When Matt Cutts initially warned webmasters against guest blogging, way back in 2012, most just flat out ignored him. Many believed that their guest posting strategies were inherently superior to other, spammier strategies. Some even saw the negative influence of guest posts as an opportunity. Popular bloggers would do “blog tours” to promote new content and less scrupulous marketers constantly swapped low-effort posts in an effort to expand their audiences. So Matt Cutts warned us again. And and again… and again. It seems as though no one really got the hint until Google began actively taking action against guest blog networks.
Why Are We So Stubborn When It Comes to Guest Blogging?
It used to work. But it used to work in the same way that Stephen King sending in a short story to Playboy worked and a teenager handing out CD mix tapes at a train station does not. It was all about the quality of the work and the context. Guest blogging started as a way for already popular bloggers to engage with each other and share their thoughts. When guest blogging became a method of developing search engine rankings first — and a method of connecting with an audience second — it became a flawed strategy.
Google has told us time and time again that all that really matters is the reader and providing the reader what they want. Everything else is just smoke, lights and magic. And there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, either: if someone approaches you with a guest blog, it’s probably not going to be the best content they are capable of producing. It may not even be unique. It may not even be theirs.
But in spite of all this, we’ve still stuck with guest blogs. Even if we don’t use it as an SEO strategy, we often use it as a strategy to sell product or build branding. Many guest bloggers are selling something specific — such as a new book. And the problem here is that any website accepting this type of content quite quickly becomes inundated with exactly that type of advertising. If every single piece of content on a site is trying to sell you something (and different things, at that!), you’re going to rapidly become disenchanted. You may even stop visiting the site entirely. And once that site’s authority plummets, it’s all over.
But I Wanna Anyway: Limiting the Damage
It’s difficult to say that any strategy is bad. Strategies that are bad for 95% of the marketers may still be leveraged appropriately by that last 5%. Some marketers may find that guest blogs are still useful to them and their unique campaign. And when that happens, it becomes an issue of reducing harm.
The great news is that it’s not difficult: nofollow, nofollow, nofollow. Pretty much the only way to ensure that your PageRank isn’t adversely impacted by guest blog spots — and to make sure that your own site isn’t targeted by spam — is to only use nofollow links, which indicates to the search engine that the link should be effectively ignored.
Using a nofollow link still means that the audience can follow your links; so it’s still a good solution for audience building and general networking. It just means that guest blogging, contrary to what many have said for years now, isn’t really a good search engine optimization strategy.
And that also means that the content is, once more, at the forefront of the campaign. If the content isn’t good — and the site isn’t well-trafficked — it’s not likely to produce any significant results.
The Peripheral Effect of Guest Blogging on Highly Trafficked Sites
There is, sort of, in a sense, a kind of roundabout way in which guest blogging can affect your traffic through a search engine — though, frankly, it’s a bit circuitous. Say you write a rather astonishing guest post on a blog with very high authority. Your guest post itself is going to have a high search engine ranking. And if that guest blog post happens to have a nofollow link to your own site, you may still see an influx of traffic indirectly through search engine results, because people are finding that guest blog through search engines and then clicking through.
The only reason we care about search engine rankings is because it makes it easier for people to find our content. So, technically, a guest post is still valuable in that sense. If you place a guest post on a site that already has good authority, you can easily drive traffic to your site through a search engine even if you are not actively increasing your own search engine relevancy. And, as a website owner, you can certainly build authority through quality content produced by guest bloggers, provided that this content does not serve as link spam.
But all of this already presupposes a high quality of both guest post and website, which again sends us back to the mix tape at the train station scenario.
Audience Retention and the Guest Blogger
If guest blogging isn’t being used primarily to drive organic search traffic, then it’s being used mostly to bring over an audience. But the question is whether this audience is really retained. There are a few major goals that a guest blogger might have:
- Building a brand through repeated exposure with a wider audience.
- Creating awareness of a product or service that is either being launched or improved.
- Driving social media engagement and bringing in new followers.
- Improving website traffic (and hopefully conversions).
All of these goals are worthy ones, but they also need to function as part of a larger, concerted effort. Brand building and product awareness aren’t likely to be achieved without tremendous volumes of content. Social media engagement requires a dedicated social media strategy — as does capturing an audience once they have clicked through. For most, the traffic boost that they experience after a guest blog post will quickly wane.
Guest Blogging 2.0: What Will We Kill Next?
You know who doesn’t use nofollow links? The Huffington Post. And Forbes. And Business Insider. And…
Guest contributing has become the new guest blogging. And while Forbes and Business Insider may curate their links to ensure that the links themselves are already high authority, not all sites do. There are many entertainment, health, travel and hobby magazines today that run on guest contributions. And what is the difference between a guest blog and a guest contribution…?
Well, nothing really, except insofar that the websites are of a larger scale and they usually have a dedicated group of at least a few staff contributors. In reality, the only difference between guest contributions and guest blogs is — and this makes absolute sense — the quality and goal of the submissions.
But that doesn’t mean some people aren’t being sneaky about it. Many writers today are being paid by marketers to get information into HuffPo, Forbes and other similar publications. The press release junket used to be used for this purpose, until it was effectively tanked by Google for, of course, issues of quality, intent and user value.
So what’s the wrap? Guest blogging is a technique that has limited if any usefulness as a search engine optimization strategy, though it can be useful for brand awareness and audience building. Over the past couple of years, it has been slowly replaced as a strategy by guest contributions, which require a higher level of content standards but provide a better payoff with fewer limiting factors. But guest contributions, too, may eventually find themselves on the wrong end of Google’s sharp stick — it all depends on how they are used and to what end.