Screw tightened on guest posting, vocal complaints but no big surprises

Guest posting as an SEO tactic is back under the spotlight, with Google making big waves among the industry and leaving the more unimaginative marketers among us wondering whether they’ll be left with any viable link building techniques in the near future.

The most recent flare up came last month with the announcement that Matt Cutts and Google’s search quality team, had imposed a manual penalty on My Blog Guest, a well known guest posting service. The site has been wiped out from the search results, as has any other site that used the service to publish guest posts. According to reports, the site had 73,000 users in 2013, with an average of 256 articles posted per day. That’s a lot of manual penalties and a lot of lost rankings.

Cue frenetic and very vocal complaints from across the SEO world, while certain sager voices suggested that fair warning had been given back in January and that it shouldn’t come as much surprise that any mechanism for the mass distribution of content in exchange for links would eventually come under scrutiny.

There has been a lot of nit picking over no-follows and the definition of a “guest posting network Vs a community” but the fundamental point is that guest blogging, the act of giving a piece of content to a 3rd party website in exchange for a link to your own site, has rapidly become the most recent SEO technique to be abused and devalued by the industry itself. As soon as a critical mass of practitioners attempt to scale any link building technique it’s only a matter of time before Google has to crack down to prevent manipulation of its search results and a worsening of search quality for its users.

MBG and others were a manifestation of that process: a mechanism for thousands of people to publish free content and build cheap links. The fact that the content was probably (we don’t know for sure, never having used the platform) average-to-low quality, and that MBG required do-follow (equity-passing) links, only worsened their case.

All in all the only surprise here is how surprised everyone acted when the whole thing blew up. The writing has been on the wall for months and it’s yet another vindication for those of us who eschew any attempt at mass produced link building.

The real issue is not whether this is “fair” or what it means for “link building” (the short answer is to stop trying to “build” links and earn them instead.) The interesting point is how Google went about this most recent action.

Spammy link building tactics were firmly on the radar long before the first Penguin update in April 2012. That was an algorithmic development to identify and devalue shoddy links across the entire index whereas these latest moves have been manual actions against specific sites, and high profile ones at that. The problem for Google is that they can’t algorithmically identify a “guest post” as such, which means they’re forced to manually take out the most visible content syndicators and guest post networks instead, possibly even just to send a message to the industry.

This should come as some relief for the significant number of SEO practitioners (and brands) that still rely on similar techniques for legitimate purposes.  The principle of publishing a piece of content on another site is still perfectly viable: it all depends on how you’re doing it, and for what purpose.  If your exclusive, or even primary, goal is simply to build links then you’re going to wind up in trouble.  If you’re trying to connect with audiences and build your brand in appropriate venues with appropriate content, then you have nothing to worry about.

Further reading: 

What You Should and Should NOT Be Using Guest Blogging for: SEO Theory, 19 March 2014

Building Relationships, Not Links: Why Guest Blogging Will Never Die: Clickz.com, 2 April 2014

 

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