We all know that links will help your rankings, and in-content links will help your rankings even more, and that’s why guest posts became a thing. But the question has to be asked is has it been overdone and will guests posts do more harm than good?
The first thing to say is when we do link acquisition for our clients it’s primarily done through outreach. That is, getting in contact with the owner of a website and asking them can we create some content for their website, that just so happens to contain a link back to our customer’s website. We write a well-researched piece, after having quite extensive conversations with the website owner about how we should write for their audience and what their audience wants. The key thing is we do it the manual, slow, and what I believe to be a sustainable way.
We charge a minimum of £250 per placement. We’ve tried before and we really can’t do it for less than that. But that doesn’t mean to say that I’m not constantly being contacted by people who suggest they can do it for $10 or $30.
I was triggered to write this blog after reading a blog post called “Can Guest Posts Do More Harm Than Good?” After reading various posts on Facebook from so-called SEO experts, and after being approached by someone on Facebook this morning, once again trying to sell me links from a database of websites they can get links from.
The Facebook messages look like this:
Google has been telling us for ages that they know about guest posting as an SEO (tactic and that it’s something that website owners should stay away from. In 2014 Matt Cutts went as far as saying “Guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.” OK. We can forgive Cutts for butchering the English language with the use of the word gotten and appreciate the sentiment of what he’s saying. By 2014 guest posting was over. If you’ve still been accepting guest posts or acquiring links through guests posts since 2014 you’ve probably not been doing yourself any favours.
But Google was speaking about this even earlier than 2014. In fact, they’d been talking about it from around 2012 and if you’ve been in SEO for as long as I have you’ll know what happened in 2012 and you’ll probably have the scars on your back to prove it.
It was in 2013 that Google started suggesting you should use the “NoFollow” tags on outgoing links in guest posts (yes, it’s that long ago!), and for a long time people didn’t take it seriously. Over the last year, they’ve introduced new kinds of link tagging and whenever I do a post that’s positioned as a guest post, I am insisting that those links are tagged up with the UGC tag to be on the safe side for the future. I would rather give Google the chance to decide to include them as ranking indicators than a future Google decide that they definitely won’t include that link as a ranking factor, which one day I expect they’ll do.
In that same year, Cutts was telling everyone they need to slow down with the guest posts and get some moderation. And by the end of the years, Cutts was banging on about how guest blogging abuse and spam was on the rise. I really miss Matt Cutts and his little shots over the bow.
Let’s face it, Google has been saying they are doing things to deal with guest blogging for six or seven years and yet, we’re still seeing guest posts getting placed on websites.
People started to become a lot warier about guest posts. I’ve never been a great fan of letting people post on GrowTraffic, but after this, I became just that bit earlier.
Last year Google introduced new tags for links, which means you can tag up links with ways as specifying how you want Google to treat the links. It’s an extension of the nofollow tagging structure but letting Google know if they’re user-generated, sponsored etc.
This year John Mueller said Google already knows how to find links in guest blogs and already devalues them. But guest posts are still everywhere and many people still say they are really valuable as a link building tactic.
Can You Still Acquire Links Via Blog Posts?
Woah, hold your horses there cowboy. If you’re thinking about completely giving up on guest posts then you probably need to think again. There are just a lot of things you need to consider when it comes to buying blog posts.
The odd guest post probably won’t hurt your rankings in any way. In fact, if you just got one or two guest blogs over the space of several years it would probably help your rankings. Probably… But the thing is, once you see things are being beneficial for your rankings you tend to do more of that thing and then you’ll find there are diminishing returns and even serious consequences.
Also, you need to think about whether your website is any good. And what do I mean by that? What I mean is if your website doesn’t have a great deal of content on there or the content isn’t that good, you should probably think about improving the content on your site before you think about guest posting as a strategy.
In addition to your own website, you are going to need to think about the quality of the sites you put your guest posts on. So I have a rough checklist I go through when I’m considering a website as a potential for a guest post, these are:
- Does the website have a content theme? You want to be checking it out to make sure it doesn’t allow content from such a wide variety of different topics that they’ll just stick anything on there.
- Does it contain articles about gambling, pornography, cryptocurrency? There are circumstances where these are OK, but overall I treat these as a red flag for the type of content they put on their site and who they link out to.
- Is there a good variety of dates on the posts? You’ll often find with a spam guest post site that all the posts have the same date or at least they have similar dates or dates that start relatively recently.
Do they have a real address and contact details listed on the site? You’ll find most of the really bad SEO guest post sites don’t have any level of contact information. But they are getting better at including these – but check out if they have a company name or company number listed and see if you can find that company on companies house (if it’s a UK based site).
- Do they have social media channels? OK, this is a big one for me, just bob on their Twitter page and see if they are posting out the articles they put live. You’ll find that most of them aren’t active. I only go with websites that are really active in promoting content.
- Do the authors have genuine social media profiles? This is a big telltale sign about whether a website is genuine or not. If they’ve got a genuine site, you’ll find the authors on social media and you’ll find them contributing about things. You’ll often find that social media profiles have only been set up or have only been active for a very short period.
There are a load of things you could consider when you’re thinking about a guest post from a guest post website. But those are some of the things I think about. Basically, what I’m looking for is a genuine website.
As Dennis spelt out in his post, the most important thing to think about is the outbound link footprint. That is, if you’ve got a series of websites that are regularly posting out with outbound links, the people doing link building will invariably start to use the same websites that other people using the tactic are using and you’ll eventually create the footprint that lets Google know which sites are guest post sites. From that point on their outbound links can be devalued to the point where it’s pointless doing it.
The reason for this is that these websites aren’t really set up for any other reason than generating links for link builders and SEOs.
As I said, I get approached all the time on Facebook by people who want to sell me a post on a website. We go through the dance in which I tell them exactly what I’m looking for and what I’m not looking for and within minutes I get a list of websites that fit my brief. It’s at that point that I know I’m not going to work with the person that’s reached out to me.
The point is these guys have lists of sites that they know that they can get a guest post on. It’s easy for them. And I believe that guest posts shouldn’t be easy. If they are easy, then anyone can get a post on there and that means they’ll just end up being content farms or guest post farms.
Back in the day, the website was littered with content farms. These websites included badly spun blogs with links back to a website to help them to rank. OK, back in the day these things worked but Google got rid of all that spam rubbish a long time ago. The difference between those old websites is the content quality is much better these days. Arguably they do add something to the reader. But all blog owners have to have too wide a variety of content on them to be viable and before you know it, you can tell they aren’t being choosy about the content they put live. They’re done for.
So we all get sent lists of websites we could potentially get a guest post on. Dennis Hamming from SerpTrust.io has gone as far as adding them together and deduping all the lists he’s ever been sent, saying: “by combining all these vendors and websites selling guest posts I managed to create a blacklist of 15,000 sites.”
“10,000 out of 15,000 are basically dead in terms of traffic (Ahrefs), so I don’t expect many people to buy guest posts on those.
“That leaves us with 5,000 sites, 70% of those sites are rather general news sites, lifestyle magazines, and similar.
“Approx 2,000 sites are left that generate most sales and a pool of 15 million (if not more) potential buyers.”
So according to Dennis’ analysis, there is something in the region of 2,000 sites out there that are being used to place most of the guest posts in the guest industry (or racket if you’d rather think of it in that way).
He goes on to argue there are around 50 broad niches for guest post sites. Talking about those numbers of posts and links each niche should expect to have he said: “Imagine what happens when 160 websites link out to 12,000 websites from 180,000 posts. It leaves a MASSIVE footprint for Google to automatically detect!!!”
And this is exactly the point and something that most link builders out there seem to sweep under the carpet.
I think it’s fair to say I’ve been a victim of these scams in the past, both in terms of the posts I’ve acquired and the posts I’ve allowed to feature on GrowTraffic. But I don’t think my rankings have ever tanked because of this kind of activity. The point is, Google isn’t going to kill your website if you do a bit of this kind of link building. As Mueller said, they already know how to devalue those links. But if you start buying loads of those links and use it as your primary link acquisition tactic, you’re probably going to get smacked down before you know it.
And that will mean you’ve either go to disavow, change domains or be prepared to have your rankings tanked for years to come. And who can afford to do that?
It’s not to say that every link on those lists should be avoided. In fact, some of those sites are actually genuine websites that are just easy to get a decent guest post on. If they are creating and uploading loads of different types of content themselves – more than the blog posts they’re accepting – the site is probably OK to use for guest posts. The thing is, most sites on those lists don’t live up to those standards because these are just the way for a spammer to make quick money. They aren’t thinking about a long term business.
The thing to remember that you should never just say “OK” when someone offers you a guest post, you’ve got to really think about it and really analyse the sites in which you might achieve a guest post.
This is where all those content farmers and PBN’ers went to, they’ve just set up loads of guest blogging sites and their intentions are the same. They don’t really want to help you they just want to sell posts quickly and move on to the next sucker.
For those people who are actually in this to do a good job, they have to be reviewing their own guest post website lists to work out which ones everyone else is touting and try to find new sites to add to their lists. Otherwise, before you know those sites will end up on every list and end up blacklisted with devalued links.
GrowTraffic’s guest post strategy is far more manual than just saying yes to a random enquiry from a guest post seller on Facebook. We use outreach to get in touch with authority website owners. We have many emails and sometimes conversations over the phone. We spend a long time making sure we’ve created a piece of content that they would be happy for their audience to read. We also don’t insist on links and don’t talk about getting links. We always try to include a link in the post but if we can’t we at least make sure that we can get a brand mention in each post.
It’s a slower process and requires a lot more work that’s why we charge £250 for an outreach blog placement and can’t get away with charging $10, like some of the guest blog vendors seem to be able to offer.
To conclude, just be careful in what you say yes to if it feels easy or seems too good to be true it probably is.