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I’d hate to be in Matt Cutts’ shoes. He’s often in an incredibly difficult position, serving as a mouthpiece for Google, passing on the company’s unpopular and even hated policies, and then bearing the brunt of the ensuing criticism from the digital marketing industry. I have tremendous respect for Matt, and am grateful for the information and updates he shares. I have no doubt we would complain a lot more if Google refused to share any information with us as to what they are thinking and doing.
That said, I was dismayed by his recent blog post declaring the death of guest blogging as an SEO tactic, not because of the declaration itself, but because of how it was communicated.
While Matt Cutts is a prominent figure on both the Google and the digital marketing landscapes, he’s not the final word on Google policy. While his frustration-fueled post may be an indication of things to come from the search engine, we—especially those not in the digital marketing industry—need to keep some important things in mind.
An Abuse of Trust
Matt’s blog audience isn’t just made up of SEO and marketing professionals. Being in a highly visible position has made him known to business owners and others in the digital space as well. One of the comments on Matt’s guest blogging post came from a representative of a fitness blogger network who was expressing not just concern, but actual fear that his websites may now be penalized for the way they were handling guest blogging:
“We are a health and fitness community which has always allowed our members to submit guest articles and blogs for editorial review. We have always steered clear of spammy articles, not allowed optimized keyword links and made sure we used the correct Google+ Authorship.
I am worried now my website will be penalized for this activity ??
Are you saying “ALL” Guest blogging is bad or can high-quality publishers still carry on if we make sure the posts are high quality and relevant ??”
Despite Matt’s efforts to stress that he was referring to guest blogging as a link building tactic, there was clearly still a lack of understanding from those who are not digital marketers or SEO professionals.
Hopefully that commenter will find someone who can allay his concerns. The point is, using broad language like “guest blogging is dead” and “guest blogging used to be a respectable thing” is at best careless, and at worst, irresponsible, and can have real consequences for those who don’t live and breathe digital marketing and SEO.
SEO Isn’t Everything
In “Why Your High Ranking in Google May Be a Failure Point“, I showed just how dangerous it can be to rely solely on a high-ranking in Google. Smart business owners stabilize their marketing and conversion sources. Their businesses take advantage of multiple marketing channels.
If you think about it, guest blogging is really the Internet’s version of traditional PR. It’s a valid and legitimate strategy on its own, and doesn’t need SEO to be a powerful promotional technique. Guest blogging can be a form of link building, yes, but it doesn’t require links to be effective, depending on what your goals are.
For example, at this moment, you’re reading a post I wrote for Search Engine Journal, a respected site. My goal is not to acquire a link, but to build my brokerage’s brand and reputation, as well as my own. Whether you agree with my post or not, the mere fact that you’re reading it means I’m gaining exposure for my business, and building my authority. As far as I’m concerned, this is already an instance of successful guest blogging.
The Threat to Small Business Owners
This is why issuing a statement such as: “So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy”, is so dangerous. Small business owners may abandon a valid technique for promoting their business because they may see it lumped together with other spammy practices. They don’t have a deep enough understanding of how guest blogging works—or should work—and they don’t have the knowledge or experience to differentiate between spammy guest blogging and the legitimate promotion tool it can be.
That’s the part I find dismaying. We all know the Internet has lowered the barrier to entry for a lot of people to become business owners who otherwise may not have had that kind of opportunity. A lot of the people who make a living from their online business are single moms, retirees, students, and others for whom it may be difficult to work outside the home.
They’re not SEO experts, or even marketing experts, and they shouldn’t have to be. So when someone like Matt Cutts takes it upon himself to “call it” and declare a perfectly valid promotional technique “dead,” without a fuller, clearer explanation, those people can become frightened, and their businesses can suffer. And that is a greater travesty than a link building tactic becoming more difficult, or even obsolete.
The Unofficial Last Word
The most important thing to note about Matt’s post is that it was published on his personal blog—not the official Google blog. To the uninitiated, it may have seemed like a change in Google policy when it was actually Matt expressing his frustration with the 8,436th guest blogging pitch email he’s received.
Matt is perfectly within his rights to complain about, well, anything on his personal blog. While I do think a little more care is warranted when blogging about topics like this, small business owners must also change the way they respond to posts like this.
So if you’re a small business owner, what are your actual takeaways from Matt’s post?
- Identify good guest blogging partners: Avoid sites that offer “open invitations” to guest bloggers, unless they’re moderated and edited.
- Look for strong metrics: This is important in both the SEO and audience areas. Do they have a responsive audience? Is the audience targeted to your industry? Can you legitimately add to the conversation?
- Avoid linking to your content in the body of the article: Links to your website should be mostly saved for your bio. Focus on your brand and develop thought leadership.
- Be creative: Put in the time and effort to create high-quality content, whether it’s on your site or someone else’s. Any benefit you may get from guest blogging will be negated by poorly written, thin content. Besides, if you are paying attention to the first point (Identify good guest blogging partners), they hopefully won’t allow you to publish thin content.
- Develop relationships: Be a true partner to those sites that publish your content. Your job isn’t done once the post goes up. Be available to respond to comments, and stay in touch with the site’s publisher.
- Diversify your marketing efforts: If you’re using guest blogging as your sole method of building links or marketing your business, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Use multiple marketing techniques to not only broaden your reach, but to ride out changes such as one of those techniques eventually being killed by Google. And it will happen, whether it’s guest blogging, or some other tactic.
Stay on the Course
Above all, see posts like this for what they are—a reason to do things better. Guest posting as a link building tactic is on its way out because too many people have abused it. The same can be said for several past SEO tactics. Too many people out there look for the loopholes they can exploit, to the point where Google changes its algorithm, and the process starts over again.
Don’t let yourself fall victim to the latest marketing trend or tactic. Keep things above-board, maintain quality in everything you do, and don’t make business decisions based on one person’s blog post, whether it’s Matt Cutts or anyone else. Weigh the pros and cons, and seek out more information before you make changes that could put your business in jeopardy.
And Matt, next time you get frustrated, maybe you can give it a day or so before you write that exasperated post. I think we’d all appreciate that.