Matt Cutts’ recent announcement about The Decay and Fall of Guest Blogging for SEO has many site owners understandably panicked. If you’ve been relying on guest posts to generate high quality content for your site, Google’s recent announcement is probably enough to give you pause. Will your site be penalized if you continue with this strategy? What steps do you need to take in order to ensure good rankings?
My advice is simple: it’s not the time to panic, but Cutts’ article offers an important reminder that having good policies in place regarding guest blogging are essential for webmasters and entrepreneurs looking to improve their organic search visibility. Here’s a closer look at what site owners need to think about to manage their reputations and keep their search engine rankings healthy over time.
Putting Your Brand On The Line
For many site owners, Google algorithm updates such as Panda and Penguin (which I covered over at the Huffington Post) reinforced the need for high-quality content. Content is measured on several levels, including quality, relevancy to the audience, uniqueness, and the frequency of updates. It’s often difficult for entrepreneurs to generate the volume of fresh content needed to stay at the top of the search rankings. Looking to colleagues and peers for guest posts has long been a natural way to fill the content gap frequency.
Things got out of hand when marketers began to embrace guest blogging as a replacement for article marketing, which has become ineffective in the last few years. The result was staggering. Site owners that publicly posted writer’s guidelines or contributor invitations were flooded with requests from authors wanting to submit guest posts. The requests were overwhelmingly poorly written, offering content that was, at best, marginally related to the website. All of this was simply an attempt to get a link back to the author’s website.
And so, as Cutts insightfully puts it, “This is why we can’t have anything nice in SEO.”
For site owners, the choice to use guest blog content is often not an easy one. Your site is an important investment, whether it’s a reflection of your business, where you focus your passions, or even if you see it as indicative of your own personal brand. Each time you publish content anywhere, you’re putting your own brand and reputation on the line.
It’s easy to lose sight of this when your focus is on generating and publishing as much content as possible. Cutts’ post underscores the need to stand back and evaluate, and to make sure that each and every article you publish is high-quality. Here are four questions that can help you determine if a guest author or post is the right fit for you.
1. Would you associate with this person in real life business and recommend them to a trusted colleague?
Your email marketing list and your blog readers are some of your businesses’ most important allies. They buy from you, look to you as a resource for great information, and help promote your content and products to a wider audience. As a result, the recommendations you give them are some of the most critical you’ll make. As you consider a potential guest blogger, it’s helpful to ask the following:
- Do you know them personally, and if so, would you recommend them based on their expertise, insights, and integrity?
- Is their brand managed in such a way that it’s professional, appealing, and likely to resonate with your audience?
- If you don’t have personal experience with them, do you know them online or have mutual colleagues that could speak to their value?
- If one of your most valuable contacts took your recommendation and chose to buy from that person, would you feel confident backing up the results?
If you feel any reservations about brand association with this person, that should give you pause when considering a contribution from them.
2. What is their unique contribution to the ecosystem of your blog?
How can they legitimately create value that’s different from what you write about? What will they add that is powerful, unique, and interesting that will resonate with your audience? If the value proposition is instantly clear, that’s a strong argument for proceeding with the post. To help you identify the value proposition behind a specific post, I recommend that you ask every proposed contributor to answer the following questions – whether you know them or not.
- What’s the proposed title of your post?
- Explain the rationale behind your title. Why do you feel this will be persuasive/interesting to readers?
- What’s your hook or angle? What makes this piece different from the 1,000s of other articles or blogs on the same topic?
- Who is your ideal audience for this piece? Describe that reader, and if possible, tie it to my blog.
- What’s the ultimate value to the reader? What insight, tactical approach, or mindset do you want them to walk away with that they wouldn’t have had before?
- Why do you think this piece is appropriate for my blog? What benefit does it bring to you and your readers, and conversely, what value does it bring to them?
It can seem overwhelming to ask people to fill out this form just to guest post on your site. I have two thoughts regarding that. The first is that if they’re unwilling to do so, it’s a pretty good sign that they’re not going to produce the quality or return on investment you’re looking for. Second, there’s nothing on this form that they shouldn’t have evaluated thoroughly before approaching you.
So filling out the form should largely be a routine matter based on motivations that they know well. If they haven’t thought the issue through, doing so will either help them articulate a stronger post idea or self-select out of the process when they realize they’re unprepared. Show people you take quality and forethought seriously, and they will too.
3. Does the quality meet your standards?
Many brands use an excellent tool called a brand guide in their day-to-day operations. In the corporate setting, it gets down into the nitty-gritty about how to use the company’s tagline, where and when it’s okay to use the logo, and even which fonts can be used. While these points are less useful in the context of guest posting, brand guides also contain vital information about quality standards, voice, and more.
Since we’re in the midst of Google’s quality crackdown, now is a good time to evaluate what quality means to you and how you’re going to enforce it. Take the time to articulate that in writing, both as a reminder to yourself and as a resource to any future contributors. Here are some basic quality guidelines to think about:
- Completely original: Except in the case of authorized reposts, you always want to verify that content is original and if possible, 100% exclusive to you. Verify through Copyscape or similar tool.
- Minimum length: Depending on the type of blog you maintain, you may want to consider a minimum (or maximum) length for any content that you accept.
- Quality of writing: What level of writing are you expecting? Is there a specific format that you like to follow? Should pieces be professionally edited or meet some other minimum standard?
- Voice: Do you have a specific voice or approach that you want reflected on your site? For example, should all posts have a touch of humor or are you looking for detailed tutorials?
- Images, visuals, etc.: What kind of images and data would you like your posts to feature? Do claims need to be backed up with major sources? Do writers need to source rights free photographs, or include other supporting materials such as infographics or video?
Develop a rigorous set of standards, and send it to every on who asks about guest posting. The more you do to ensure quality the less likely you will be to run into issues with Google.
4. Would they do it if you didn’t give them a link?
Cutts’ whole point about not guest posting for links brings up a very interesting question: should you consider accepting guest posts, but declining to give authors links? And will the other benefits be enough to keep them interested? As Cutts says:
“There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there. I changed the title of this post to make it more clear that I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.”
Now’s an important time to assess whether you’re limiting links, doing no follow links, or offering no links at all in connection with guest posts. If a writer is focused on other goals, such as connecting with your audience and really creating value, they’re more likely to be willing to go forward despite the absence of a link.
If you’re a site owner, it’s important that you pay attention to Google’s increasingly tough stance on guest posting as it relates to SEO. You need to learn to discern the context of a good guest post opportunity and the kinds of guest content that can hurt your blog. By asking the questions above, you’ll be better positioned to choose the right path forward for your site.
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