We all know the benefits of ranking highly on Google. It removes you from the online wilderness, displays you in the shop window of the world and greatly improves your chances of being discovered by your target audience. As the gatekeeper to the internet, its importance is hard to overstate.
Historically, guest blogging has been seen as an effective way to boost a website’s SEO, by securing backlinks from high authority websites. However, some now question the value of guest posting as a legitimate means of link building. This in fact dates back to 2014, when Google’s then Head of Web Spam, Matt Cutts, proclaimed….
‘stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy’
Strong words indeed. And in 2017 Google issued official guidance on what it views as bad guest blogging practices. So what does all this mean for guest posting for SEO in 2020? Well, in this post we’ll explore if guest blogging is dead or if it’s still beneficial for SEO.
Guest blogging for SEO – the basics
So first off, let’s quickly explain the link between guest posting and SEO.
It all comes down to backlinks. Even with Google’s ever increasing sophistication and machine learning, backlinks are still fundamental to how it assesses the authoritativeness of a website. If you don’t have backlinks from high authority websites, but your competitors do, they will probably outrank you on Google for most keywords that are worth targeting.
Therefore the fundamental question for any website owner wishing to improve their SEO is “how to get backlinks”? Well, enter stage right guest blogging.
What is guest blogging?
A guest blog post is a piece of content that you write, which is then published under your name on a third party website. These will usually include an author byline, which is a sentence or two about the author, which normally includes (you’ve guessed it) a backlink to the author’s website. And what’s more, you can often insert backlinks to your website within the main body of the guest post as well, as the below infographic shows.
Of course, guest blogging isn’t the only link building method out there (far from it!), but it’s definitely one of the most popular ways to build backlinks for SEO. And it’s also a great way to combine PR and SEO strategies for maximum impact.
So what’s the problem with guest blogging for SEO?
In the SEO industry, anything that’s seen as an effective way to win backlinks will very quickly start to get abused. Google is all too well aware of this and plays a constant game of cat and mouse (read our blog post on press releases and SEO, as another interesting example of this).
Guest posting is certainly no exception to this rule and has suffered plenty of abuse and manipulation. Ultimately, some guest posting for SEO practices have become incredibly spammy. And it’s these bad practices that Google can penalise you for. These include:
- Publishing guest posts on low authority sites. The digital publishing boom-and-bust has created a glut of low quality “news” sites desperate for content and looking to make a quick buck. These generally have pretty poor editorial standards so will often accept poor quality guest posts (sometimes in exchange for payment).
- Spinning content a hundred and one ways. This is the “art” of taking a piece of content that you’ve already published, then slightly rewriting it in order to publish it on a different website to pick up more backlinks for SEO.
- Writing thin content that provides little value. This is quite simply when someone writes a guest post purely for the sake of a backlink, rather than to provide an insightful and helpful article for a publication’s audience (which should always be the primary purpose).
- Over-optimizing backlink anchor texts. If you stuff a bunch of keywords into the backlink anchor text (for example “best value travel insurance”), this again can be seen as spammy.
- Cramming in too many backlinks. Putting half a dozen backlinks within the main body of the guest article is another indication that you’re trying to manipulate it.
- Tapping up the same sites again and again. Doing guest blogging outreach and building relationships can be time consuming, so people can be tempted to repeatedly publish guest blog posts on the same few websites that they have a good relationship with. But avoid over-relying on a handful of sites to publish your guest blogs, as this can also be seen as spammy.
- Not being knowledgeable on the subject you’re writing about, or hiring writers that aren’t knowledgeable. Similar to the above point about thin content. You have to know what it is you’re writing about, in order to provide genuine value to a website’s audience.
So guest blogging for backlinks has been royally abused by some in the industry, and spammy practices have crept in. But does guest posting still work to gain SEO benefits? Hell yes! We’ll explain below.
The benefits of guest blogging
The key to being successful with guest blogging for SEO is to not be spammy with it. As long as you’re producing high quality and original content for authoritative websites, then you’ll have no problems and it should benefit your SEO strategy. When done right, the benefits of guest blogging are not only the increased amount of backlinks but also more referral traffic to your site, increased brand awareness and credibility, and reaching new audiences.
Now you know what not to do, so here’s a guide to guest blogging to help you stay on Google’s good side.
Guest blogging best practices
- Approach guest blogging as a PR activity, not an SEO activity. Sometimes people within the SEO industry can lose sight of the bigger picture. When it comes to guest posting, the primary purpose should be to demonstrate your expertise and knowledge on the subject you’re writing about, in order to inform and educate the reader. We call this “thought leadership” in PR. Therefore, view any backlinks you win from doing this as an extra bonus, not as the sole purpose.
- Check a website’s domain authority before approaching them. Download the free Moz Toolbar so you can check any website’s domain authority (DA) score. This is a score of 1 to 100 of how authoritative a website is. While this isn’t a metric that Google uses, it provides a useful “sniff test” of any website. As a rule of thumb, avoid sites with a DA score of 30 of less, and remember the higher the DA score, the more valuable a backlink from that site will be.
- Every guest post you write has to be original. Don’t slightly rewrite an article you’ve already had published or rewrite a piece of content that’s already on your blog. Each guest post you write needs to stand on its own as a unique piece of content.
- Only include editorially relevant backlinks within the article. If a publication’s guest posting guidelines permit the inclusion of backlinks to your website within the main body of the article, these have to be editorially relevant. By this I mean they have to link to content that provides further insights on the subject your guest blog post is discussing, such as relevant blog posts. Don’t put in a bunch of backlinks to your homepage or product landing pages! And only include one or two of these backlinks.
Follow versus nofollow backlinks
One final and very important thing to be aware of is the difference between follow and nofollow backlinks. While this point doesn’t concern staying on Google’s good side, it determines whether you actually get any SEO value from guest blogging, after following all of the above guidelines.
There are two types of backlinks, follow and nofollow. Follow backlinks pass “link equity” to the websites they’re linking to, whereas nofollow backlinks don’t. So in Google’s eyes a nofollow backlink doesn’t pass any SEO value (or only very little value) to the website receiving it.
Therefore, you need to check whether or not the backlinks a website provides in its guest posts are follow or nofollow. Check the backlinks in both the author bylines and the main body. Our Guest Posting Toolkit provides a walkthrough on how to do this and other useful tips for guest blogging and creating guest blogging strategy.
Guest blogging is not dead.
When done correctly, it can still provide enormous benefits for your website’s SEO. Just make sure you’re following guest blogging for SEO best practices and avoiding spammy sites. That way you’ll be able to steadily build up your backlink profile from high authority sites, while staying on Google’s good side.