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.
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
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!