A big part of Google's algorithm and what they evaluate to move websites up the ranks in their search results is a backlink profile - or, how many different brands are linking to yours. If your brand's website doesn't have links pointing to it from other trustworthy websites, you're missing out and potentially losing to the competition.
There are various ways to acquire links, and one common method that’s been a trusted link-building tool for years is guest posting (or guest blogging).
But is guest posting still valuable these days? Google hints that it might not be.
Guest Blogging for Backlinks
SEO teams and agencies have used guest posting to share thought leadership content with other brands while building backlinks from reputable sources. This process involves:
Having a freelance or internal writer create high-quality blog post content
Employing an outreach specialist to research a target list of brand websites that might want to feature the content, and then record the brand's contact details
Pitching this content to the relevant sites and asking them to post it
The benefit to the external sites is that they get free content (and sometimes receive payment for sponsored posts). The benefit to the brand that pitched the content is that it builds exposure among that site’s target audience, while also getting a backlink to the site, which builds SEO.
How Guest Post Guidelines Are Changing
Recently, the world of SEO was set ablaze as Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, stated on Twitter that guest posting was not a viable link-building strategy.
“The part that’s problematic is the links — if you’re providing the content/the links, then those links shouldn’t be passing signals & should have the rel-sponsored / rel-nofollow attached. It’s fine to see it as a way of reaching a broader audience.”
What Mueller said goes against the grain for what many SEO agencies would recommend, which have been using guest posts in their content marketing strategy to build domain authority through backlinks.
However, the news isn’t part of a formal update. In fact, Google’s algorithm has been trained to ignore those links in guest posts for some time now. While websites aren’t being penalized for their guest posts, they’re simply not benefiting from them in the expected way, or at least as much as they used to.
Google’s stance on guest posts hasn’t changed much since 2014, but it seems that people have taken note of it more recently. Matt Cutts, former Head of Search Quality at Google, warned SEO pros six years ago that Google would no longer factor guest post backlinks into its rankings, so the recent tweetstorm shouldn’t come as much of a surprise now.
How Brands Can Avoid Penalty
When it comes to building an SEO and content marketing strategy that'll drive traffic and revenue, you want to keep Google’s search ranking factors top of mind and, of course, avoid anything that is "black hat" SEO that could negatively impact your search rankings.
Fortunately for most brands, guest posts won’t hurt search rankings unless they’re being done in an abusive way (excessive links, for example). They may not help rankings either, so if you're planning on employing this strategy, make sure it's done very thoughtfully and monitored closely for ROI. If you work with an SEO agency that ignores the rules or tries to turn a profit using frowned-upon tactics, your brand could be subject to a Google penalty. And those are nearly impossible to come back from.
At First Page, we work with our clients on creating guest posts that are high-quality and naturally linked to help reach new target audience members and create a groundswell of brand awareness. So we want to be clear that if it's done right, it's still something worth considering for your SEO strategy.
SEMrush Removes Guest Posting Services
SEMrush, a marketing analytics software company, has been feeling the heat thanks to a new guest blogging service they recently unveiled as an offering. Just as quickly as the service launched, however, it was removed from its marketplace.
The SEMrush Guest Posting service promised to deliver “high-quality, natural links to your site, boosting your rankings and helping you get more organic traffic. Without doing any research or routine work yourself, you can order unique content with an integrated backlink to your site, which is then placed on a relevant site within your niche.”
As John Mueller clarified, the types of backlinks mentioned would be seen by Google as unnatural, and therefore could be flagged by the webspam team. He advised teams to add rel=nofollow / rel=sponsored attributions to links to avoid any unnecessary confusion or negative effects.
We're still here to say: we think "high-volume" guest post services like this = risk. But low-volume, focused guest blogging that attacks brand awareness and not just SEO = kosher.
Re-Evaluating Content Marketing Strategy
An effective SEO and content marketing strategy is built on high-quality content. Wherever that content lives — be it on your website, external placements, social media channels, etc. — it should grip the reader in such a way that they’ll want to read through to the end.
Let’s not forget about your audience. While guest posting may or may not make a splash from an SEO perspective, it can still be a valuable tool in building brand awareness. Working with relevant publications and partners that share a similar audience (whether they have higher traffic numbers or not) is still a great way to gain visibility and get people from a new audience pool to become interested in your brand.
Here are a few ways to improve your content marketing strategy:
Maintain a blog: Keep a regular blog posting cadence — weekly is ideal. Ask your sales representatives what common questions they’re asked and use those questions to develop helpful blog content.
Identify content partners: Consider working with other brands in your market to trade content or solicit guest contributions. This can open you up to new audiences.
Get social: Use your social channels to promote content. Share the latest blog posts, engage with other accounts and post updates that your customers will find useful. The bigger your social following, the greater the chance that your content will be seen…and even shared!
Build out your email list: If you create high-value content that you put a lot of dollars behind, consider gating it so people will want access. Also, create a subscription-based newsletter to send new content directly to those who want it.
When It’s Time to Hire an SEO Agency for Guest Blogging
While many parts of a content marketing strategy can be done internally, having the support of an SEO agency can reduce the amount of pressure on your team. Guest blogging requires a ton of manual research and email outreach, and it can be difficult to track and manage. Don't forget that the penalty for breaking the rules and incorrectly guest blogging can be steep. Working with a reputable SEO agency ensures that only the best tactics are used to build awareness and traffic. With our help, you’ll be better able to keep up with your competition and bring new visitors to your website.