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3 Reasons Guest Blogging Isn't as Dead as Matt Cutts Says It Is

April 3, 2015

Matt Cutts just declared guest blogging dead:

Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.

Well, I’m convinced.

Is Guest Blogging Dead

Just kidding! Guest blogging may be on Google's radar, but I wouldn't close the coffin lid just yet. Here’s why.

All SEO Gets Spammier. SEO Still Isn’t Dead.

You could substitute almost any SEO technique into this sentence, and it would be true:

Over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of keyword targeting then you’re hanging out with really bad company.

Over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of link building then you’re hanging out with really bad company.

Over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of image optimization then you’re hanging out with really bad company.

And so on. If an SEO tactic works, then it will get more and more spammy with time; there is no spam-proof SEO technique. Every technique has to adapt over time with the competitive landscape and the algorithm. Likewise, marketers always need to focus on long-view quality over short-term effectiveness, regardless of the technique. But just because spammers start doing something doesn't mean you have to stop.

In fact, I might argue that few SEO techniques get “more and more spammy” by proportion. In other words, they’re not going from 10% spammy to 50% spammy. You just see more spam because there’s more of everything – more good guest posts, but more crap and spam too. Eventually there’s so much of everything, good and bad, that it becomes very difficult for Google to sort through it all. They get frustrated and try to tell us, the content creators, to police ourselves so they don’t have to. (But somehow I doubt the spammer kings are taking Matt Cutts’ advice to heart.)

There is no *technical* difference between “guest blogging” and any other kind of content.

Google can’t algorithmically differentiate between guest blogs and other kinds of articles. Blogs and websites aren’t legally bound to disclose that anything they publish is a guest post or not a guest post, and in some cases it’s just a matter of perspective.

Think about it – a lot of the content that appears on high-quality news sites like the New York Times, or extremely popular, high-ranking sites, like the Huffington Post or Buzzfeed, is created by freelancers. If you author a bylined article for a site that you don’t own or that doesn’t employ you full-time, is that a guest post? The categories are murky because we only think of it as “guest blogging” within the SEO industry; it’s not a term from the world of journalism. There's no foolproof way for Google to determine the motives of any given author, whether they wrote and published something for links, exposure, money, or pure altruism.

Still, if you’re worried that Google is going to crack down on guest blogging, there are a few things you can do. As a publisher:

  • Only publish good guest posts. If it’s not spammy, it’s not spam.
  • Don’t label them as guest posts. You can include an author bio without spelling out “This is a guest post.” And if the content is valuable to your readers, it shouldn’t really matter where it came from.

And as a writer:

  • Don’t guest-blog for guest blogging farms. If a site has a “they’ll publish anything” reputation, stay away.
  • Build relationships, not links. Get a gig as a regular contributing author or columnist at a good website that has a relevant audience. Build a readership there that’s more valuable than a one-off guest post.

Google has always stressed that quality, unique, user-friendly content is the key to search engine rankings. My guess is, sites that publish content that meets all those criteria won’t be penalized, whether or not some of those content pieces are “guest posts.”

Guest blogging can be valuable even without the links.

I’m not saying you should strip all the links out of your guest posts. I don’t believe that Google can actually tell the difference between guest posts and other kinds of content, so it has no way to algorithmically devalue links embedded in guest posts.

Nonetheless, spammy links are the main reason that Cutts wants to “put a fork” in guest blogging: “we’ve been seeing more and more reports of ‘guest blogging’ that are really ‘paying for PageRank’ or worse, ‘we’ll insert some spammy links on your blog without you realizing it.’”

So again, if you’re worried: Just don’t put links in your guest posts. “So why am I guest blogging?” you ask? Links and referral traffic are two of the big incentives for guest blogging, but without those, you still get brand exposure. If you write a high-quality piece of content and want to get it in front of a bigger or different audience than you have on your own site or blog, guest blogging is a way to do that. You can attach your name and your business’s name to that content, even if you don’t include any links back to your site. Or, ask the publisher to no-follow the links. Remember, Wikipedia links are no-follow, but can still drive a lot of valuable traffic.

So, in sum:

  • Don’t panic. Just as you now see spammers going around asking the people they spammed to remove old links, I imagine we’ll start seeing “guest post removal requests.” But you don’t want to remove legitimate links or legitimate content for no reason.
  • If you weren’t spamming before, you’re not spamming now. All your past guest blogs didn’t magically turn into spammy pumpkins overnight. As always and as ever, quality is what really matters.
  • Keep your eyes on the guest-bloggin’ prize. If you were previously guest-blogging for the do-follow links only, rethink your priorities. Contributed articles can offer other kinds of value.

UPDATE: Cutts Says Don't Guest Blog "for SEO"

Matt Cutts' updated his post in response to the response. Here's part of what he added:

It seems like most people are getting the spirit of what I was trying to say, but I’ll 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.

I think it's worth responding to this. What Cutts, I'm sure, means is: "Don't write a super-crappy guest post just so you can get a link." But I don't like his phrasing because it implies that intentions matter more than outcomes, as though your motives must be 100% pure. But you can do something at least in part "for SEO purposes" and still create something that offers incredible value to users. If Google ranks your content on the first page, and users that click your link are happy with what they get, and it helps your business at the same time, what's the problem? In any case, Google can't figure out via some kind of algorithm what your true inner motivations are; what they're looking for in the end is quality content, not pureness of soul. Further, branding is part of SEO (Google loves brands!). Exposure and increased reach are the main goals of SEO. These things are all related. Somehow "SEO" has become the bad guy, and "branding" is still OK. But whatever you call this stuff, the goal is still the same: to get people to pay attention to your business.

My guess is that Google will penalize sites, not guest bloggers. And it'll be the same crappy sites that have been hit repeatedly over the past year or so, sites that don't offer value on the whole. Quality content, guest post or not, will continue to rank. (And yes, links will continue to be important.)

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream's Sr. Manager of Content Marketing and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.