Guest Blogging: Google’s Next Target?

Guest Post is Dying

Google has been very clear about their feelings regarding unnatural links.  Their recent actions resounded deeply within the SEO community and have inspired a higher level of discourse around things like content, quality and scalability.

In the wake of Penguin, most SEOs have abandoned their efforts with public blog networks, article galleries, link purchases, directory submissions and automated tools.  Most SEO advice now includes concepts like “link earning” and focuses on “content marketing” as the preferred method of acquiring links.  Upon closer evaluation, however, these new buzzwords don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Webmaster’s Note: This entry is a Guest Post by Jarrod Wright. Click here if you want to submit a guest post for SEO Hacker.

For one thing, content marketing is a concept that is fairly broad and can refer to a wide variety of implementations. Some use it to mean developing great onsite content in order to attract links, while others use it to refer to thin infographics or mass article distribution.

As far as I can tell, most firms are simply relying on guest blogging as a way to build links.  There is a lot of talk of esoteric strategies and anecdotal stories of success, but my research suggests that the vast majority of SEO companies are doing little more than cranking out guest posts as fast as they can.

The History of Guest Blogging*

Guest Blogging Google*From what I understand.

Guest blogging started as a way to establish a following – a precursor to social networking.  The concept was simple.  Two “quality bloggers” from related – but not competing – industries would exchange content.  They would both benefit from the cross promotion and exposure.

As SEO evolved and the importance of backlinks became widely understood, the focus shifted away from simply gaining exposure.  Guest bloggers were much more interested in the links that would accompany their article.

Even with links being the primary motivator, guest blogging was widely considered to be a very respectable method of linkbuilding. Finding blogs that would accept your content was a bit of a challenge and the quality requirements of blogs was typically pretty high.

Guest blogging was far too expensive and time consuming for fly-by-night SEO firms or low-quality affiliate marketers who, up until last year, could post hundreds of articles with the push of a button.

Where Things Went Wrong

The deindexation of the major blog networks and the release of Penguin comprised the highly telegraphed but somehow unexpected 1-2 punch that Google delivered last spring.  Those actions instantly outlawed a whole host of previously effective activities, leaving a void that, in many ways, guest blogging has been cooped to fill.

The millions of articles that were being poured into blog networks like buildmyrank.com (and article directories before that) are now being funneled into networks of individually edited blogs as “guest articles”.  The tactic has changed and the workload has increased, but it’s essentially the same model.

Not only has there been an explosion of people pitching guest posts, there has also been a parallel surge in the number of blogs seeking guest authors. These blogs are springing up at an alarming rate. Many are the repurposed blogs of disassembled link networks.  Others are built atop expired domains in order to simulate a history of authority.

As the manager of a dozen blogs that accept guest posts, I have to say the dynamic is pretty great.  Turning some of my old affiliate sites into guest blogs has worked really well so far.  As the webmaster, not only am I no longer struggling to develop decent content, but I’ve also been able to virtually abandon link building for those sites. Most decent bloggers share and build links to their articles once they are posted. Modify the articles just enough to throw in a couple of internal keyword links and I’m off to the races.

In doing this, however, I have learned a few things…

  1. Everybody is doing this. Even the firms who claim they don’t.
  2. Many (probably most) SEO companies are still offshoring their writers.

I have, on many occasions, rejected articles written for fortune 500 firms because of obscenely broken English or ridiculous grammar. I have to assume these large companies are using fairly well known firms to do their bidding.   The low quality issues are not just something the “spammers” are causing.  From what I can tell, almost everyone is on the guest blog train and many of them are trying to push barely worthwhile content.

Things around guest blogging have become so systemized and automated that it is starting to feel reminiscent of this time last year – before Google dropped the hammer.  Most SEOs seem to agree things won’t last as they are. The question is: will Google be as punitive as they were with Penguin? Would it even be possible for them to duplicate the precision they demonstrated with Penguin?

How to Do it Right

As is the case with just about everything Google does, there is a bit of uncertainty regarding their feelings on the topic.  Basically, it boils down to this:  if done “right,” Google supposedly won’t give blog owners or writers too much trouble.  However, that begs the question:  what is “right?”

Some of the only guidance we have on this matter comes from of the following videos Matt recoded for Webmaster Central.

Matt Cutts does make it clear that Google disapproves of guest blogging that exists for the sole purpose of link love.  They frown on spinning and repurposing until all that’s left is “low quality article bank sort of stuff”.  He suggests the high quality bloggers like Lisa Barone, Vanessa Fox, Danny Sullivan are fine.  However, he acknowledges things can be taken to an extreme.

A few weeks later, he released this second video.  It likely an attempt to try and clarify some of his points.

In both, videos Matt uses his signature vague language in order to make it very difficult to discern much from his answers.  Instead of saying, “this will hurt you,” he’ll say, “this may be something we would want to take action on.” And instead of saying, “this is safe,” he says, “this can be something that is ok.”

Essentially these videos do a good job of outlining the extreme cases, but offer little guidance to the vast majority of SEOs.  Apparently, if you’re one of the aforementioned bloggers, you’re all set. If you’re spinning hundreds of 300-word articles, you might have some problems.

The question is: what about EVERYONE else.

Another problem I have with these videos is the use of the ill-defined term “article spinning.”  Those of us versed in the darker SEO arts understand exactly what article spinning is. But many – including the current Wikipedia entry on the subject – seem to believe the phrase refers to simply rewriting of articles.  True article spinning, from what I have seen, is very uncommon in guest blogging.  But article rewriting is almost ubiquitous.

{I wonder if|I wonder does|Does} Matt {understand|know} what {article|content} spinning {actually|really} is.

The Authorship Paradox

The last variable that provides a lot of uncertainty is how to effectively use authorship markup.  There has been a lot of talk about “author rank” in recent months and Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt fueled the speculation surrounding authorship markup with the following quote in the Wall Street Journal.

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

These thoughts about authorship seem, in some ways, to be at odds with Google’s stance on unnatural links and guest blogging.  On one hand, it makes sense to work towards establishing an authoritative author profile so that Google might consider you a “quality author”.  It certainly seems like the authority of the author is going to be very important.  By labeling all your articles, however, you may be providing Google with a simple way to devalue all your self-built links.   After all, isn’t voting for yourself exactly the type of unnatural linking they don’t like?

The Future of Guest Blogging

It’s fairly obvious that guest blogging, in its current state, is in Google’s cross hairs. The problem is it’s difficult to know what, when, and how severe their actions will be. Google has several challenges that will be difficult for them to solve.

Their first problem is that as long as they feel guest blogging is a “time honored tradition,” they can’t discourage the practice entirely.  This makes it a lot harder for them to take action without seeming like they are being brand-biased or making subjective quality judgments.

Their next problem is that, unlike link networks, article galleries and other previously devalued tactics, Google may not have clear signals to determine who the bad guys are. Algorithmically identifying “quality articles” and “quality blogs” is going to be difficult to do with any precision. As someone who contributes a lot of content on behalf of my clients, I can tell you that evaluating an opportunity, even with all 5 of my senses, can be difficult.

My Take on the Matter

It is my personal opinion (and probably wrong) that Google will not take any specific action on guest blogging as a whole anytime soon.  I also doubt that they’ll involve penalties in their solution when they implement one.

I think their punitive actions last spring were anomalies and that Google is unlikely to take a similarly drastic stance against guest blogging.   I believe they will continue to evolve algorithms like Panda to weed out low quality sites as their primary method of addressing the issues surrounding guest blogging.

I do not believe that networks like myblogguest.com, who have automated a lot of the guest blogging process, are immediately at risk. But if Google decides things have gotten too far out of hand, then this might be a good place for them to start.

To be clear… In our firm, we do a lot of guest blogging.  We manage a dozen blogs that accept guest posts and submit articles to other blogs on behalf of our clients.  We always seek the highest quality opportunities, but have certainly settled for less.  We use a combination of valid authorship markup, invented author profiles, and random pen names for the articles. Our writers are all American (and one Canadian), and I generally stand by the research and quality that goes into the articles we write.

This article was not meant to denigrate guest blogging or advise anyone to avoid the practice…I just wanted to clearly define the problem.

About

Sean Si is a Filipino motivational speaker and a Leadership Speaker in the Philippines. He is the head honcho and editor-in-chief of SEO Hacker. He does SEO Services for companies in the Philippines and Abroad. Connect with him at Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Check out his new project...

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About Sean

is a Filipino motivational speaker and a Leadership Speaker in the Philippines. He is the head honcho and editor-in-chief of SEO Hacker. He does SEO Services for companies in the Philippines and Abroad. Connect with him at Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Check out his new project, Aquascape Philippines