I’m a big believer in learning directly from the source.
Want to get in shape? Look at how professional trainers do it.
Trying to figure out the mechanics of parody? Study the lyrics from Weird Al Yankovic (“Tacky” sang to Pharrell’s “Happy” is a good start).
So when it comes to optimizing a website for search (SEO), it’s logical to turn to Google, not just scrutinizing what the company says, but also what it actually does.
Here’s what I mean.
Google’s swami of SEO Matt Cutts has been doing a slow burn on the topic of “guest posting for backlinks” for some time. In a video published back in October 2012 he said that “really high-quality guest posting is worthwhile” though he mutters the three-word caveat “in some cases” (appears in sec 20 in video below).
Cutts concludes by saying that guest posting is appropriate when “someone puts some work into it and has something original to say” as opposed to doing the bare minimum with the only objective being link building.
Apparently, the advice in 2012 didn’t squash the bad stuff because Cutts continued to revisit the topic, each time becoming more adamant on the perils of guest posting. His frustration boiled over in the post he penned earlier this year, “The Decay and Fall of Guest Blogging for SEO” which begins:
“Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.”
In the same post, Cutts dusts off a high-school metaphor to hammer home the point:
“So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.”
And closes like a preacher trying to impart the gospel on his disciples:
“So there you have it: the decay of a once-authentic way to reach people. Given how spammy it’s become, I’d expect Google’s webspam team to take a pretty dim view of guest blogging going forward.”
Absorbing such direction from above, many from the ranks of the SEO-gentsia concluded that guest posting should cease. Yet, that’s not what he meant, and Google’s own approach to guest blogging bears this out.
I analyzed roughly six months of posts from Google’s enterprise blog (Feb. 1 thru July 26) looking for an answer to the questions: Does Google itself publish guest posts? And if yes, what are their best practices?
It turns out that they do. Here’s how the data breaks down:
Given that over 40 percent of the content comes from guest posting, it seems reasonable to conclude that Google views guest posting as acceptable.
Just to be sure an anomaly didn’t skew the data, I also cut it by month which you can see in the following:
With the exception of March, there’s almost a 50/50 split in every month between Google posts and guest posts.
Cutts continually refers to the phrase, “taking to an extreme,” to describe guest posting gone wild. Google’s own behavior suggests that if your guest posts deliver less than 50 percent of your content, this stays out of the danger zone (not “extreme”).
Drilling down into the actual content of the Google-accepted guest posts, there are a couple ways to ensure “safe guest posting.”
First of all, be judicious with the backlinks. Most of the guest posts on the Google Enterprise blog included just a single backlink. A few had two. Only one guest post had more than two, the NYC contribution which spread three backlinks across www.nyc.gov.
A second technique involves including internal links in the guest posts. Even though they’re third-party contributors, Google strives to add one or two links to information that hangs off of www.google.com. Again the NYC guest post provides an example of this technique.
I hadn’t considered this before, but it makes sense. Such internal links send a proxy of relevance to a search algorithm.
Circling back to the question at hand, is guest posting kosher?
The answer is a clear “Yes.”
Anyone with a fresh take that fits at the intersection of storytelling, PR and digital marketing?
Side note. Over the course of this exercise, I stumbled across Google using the exact same blog post twice. The post, “Chromebox, now for simpler and better meetings,” appeared in both the enterprise blog and the “official Google blog” on February 6, 2014. Assuming Google wouldn’t break its own rules on duplicate content, cross posting must be OK.
I’d be careful about making assumptions about the Web spam team’s policies based on the actions of other Google teams. They’ve penalized their own properties for violations in the past, and I’m sure they’d do it again if necessary.
Guest posting itself isn’t a problem. The problem is that you add your own links (either in the content or an author bio). By their very nature, those links aren’t editorial. There’s a big difference between an editor getting a guest post and hitting the publish button and someone making a true editorial decision to link to a resource because it’s the absolute best resource available to link to. Linking to your own site in a guest post, on its face, is self-serving. And that’s fine, as long as the links aren’t passing link juice to influence Google’s rankings. So as long as you use the rel=nofollow attribute, there’s no problem on Google’s end.
As for cross-posting, you’re probably fine as long as you aren’t doing it in a spammy way. A safer bet would be using rel=”canonical” to at least let Google know the preferred URL. While you probably won’t have to worry about penalties for cross-posting, rel=canonical can help you get the most SEO bang for each post by consolidating pagerank. Here’s another video from Matt Cutts talking about this (he’s talking about news sites, it could just as easily be applied in a blog cross-post scenario):
I appreciate your input Jennifer. Thanks for taking the time and sharing actionable advice.