Every once in a while something crops up in the world of search marketing that really piques my interest. Caffeine, Hilltop, Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird and all those updates and refreshes in all their versions, if appropriate, are usually talked about ad nauseam and there’s often little to be added to the conversation because there’s nothing new to be said or you’re probably a heretic for saying something different.
It’s no different with the subject of guest posting. Much has been said of the matter and it has been at least two weeks since Google’s head of web spam, Matt Cutts, said “stick a fork in it”.
My thoughts on guest blogging certainly mirror a good chunk of Matt Cutts’ views, as I’ve mostly agreed with Google’s attempts and actions to combat the poorer quality search results. Not only is filtering out the chaff good for users of the search engines but it’s good for those of us looking for better qualified organic traffic to our websites. High-ranking Made For Adsense (MFA) websites were a common annoyance some years ago and the churn of the “content farms” have both been subjects that I had hoped the mighty search giant would target and fortunately they did.
However, eHow and about.com type sites still crop up in the first page of my search results so they have not been dealt with as strictly as I would have hoped (or at least they now know how to game the system and comply a bit more with the guidelines). Also, big brands and big websites often dominate my SERPs and, contrary to what Google seems to think I want, that’s often not what I’m actually looking for. So Google is far from perfect.
But going back to the issue of guest posting, I’ve certainly seen that abused in recent years; it even goes as far as a rise in the number of agencies touting content, at least from where I’ve been watching and experiencing the subject.
And where exactly have I been sitting with regards to this issue? For over a decade now, I’ve been writing and publishing web content. I’ve also been selling domain names, hosting, designing graphics and websites and doing the SEO for my clients and then finding what little time is left do something for myself, but I can say with confidence that the editorial and copy marketing side of the web has really dominated my attention for a good few years.
In that time the volume of approaches from people wishing to get their content published has increased steadily. Every day I receive numerous emails from individuals and agencies all clamouring for my attention; there are some fantastic PR companies that I am always happy to work with, those in the middle and then plenty of “chancers” too. It’s this last group that are potentially problematic, especially the ones that email from a gmail address, and I find that particularly ironic – Google want to crack down on content spam and yet a lot of the problems, in my opinion, stem from those who use of their very own email service. It’s the same for pushers of “SEO services”, who seem to be predominantly gmailers. I’d also like to add here that content farmers Demand Media, purveyors of so much underpaid output, own the world’s second biggest domain name registrar which was listed in 2013 for being one of the top ten sellers of “spam-friendly domains”.
So Matt Cutts is right in some ways – guest posting has gotten out of hand with the lower quality dealers, but there is some very legitimate work being done out there too. Running a website that requires regular content to keep it’s guests happy, I always entertain approaches for content. If it’s new to my site or covers a subject that our writing team, AKA just me, have less knowledge in or less time to research and write about, then third parties are perfectly acceptable sources of input. I’d also add that the policy, both personally and professionally, has been not to accept ad verbatim blanket reports – They get totally rewritten, not simply “spun”, either by myself or the professionals that provide them, and we all know that Google likes unique content, so that’s what we do.
So when the man at Google tells the world that guest posting is dead, I agree that there is a lot of spam out there, but having worked hard to try and keep the bar high, I must admit to being one of those publishers who both sympathises but also feels a little hard done by. If everything I publish has to be written totally in-house then, as a small publisher, I am at an immediate disadvantage to the big players, no matter how hard I work or how pure my intentions are. Google seemingly does not want to know and certainly is certainly not able to realise the sincerity of my intent.
Another thought is that the web is hypertext, that’s what Sir Tim Berners-Lee intended it to be and that’s what it is. You read a webpage and where a piece of government legislation is mentioned or a well-respected business organisation is referred to, then it is only right that they “get a link” because that aids the reader. If the provider of the page is a professional in the line of work relevant to the website then it is wholly appropriate that they provide a narrative on the subject. They deserve a link too.
Additionally, as a writer and business person who researches, fact checks and writes articles for my own websites, I understand the time and effort it takes as a professional to produce a single piece of work that will be “printed” in just one place. Time is money and a good two hours or more of my experience has value; there are entrepreneurs out there whose time they devote to sharing with my community is worth far more than mine and we’re not talking about the minimum wage here either.
So for Mr Cutts to say that despite all the hard work and the legitimate reasons for writing, publishing, informing and sharing that there needs to be a rel=”nofollow” on the link from the writer makes me wonder – are all links in a piece to be nofollowed? How does big G know which links in a piece are for the writer and which ones are for third (fourth?) parties?
Also, by adding a nofollow to these links, are we flagging up the fact that what we are publishing guest posts? Are we actually doing the Google web spam team’s work for them? I spoke with a fellow marketer the other day over a cup of tea and we both agreed that how can the world’s biggest search engine be truly able to police every page on every website in the world? Sure, the algorithms are there to do that job to some extent, but we know they’re not infallible.
Here’s another thought – if Google doesn’t want a guest to spend their time writing for your audience, sharing knowledge and links and then placing a link to their own website at the end of the piece, then, apart from the nofollow, where does Google expect an author to link, to their Google + profile? Oh wait…
In sum, my points about putting a fork in it are these:
- Which links are to be nofollowed in a guest article and how does Google differentiate between those to “legitimate” sources and links to the writer?
- If we nofollow (actively or retroactively) any links from guests are we flagging up the fact that those links are for guests potentially wishing to gain a link for the purpose of manipulating PageRank even though this has not been explicitly stated nor implied? Is this doing Google’s work for them?
- Is Google telling small publishers that they will never be able to compete with bigger websites because they will be crowded out of the SERPs because they don’t have the clout of in-house writers to produce content for their websites?
- You spend a few hours carefully crafting an article which you are willing to share and Google’s telling us all it’s not worth anything?
- Does Google want authors to point to their profile pages on G+?
Whilst I’m at it I’d also like to say that, whilst I’m a big fan of people’s right to privacy if and when they need it, don’t you think the timing of the “not provided” and forced https of signed-in Google search is a good thing for individuals but a bad thing for businesses who want to know who got to their website or at least why? When the only alternative is to either see 90 days of limited data in Webmaster Tools or rely on paying the search giant for their Pay Per Click platform, then it all smacks of something other than giving people sanctuary from the spyglass of GCHQ and the NSA. Again, like small publishers being crowded out of the top pages for competitive terms, I see the little guy getting a raw deal here.
Anyway, I dislike poor quality guest blogging, I love good quality guest blogging and for one to suffer for the sins of the other is penalising the hard work, effort and good intentions of a whole industry of people who genuinely rely on copywriting to put food on the table. If this scares away the shysters then I’m all for it.
I will remain open minded and continue to write and accept guest posts but they must pass my personal and professional quality criteria such as being completely unique, refraining from rich anchor text and certainly not from low quality sources, especially those with gmail addresses. Sorry gmail.
What do you think? Is guest blogging dead?