's name and topic. I also recommend asking (unless there's already that foundation of trust) if the author intends to publish their post elsewhere.
- Take into consideration what value you get from a guest post through the author (reach, personal brand, etc.) and the content itself (determine if it speaks to your audience and is relevant).
- Reserve the option to reject submitted posts. There's really no need to feel obligated to publish everything that comes across your desk.
- On a more technical front, it's valuable to have content published on your domain be defined as "rel=canonical," so Google can read into the originating source of a particular piece of content. Read more about canonicalization here.
Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Cutts strongly urges everyone to focus on content altruism and not ruin it for others for the sake of your own gains, including any behavior that (intentional or not) manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
Personally, I think Google needs to get away from using links as a quality measure -- period. Meanwhile, the best thing you can do is follow the recommendations above and stay on top of guest blogging best practices. Stick with the tried-and-true form of "quality" content with guest blogging, like all other forms of inbound marketing, and it will pay off for you.
What's your take on Cutts' comments? Tell us what you think of his post on guest blogging in the comments.