Google’s John Mueller stated on Twitter that Google not only frowns on guest posting for links but has been devaluing them for the past several years.
He also said that Google has years of data for training algorithms to catch and devalue guest post links so that they don’t help a site rank better.
Google Is Not Penalizing for Guest Posts
John Mueller’s comments were limited to explaining what’s wrong with guest posts and how it’s easy for Google to devalue guest article links so that they don’t help a site rank.
Google has in the past given warnings about certain techniques prior to cracking down on them. But that’s not the case with guest posts.
Mueller’s comments about guest post link building are a continuation of the discussion that began with his warnings about SEMRush’s guest article link building outreach service.
The SEMRush service promised to match publishers to high quality sites that would publish a guest article written by SEMRush. Mueller called it out as an unnatural links scheme and SEMRush stopped offering the service.
Someone on Twitter speculated as to whether penalties were coming.
John Mueller tweeted that there was nothing different on the way:
“….there are new people starting on SEO all the time (yay!), but it’s all years old in the meantime & nothing has changed there at all. Unless this storm in a teacup triggers a lot of people to start, I don’t see a need for the webspam team to jump in.”
He then followed up with this observation:
“The other thing is that because this is so old, we have a lot of training data for our algorithms. I wouldn’t be surprised if the largest part of those links are just ignored automatically. If all that work is for ignored links, why not just do something useful instead?”
Why Guest Posting is Problematic
Former Google engineer Matt Cutts wrote a blog post in 2014 announcing that guest posting for links was over. I took him at his word because Matt has always offered truthful advice.
The SEO community at large however forgot his warning. After a few years so-called white hat SEOs were advising how to use black hat scraping software to extract email addresses from websites and how to dump that data into email spam software to automate the guest article outreach process.
I remember reading a guest post about how to automate guest posts that used the author’s website as an example. What made that article over the top was that the example site didn’t rank for it’s keywords.
While the irony of guest posting about guest posting might have been lost on the author, the fact that their technique wasn’t working also went unnoticed.
The reason guest posting is problematic for SEOs is that in general, guest posting has not worked for ranking purposes for years.
What I’ve been telling clients is that the value of guest posting is for brand building. There is a lot of value in it for that purpose.
Google’s John Mueller said that the reason guest posting for links is problematic for Google is that it results in unnatural links.
“The part that’s problematic is the links — if you’re providing the content/the links, then those links shouldn’t be passing signals & should have the rel-sponsored / rel-nofollow attached. It’s fine to see it as a way of reaching a broader audience.”
He further explained:
“Essentially if the link is within the guest post, it should be nofollow, even if it’s a “natural” link you’re adding there.
FWIW none of this is new, and I’m not aware of any plans to ramp up manual reviews of this. We catch most of these algorithmically anyway.”
Links in Author Bylines are Also Problematic
Someone asked Mueller about links in the byline:
Even the byline? Say I have an author page on my site, or to the domain name if writing as an org? That seems like a natural link to me.
— Ron Vatalaro (@ron_vatalaro) June 13, 2020
And John Mueller responded:
“Yes, even there.”
How Does Google Identify Guest Posts?
Someone asked Mueller about how Google identifies guest posts.
John Mueller answered that it’s easy to identify guest post articles:
“Usually it’s pretty obvious.”
That may be true for articles that are clearly labeled as guest posts.
It’s less obvious for articles that are not labeled as sponsored and are published as normald articles.
And while it may be tempting to build links from unlabeled guest posts, it may not be legal according to the US government guidelines about native advertising. Native advertising are promotional articles that are paid for and published in a way that makes it look like a regular article.
According to the FTC Guidelines:
“A basic truth-in-advertising principle is that it’s deceptive to mislead consumers about the commercial nature of content. Advertisements or promotional messages are deceptive if they convey to consumers expressly or by implication that they’re independent, impartial, or from a source other than the sponsoring advertiser – in other words, that they’re something other than ads. “
Publishers may be obligated to label native advertising as advertisements or else face the possibility of legal action against them by the United States government.
There is literally nothing to disagree with. Mueller wasn’t stating an opinion, he was saving the SEO community from wasting time and money trying to rank with a technique that largely does not work.
The best reaction is the pragmatic response of using that information to do something better that will help you rank.