Has Matt Cutts put the boot into guest blogging? Dr Dave Chaffey doesn't think so. It's still a powerful digital marketing technique, he says - but if you're churning out low-quality content to irrelevant blogs, it's time to sharpen up your quality standards.
The rising popularity of content marketing received a setback in January with strongly-worded guidance from Google’s Matt Cutts that guest blogging may a high-risk SEO activity in future. This is big news for content marketers since guest blogging is a really common content marketing tactic - because it’s effective. Through writing on a complementary site, you get an opportunity to raise the profile of your brand plus potentially gain links back to the site of the author. It has been used by many media sites and brands, so many businesses who use content marketing will be alarmed by this.
Google’s Matt Cutts “Stop guest blogging” in 2014
The guidance in his post of 20th January 2014 is seemingly unequivocal:
“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.”
Cutt’s explains the reason he is making this call is, as a blogger with a successful site, he receives many spam emails with offers to write exclusive articles, provided that there are links back to the site.
Not So Fast!
You may well have heard about this pronouncement, but the reason I’m covering it is that often perceptions of marketers are clouded by the headline, and future opportunities to use a technique can be missed. In this case there was a lot of commentary from mainstream bloggers and publishers claiming that there is nothing wrong with guest blogging - indeed, it’s a natural part of web publishing. Later in the day Matt Cutt’s retracted and showed that the practice shouldn’t end provided guest posts are of sufficient quality. He says:
“*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*“.
Ten Ways to Futureproof Your Guest Blogging
It’s useful to have this clarification from Matt Cutts, but given that this is a grey area, it’s useful to think through your approach, either if you host a guest blog or seek to post them elsewhere. Here are ten ways to review your approach to guest blogging that I will be taking as guest hoster and poster - in fact I have done most of these already over the last year to eighteen months.
- Update your guest blogging quality criteria if you’re a site owner. We have very tight guidance to ensure quality posts are produced. Many of the recommendations below can be explained in your blog quality guidelines.
- If you blog on other sites, only select quality sites which follow similar guidelines. Check examples of other posts carefully – would you accept them on your own site? Do they have signs of being shared carefully?
- Ensure the quality of posts by only accepting or creating high quality content. The test is, will it be shared, commented and naturally linked to by blog readers?
- Think carefully about the type and frequency of links in a guest post linking back the site of the blog author. For example, on SmartInsights.com we don’t accept links to product pages targeting keyword rich anchor text, but will link to a limited number of of relevant posts. Keyword rich anchor text links in an article, often out of keeping with the theme looks like a red flag to me and it will to Google already. We encourage links to relevant posts on our site too, to balance links out.
- Think about how you use links in the post bio area. Matt Cutt’s suggests in the comments to his post that all links back to the site should be no followed in his “ideal world scenario”. In the real world, we won’t do this unless it’s essential, since we believe our content is high quality, so why shouldn’t we credit our authors who give their time to produce high quality content? In future, consider adding no follow links to anchor text links in the article or bio, but as many have pointed out, how will you apply this retroactively to 100s or 1000s of guest posts?
- Build a team of regular writers, either staff or external writers who have a good level of credibility and authority in Google’s eyes. On SmartInsights.com, these writers are our Expert commentators. Reduce your reliance on guest posts and obvious signs that you produce many of them.
- Select authors who are established on Google+ and use use Google authorship. They don’t need thousands of followers, but if they’re in 50 circles that’s better than none. We introduced Google Authorship here.
- Prepare for an algorithm update targeting poor quality guest posts this year. It’s difficult to see how Google could automatically penalise guest posts, but the warning presages a change, my money is on a major update to Panda or Penguin – you’ll hear about this no doubt!
- Monitor your SEO traffic weekly or even daily. Use a tool like Google Analytics Intelligence to be alerted if traffic falls by 5–10% compared to the previous week and then act straight away.
- Start or refine your paid search or paid social ads programme. Google’s SEO restrictions get stricter each and every month, so you must be in position to minimise the impact of Google’s algorithm changes using other inbound marketing techniques. If guest posting is your only content marketing technique, that’s risky.
So that’s how I see it at the moment, it is fine to continue with quality guest blogging on related sites which aren’t solely for the purposes of SEO. There is a lot more to content marketing than guest blogging. I’ll be explaining what in next month’s article where I will look at recent research I worked on showing how companies are using content marketing.