The practice of writing guest posts to boost SEO rankings has been under fire for some time. Earlier this year, Matt Cutts stated that Google could start targeting guest posts they felt were spammy in nature. This prediction has now become reality. Google recently updated their Webmaster Guideline to specifically mention low-quality guest posts as a source of penalty. With so many guest posts being written, it’s important to note what Google’s guidelines mean and what they don’t mean.
Back in January, Matt Cutts caused a huge stir amongst SEO bloggers when he wrote on his personal blog, “So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.”
Cutts eventually qualified those comments by saying only certain guest blogs were spammy, but the writing was on the wall (or on the blog in this case). Most SEO experts knew it was only a matter of time before Matt Cutts’ musing found their way into official Google guidelines. That happened last week when Google quietly changed their Webmaster Guidelines to include certain kinds of guests posts as a potential source of penalties.
“Google will take action against domains that try to rank more highly by just showing scraped or other cookie-cutter pages that don’t add substantial value to users,” the company wrote on their Webmaster Guidelines. “Examples include: auto-generated content, doorway pages, content from other sources, scraped content or low-quality guest blog posts.”
Google’s action against low-quality guest blogs is part of a larger trend to eliminate SEO tactics that seek to manipulate rankings without providing beneficial content to searchers. This is why the penalty is against low-quality guest posts in opposed to guest posts in general. Google isn’t trying to stifle collaboration, but they are taking a hard line against activities designed to take advantage of the algorithm. Any other trick that claims to boost SEO ranking without all that bothersome creation of high-quality content will find itself in Google’s crosshairs eventually.
As usual, Google hasn’t detailed what qualified as a low quality post, but based on past comments from Google employees, there are a few things bloggers should guard against in their guest posts:
Guests Posts That Are Unrelated to Website
Guest blogs should relate to the site where they are being posted. A guest post about luxury cars shouldn’t show up on a baking site (hopefully this has never happened, but extreme examples make the point clearer). It’s understandable that business owners want to help each other out, but if there’s no clear connection, Google will see the post as spam.
Unusually Short Content
In general, blog post should endeavor to be more than 500 words long. A common sign of a poorly written guest blog is that the actual blog post itself is relatively small, but the “About the Author” section is wordy and chocked full of keywords and links unrelated to the main content of the site . This is one of the things Matt Cutts mentioned back in January.
Poor Quality Writing and Keyword Stuffing
The same rules apply for content even when the content isn’t on your site. Just as webmasters shouldn’t stuff their own pages with keywords, the same is true for guest blogs. Besides being the source of a penalty for the site that’s hosting the content, it looks bad for people whose first exposure to a brand may be the article they read on another site. Bloggers who intend to send their content to other sites as guest posts need to hold that content to the same standards as they would for their own site (if not higher).
There are two important takeaways from official change by Google. First, is the obvious lesson: using low-quality, or poorly placed, guest posts for SEO purposes can have the opposite effect. Second, bloggers should learn that Google wants them to continue to collaborate with other websites to reach new audiences. Using guest posts to build a brand and introduce new people to a content creator is a valid marketing tactic, however it has been abused by those who have used the tactic as an excuse to post poor created content.
Far from being finished, the latest news from Google ensures that websites will be serving up guest posts for years to come. The only difference is now quality and placement matter. For most bloggers who care about their work, this change shouldn’t require any major change in their practices. There are two simple things to remember: always write good content and write guest blogs for sites where the connection makes sense.
For a Google-approved tip for SEO, check out this article about Google giving a boost to sites with certain security protocols.