April 17, 2014
As I’m sure you’ve learned over the last few weeks, everyone is in a panic about link building and guest posting thanks to Matt Cutts’ announcement and a huge influx of Google manual penalties. The announcement happened back in January, but the news and concern doesn’t seem to be slowing down, so we wanted to reach out to some of the experts in the industry:
Is this something that concerns you or has caused you to change your link building and/or guest posting strategy in any way? What advice are you giving others who are concerned about some links they may have built in the past? Finally, do you agree with the moves Google has made (the MyBlogGuest decision, for example), or do you think this is too much too fast?
I know a lot of people are tired of worrying about this subject, but at the same time the battle to rethink content strategies—even those that were always following the rules—seems never-ending. It’s tiring, but does it really have to be?
Below are a few industry experts who weighed in on the topic:
I’ve always used guest blogging as a way to gain visibility with a new audience, and my strategy has always been to submit unique and high quality content to sites that have an engaged audience and only accept high quality content. This is far from what Google is targeting – the link builder that sends a cut and paste template to any blog with a PageRank of 3 or higher, specifically stating that they only ask for a dofollow link in exchange for their 500 word post.
Punishing MyBlogGuest was a bit extreme. MyBlogGuest began as a platform that allowed bloggers to build relationships with each other so that blog owners could find great writers for their sites, and writers could find great sites to write for. Unfortunately, link spammers have abused that community (and many others) to find homes for their low quality content in exchange for links. Once a community gets so large, it’s hard to moderate which members are there for the wrong reasons.
Overall, I think that anyone who approaches guest blogging with the goals of gaining visibility by submitting impressive content to a site with a strong, engaged audience has little to worry about. But anyone who has used inexpensive services to gain links through guest blogging may want to take a look at their link portfolio to see if the sites their links were built upon are actually reputable ones with good content.
The current craze with producing reams of useless content for “inbound marketing” is the worst thing to happen to marketing in a long time. We’re inundated with garbage today.
Google’s changes to guest blogging are intended to reduce the importance of low quality content and generally poor “content marketing” practices. I think that’s a good thing.
If your purpose behind guest blogging is to reach a relevant audience with a relevant message, then you shouldn’t be worried about it. If you’ve been using guest blogging by churning out low quality content, your window of opportunity has closed. Tactically, that’s a roadblock but, strategically, it should be another wake-up call. If you build your business on loopholes and tactics, you’re always at risk of the rules changing.
I won’t be stopping my personal guest blogging activity. The SEO linkback benefit has always been secondary. My goal is to get good ideas to smart marketers. The more Google is able to recognize good content and penalize garbage content, the better it is for quality marketers and content consumers.
Marketers avoid a lot of angst by worrying less about whether they’re “following the rules” and focus on actually speaking to their market. Quality will never go out of style.
While it may sound like Matt Cutts is sounding an alarm, in my mind, his assertions represent an encouraging sign for content marketers — and a wake-up call for those who are just jumping on the content bandwagon.
How? It’s summarized in Matt’s very first line: “If you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop.” If your main objective for guest blogging is to get a back-link, your content efforts are probably doomed to fail from the start. Guest blogging, just like other content marketing techniques, requires strategy and a concerted, consistent effort — not just a laundry list of sites your content appears on and receives a link from.
But if, on the other hand, your content marketing plan is focused around delivering quality content that benefits your audience — maybe even more than it benefits your brand (at least, on a per-post basis) — while promoting your insight and expertise, well, then, Matt’s warnings probably don’t apply to you.
If you’re into content marketing for the right reasons (meaning you’re focusing on providing useful information for your followers, not trying to play SEO games), there’s no reason to worry about guest posting–in spite of Matt Cutt’s recent announcement. Write high-quality content that benefits your readers, and it really doesn’t matter where it publishes.
The key is to focus on your readers, not yourself.
As a writer, don’t try to embed a link back to your own site. Include a link in the author bio and make sure your article is so good, people want to click through.
If you’re a publisher or editor working with guest bloggers, remove self-promotional statements or links that don’t add value to the article. Set your content standards high and avoid publishing content that doesn’t measure up.
Do that, and your goals should align with Google’s: great content that answers people’s questions. Help them reach their goals, and there’s no reason for them to penalize you.
Google is always looking for the best quality signals they can find and also trying to steer people away from abusing their signals. However, if you think about a link as a quality signal in today’s online world, it is not the all-inclusive signal it once was.
What worries people in link building is not their earned links, but their links acquired in a way that was either gray in nature or against Google’s guidelines.
Google will continue to warn and scare people away from influencing their authority signals, but I think people worry a little too much sometimes and need to focus more on how to move forward in a positive way. Is guest blogging dead or wrong? Absolutely not and if you talk to anyone at Google they will clarify that they think it is dead as a link building strategy to markers and that when used in this manner is low quality and not in line with what they want webmasters to do. Is it bad to link build? Absolutely not, if you are working on a plan to earn links and not just buy them. Are Infographics bad? Of course not, but Google hates it when they are made only to have an embed code that is only for link building for SEO gains. Etc, etc, etc,
All that said, Google is not perfect by a long shot and they have made increasingly more aggressive statements and efforts recently than ever before. So I recommend people be very careful how they go about any link building efforts, especially in how they are wording any emails, how they are setting up any relationships, and who they are using to accomplish elements of their marketing efforts. I also think people need to make sure they have multiple social media efforts as a part of their marketing plan, as I have heard social signals mentioned a number of times as an element to help validate a site’s authority, if and when it comes into question.
For people who have concerns about how they built links in the past and have not been penalized, they should obviously work to clean up anything they know could harm them. I would recommend trying to do this cleanup first without any Google help, like disavow tools or anything else, and I would recommend not trying to threaten people or be too official in their requests to remove old links. I would then recommend they focus more on a plan going forward that builds authority signals, not just links, and to focus on how they are going to be a quality site and product for people in this fast evolving online space we are in today.
In summary, take the time to look to the future for where authority signals will come from, try to clean up any obvious links that could hurt you in the future, get involved more in social media marketing, and focus on improving the quality of your site and content.
For folks who think link building or guest post strategy is a scalable SEO solution, the recent clamp down and wrist slap by Google probably came as somewhat of a surprise. For the folks who’ve been around the block a bit, it really was only a matter of time before these facets of SEO manipulation came under Google’s hammer. The client challenge is one of showing effort – demonstrating to your clients that you’re doing some actual work to justify a fee – the true SEO solution is one of quality over quantity and sustainable results trumping all else, leveraging the metrics that matter to justify a fee. Google isn’t changing any rules with the new penalties, it’s merely reinforcing the existing Webmaster guidelines and plugging a few loopholes, at the expense of a few folks who flaunted the efficiency of anchor rich links, at the same time saying it wasn’t meant for that purpose. Eventually those who facilitate lower quality content will get caught.
So these updates never really effected my tactics or strategy… I’m still trying to *inspire* great links rather than manipulate the value of lower quality tactics, seeking ‘fewer and better’ from authorities that matter to my client’s implied topic expertise. Ultimately it means true ‘link earning through better, valuable content,’ something that has been in my arsenal of tactics for over 5 years.
The Matt Cutts announcement did not make any real change in how we go about our content marketing efforts, either for ourselves, or for our clients. All the link building we have done for the past few years has been oriented towards reputation and visibility building, so this affected us little, except there are some changes in how we present the program to people because of all the fear that has been caused out there.
I also think that it is important to not simply not follow what you think the rules are – that by itself is how people get into trouble. Your focus should be to follow what Google’s *intent* is. They want you to focus on building your reputation and visibility, and that should be your number one goal. If you think about it any other way at all, you will get dinged somewhere along the way – it’s inevitable.
Regarding links people have built in the past, if there have been some bad practices used, we think it does make sense to clean them up. How quickly you clean them up depends on how bad the situation is. Ideally, you can take some time and remove the old bad ones over time while you go and pursue some new good ones!
As for the moves that Google has made, I am not going to get into a discussion as to whether or not I agree with them. Let me explain with an analogy. When you are at the beach, and you build a sandcastle, eventually the tide is going to come in and wash the sandcastle away. One does not complain about the ocean, it is a fact of life. Link building for SEO is like building a sandcastle.
Reputation and visibility building is like learning to farm. Careful planning is involved. You have to find suitable land where you can plant. You need to have seeds. You need to prepare the land, care for the crops, pick them at the right time. You then need to store the food properly. Year over year you rotate the crops to let the ground stay fertile. This takes time, but the yield is much greater in the long run.
Sure, this trend concerns us all greatly because the situation has gotten to the point where just about anyone could get tagged at any time for basically anything. All link profiles, including those of the most legit websites and companies, have some weird or spammy links. Even if they didn’t build those links themselves, they’re still there. And now there are just soooo many rules that if Google is manually reviewing a link profile, they will find fault if they want.
Like my friend Julie Joyce said regarding the Google link schemes page: “Now I’m no legal expert, but it seems to me that the following paragraph is written in language that’s broad and vague enough to cover just about anything you could ever possibly do that might result in a link.”
So all this is to say there is nothing that is completely “safe.” If you are marketing a website or business online you are at risk. That being said, I don’t subscribe to the build relationships not links school of thought. Or the “the new SEO is no SEO.” Those are both crap. I mean, you should build relationships, but you should absolutely build links as well.
This trend hasn’t caused us to change our link building strategy though. Our focus was already on quality and authenticity. I think as long as you REALLY are doing link building smartly, you have the best chances of not getting tagged.
Regarding links built in the past – As long as you were doing things smartly, you probably shouldn’t have too much to worry about. But of course, this can be a concern depending on what you have done in the past. For example, if you have too much anchor text of the same kind, it may make sense to go back and ask some people to change the anchor text around. However, unless you have received a penalty, what I wouldn’t do is go on a mass link removal campaign out of fear. The same goes for staying the hell away from the disavow tool. That tool only makes sense when you’re trying to clean up and submit a reconsideration request after a penalty.
Regarding MyBlogGuest – That was a tyrannical PR move on the part of Google. It was definitely too much, too fast, and it was contrary to the message that Matt Cutts published in his “put a fork in it” post. I could probably write an entire post about that here, but since I’ve already written one over at Traffic Generation Cafe, it’s probably easier to head on over there and take a gander at that post.
Here are is my advice on how to build links moving forward:
Stay Diversified: Don’t rely on only one link building strategy such as ONLY guest blogging. Aim for a good mix of social, high quality business directories directories, editorial links, social links and citations. If you are a local business, the importance of authoritative business directories like Yelp, Citysearch, Insider Pages and Foursquare cannot be overstated.
Stay Authentic: Avoid “made for links” type of sites that clearly have no other purpose but to post articles for links. Ideally, only publish content on sites that have a readership and organic social interaction.
Set the Bar Higher: Don’t link to just one target site in your content. Be sure to link to multiple relevant resources. Use images. Provide useful content (so cliche, I know), and don’t crank out low quality 500 word articles that look like they’re from Fiverr. Come up with interesting, viral sounding titles.
Get Social: Once content is published, focus on getting some social activity going.
Perform a SEMRush Check: Another thing we do it make sure a site has some organic rankings in SEMRush. This can give you a good idea if a site has fallen out of favor with Google and also how much search traffic that site gets.
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