Don’t get slammed by Google if you’re guest posting for SEO

An issue that caused a bit of a kerfuffle in the world of search engine optimisation and content marketing in recent months was Google’s new hard line on guest posting.

This week it sparked some consternation at one website we work with, which relies on ‘guests’ posting most of its written content. The site editor had heard that Google now viewed guest posts as spam and was worried that this would change his entire business model.

So, let’s look at what’s changed at Google, what’s the current situation and how to handle this issue – as reports of the ‘death’ of guest posting may have been a bit exaggerated.

What’s happened at Google?

For much of 2013, many SEO experts had been criticising the practice of using guest posts for links, noting that much of the content was essentially low-quality spam.

After ever sterner warnings on his video blog, Google’s Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, eventually
put out a fairly bad tempered blog saying essentially that what started out as an acceptable practice had been taken too far and was now being abused by unscrupulous websites and their advisers. (The Internet Works and our clients were of course not involved!)

Taking on the stance of a parent at the end of their tether, wagging his finger as he scolded his naughty scamps, Cutts said:

“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.”

In short: “stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy”.

Google’s high executioner of spam said he wouldn’t recommend website owners accept a guest blog post unless they were willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. More specifically, don’t rely on guest posting as a linkbuilding strategy.

Here’s Mr Cutts vlog:

What’s Google’s official stance on guests posts now?

So the stance from the Santa Clara web search giant is: if you just keep high standards, use guest blogs for honest reasons and ignore spammy posts, work with good people who you trust, then you should be confident of avoiding being put on Google’s naughty step.

Don’t look at guest posts to just generate link power, do it to genuinely add value to your site.

Essentially, articles that add value are well researched, well written stories with links to all sorts of other unconnected sites that themselves add further relevant and interesting detail. A short, 200-word thing just written to generate links is just a bit meh.

How to guest post from now on

There are still lots of reasons to still use guest blog posts, such as to increase exposure and branding, grow your reach, building community and so on.

So, for example, if you’re writing a guest post looking to gain exposure from putting your name, expertise and ideas in front of a new audience and it just links straight back to your site – then that’s fine.

If somebody loves your blog and your opinions and ideas and wants to publish it, that’s not a problem.

As Cutts said, many such reasons existed for guest posts long before Google and they’ll continue into the future.

Here’s some good advice (from Elisa Gabbert, of search software company Wordstream) for web publishers worried about possible Google penalties.

She says you should: Only publish good guest posts. If it’s not spammy, it’s not spam. Don’t label the posts as ‘guests posts’. And “build relationships, not links”.

As she explained, “Google has always stressed that quality, unique, user-friendly content is the key to search engine rankings. My guess is, sites that publish content that meets all those criteria won’t be penalized, whether or not some of those content pieces are guest posts.”

Written by

TIW's head of content. He writes things, mostly content for clients but also TIW blogs. Client content ranges from bespoke web copywriting to business and sports journalism for the likes of ITV, Digital Look, Reuters and the Olympic News Agency.

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