The Pen is Mightier than the Fork: Why Guest Blogging isn’t Done

, June 23, 2014

fork-flickrMatt Cutts has inspired all kinds of feelings among SEO professionals. With his famous admonition in January to “stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done” for link building purposes, some of the less favorable feelings ran rampant across the digital marketing blog landscape.

Guest blogging is traditionally one of the most beloved and trusted means for meshing pragmatic link earning strategies with good old fashioned PR. And suddenly, it appeared to be off the table for many marketers. But is it really done?

Confidence over terror

Every time Google’s anti-spam hero declares that a favorable tactic is finished due to overuse or manipulation, the Internet’s version of town criers herald the news: The sky is falling! SEO is dead!

Now that the most recent wave of terror has receded, critical thinkers in the digital marketing industry are still standing. Why? Because they know something that the fear mongers don’t: guest blogging isn’t done.

Avoiding whiplash

In one of Cutts’ recent video blogs, he informed viewers that content quality signals are going back to their roots sans links to some degree. While well-known manipulative tactics like keyword stuffing will continue to be counterproductive, according to Cutts, the first time Google sees a word on a page, it counts for something. The second time, Google counts it “a little more, but not a ton more,” and after continued consistent use of the term, Google has a pretty good idea of what the page is about.

This is the type of news that leaves SEOs reeling. Didn’t Panda drop the hammer on those who focused on keyword optimization too much? Why does Google blow so hot and cold when it comes to optimizing sites for search? The truth is that it isn’t the practices themselves that are necessarily faulty in the first place: it’s their application.

The point here is that whenever Google’s anti-spam team tells SEO professionals enough is enough, that doesn’t mean that SEO is dead or even that a given strategy is dead. It means that the strategy has been taken advantage of and manipulated too many times, and too many warnings have gone unheeded. The only way to back people off over-optimization and manipulation is to back them off hard.

Understanding

Still, Cutts’ warnings should not be taken lightly. Digital marketers should listen, but they should listen very closely. Picking apart the infamous “Stick a fork in it” blog post, we see that Matt Cutts is concerned not by the idea of guest blogging as a whole, but by:

  • paying for links or the appearance of paying for links
  • low quality/spammy guest blog articles
  • guest post outsourcing
  • automated guest blogging (spinning articles)

Cutts even came back to the post to add a bit more context:

“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.”

The lesson here isn’t to stop guest blogging. The lesson is to stop guest blogging badly.

Applying that concept on a broader scale, great SEO campaigns are built with a balance between valuable practices that benefit branded sites in the long term while also deciding which of those practices will produce the most significant impact. There is no need to walk on eggshells, but stomping all over best SEO practices ultimately diminishes their effectiveness.

Not optimizing sites at all is a missed opportunity to maximize conversions, but over-optimizing them has the potential to be fatal.

Guest blogging safely – and effectively

If SEO professionals or webmasters are in doubt about the value or potential harm their guest blog outreach will cause, all they need to do is take the backlink entirely out of the equation. If brand awareness, industry authority and/or a high quality contribution are not only a part of the guest blog strategy, but at the heart of it, then the guest blog strategy is valuable.

If not, it is now worthless and even dangerous. If guest blogging is nothing more than an opportunity for hyperlinked keywords to your site, you should be nervous. Guest blogs are still beneficial to branded sites if they are written to be beneficial to consumers. Marketers can and should guest blog to promote their clients’ brands, but they have to also be willing to put that brand behind that content with more than just cleverly camouflaged anchor text.

In order to guest blog effectively, marketers should keep in mind the following broad-sweeping suggestions:

1. Use Google Authorship. For both bloggers and guest posters, Google Authorship offers a variety of benefits: first, it promotes trust signals. Authors should no longer hide behind low quality guest blogs with anonymous or fake names. Using Google Authorship sends a clear message that the guest author stands behind their contribution to the industry. Secondly, google authorship grants blog articles an enhanced appearance in search, which leads to higher click through rates and stronger brand recognition. Third, Google Search loves Google Products. When a blog is associated and shared with a legitimate Google Plus profile, the author, blogger and branded site all benefit.

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2. Choose your friends wisely. Both guest writers and blog owners should approach guest blogging relationships with caution. Common sense is a strong ally here: avoid posting to low quality guest blogging farms and certainly never pay to post an article with a link. A portion of brand sites’ domain authority is determined by not just the number of backlinks pointing to a website, but the quality of those backlinks. Make sure that your profile is squeaky clean by associating with trustworthy blogs.

3. It goes without saying but for formality’s sake, it should be said anyway — write exceptional, purposeful content. Content should be written to promote brand authority and either educate or entertain (bonus points for both) consumers. It should not be written as a series of words to facilitate a backlink. Forget about article spinning. Forget about outsourcing content to writers who don’t do their research about the brand’s industry. It’s like diet and exercise; there are no shortcuts to crafting a solid guest post.

Method to the Madness

Cutts might force people to give up their beloved, often trusted SEO tactics, but he does so to promote and protect quality SEO campaigns. In a recent Advanced Web Ranking blog article, Jason Corrigan explains why:

…Matt Cutts and Google have a responsibility to their clients, the online consumer, to provide an online experience that allows people from all backgrounds to be able to explore whatever they are interested in, in a space that is of the upmost integrity and is completely meaningful to the individual user.”

If you’re not helping Google meet that goal, then you’re part of the problem they’re trying to solve. The key to guest blogging safely and effectively is to craft a message that the brand is eager to stand behind. Only then will Google stand behind it as well.

*Image credit: Flickr / Mike Dot Mike


 

Author bio: Beth Clymer is an SEO Specialist for the fastest growing search marketing agency in the Southeast, Cardinal Web Solutions. She is responsible for creating and executing custom organic search strategies that successfully drive qualified consumers to branded destinations.

Sources:

Corrigan, Jason. “What It Really Means When Matt Cutts Says ‘This Is Dead.’” Advanced Web Ranking. [http://www.advancedwebranking.com/blog/matt-cutts-says-guest-blogging-is-dead/] Accessed June 6, 2014.

Cutts, Matt. “The Decay and Fall of Guest Blogging for SEO.” Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO. [http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/guest-blogging/] Accessed June 4, 2014.

Google Webmasters. “How can content be ranked if there aren’t many links to it?” YouTube. June 2, 2014. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rr1J31jTyFg] Accessed June 4, 2014.

  • Chelsea

    Awesome guest blog about guest blogging :) Great suggestions on how to make guest blogs effective!

  • Lauren Thomas

    I can’t wait to share this with my clients! Especially your recommendation about Google Authorship….great insights!

  • Caity Cogdell

    “The lesson here isn’t to stop guest blogging. The lesson is to stop guest blogging badly.”

    The whole situation (and every “SEO is dead!” response) perfectly summed up in two sentences.

  • Jared

    Way to stick it to the man.
    Caity stole the words right out of my mouth. Keep up the awesome work!