Long ago, in days shrouded by the mists of memory, guest posting was one of the best ways to get a link back to your site. You could offer up a guest post on an industry blog, demand a byline or an in-content link as your only compensation, and reap untold benefits. Like all objects of power, guest posts were quickly mass produced by everyone with the capability of doing so.
Over time, the power of the individual guest post dropped. Google slowly lost interest. Bloggers emphasized nofollowed links. Finally, Matt Cutts, feared warlock of search spam, destroyed their power. Guest posts for SEO were finished. I’m going to go ahead and not link to his blog post here, as you’ve surely seen it a dozen times before.
Two factions arose from this death of guest posting. The first decided that if Cutts said it, it’s unquestionably true, and have avoided guest posting ever since. The second decided that if Cutts said it, it needs to be tested. They have determined that guest posts with the focus on SEO are done. Dead. If all you’re doing is demanding a link, your guest posts are valueless and they may eventually come back to bite you.
If, however, you’re using guest posts to provide quality content with your name attached, as a way to build reputation and awareness, with little regard for links, well. The story is completely different. You can still benefit in several ways, from author rank to organic awareness.
How long can it last?
Google, Guest Posting and Link Schemes
Buried deep within Google’s massive database of page ranking factors and rules, you can find one interesting line. Look into Google’s rules on link schemes, under quality guidelines. What you see is this:
Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.
This tells us a few things. First, it tells us that Google is paying attention to the guest posting issue and how spammy it has become. Second, it tells us that Google is going to penalize sites that abuse the system, in the same way they penalize other sites abusing other systems.
Interesting to note are some of the qualifiers. Google is specifically calling out large-scale marketing, both through guest posts and article marketing. Content marketing is, more or less, shaped by Google’s desires. They won’t demolish the entire industry. What they will do, however, is begin to penalize sites that publish posts anywhere else they can in order to gather resources for their own site.
Google also mentions “keyword-rich anchor text links.” This is the crux of the issue, the core of the spam. Without those links, a guest post is just a post. Who wrote it, and why, matters very little. The links inform intent, and allow Google to learn that a blogger is spreading their tendrils out through third party sites, looking to squeeze out every drop of benefit they can find.
Incoming: Guest Blogging Penalty
There’s no question that Google will penalize guest bloggers. For one thing, they already do, on a small scale. They determine things on a case by case basis, with some guy in the Google offices reviewing each instance. These link-based manual actions have guest posting at the core.
The question is, how will Google ramp up guest blogging penalties? Will they grow stricter with enforcing the rules, to force more users to comply? Will they grow broader, affecting more and more sites with lax rules? Will they develop a pattern recognition algorithm that can detect guest blogging intent, and introduce it with a P-themed algorithm name akin to Panda, Penguin and Pigeon?
In fact, Google may already be implementing small-scale tests of such an algorithm internally. I don’t claim to know what they’re doing, I have no special sources. All I know is that it makes sense to do and they’ve already demonstrated the capabilities necessary to do something more complex. For example, what are some characteristics of a guest post created for SEO?
Links that fall into easy patterns. Every time you have a link back to your site in your guest post bio, it’s typically copy and pasted, optimized as an anchor and linking back to your homepage or landing page. All of this is easily codified and flagged, it doesn’t take an AI to do it.
Guest Blogging and Author Ranks
We already know Google is tracking loads of author information. We know they are identifying what writers write for what sites. It stands to reason that Google can identify when you as a guest writer post on a site you don’t usually write for. This is a basic warning sign of a guest post, but guest posts in general aren’t a bad thing. This filter could be considered the top level filter, where Google takes an index of every post made and discards posts made by a writer on their own site.
The second filter, then, would be to analyze the links on posts identified as guest posts. Are they using optimized keywords, branded keywords or site name-based URLs? If so, that’s a second warning sign. From there, it’s just a matter of determining quality levels and purposes for the posts. All of this Google can already do, and in fact already does as part of one algorithm or another. All they need to do is pull it together, spend a year or so testing it internally, and then roll it out generally.
If I were Google, the first thing I would do would be to run this developed algorithm internally on a stable index, the same way Panda used to and Penguin still does. I would analyze its results and cross-check them with human eyes. I might go for easy targets first, like a large known guest blogging network that benefits directly from hosting and spreading guest posts for SEO.
After a few high profile successes, as long as there are no bugs, I might proceed to roll out some more general, smaller scale penalties to test the waters. There’s no better way to determine whether there’s a problem than to force the changes on a huge audience and allow them to stress test everything.
After perhaps riling up the web audience with a dud of a major algorithm update, perhaps I might roll out this new algorithm publicly, to see how it goes. Or, perhaps, I might sneak the algorithm into circulation and see if anyone catches on. Either way, well, Google may be poised for just such an update.