The time-honored SEO practice of guest blogging got a kick in the teeth earlier this year when Google’s Matt Cutts wrote in a blog, “So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.” He later backed off a little and clarified his remarks which had left many wondering about the status of guest blogging in the eyes of Google. A recent action taken by Google shows that there is still room for guest blogs but the company is taking a hard line at what it considers to be spammy guest blogs.
As one would suspect, Matt Cutts received hundreds of comments in response to his original blog posts, so he acknowledged the value of well-written, relevant guest blogs.
“There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.),” he wrote in the comments. “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.”
This comment would seem to provide a lot wiggle room for guest bloggers, but the recent experience of copywriting and SEO blogger, Doc Sheldon, shows that Google will be pursuing guest blogs they think are being used for SEO purposes only.
Doc Sheldon’s site received a manual penalty against his site for unnatural traffic that wasn’t readily explained at the time. After requesting clarification in an open letter to Google, Sheldon received a reply from Matt Cutts that indicated the problem was a guest blog on his site. The blog in question was about the best networking practices for hispanics. In a Tweet, Cutts suggested that since this topic has nothing to do with SEO copywriting (as Doc Sheldon’s blog is supposed to be about) Google considered this to be a guest blog for SEO purposes.
The incident is concerning for SEO professionals for several reasons. The blog post that caused Doc Sheldon’s penalty was from nine months before Cutts made his fork-related guest blogging comments, so Google will be going back to look at blog posts to determine if they were for SEO purposes.
Additionally, and more importantly, the incident suggests that Google’s webspam team will be making the decision about what is or isn’t relevant to a blog. This could be dangerous. Even in the Doc Sheldon case, though the connection would be strained, it’s possible to see how information about networking with hispanics may be useful to copywriters (i.e. copywriters who are writing things for hispanic audiences).
Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land went so far as to write, “Forget how you can build links, which is just too dangerous now. Think how you can build audience — and if links come as part of that, it’s side-benefit.”
Content marketing is always an effective way to market a business online and to boost the SEO, so there are still ways for business owners to build links without running afoul of Google. It has yet to be seen if Google will continue to pursue guest blogs they feel are spammy in this way in the future, as the Doc Sheldon issue may convince them to try a softer approach. In the meantime, marketers should review the guest blogs they’ve posted on other sites and the ones hosted on their own site, to make sure they’re highly relevant to where they are.