The Guest Blogging Snafu: Critical Info for Blog Owners

 The Basics:

guest blogging penalty flag

Accepting guest blog posts might soon result in Google penalties.

Google’s anti-spam chief Matt Cutts started an explosion across the SEO and Blogging worlds when he announced in mid-January that ‘Guest posting for SEO is dead.”  Since then, other Google officials and Cutts himself have revised this assessment – but it is still clear that Google is getting ready to pay a ton more attention to blogs that host guest posts – and it is clear that there will be SERP penalties for blogs that intentionally or unintentionally allow spammy backlinks in guest posts.

If you own a blog that gets requests involving offers of guest blogging – this could obviously be a huge problem, especially if you do not understand the nature of the problem from Google’s eyes.

At the core, this is a dispute about backlinks, so you will need to understand how links work and how to respond to requests post-Google’s Guest-blogging crackdown.

This post will:

  • Review what happened to get Google so fired up about a seemingly innocuous practice (guest blogging)
  • Explain all the details about how to understand and police your backlinks (especially from Guest Blog Posts)
  • Explain why you should still allow guest bloggers/blogging with conditions
  • And, explain how you should answer requests from potential guest bloggers.

What Got Matt Cutts so Grumpy?

You may be saying to yourself,

“um….self, why in the world do I need to understand anything new about guest blogging – I have a blog, I sometimes get someone new to post on it….it seems to be good for my blog and for the guest poster – right?”

Sadly, the answer to your question may often be – “wrong” – even when your heart is totally in the right place about why you want to accept guest blogging posts.

In theory, and for many people in practice, guest blogging is a mutually beneficial activity contracted between a blog owner and a guest writer.  Guest posts add additional content from a new voice – they potentially bring in new readers – and they can add to your blogs search engine rankings.

And therein is the rub…

That last point – helping SEO – is what has created this massive amount of new drama.

Black-hat SEO geniuses are in many ways like hackers – they keep probing until they figure out holes in Google’s anti-spam policies and then exploit those holes to help their clients SERP – often at the expense of people unintentionally in the crossfire.

We have seen all kinds of tools go from good SEO strategy to possible SEO penalization as a result of these tactics (for instance blog rolls, comments, Wikipedia, etc.)  In the series of posts that Cutts has posted on guest blogging he broke it down like a frustrated parent – he said basically that SEO’s are not capable of having nice things.

Cutts sometimes comes across like that guy that holds his anger in and lets it build until finally it explodes.  He is like a tea kettle that builds to a good boil then makes a TON of noise.  He started posting about spammy link practices in 2005 – introducing the nofollow and dofollow concepts for links (we will talk more about this in a few minutes).  Since then, he has slowly identified, warned, grown frustrated with, and exploded on most of the spammy SEO practices mentioned above.

His current annoyance is spammy guest blogging for SEO and he has reached his breaking point – it seems clear that there will be Google consequences for spammy guest blogging.

But, how is Guest Blogging spam?

Over the last few years black hatters have exploited popular blogs by offering to provide to those blogs with guest blogging services –even often offering to pay for the privilege of providing guest posts.  This offer is, of course, a Trojan horse – allowing black hat firms to pass page rank to their client sites through backlinks in the guest blogging posts.

One of the ways Google determines the importance of a site is by evaluating the backlinks that it generates.

If you have a popular site and you link to another site, Google assumes that means the other site is important too.  When you bless another site by linking to it you are giving it your seal of approval in the eyes of Google.  Google calls this “passing page rank.”  As in you pass the rank of your site on to the other linked site.

One of the primary no-no’s in Google’s list of webmaster guidelines is paying for, or accepting payment for, passing page rank.

Google does not like paid links.  They feel it corrupts their ability to determine which sites actually are quality sites that provide valuable information to Google searchers and which sites are unhelpful sites that provide spam filled nonsense.

web-master

Google wants webmasters, and if you run a blog or website you are technically a webmaster, to alert Google’s bots (or Googlebots or spiders the algorithms that determine site value crawling the web looking at sites) to links that are really advertisements (spam) as opposed to legitimate organic links.

So what is the scam?

Black-hat SEO experts offer their guest blogging services – and even pay you to provide this guest blogging content.  They then load these posts up with spammy links that pass page rank to their clients.  The posts that they deliver might be well written and even have decent content germane to your readers – but they are done to pass page rank from your popular site to their clients sites through the spammy backlinks contained in the body of the post.

For any of you who once received phishing scam emails offering to “gift you” a large portion of a distressed Nigerian Princes wealth (only under the condition that he could be given basic access to your bank accounts) you may have smelled something “phishy” when you got your first guest blogging offers.  But for many blog owners, these guest blogging offers have been taken as both a way to earn a bit of extra money and a way to get more content to their blog.

Google thinks that the whole purpose of what they do is to identify value through providing search results that matter to the searcher.  It is easy to see how Google gets mad because often the links will attach to a site that has nothing at all to do with the subject in the post itself (Cutts has detailed a litany of examples – once he gave the example of a post on linux with links to online casinos).

Ok, but how do links work for Google exactly?

There are two kinds of backlinks in Google’s eyes.  The first kind is called “dofollow” and it is the default – in other words, any link unless noted otherwise is considered a “dofollow” link.  This just means that the link creator wants bots to be able to follow the link when they try to determine where the link goes and the value of where the link goes.

The second kind of link is called “nofollow.”  If you do not want bots to follow your link to determine where the link goes and the value or where it goes you can add a “nofollow” attribute in the html coding (links are set off in the htmll by the href attribute – so the nofollow goes after the href attribute and the link url – you add the text rel=nofollow> at the end of the string).

A dofollow link would look like:

<a href=www.imadethisup.com>I Made This Up </a>

A nofollow link for the same thing would look like:

<a href=www.imadthisup.com rel=”nofollow”> I Made This Up </a>

Googlebots examine the text and determine what they should or should not follow by examining the html.  Google wants webmasters to treat the bots like newspaper editors treat readers when they explicitly identify areas of the text as “advertising.”  Nofollow links identify to Google bots that a link is advertising and should not be followed.

What you should do – Part One – Policing your Backlinks

guest-blogging-police

As a general rule, you should get in the practice of making all links in your guest posts “nofollow” links.  You should start to go back through your back catalog of posts and add “nofollow” to any guest blog links.

This is really important to you!

Once Google gets rolling on policing Guest Blogging spam they will punish webmasters not the writers.  In other words, the site that hosts spammy links through guest blogging will be the sites that Google penalizes.  And the Penguin update to Google’s algorithm was all about being able to identify exactly these kinds of spammy links.  In other words, it is in your interest to start protecting yourself.

What you should do – Part Two – Continue to Accept Guest Blogs but With Conditions

In Cutts’ addendum to his original outburst he explicitly mentioned the potential benefits of guest posting, “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…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 Cutts over-generalizes all SEO into black hat SEO but given that he spends all his time dealing with creative black hat trickery – he can certainly be forgiven.

Even if Guest Posting is not done for the reason of passing page rank – it can still be of SEO value.  For instance, if linkage between two popular sites creates more reader-ship for both that will eventually convey an SEO benefit.

Guest posts can also be directly beneficial to your blog. A nofollow link is still a way to connect two popular sites and create increased readership by linking two popular sites.  Readers are not Googlebots – clicking on “nofollow” links does not stop their journey.  Links still create visibility for both sites.

What you should do – Part Three – How you Should Respond to Guest Blogging Requests

I believe most of this whole snafu could be cleared up with one simple blog owner response – “Yes, I would love to consider posting your content as long as you do not mind that I insist on all links being “nofollow” links.”

If everyone who hosts a blog used this response – every single time – guest blogging for spammy SEO truly would be dead.

Google has stated that they are only concerned with spammy “dofollow” links in Guest blogs.  If someone is fine with all links being “nofollow” links they are probably ok.

Another good rule of thumb is to accept Guest blogs mostly from people you have a relationship with and/or trust.  If you are going to accept someone you do not know, do some research, read other things they have written and see if they are involved in selling links.

Summing it all Up

Google is going to penalize blogs that they identify as accepting guest posts with spammy links.  It is in your interest to:

  • Take control and look through all your guest blogging content – police your links and be alert to the scam.
  • Don’t pass page rank for money.
  • Learn to use the “nofollow” link in your html code.
  • Only accept guest posts that agree to only “nofollow” links in that content.
  • Be willing to play detective and look into the kind of content people offering their blogging services have provided to other sites.
  • Pay attention to what Google is saying about being a webmaster.  A great place to start is reading Matt Cutts blog.

If you are ever approached by someone offering to pay you to post something they have written (guest blogging offers) you should now know exactly what to do – ask them a simple question, “Sure, as long as you are ok with all links being nofollow.”

If you never hear from them again – you will know what they were after.  Forewarned is forearmed!

Josh

7 Ways To Blog With Google In Mind

Google SEO? Seriously?

At this moment you might be literally pulling your hair out – wondering how, after getting so much of your life sucked into your blog, you will have time to learn about writing for Google too?

Your blog is not just about what you write about.

For your blog to be successful it also has to be about people seeing what you write.

Nobody knows your blog exists until they encounter it – and for most the middle man between you and your potential readers is Google.

As Rand Fishkin of Moz mentioned, “According to the Statcounter data (the only source I really trust)…Google has maintained 80% of search in the US, and 90% plus around the world.”

Yes, Bing is a good search interface. Yes, people go other places. 80% (Did I mention 80% of search….80%!!!!).

Luckily, I have seven simple tips to help you make friends with Google!

How can you start making friends with Google?

1.  Use Title Tags

You only have a few organic ways to get click-through to your blog: 1) Showing up in search and 2) Having the most magnetic Title and ‘Snippet’ on the page when people see you in search

When you do a search in Google – each organic result that turns up has three parts: a Title; a URL, and a Snippet.  I call this area “Snippet Space.”

You have heard the saying, “You only have one chance to make a good first impression?”  Snippet space is that one chance in search. And the title tag is the most important part of Snippet Space.

Your HTML title tag is what forms the “Title” part of snippet space when your site shows up in Organic Searches.  If the keywords a person is searching for are in your HTML title tag – those words will be bolded in the results (obviously a benefit to standing out in relevance to the searcher).

Automation Google Bots

When Googlebots crawl your website/blog and try to determine how important your site will be to potential searchers the Title Tag is one of the ways they determine if your content will satisfy searchers.  It is important to write the way Googlebots read.

Title Tags are also one of the ways you can use Snippet Space to attract people to your page.

Imagine that every time your site shows up in search the snippet space is free advertising space – but it is only as valuable as it is magnetic.

How many times have you done a search and immediately passed over whole pages of results that did not immediately catch your eye?

How many times have you simply ignored an advertisement on television or the radio because it did not command your attention?

Snippet space is Showtime for your blog.  If you do not get attention here – you will not grow your readership through search.

Don’t just take my word for it, Part one of Google’s “Search Optimization Starter Guide” is titled: “Create unique, accurate page tiles.”

Some Title Tag Best Practices

  • You can write your title tags using your blog platforms SEO tool
  • Experiment with writing these tags just like you practice writing headlines for your blog posts. – Don’t publish a post without optimizing it
  • Title tags ought be a maximum of 70 characters, including spaces
  • When you write your title tags, separate the things you write using the pipe symbol “|” (it’s located right above the enter key).  For instance, if I were writing a title tag for this post, and I wanted to include the blogs name it would read:  7 Ways to Blog with Google in Mind | Learntoblog,com
  • Try to put the most important keywords early in the title and if you are working on local SEO also include where you are located.
  • Create unique tags for every page that accurately describe the content of that page
  • Try to avoid ‘stop words’ – words that have no possible keyword value

2.  Use Meta Descriptions

Your Meta Description most often is what forms the Snippet – the description of the webpage below the URL.  Think of it as another opportunity to hook the searcher.  If you caught their eye with your title tag – you can move them down the funnel with the description.

The important thing here is not to ignore the opportunity to control your snippet space.  Always fill these tags out for every post/page on your site.

Some Meta Description Best Practices:

  • You can write your Meta Description using your blog platforms SEO tool
  • Experiment with writing these tags just like you practice writing headlines for your blog posts. – Don’t publish a post without optimizing it
  • Google will display up to 150 characters of your description
  • Try to include structured data that might get attention and would not be in the results otherwise
  •  Write your descriptions as calls to action
  • Try to answer the questions you think represent the reasons people are searching for you

3. Alt Images Tags

Googlebots are pretty smart (for algorithms), but they cannot always see pictures or interpret what they represent.  In order for you to get credit for the value of your images to your content, you need to label them (explaining succinctly what they include).  This is fairly important because images matter in how Google values your content.

Some Alt Images Best Practices:

  • You can write your Alt Image Tags  using your blog platforms SEO tool
  • Experiment with writing these tags just like you practice writing headlines for your blog posts. – Don’t publish a post without optimizing it

4.  Anchor Text

Anchor text is the colored and underlined clickable text that can be clicked on to take the reader to another site.  Anchor text is one of the ways Googlebots try to match your site to the importance of its content.

Anchor text wears many hats in online publishing.

It is the main way you give credit to the people you are quoting or referencing in your writing and it is a means of generating links between your blog and other sites (which is important to establishing the authority of your blog)

You can make your anchor text be an exact match of the site you are quoting from, you can tie the anchor text to keywords or long-tail keyword phrases you are targeting, or you can have the anchor text say “click here” or something similar.

As Google moves from keyword driven search to semantic search (where it uses all available information to determine exactly what people are searching for by using contextual devices like search history, geo-location, or what fits your personal history best) – for blog writing, it makes the most sense to choose your anchor text where it makes the best sense naturally in your writing.

In addition, there is a great deal of debate among SEO experts right now over if anchor text will begin to be less valued by Google’s algorithm.  However, this change certainly hasn’t entirely devalued anchor text – and making sure your anchor text and your content is connected to ideas that show the value of your content to a searcher is what likely matters to Google.

In other words, Google wants everything to be written and marked up in the most conversational style possible.

In the old days of SEO you could game the search engine by simply loading up content with irrelevant anchor text and links, now Google is committed to making search serve the searcher and not the site.

The most important thing to remember about anchor text is to use it whenever it is appropriate.

I like to use anchor text to allow the reader to get more context and deeper information about anything I am writing about.

You should be able to apply anchor text using your blog platforms SEO-tool.

5.  Sign up for Google+

Google Plus

In 2013 Google changed drastically, deciding to connect all of their projects and platforms through their Google+ social network.  In other words, the universe of Google is now connected through the Google+ network.

A few months ago, a friend asked me to give him just a few easy to ideas for getting his business website higher in search results.  The first question I asked him was:  Are you a Google+ member?

Long story short, just by having him sign up for Google+ and having him tie his site to Google+ his site jumped from page three to page one for his local targets..  There is debate over how important Google+ is but there is pretty solid evidence connecting Google+ and optimization.

Worst case scenario, it’s a pretty small price to pay for a potential SEO benefit.  Best case scenario, it is another route for people to use to find your content and one that gives your blog an SEO boost.

Google+ Best Practices

  • Make sure you fill out all your information in sync with how it is filled out on your website – Inconsistent listings cause ‘Googlebot confusion’ and can actually hurt your SEO.
  • Fill out your profile completely
  • Link your website to your Google+ profile (the option for this is in settings)
  • Add Google+ badges on your blog and +1 clickable icons so that people can click to add you
  •  Input your blog URL in the intro section, provide a call to action giving people a reason to check your blog out, add your blog again in the links section
  •  Search and join circles that would appreciate the content you provide through your blog.  Participate when possible so that people see you as an active community member
  • Write teaser versions of your blog content and publish them with links to your blog through Google+

6.  Sign up for Google Authorship

One of the biggest new concepts Google deepened in 2013 was Authorship.  Google wants to be able to ensure that the content the search engine points to is written by real people.

The first step to getting seen by Google as a credible real-person is signing up for Google Authorship. Obviously, there are some SEO benefits to being seen as an author by Google.  One of the biggest benefits occurs in “Snippet Space” – Google authors often appear in search results with an addition to the snippet – a Rich Snippet which includes the head shot from your Google+ profile – and a count of how many Google+ circles you belong to.

How Google says to sign up for authorship:

  • Put a profile photo on your Google+ account
  • Make sure a byline with your name appears on every page of your content and that that byline name matches your Google+ name
  • Have an email address from the same domain as your content.  If you publish in places that are different than your domain (guest blogging) make sure there is a link to your Google+ profile in your author bio space in that content.
  • If you do blog for other sites, there is a place on your Google+ profile where you can enter up to 10 sites you publish for and want to get authorship credit for (in the ‘contributor to’ section of your profile)
  • If you have a business that publishes through your blog also sign up for the rel=publisher attribute

7.  Sign up for Google+ Local

iphone google plus

There are some confusing things about the recent changes to Google’s architecture for local search.  In particular, Google recently moved everyone from “Google Places” to “Google+ Local Pages” and “Google+ Business Pages.”

It is, however, important to keep up with these changes to Google’s architecture and maintain a presence in local search – especially if there is a relationship between your blogs relevance and the area you live in.

In addition, with people spending more and more time on mobile devices, Google+ local becomes increasingly important even if you do not have local intent (Local has a ton to do with how Google is adapting to mobile).

You should also have a Google+ business page.  There are real benefits from integrating fully into Google+ – everything from SEO to how you turn up in search.

However, you should be really careful to not make Google+ a substitute for your blog.  It is important to remember that all of your peripherals (social media sites etc.) are ways to get people to your blog not a substitute for your blog.  It is called “inbound marketing” for a reason – the goal is to own media and bring people to your own space.

Google’s instructions for signing up for Google+ Local Pages are here

Google’s instructions for signing up for a Google+ Business Pages are here

Bringing it all together

Google Plus

It can be frustrating keeping up with a blog. It is hard enough to find the time to keep enough content on your blog to make it relevant much less learn all the tricks necessary to bring people to your blog.

As hard as it is, you have to remember that there is more to blogging than writing.  Unless you are writing only as a creative outlet, your main goal should be to get eyes to your posts.

At least 80% of the time Google is the middle-person (middle-algorithm?) between searchers and your blog content – It is critical to your success that you write with Google (and Googlebots) in mind.

Hopefully, these tips will help you please Google!

What did I leave out?  Please take a second and share your own best tips for keeping your blog prominent on Google!