Are Guest Blogs Forked?

PitchforksThe last couple of weeks have given rise to a lot of cussing and discussing, regarding penalties levied against sites on both ends of the guest-blog spectrum. Both logic and emotions have run high, as people try to sort out what the new “acceptable” is, in Google’s view.

So I thought I’d try to clear up a few things, based upon my observations and opinions. Nobody outside the GooglePlex really knows anything – anyone that claims to is either a fool, or they think you are.

The best we can do is make an educated guess, based upon what we’ve seen and what Google tells us. If we’re objective, then we’ll have a better chance of guessing right.

Stick a Fork in it

Matt Cutts’ blog post in January raised a few eyebrows, as he made a point of saying “So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.”

At first, his post was titled “The decay and fall of guest blogging”, but as the comments on the post started heating up, he went back and edited the title, adding “for SEO” at the end, then softened his stance a little in the comments.

I’ll readily admit that he has a point about guest blogging getting spammy. The rise of guest blogging for link building purposes created an entire sub-industry. As is often the case with a good thing, too many people run it into the ground and Google feels it has to rein in the abuse.

Unfortunately, at that point, the people that are responsibly guest blogging for others or allowing only occasional guest posts on their site get lumped in with the abusers in a storm of penalty flags.

Cutting Deeply

Google has decided that the abusive use of guest blogging needs to stop, and characteristically, they’re giving the nod to the inevitable inclusion of innocent or marginal cases amongst the casualties. As usual, a general outcry has been raised, but if past history is any indication, there isn’t likely to be any softening of their stance.

There’s no denying that there has been plenty of abuse. Sites have popped up selling posts throughout their network, others charge for writers’ membership, in exchange for links, some others offer reciprocal guest blogging (with the attendant links, naturally).

There are other variations… as Google makes their enforcement efforts more strict, abusers try to make their tactics more subtle. Most of them fail miserably at doing so.

Avoiding the Axe

But guest blogging hasn’t suddenly become a totally illegitimate practice – it just requires a great deal of caution, now that Google is paying more attention. So I thought I’d share some things to watch out for and some ways to mitigate the risks.

1. The Ultra-Safe Approach

If you’re a publisher, stricken by fear, uncertainty and doubt, you could simply add a nofollow attribute to any external links in a guest post, as well as links in the author bio. That will protect you from any accusations of link-scheming.

2. The Moderated Approach

If you’re unwilling to nofollow all outbound links from the post, then you really should check out the destination site and page carefully. If there’s any possibility that Google could see that site in a poor light, then linking to it isn’t a good idea. Bear in mind, too, that the fact that the site may look squeaky clean today won’t protect you from a possible backlash if they get in trouble a year or two down the road.

Here, I recommend that links to the author’s site be very carefully screened as well. If in doubt, nofollow them. Alternatively, you could link to their Google+ profile, where they can provide all the links they like.

3. The Devil May Care Approach

We’ve already seen what this approach is doing for a lot of folks… and it’s only going to get worse. But if you have a stubborn streak or if you just don’t care about suddenly disappearing from the top 100 or so SERPs, knock yourself out.

Google can spot guest posts pretty easily, especially now that most contributors have a Google+ profile. If you decide to go this route, I see a manual penalty in your future.

The Damage

The extent of penalization can vary. A manual penalty may be partial or sitewide, and can be tied to either unnatural outbound links or inbound links, depending upon which end of the food chain you’re on.

Outbound Link Penalty

As a publisher, unless you simply don’t care, because you get no traffic from Google, you’ll need to clean up your act and submit a reconsideration request. If you have a lot of posts on your blog, this can be a tedious task.

Personally, I think that it has to deal with your entire outbound link profile… not just those on guest posts. I think a good argument could be made that the manual review is likely to put your entire site under a microscope, at least in terms of your outbound linking practices… don’t even waste your time submitting a reconsideration request until you’re sure of approval.

Inbound Link Penalty

As a guest blogger on several sites, if your posts are linking back to your site, you may get an inbound link penalty. We haven’t seen a lot of these yet, tied to the recent guest blogging purge, so I can’t say if they’re giving any partial penalties or only sitewide.

Either way, you’ll have to clean up your link profile, just like any other inbound link penalty, before a reconsideration request can possibly be successful. Contact the sites you’ve blogged on and ask for a nofollow to be added to all your links (or remove them altogether), then submit a disavow file for any that you couldn’t get removed, before you submit your reconsideration request.

Some Rules of Thumb

Here are a few things that should help keep you safe from a guest blogging-related penalty. Some of these may seem extreme, but with all the doubt that exists about what Google sees as acceptable, I’m proposing a safe approach.

  • Only accept guest posts from people you know are authentic, will provide your readers with real value, and aren’t guest posting all over the ‘net like a lawn sprinkler.
  • Be very critical of any site you link out to from the body of a post. If in doubt, nofollow.
  • Unless you’re 100 percent sure that Google will see your guest poster as a credible authority for that topic on your blog, either nofollow the links from the author bio or only link to their Google+ profile.
  • Quality and relevance are more important than ever. Don’t accept any guest posts just to fill a slot in your calendar. Every post you put on your blog should be high quality… that means well-written, relevant, and of real interest to your readers. If you lower that bar, be prepared for Google to lower the boom.
  • Only allow outbound links that add value to your readers. ‘Nuff said!

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