If you are one of TNW’s many readers, there’s a good chance you might be a product owner, creator, or the marketer of one. And as such, you are no stranger to guest blogging.
In fact, guest contributions as a generic method started years before Google even existed – when columnists in newspapers got a one-off in a non-competitive magazine related to their field of writing, such as Sports or Fashion.
Their benefits were clear – being read by a whole new audience, promoting themselves through the article and perhaps even earning a couple of bucks…
Fast forward to 2011.
Around three years ago, when the “easy” ways of manipulating Google presence, such as building irrelevant links to your site within forum signatures and Web directories, have started triggering hundreds of thousands of penalties per year, online marketers and bloggers started to seek for a change of strategy.
So, adhering to Google representatives’ recommendations of creating great content and SEO veterans’ instruction of linking to fresh content, it seems everyone started to guest post in different levels of blogs and content quality.
Fast forward to 2014.
On January 20th – Just last week, Matt Cutts (head of Google’s web-spam team, or in other words – father to the Penguin & Panda penalties) published a post upon receiving a shameless guest posting enquiry by some random marketer:
“I would love to speak to you regarding posting some guest articles in your blog… All I ask is a DoFollow link or two in the article body.”
In case you haven’t been following Matt Cutts’ work in the past years, let me just tell you that the nice lady might as well peed on a police car and asked them to hold her beer while she goes back to driving drunk.
And no, Matt didn’t make this story up – I checked with him in person:
In fact, if you follow Matt’s requests to webmasters from the past years, you will find a very interesting pattern. It was in 2012 when he first hinted about staying away from spammy guest post opportunities. Then, two years and lots of inner rage later, his blog post exploded and turned the blogosphere to an angry mob.
So you can understand why in the heat of the moment he unknowingly coined the dramatic phrase of the year: “Stick a fork in it; Guest blogging is done.”
What will the upcoming penalty look like?
So considering the fact that Google’s Web spam team is working ‘round the clock to be able to identify and penalize unnatural link building methods, and that their leader has just declared war against low-quality guest blogging – it doesn’t take a genius to know what the nearest Google penalty is going to target.
Based on past experience, the penalty will carry a sweet name (I vote for “One-Eyed Weasel”) and affect any website that has its entire link profile based on guest posts – most of them in medium to low quality websites.
If in the past you had received a “pre-penalty” message in your Webmaster Tools, letting you know you better shift your ways before you hit the sandbox, the next penalty is simply going to wipe you out of the search result pages.
Know RIGHT NOW if you are at risk
Before giving you actionable items to analyze your chances of getting penalized, you need to ask yourself: Am I forcing irrelevant links into medium websites as a guest blogger, just for the sake of Google Rankings?
If so, don’t answer – just STOP and try to add NoFollow tags to your existing guest posts backlinks.
Then, go over these three tactics.
Tactic #1: There’s nothing easier for Google than identifying patterns that are visible to everyone else.
Set your browser to “Private Browsing”, then Google for the following phrases:
Yourname guest post
Written by yourname
Are you finding hundreds and even thousands of search results for guest articles that carry your name? If so, you’re definitely on Google’s bad side
Tactic #2: Head over to your WebmasterTools account, hit “Search Traffic” and then “Links to Your Site.”
This table shows Google’s understanding of the most linked pages in your website. Usually, guest authors link to their homepage via their Author Bio (“yourname is VP Marketing of homepage.com…”)
The image above shows a natural pattern of link statistics that we have at Ranky – however, if we relied on guest posts alone then it might have looked more like this:
If most of these 1,136 backlinks point directly at the homepage, which are hundreds of percents more than the amount pointing to the next most linked page in line, are a result of guest posting then you’re in a pickle.
Remember, the insights you see in the WebmasterTools are priceless, they are simply an exact visualization of how Google sees your link profile.
Tactic #3: On the same section of WebmasterTools, under “Who Links The Most,” Choose both “Download Latest Links” and “Download More Sample Links.”
Connect both charts and Remove Duplicates – now you have an almost perfect image of your Link Profile.
Go over your backlinks one by one, and mark guest posts in red. When you’re done, count them and divide the amounts of guest posts by your entire number of linking domains.
Are you getting more than 40 percent?
Then you, my friend, better stop your entire guest blogging campaign this instance.
Next: So, how can you remedy this?
So, what SHOULD you do in 2014?
By now you must have realized what’s WRONG, now is the fun part; here’s what’s going to work in 2014 and even after the next Google update.
Think branding and branding alone
Imagine that Google has just announced they are completely ignoring all backlinks that exist in Author Bios. Would you still guest post for that website?
The beauty of backlinks in 2014 will be earning them in a lot more logic ways. For example, I wrote a Growth Hacking 101 in my blog and then asked one of the best online marketing blogs, KISSmetrics, to mention it in their Growth Hacking resource page.
I actually didn’t care to get any rankings benefit, and I would also gladly be linked from there if all links were NoFollowed. I simply wanted readers to be aware of our blog as well, and what’s a better neighborhood than authoritative resource pages?
Don’t look at dry parameters of the websites you want to guest post for. Alexa means squat and PageRank is a complete joke these days.
You must only think relevancy.
I contributed to ReadWriteWeb and The Next Web because I’m a technology enthusiastic that owns a growth hacking firm, and they are the biggest magazines in that niche.
I also guest posted for CrazyEGG because they have the world’s most famous tool for measuring user behavior, and guess what – I do UX for websites.
On the other hand, if I would find the best Fashion magazine in the world and guest post there with no connection to online marketing whatsoever, that link would be meaningless for me even if the post got shared 1,000 times and drove me 3,000 visitors.
Not only will those visitors not convert in my website, but irrelevant links from guest posts are definitely going to be targeted in Google’s next update.
Google gives tons of weight to WHO wrote the post, not only where they placed it. Now, it’s a lot more natural to have more than one author to guest blog for the sake of the same website or product.
Think about it, an average startup team is normally combined of a CEO, CMO, CTO and a few other talented folks. Each one of them can contribute differently using their knowledge about management, marketing or technology.
This makes a lot more sense to Google than to have one “marketing representative” spamming dozens of blogs with the same boring content… because there’s a limit to how interesting one person can be.
Diversify author bio text
If you Google for one line of your average Author Bio, like “yourname is VP Marketing of homepage.com” you will find an insane amount of search results – that’s exactly what’s bothering Google.
Make it more natural by diversifying it with completely unique text, and try as hard as you can to get rid of the automatic line that says “Guest post by.”
Diversify landing pages
Not all Guest Posts should land readers back in your homepage. If you think about it, most homepages aren’t conversions oriented so that kind of makes no sense.
Google will appreciate the fact that you don’t abuse the posts to stuff more backlinks directly to the same source.
Never rely on guest posts alone
Your backlink profile is almost the easiest thing for Google to analyze, especially after the most recent Penguin updates.
You must be analytical and think percentages when it comes to links. Personally, I have researched the link profiles of almost 100 startups which are doing great in the search result pages, and if you’re a startup then here’s is my recommendation for a Link Profile that will make Google fall in love with you:
- 40 percent – PR Links from real magazines like The Next Web, Mashable and TechCrunch.
- 25 percent – Links from social networks and content sharing platforms.
- 10 percent – Links from forums where users naturally asked about you, and other users naturally replied with their opinion.
- 5 percent – Q&A websites like Quora.
And saving the best for last… 20 percent tops for guest posting in relevant blogs.
Surprise yourself with creativity
This is a fun tip which makes the entire operation seem like a game. Sometimes there are much better ways to be linked from a great blog, other than guest posting for it.
Some famous products have a “testimonial” section in which you can get your link if you simply email them your positive experience. No need to beg for guest posts, no need to produce content.
Another example is engaging with the blogger in different ways.
A cool example would be how the CMO of PowToon made a phone call to the Founder of SocialMediaExaminer, a top rated resource for social marketing, to ask an honest question with no marketing intentions.
Only later did he discover that he was mentioned within SocialMediaExaminer’s blog post for doing so and earned a nice backlink to his website.
Meanwhile, SocialMediaExaminer gets hundreds of guest posting enquiries a month – 99 percent of them are declined.
This year, you should change your state of mind from “How to build a billion of links” to “How to brand myself in an awesome way.”
The guys down at the Web spam team aren’t evil, they’re simply fight spammy trends and try to make the search result pages a better place. It’s true that good people get hurt along the way, not to mention innocent product owners that hire agencies which don’t act clean, causing the business owner to fail without knowing.
I guess the best tip I can give you is to monitor your link profile on a daily basis (with WebmasterTools, OpenSiteExplorer and even Analytics – look for the “Trackbacks” feature) while ceasing guest blogging campaigns that are there just for the sake of link building.
If you do your branding right, Google is going to forever reward you.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.