The Guest Blogging Risks Just Got Real

Spammy guest posts have been a problem for quite a while. I’ve certainly bitched about being on the receiving end. Here’s what it comes down to folks:

If you’re guest blogging for the sake of building links so you can increase your search rankings, or running massive guest post campaigns, you’re doing it wrong. And you might just get slapped by Google.

Matt Cutts warned us about it weeks ago. The folks at Google even made it clear that guest posts on “high quality sites” aren’t safe. Why? Because if you’re the author of a post, you’re not in a position to lend yourself authority and link juice from another site.

Now Google has gone a step further. They’ve finally penalized a guest blogging network:

If you’re using these kinds of services to get paired with blogs that accept guest posts, you should probably stop. And if you’re still being advised to run big guest post campaigns by the dinosaurs in the writing community who missed the memo ages ago, well, it’s time to move on from there too. It’s crazy how often this crap advice is still tossed about — including from “top” freelancers (one in particular sends emails promoting it at least weekly — but I’ll be nice today and not name names).

“But I’m only doing it for the direct referral traffic and to build name recognition,” you might say.

That’s great. That’s what guest posting was always supposed to be about — good old fashioned PR taken from a trade pub tactic to the Web. At least until the Internet marketers and SEOs got their hands on it and do what they always do — ruin things for everyone else.

But if you really mean that, start making sure your guest post links have the rel=nofollow attribute. I recently started requesting that on new guest posts. And I’m working on changing that for guest posts on this blog too. The only reason you need a dofollow link is if you care about the link juice. And if you’ve built your backlink profile to your site by mass-posting elsewhere rather than earning those links in an editorial way, you’ve built your foundation on shifting sand, and now you’re now at risk.

Does that mean you should stop guest posting or stop accepting guest posts on your blog?


What it does mean is that you need to be more selective. Don’t write for sites that will accept anyone and everyone. And don’t choose sites to guest post on based on the link value you think they can provide.

If the majority of your links come from guest posts, start asking to have the links nofollowed. Of course you can’t force a site owner to do that. The next best thing is to change your policies moving forward. If guest posts don’t make up the bulk of your high-value backlinks, you should still be fine. It’s people who relied on them as a link building strategy that are now at the most risk.

I’ve always been a fan of guest posting as a PR strategy, so this is disappointing in some ways. But as a blog owner, my hope is that Google’s move will help to cut down on all of the crappy and irrelevant requests bloggers receive. I’ve tried weeding it out by not accepting posts from SEO and marketing firms, but that never went far enough. That’s why I had to tighten the rules last year and only accept posts from people I knew from around the community. Many bloggers these days are choosing similar paths.

Here are a few tips moving forward:

  • Request nofollow links in your guest post bios.
  • Don’t try to sneak links to your site into the body of your guest posts (trying to make them look like editorial links).
  • Get to know the blogs and bloggers you plan to pitch; give them a reason to trust you.
  • Don’t write guest posts for clients — this was never a solid business model, and these paid placement posts are some of the worst offenders when it comes to guest blogging for links.
  • Only guest post on highly relevant blogs (and only accept highly relevant posts on your own).

But really, other than going out of your way to request nofollow links, this is the same kind of thing I’ve been telling you for years. It’s funny how slow Google can sometimes be in catching up.

How will this news affect your own guest posting policies and strategies?

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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8 thoughts on “The Guest Blogging Risks Just Got Real”

  1. AMEN. I get a ton of requests from these sorts all the time. I ignore them, too. The one that came in yesterday went to the trouble of responding to every condition I have posted on my guidelines, yet missed the big one — I don’t accept posts from companies. And I bet he thought I wouldn’t notice. 😉

    Guest-post campaigns just feel like sales pitches to me. There doesn’t seem to be any real value to the reader at all. Sure, it gets your name out there, but hell, so does visiting other blogs and actually giving a damn about the people in your community. Link parties, link trades, whatever you call it — all of it smacks of “Gimme” marketing. I’m very glad Google is taking action.

    I wish these new Google rules would help eliminate some of the truly awful writing I’m seeing from actual writers. I’ve seen a few self-proclaimed top writers string together unintelligible sentences. That’s lack of attention to your craft, and it’s as big a sin as pushy SEO content and link grabs.

  2. You are so right, Jenn, about how a certain element ruins it for everyone else. Since I am not that far from newbie status, I empathize with the innocent writers who have been told this is the route to go. I venture most are like me who had no idea what nofollow and dofollow referred to.

    As you know, I changed my Guest Post guidelines to include a statement that I rarely accept a post from someone I do not know. Yet the spammy requests continue.

    When done right, I enjoy reading (and writing) guest posts. It brings a new perspective to our readers. However, I am one who gets really tired of the “seeing someone everywhere” in the blogosphere. It ends up having the opposite effect to the intended motive. I am turned off and point my imaginary MUTE button at the guest blogger.

  3. Believe it or not, I saw yet another blogger giving dangerous advice on this topic today. This time they basically said you’re safe as long as you only target bigger authority sites.

    Um, no. If you’re doing it for links, you’re at risk, period. Google’s John Mueller started talking about this back in mid-2013 — if you’re the one placing the link, regardless of what site it is, that’s something that should be nofollowed.

    But hey, if you get no traffic from Google, it might not be a concern. For the rest of us, it has to be, whether we like it or not. The basic issue is pretty simple: if the site wouldn’t be giving you that link without you contributing content to them, it’s not a natural link, and it should be nofollowed.

    It amazes me the way some people target and advise the new and naive about these things, when they themselves can’t stay informed on best practices. You gave some good examples of things that have long been penalized, but they still remain popular among people who don’t know any better.

    Here’s the thing. You can no longer think in terms of “link building.” It’s about what I’ve been trying to say for years — quality first, not links. Create something of value and people recognize that. Most links are meant to be a form of earned media; not something you go out and do for yourself. Of course there are going to be some links that you place, because you do it to add value for readers in some way. And you can’t always control whether those links are dofollow or nofollow. But with guest posting you can. At this point, the safest bet is submit an html version of your post alongside whatever else you want to send, and include the rel=nofollow attribute directly. If you can’t do that, just ask the blogger to add it for you.

    Look. I don’t agree with all of Google’s policies. It pisses me off to no end that they’ve become the self-appointed Internet police. I’ve taken stands against some of their policies in the past, and I still have major problems with their views on certain forms of advertising (mostly how they can affect smaller businesses where owners wouldn’t understand things like nofollowing links — there’s a lot they’re just expected to know). But we live in an age where Google matters. And if you want that traffic, you have to play by the rules. The only thing that pisses me off more than some of Google’s rules are the people who earn their livings online — the people who should know better — who continually game the system and ruin things for the rest of us.

    Stop trying to build links. Start trying to earn them. That’s really all you need to remember.

  4. Cathy — You’re a great example. And that guest post I’m working on for Simply Stated Business this week — you’re going to nofollow that link for me, right? 😉

    I agree with you about seeing the same people everywhere all the time. Unlike Lori, I don’t mind seeing occasional guest post campaigns. To me, all that means is that you made an organized effort to post on certain sites (or a certain number of sites) in a certain time period. There’s value in that when those sites are well-targeted and when you’re posting there for something more than a link back to your site. For example, I talked on the blog about virtual book tours recently. There’s a case to be made for guest post campaigns of a limited nature designed to take advantage of important timing — like a book launch. But that’s very different from guest posting being a part of a larger, and ongoing, link building campaign. Campaigns can work when you limit their scope.

    But you shouldn’t be doing that all the time or as your primary method of building your platform. Even if you are actually offering value (and many of these mass posters spend their time regurgitating their old material or that of others in their industry anyway), you run the risk Cathy brought up. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

    Instead of relying too heavily on guest posts, you need your own site. It needs to be rich in content. And preferably it should be updated regularly (through a blog, news section, or even just highlighting recent social network updates — something to show it’s not a stale site). That’s what adds value and relevancy.

    You could probably get away without the timely updates in some industries as long as your static content offers plenty of value. But anyone who tries to tell business owners that they should build a stark site and rely on guest posting to gain their links and visibility is doing more harm than good. Guest posting isn’t, and never was, meant to be a substitute for your business offering value of its own on the Web. This is why I regularly talk about things like turning your simple business site into a “resource site.” You have to give people a reason to come back, and you have to give people a reason to share, refer, and link. A business site, and even a blog, has to be about more than one-visit conversions. Anything else is shortsighted.

  5. Guest posting can be SO POWERFUL when used correctly. I talk in my book about one well-placed post that netted me over $35k in business. But it has to be a blog you’ve watched, a readership you understand, and a good fit for your goals. A lot of times, I think guest posters don’t even have specific goals for their posts–they just want “more” of something: traffic, clients, attention, etc.

  6. It certainly can. It’s been a tried and true PR tool for years. But sadly too many people have lost sight of the long-term benefits. Like you said, they don’t have goals. They don’t have an end game that goes beyond “gimme.”

    For many I’ve come across running these mass guest posting campaigns, it’s all about riding others’ coattails. They use people. That’s the extent of the relationships they build. They only target people “bigger” than themselves. And they only show up when they want something. That’s a stupid way to run a business, and eventually it catches up with you.

    Fortunately it looks like that’s going to start happening this year to those who have abused guest posting, or at least those doing so on a large scale. And hopefully that means the rest of us can go back to putting a solid PR tool to work for us as we build our businesses and our networks.

  7. I recently removed the guest blogging guidelines from my site – it’s cut down a lot on spammy approaches, which is great! Being more selective is key.

    I used to run guest blog campaigns for clients, but found that most of them didn’t care about authority and visibility, only about inbound links from high PR sites. Not surprisingly, recent changes from Google have pretty much killed that – which is a good thing, in my book.

  8. I think some of the problem on the client side comes from all the crap information out there. Clients are sometimes new to blogging, or they only have experience posting to their own.

    They here the loudest (usually some of the most incompetent) people yelling about what a hot promotional tool guest posting is, how it can build them a lot of links, how it will increase their Google rankings, how it will make a superstar in their industry if they use and abuse the right relationships, etc. They take some fool’s word for it. That’s the first issue.

    Then bad budget decisions can set in, and they look for some of the cheapest ghostbloggers they can find. And worse, they often trust these people to handle the pitching for them too, when frankly most writers aren’t prepared to handle what are essentially PR pitches. It’s not the same as querying a potential client. This accounts for most of the spammy requests I’ve seen so far.

    The second issue isn’t true of all cases obviously. Sometimes the client still hires a more experienced writer, thinking a higher budget will guarantee them success. But when they go into it with inappropriate expectations and goals, it’s a recipe for disaster no matter who they hire.


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