SEO Q&A: What Exactly is “Duplicate Content” and How Badly is a Site Penalized for It?

Question: I’m worried about duplicate content on my site. If I place a blog post on multiple sites, is that going to harm my search rankings? Will it be marked as spam?

 

Placing a piece of content on multiple sites isn’t always a good idea, but not necessarily for the reasons that you might think. There is no such thing as a duplicate content penalty. Google does not penalize sites for having duplicate content. And Google does not consider duplicate content spam.

Google does take action against sites that seem solely scraped from another site; in effect, the entire site is a duplicate of another site. But that’s really another issue entirely, and not likely to be one that you will casually encounter.

I occasionally see marketers avoiding quotations out of a misguided fear that it will show as duplicated content. Google looks for pages that are identical in content, not paragraphs of quoted content — so this is unnecessary. There are many situations in which a quote can be used to add value to content, so this would be disingenuous on Google’s part.

So why is it bad to have duplicate content? Google will generally combine multiple copies of a page into a single entry, and the entry that has the greatest PageRank will be the only one shown. So it’s not really bad for SEO, it’s just kind of pointless. The other listings will only be shown if the user specifically asks to be shown all the listings, which really only happens when someone is desperately searching for an obscure tech support issue.

But it is bad for the overall user value of a site to have multiple pieces of entirely duplicated content, so that’s something that needs to be considered. For the most part, a carefully curated outbound link is probably more usable and useful.

 

Answer: Duplicate content being considered “spam” is actually a myth. Duplicate content does not lead to any site-wide penalties. Google will group together duplicate content in the search engine page, so it isn’t great for SEO on an individual basis, but it doesn’t hurt the domain.

SEO Q&A: How Does Geographically Targeted Content Actually Work?

Question: How do search engines connect content to geographic locations? Is it just based on keywords, or are there other indicators that the algorithms use?


 

There’s a lot that goes into geo-targeting; it’s not enough to simply stuff content full of location-based keywords. Search engines today look at a myriad of signals, including Google Place pages and Google Maps entries, which are linked to industries and services related to the query. On a purely content level, it’s often best to write about a place rather than just write a generic article and throw the place keywords in later on. Remember, you’re not just trying to hit keywords — you’re also trying to achieve relevancy for the reader.

Obviously, geo-targeted content is only used by the search engine if it’s relevant. If you search for something like “flower shops,” search engines are going to identify what you’re really looking for — regional flower shops — rather than trying to return to you basic information about the existence of flower shops. But if you search for something like “hip dysplasia in golden retrievers,” search engines aren’t going to try to give you local information because it’s not a locally relevant query.

There’s a broader geographic question, too — which websites are returned based on which country the user is in. For many search queries, Australians see vastly different search results from American citizens. In the past, a UK-based company might always want to use a .co.uk address, as this would be more likely to return to a UK user. Today, .com domains are being returned more often for virtually all nations, but there are still some situations in which .au, .co.uk, .ca and other country-based domain names are preferred.

In Webmaster Central, webmasters can specify which country their website is targeted at. But as Google Webmasters cautions, splitting your focus can actually be harmful to your website. If you list your website as relevant to the United States when it’s really an Australian-focused website, you may have the side effect of getting fewer Australian hits.


Answer: To ensure that your content has been properly geo-targeted, it msut be submitted to the appropriate directories in addition to having highly geographically specific content.

 

SEO Q&A Does the Age of Your Domain Matter for SEO?

Question: How does the age of a domain name affect SEO? Is it better to purchase an older domain or a newer domain?


It’s a common myth that the older a domain name is, the better it will perform in search engine rankings. It’s very easy to see why this myth would become popular: the older a domain is, the more content it’s likely to have — and, thus, the better it will perform in terms of SEO. Even worse, some domain services themselves have touted the benefits of having an older, well-seasoned domain, especially services selling already registered domains.

According to Google, there’s really no difference between a site that is two years old, three years old or five years old. It’s all about the actual content on the site. Additionally, Google doesn’t use whois data to determine the age of a website — they use when the website was first crawled by them or when they first saw a link to the domain.

However, Google has stated that website age doesn’t matter “as long as the site is two months, three months” old. So that indicates that very new sites may see some form of penalty initially — though not a significant one. This could either be intentional or just a by-product of the algorithm not having enough information yet on how to place the site.

Finally, when considering the purchase of older domains, don’t forget that a domain can carry baggage. If the domain has had black hat SEO techniques used by a webmaster before, there might still be some harmful links out there just waiting to hurt your new site’s search engine rankings.


 

Answer: After the first few months, the age of a domain does not affect it significantly in terms of SEO. It’s better to worry about the quality of a domain than its age.

Does Your Domain Extension (.COM, .ORG, .NET) Really Matter?

No — but yes. If only the world of digital marketing was clearer. Your domain extension does matter to your search engine optimization, but perhaps not in the way that you think. Mechanically the differences are small; most of the key issues involve usability. After all, an organic web search runs based on user behavior; even Google can’t tell how relevant a website is without links, popularity and other behavior-driven data.

httpDispelling the Myths

Google, Yahoo and Bing do not take into account a domain extension when they promote a website, even if the search query happens to be government or education related. So whether you’re .net or .org, you’re probably safe in terms of Google’s matching algorithm. But that doesn’t mean that your domain extension has no effect on your organic search rankings, which is another common myth. There are still ways that your extension can affect your position on the SERP.

Consider this. Google most definitely uses links — and the quality of those links — to measure whether your site has prominence. Sites that have .gov, .edu or .org domains are generally considered to be more reputable in academic situations than .coms, so they are more likely to be referenced by high quality sites. Likewise, .coms are more often considered to be reputable than .nets. So it’s easy to see that having a specific domain extension can have a potential impact on your organic search ranking even if the search engine itself isn’t actively scanning for it.

computerThe Human Component

And it isn’t just a question of search engine results — you also need to consider the human component. Namely, people are used to .com addresses and they are very unlikely to remember more obscure extensions. If your website is AwesomeWidgets.net, you’ll find a lot of people getting lost when they try to type in AwesomeWidgets.com. One way that some sites have gotten away from this is by directly incorporating the domain into their site’s name somehow. Fish.Net, for instance, is memorable.

People are also conditioned to treat domains that are not .com, .gov, .edu or .org with some suspicion. In particular, .net domains have always been referred to as “Nuts! Everything’s Taken.” It’s considered a last result domain name that only occurs through poor planning or fly-by-night operations. No one wants a .net domain name, the rationale goes, so one should be suspicious of someone who has one. Of course, as the proliferation of .com addresses has continued, this poor reputation has been somewhat reduced.

bakerHere Come the gTLDs

OK, so what about all those entrancing new gTLDs that just popped up? .butcher, .baker, .candlestickmaker? These new domain names are so specific and so out there that they require some additional consideration. gTLDs, just like other TLDs, don’t affect search directly. Google doesn’t say “Oh, it says .baker, I’d better send all queries about cakes there.”

But what a gTLD does do is it inserts a major keyword into every single URL. If you have .baker, and you’re, well, a .baker, you’re going to have that keyword in your URL every time someone searchers for a “baker” in your area. And this had led many people to believe that a gTLD might actually be better for SEO than an ordinary domain.

And that might be true — a little. Still, if you’ve been properly optimizing your site, you should already have your major keywords in your site’s URL — as it does “help a little bit.” But it doesn’t help a lot —  remember, Google really mostly looks at the content of your site, not the URLs. And it may not help enough to alter some of the usability issues.

Mainly — users think it’s weird. Many users aren’t comfortable typing in losangeles.baker and having it actually go to a website. This also gives them one more thing to remember — they can’t just type in losangeles.com — and it makes them less likely to link to your site (because they can’t remember the URL). Obviously this isn’t true for all users, but it’s true for the majority of users. This might be different for a tech-oriented or youth-oriented website.

As developers and marketers, it can be easy for us to forget just how challenging small changes can be for a user base. When choosing a domain for your site, you should think largely about how that domain is going to be received by your audience. Google and other search engines really don’t care what your domain name is or what your domain extension is, but something that you think is charming, quirky or clever may actually be impossible to remember. Short, sweet and .COM is usually the best answer.

SEO Q&A: Do Meta Descriptions and Keywords Actually Matter for SEO?

Question: We spend a lot of time optimizing our descriptions and keywords. We think we see an improvement when they are better optimized to suit the keywords on our site. But do they actually matter for the purposes of SEO?


The “keywords” meta tag has existed since 1995, when it was used by the first generation of search engines, such as AltaVista. At the time, the keywords meta tag was used as a self-reporting method of search query relevancy. It was most definitely useful back then, but it’s easy to see why this type of tactic doesn’t work (or exist) now.

As of 2009, we can be certain that Google no longer takes into account the “keywords” meta tag. Yahoo still indexes the “keywords” meta tag, but gives it the “lowest ranking signal in our system.” You might be inclined to think “Well, that’s still something,” but it’s really not — the ranking signal is lower than just putting the keywords in the text of the site. So it’s basically worthless.

What changed with Yahoo’s ranking algorithms is that while we still index the meta keyword tag, the ranking importance given to meta keyword tags receives the lowest ranking signal in our system…. it will actually have less effect than introducing those same words in the body of the document, or any other section.

Further, some point out that including your keywords directly in your site will give your competitors insights into the general thrust of your advertising campaign. If you’re running a campaign based primarily on the keyword “custom 3D printed widgets,” a competitor could buy you out of that space without having to guess.

As for the meta description tag, it does nothing for SEO — but it may be displayed on the search engine results page, so it still has value. Descriptions should be carefully written for user comprehension, rather than search engine optimization. In other words, it should be human-optimized rather than search engine optimized.

Of course, the meta description tag isn’t always displayed on the SERP; Google tries to generate a result that is most useful to the user, pulling from a variety of sources, including both the meta description and the page content.


Answer: No. Meta descriptions may be displayed to the user but does not affect SEO — keywords should be avoided. The meta keywords tag does nothing on Google and almost worse than nothing on Yahoo.

 

 

SEO Q&A: Does Purchasing PPC Advertising on Google Help Your Search Engine Ranking?

Question: Does purchasing paid advertising help with organic search engine results? I know Google says it doesn’t, but have there ever been any tests to determine whether that’s truly the case?


It isn’t just Google that says that paid advertising has no affect on search engine results — Moz agrees, too. That doesn’t mean that PPC campaigns SEO don’t work great together. As Search Engine Watch points out, PPC campaigns give a marketer a lot of additional data to work with.

And there’s a correlative effect, too; marketers who are willing to spend money on PPC campaigns are more likely to have spent some time on their search engine optimization and site quality.

It’s easy to see why this myth keeps coming back. But a few moments of thought should make it really clear that this wouldn’t be ultimately beneficial to Google — or to anyone.

  • It would lower search engine quality as a whole, reducing the amount of control they have within the search engine industry.
  • It would be extremely obvious; marketers would notice it very quickly and thus be able to game the system.
  • If it wasn’t obvious, marketers wouldn’t be aware of it, and thus it wouldn’t help them.

The final reason is perhaps the most obvious. It’s silly for Google to promote PPC advertised sites in their organic search and then deny doing it, because that invalidates any reasons they might have for doing it. By promoting advertised sites in organic search, they would actually lessen the importance of PPC ads.

Funnily enough, this has actually led to a competing theory: that Google actually sabotages websites that invest in PPC advertising, so that they need to pay for more PPC advertising. But, again, that makes no sense — marketers crunch a lot of data, and this would just incline them to believe that PPC advertising had a negative effect on SEO somehow and should not be used.

But that’s not to say this is an entirely paranoid or naive thought. Companies like Facebook sabotage marketing efforts all the time — and Facebook is a big company and they make a lot of money in advertising. It’s worth it to be skeptical. In this particular situation, though, neither the numbers nor the logic add up.


Answer: Not directly, and certainly not as any initiative through Google. But there are indirect results of a PPC campaign that can help with organic search queries, such as improved data collection and site quality.

 

 

The Little Known Google Payday Loan Algorithm

Okay, maybe not little known — but seldom talked about. At relatively the same time marketers the world over were panicking about Panda and Penguin, Google was also rolling out Google Payday Loan. In fact, Google Payday Loan has gone through two iterations, the first targeting “spammy websites” and the others targeting “spammy queries.” Or as Google calls it, very spammy websites, and very spammy queries. And, as the name would suggest, this was targeted mostly towards sites such as “payday loan” sites — and few of us are going to lose sleep over lessened traffic for payday loan companies. But it wasn’t only payday loan companies that were hit.

legalWho Was Affected by Google Payday Loan?

Though Google never actually released a list, many financial products and insurance products were suspected to have been hit by the rollout. The algorithm change was stated to affect 0.3% of queries in English.. By contrast, Penguin 3.0 affected 2.3% of English search queries, but had a significantly broader target. Some webmasters reported that their websites seemed to have been hit even though they were in non-spammy categories, such as consumer electronics. But there was a lot of confusion, because Payday Loan 2.0 rolled out at the same time as Panda 4.0 — which obviously obfuscates reporting.

As with any Google algorithm change, there was no specific information released. But unlike other algorithm changes, Google was vague as to what even constituted a “very spammy” site or query. Google has released guides towards creating better content and developing a higher PageRank, but no similar guides have been released for avoiding “very spammy” keywords. There are a few key assumptions that you could be inclined to make, based on this information:

  • Google may believe that “very spammy” is so obvious that it does not need to be defined.
  • Google must be very committed to ensuring that these “very spammy” sites do not try to game the system.
  • Google might believe that no relevant site would ever meet their “very spammy” algorithms.

And all of these things may be true — but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the algorithm will never affect a legitimate site. And because the Payday Loan algorithm is so close in nature to many aspects of Google’s quality checking algorithms, it may be impossible to untangle which algorithm is adversely penalizing your site, should your site be penalized.

spamA Spam Filter for the Web

Google’s Payday Loan algorithm can really be likened to a spam filter. It operates outside of Penguin, Panda and other algorithmic changes and focuses only on spammy sites and queries. It essentially strips out content that is valueless and overly promotional. So it would be easy to assume that it is likely scanning for similar queries as to a standard email spam filter: payday loans, male enhancement, car accident attorneys, unnecessary insurance products and similar. And if you’ve been on the web long enough, you already know: this accounts for a lot of web traffic.

But overly spammy content also includes content that is unoriginal and saturated with keywords — so websites that meet these qualifications may actually be undergoing even harsher penalties than they realize due to the Google Payday filter. Further, websites that are actually selling insurance or car accident attorneys may find it an uphill battle, especially if they are trying to develop a content marketing campaign from scratch.

Most SEO masters and mavens are already aware that insurance agents and attorneys are up there with real estate professionals for having sites that are, well, remarkably similar to other sites. In fact, you could say that a huge amount of insurance, real estate and legal websites are essentially spam — they tend to cover the exact same ground as each other, they put out content at an alarming rate and most of the content is fairly thin and shallow.

thumbPinning Down Spammy Content

Google often leaves us with a bunch of puzzle pieces — some missing, some from different puzzles entirely — and asks us to put it together ourselves. For the most part, we can reconstruct something fairly reasonable to follow, though that can also lead us down the dark path of assumption. On the Google blog, a few indicators of spammy content are mentioned:

  • “Content farms” are targeted specifically; sites that have shallow, low-quality content across the domain.
  • Repeated, spammy words, whether they’re across the domain or on individual pages, are targeted.
  • “Hacked site” detection is being used to determine whether a site may be under someone else’s control.
  • Sites that copy content from other sites or that have low levels of original content.

These are the exact techniques that many marketers are using today to produce certain industry websites. But those websites and those marketing campaigns are still working… mostly due to geo-targeting. If you do happen to search for “payday loan,” for instance, you will get back a huge swathe of information that is local to you. Google isn’t trying to blacklist specific keywords, but instead spammy sites that are targeted towards those keywords.

Google Payday Loan is probably by far the most benign and outright helpful Google algorithm change, but it shouldn’t be entirely ignored — especially when dealing with industries that experience particularly high levels of spam, such as the legal industry and the insurance industry. This algorithm is simply another nail in the coffin for thin, shallow content, and again underscores the importance of search engine relevancy, user value and geo-targeting.

How Social Media and Search Engine Optimization Work Together

How does social media really impact search engine optimization? As with most areas of digital marketing, there are a lot of myths out there and not a lot of hard facts. Social media and search engine optimization are both incredibly important aspects of a digital marketing campaign, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily have a lot of overlap. There are very few ways in which social media can be used for SEO, and a few of known strategies are either misleading or mythical.

facebookSocial Media Signals Do Not Affect Search Ranking

Matt Cutts has described exactly why Twitter and Facebook messaging aren’t generally considered any different from other crawled pages… and, further, why social media signals are not used in their ranking algorithm. While it would be easy to simply say it’s too difficult — and it would be very difficult — Cutts also points out that they can randomly lose access to the information on Twitter, Facebook or other platforms, and that it would be prohibitively time-consuming for their engineers to manage the signals from platforms that they may or may not continually have access to.

Some have theorized that sharing through social media will directly affect SEO, but Google states this isn’t true. Instead, it’s simply that popular pages are more likely to both be shared and to rank highly on the SERP — it is not that one is causing the other.

trafficSocial Media Traffic Doesn’t Have Significant Impact on SEO

Some marketers believe that social media traffic can make your site seem more popular, which will then boost your place in the SERP. But in actuality, that isn’t likely to be true — for a couple of reasons. Think about it from a technological point of view. If a person clicks a link on Facebook and gets sent to YourReallyCoolSite.com, Google is not going to track that traffic; Google is not some all-knowing, all-encompassing entity… at least, it’s still pretending that it’s not, until it takes over the world. What happens between a person, Facebook and YourReallyCoolSite.com stays inside of that transaction.

Second, there are some indications that Google pays more attention to authority than strict popularity, regardless. In particular, backlinks remain critical to Google’s algorithm; Google has experimented in searching without links in the past and found that the results were extremely poor. As Cutts himself has noted, if searches were run by popularity, every result returned would be pornography.

linksSocial Media Cannot, As a General Rule, Be Used for Link Building

Curiously, many marketers mention that social media is the “new link building.” It’s curious, because almost all social media links are marked “nofollow. They have absolutely no impact on search engine rankings. You can simply view the source on a Twitter page to see that all the links are marked nofollow — so it’s strange that this strategy gained traction. One notable exception — which we’ll get into a little more below — is Tumblr, due to it being a hybrid of social media network and blogging site.

Tweeting your links is an excellent way to build an audience and gain exposure, but there’s no reason to believe that a tweeted link is going to build any form of search engine traction. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+ all create nofollow links.

likeThe Google+ Like Exception

Here’s a weird little thing that you might not have known… and, to be frank, I don’t know how anyone could reliably shoehorn it into any social media or SEO strategy. Google will mark links that your other friends have liked through Google+, provided you’re signed in at the time. So if a ton of your friends have liked a certain page, you’ll see it noted below the link. That’s not to say that it will be pushed up the SERP — it will just be more visible.

Now — is that useful? Well… eh. Maybe. It’s useful on a very niche level; if you have a campaign to get Google+ likes in place, you’ll be more visible to other people on Google+. But realistically, no one uses Google+ — so that’s already dead in the water.

tTumblr Inhabits a Unique Space

Tumblr is interesting. When we think of WordPress, we of course know that it is a content management system and that things published on WordPress will be crawled by search engines. But, one thing you may have noticed, is that items posted on Tumblr — which is primarily a social media site, but also a blogging site — tend to rank fairly high in search engine results. For whatever reason, Tumblr appears to have fairly high domain authority, and this is being pushed to (of course) everything on its domain.

When you deal with Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn updates, it’s not very likely that you will be returned in search engine results at all. When you post in WordPress, it really depends on your personal domain or site — and even if you’re on WordPress.com, you may see limited traffic. But Tumblr posts appear to have some inherent search engine traction, for a variety of reasons. What holds Tumblr back (or, for some, actually makes it better), is its rather niche demographic.

authorThe Google+ Authorship Debacle

Google+ pushed their “authorship” program hard. Through authorship, a profile photo and follower information was shown on Google’s search engine pages if the author of said page was registered with Google+ and the domain. Google authorship never affected search engine ranking directly. What it did was increase search engine visibility. People were often more likely to click on articles that had a trusted face beside them.

It’s understandable why Google would do this. Google has always had this overarching vision of linking everything together through people rather than through pages and posts, but they’ve been held back because they have little control over the other social media platforms. But it’s also understandable that they pulled the program. It put too much of an emphasis on their own property — Google+ — and provided too little in terms of value. Regardless, even if it had affected search engine ranking (which it didn’t), it’s gone now.

As with anything, testing is really necessary to confirm or deny any theories regarding social media and search engine optimization. There’s a lot of competing information, conspiracy theories and conflicting strategies that can alternately distract and damage. But overall, there should not be any direct connection from social media to search engine optimization; nothing that happens on social media should impact your search engine rankings.

That doesn’t mean that social media doesn’t aggressively grow traffic — we know that it does — it just doesn’t do so through the SERP.

SEO Q&A: Search Engine Optimization, Sub-Domains and Sub-Directories

Question: Are sub-domains on a website considered to be part of that domain? Is there any advantage to using sub-domains over sub-directories, or sub-directories over sub-domains? Will it hurt my website to move one from the other?


The question of subdomains vs. subdirectories is a great example of SEO voodoo. According to Matt Cutts, using a subdomain is, to Google, materially identical to using a subdirectory. There’s no advantage to using one or the other except for purposes of ease-of-use or simple preference.

Yet many marketers will swear up and down that subdirectories are better.

In fact, the thought leaders at Moz go so far as to imply that Matt Cutts is lying by omission and that Google really does rank sub-domains differently from the domain.

“I think the important word you used in describing Matt’s video is “implied.” He’s very careful not to speak in specifics, and often, I think the truth is buried in that non-specific language, rather than in the broader implied phrasing.”

Because why not trick the people you’re trying to educate? Just for kicks.

The example Moz uses is moving a guide from http://guides.moz.com to http://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-SEO.

But that’s not comparable at all. A comparable move would be from beginners-guide-to-SEO.moz.com. They moved their guide from one non-optimized URL to an optimized URL; of course this would make a dramatic difference. It has nothing to do with domain structure.

It’s often repeated that subdomains are looked at as entirely different sites from the main domain. We know, from Google, that this is just not true — and there’s truly no reason for Google to lie about this. And many marketers state that they’ve moved content from a subdomain to a subdirectory and seen an incredible increase in traffic. But it’s very likely that this is due to some other change that they’ve made — or simply due to the fact that the content has then been up for longer.


Answer: Google has stated subdomains and subdirectories are materially identical. Others in the industry agree. It’s a persistent myth that probably has much more to do with voodoo than fact.

The Slow Death of Guest Blogging: the Good, the Bad and the Future

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.

train stationWhy 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.

damage2But 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.

typingThe 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.

audienceAudience 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.

businessinsiderGuest 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.