Matt Cutts recently put the fear of god (in the SEO world that means the fear of Google) into digital marketers when he decried the state of guest blogging. He essentially said that guest blogging was tantamount to spam, that as an SEO tactic it rivalled buying links on link farms, and suggested that any site caught with guest authors would soon suffer the severest Google penalties that the mighty search engine can devise.
That’s what a lot of people assumed he said at any rate, and so there was the predictable brouhaha as marketers panicked at the thought of their clients’ rankings and PageRank plummeting to Earth.
Actually Cutts just said what many industry experts have been saying, or at least thinking, for some time (quite possibly they have written guest posts on it), and that is that poorly written posts with blatant links are spam. Well-written posts that add value to your site and give value to your readers can never be considered spam, even if they come from outside sources.
The difference is that Cutts is part of Google, so when he talks people pay serious attention.
And boy did he get attention.
You can’t really blame him for his frustration though. After all, the man heads up Google’s Webspam team, so when he gets emails telling him that he has a good quality site that would benefit from 100% original and authentic guest posts in return for some links, well, you know his head’s going to explode. Either that or he’s going home to drink a bottle of gin in the bath.
We shouldn’t be surprised when he has a rant because yet another relatively harmless and effective SEO tactic has been used and abused and spammed into oblivion. It’s kind of his job.
What we need to do is get a little perspective.
As any experienced digital marketer knows, any SEO tactic that is popular is eventually twisted until it’s considered spam. And then someone declares that it – and SEO by association – is dead. Yet SEO remains, and so do many of its tried and tested methods because when they’re done properly and transparently they’re actually ok.
As Elisa Gabbert takes pains to point out (in a guest post), just because spammers are doing it, doesn’t mean you have to stop. But it does mean you have to do it better. You have to up your game to prove your quality over spammy quantity.
Gabbert also rightly points out that there is no technical difference between guest posts and any other kind of content. In other words, Google’s crystal ball can’t look at a piece of content and automatically detect some innate guest-post-ness about it. Unless you specifically label something a guest post, how can people (or Google) tell if it was written by someone on your staff or whether it was outsourced? They can’t.
But they can tell if it’s good or bad or contrived fluff – and that is what you want to control.
After a plethora of comments, even Cutts was forced to admit that guest blogging does have its place in a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. For example, it’s still a great way to get exposure for your brand, to disseminate important or interesting information and to engage with a wider audience. Accepting guest blogs is also a great way to ensure that your site is regularly updated with fresh content. This is especially important to sites that have a built a reputation for the quality of their guest blogging, like Moz’s YouMoz Blog and Mashable and Huffington Post.
It comes down to two things (which really can’t be emphasised enough):
1) Quality. If you cringe when you read it, don’t publish it.
2) Trust. Can you trust the source? Often, it takes a little leap of faith to start building a relationship between guest bloggers (freelancers by any other name) and publishers. Those relationships should be nurtured, however, as genuinely good writers are rare and you want a mutually beneficial relationship that can be relied upon.
It might also be time to stop putting so much link pressure on guest posts. Sure, they present a great opportunity, but with Google’s attitude toward guest posts in question, perhaps it’s time to settle for some no-follow links and maximum exposure rather than chase link juice and PageRank.
The bottom line is this: if you regularly submit or publish quality guest posts that make the net a better place, then you’re ok. It’s only if you’re already in the habit of guest blogging spam that you should start to panic.