For those just getting familiar with SEO, you might consider it a video game, and Google an oblivious game developer. The first step, learning the rules — the second step, exploits those rules in a cheat-code fashion to win the game and reap profit. Guest bloggers with this mentality experienced a rude awakening some years ago. Assuming that SEO was a one-dimensional exercise in link-building, they began spamming articles on guest blog sites with links leading back to their page. Google developers quickly responded, stressing that instantiated within the algorithms were codes of ‘good practice’ and metrics for evaluating ‘high-quality’ and ‘low-quality content. The algorithms can and will identify the practice of spam guest blogging, penalising the perpetrators with a reduced ranking.
Since then, guest blogging has acquired something of a sour image, associated with underhand business strategy and unprofessional conduct. But, with content marketing on the tip of everyone’s tongue, the phenomenon has certainly not disappeared, and more guest posts than ever are published on the web. Will guest blogging persist into this new decade, and if so what mutations will it undergo?
Age-old debate: quality or quantity
A lot of SEO discussion is hinged around this premise. When the rug was pulled out from under the spam guest bloggers, and Google was revealed as an active, Matrix-style surveillance state closely monitoring its users, the predilection towards quantity-over-quality was somewhat undermined. Google will determine whether or not your posts are a tit-for-tat exchange, a transaction with backlinks as currency, and give you a bad grade if the verdict is guilty.
Back in 2014, Google engineer Matt Cutts announced that ‘guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. More recently, John Mueller, Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst (High Priest of House Google), echoed his former colleague’s warning:
‘There are new people starting on SEO all the time (yay!), but it’s all years old in the meantime & nothing has changed there at all. … because this is so old, we have a lot of training data for our algorithms. I wouldn’t be surprised if the largest part of those links is just ignored automatically. If all that work is for ignored links, why not just do something useful instead?’
So, spam content might be a total waste of time. But clearly, there is a grey area of quantity-centric guest blogging where Google acknowledges (if begrudgingly) the legitimacy of the backlink, as long as the host site is relatively well-ranked with reasonable Domain Authority (DA). Sites with a high SEO ranking tend to have over 15k external backlinks and over 150 external referring domains. It’s hard to achieve these figures when you’re squeezing out one polished masterpiece every 2 weeks to be published on a reputable external site. It’s likely that a balance needs to be struck for guest bloggers, aiming for longish-form, medium-quality content on a semi-consistent basis. Too much emphasis on uniqueness and authenticity will mean that little work gets published; too much emphasis on quantity may cause Google to ignore your prized backlinks together. Ross Pike of web design agency Quadrant2Design comments, ‘In our own experience of content outreach, we have found that while quality factors into the SEO analysis, if pursued too diligently, we lag behind on the figures. We had to work to find the balance between the value and quantity of the content.’
Mr. Mueller goes even further, to the distress of guest bloggers, explaining that links within guest posts are generally classified as no-follow. This means that they are discounted by the Google search engine. While there is debate online, and most believe that even No-follow links are counted in some way as ‘brand mentions’, they do not directly affect your backlink profile (your Google SEO rating) in the way that do-follow links (valid links) will. This means that the link you spent half an hour delicately camouflaging within your article may only be as effective as writing your company/website name, minus the hyperlink. Again, many people (bloggers, unsurprisingly) stress that No-follow links are a crucial component of SEO strategy, and we don’t know exactly how the Google algorithms work, but the point remains that guest blogging is not the simple win-win some think it to be. One thing that is certain is that the link may be clicked on, and thus generate direct traffic. This of course is good business. Alan Jenkins of Quadrant2Design writes, ‘Even if guest blogging is largely ignored by the search engines, a combination of high-value content and no-follow links should generate traffic for your page, making it a viable SEO strategy.’
What should guest bloggers focus on?
What remains true, above all, is that guest bloggers should focus their attention on blogs with a similar audience to theirs. Google will see the link between your website and the hosting blog, perhaps rewarding you with a higher ranking (or the very least, not putting you on the naughty step). Content should be informative, never spam, but does not have to be of the highest calibre to warrant publishing. Do some research on the blogs you want to post your articles, checking their domain authority score on Moz, for example.
The sheer saturation of content today makes digital marketing a serious challenge. Even with a meticulously crafted SEO strategy, companies can fall by the wayside and achieve minimal results. Good content is important, but sometimes not enough to break into the public sphere. What people can do is concentrate their efforts on what value they have to offer — write about familiar topics, get them published on blogs with a similar audience and then try to find a routine for consistent output. Director of the exhibition contractor Black Robin Exhibits Andrew Carney comments, ‘These days there is so much traffic and so much content that everyone assumes they have to get involved. The resulting slew of vague, haphazard articles can prove a waste of time and energy, deflating your enthusiasm for SEO marketing.’ It’s certainly not a simple time to be marketing content, but there are also more options than ever before. Narrowing down those options to a list of blogs whose audiences overlap with your own is a good way to approach the modern challenge of SEO.
Theo Reilly is an independent writer and multilingual translator whose goal is to counteract stale writing in business blogs. Theo has a particular interest in business and marketing-related matters surrounding the online world, web design, exhibitions, and events.