Guest posts have become a central part of most companies’ search engine optimization strategy over the past decade or so, but they’ve also come under attack from numerous executives at Google in recent months.
Matt Cutts, the leading mind behind Google’s implementation of search engine algorithm updates and changes to its broader SEO policy, has declared them “dead” in many cases. Though the language is dramatic and potentially scary, website owners and guest post contributors should take heart: Guest posts aren’t really dead, but they do need to be written, arranged, and published more carefully than in years past.
For those website owners considering accepting guest post contributions for their existing blog, there are at least ten key things to consider and be wary of when deciding whether or not to accept or reject individual posts, authors, or recurring contributions.
One of the problems with guest posting, and one of the primary reason that the practice has come under fire from Google, is that entire sites exist solely to arrange and exchange guest posts in the hopes of an increase in SEO rankings. Those sites are the ones feeling the sting of Google’s new policy toward guest posting, and their rankings often suffer suddenly and harshly as a result. In order to beat back this kind of scrutiny, websites should make sure that any accepted guest post aligns with their vision, their site’s pattern of content, and their long-term goals for future content.
Make sure that any guest post fits naturally among both previous posts and those scheduled to be published in the next few days. If the post doesn’t fit the tone of the website, or if the website is more personal than community-based, it might be a good idea to either reject the guest post or accept it as a “one-off” post, rather than the stat of a long-term collaborative publishing agreement. Of course, website owners can always ask contributors for revisions that bring a guest post more into line with their site’s theme, historic content, and overall tone of voice.
It’s one of the creepier things about Google as a whole: The company just tends to know certain things about most content creators and website owners. For instance, the search engine often can identify authors with a history of contributing valuable, authoritative content, as well as those authors who are more identified with black hat SEO tactics or more spam-heavy guest posts on other blogs. Before accepting content from a given author, do the logical thing: Google them!
There are three things to look for when Googling an author who has been in touch about contributing one or more guest posts to the blog. The first of these things is their history of depth. Do they publish content that dives deep into the issues of the day, or do they merely skim the surface and repeat the work of others? The next issue to consider is their tendency to publish spam-like content. Do they sound overly promotional? If their posts were an email, would it be sent to the “junk” folder? Finally, verify their website is an authoritative and useful one, since linking to it will reflect either positively or negatively on website where the post is published. If their site seems sketchy at first glance, it’s probably going to be sketchy at second, third, fourth, and many other glances as well.
Remember that a guest post, even though it is crafted and written by an outside author, reflects solely on the website where it is published. With that in mind, website owners should feel free to be picky, or even nitpicky, when they first read, review, or publish a guest post written by someone else. Don’t be afraid to strip out excessive links or any links that take readers to spam-heavy websites. Remember the importance of good grammar and syntax, and either revise the post or request the author perform their own revisions in order to perfect the style of writing for average readers.
Beware of any authors who aren’t interested in their work being read, scrutinized, and revised before it is published on the hosting website. If they can’t take criticism, or insist that their dozens of links remain in the article as-is, it’s probably a good idea to reconsider the relationship and simply decline to publish their content in the first place.
Since the dawn of the modern guest post, the very point of publishing the content on someone else’s website was to place at least one link in the content that took readers to the guest author’s own website. For this reason, those who are looking to accept a guest post should be okay with at least one link in the content as long as it takes readers to a useful off-site resource maintained by the original author. IF the link goes to an off-site directory or spam landing page, it should be stripped out without any questions asked. For regular guest posts, even multiple links will be considered acceptable by Google as long as they add value and don’t just beg for a higher ranking in search results.
The author’s bio should contain either no links at all, or a single link to the author’s most popular website online. It’s important to remember that a valuable guest post uses the author’s biography not as a promotional tool for their website, but as a way to ensure their credibility and communicate that to readers who have never experienced their writing or inside information previously. If an author is looking to place excessive promotional links in their bio, consider it a red flag.
Many guest posters will want to have their own publishing account so that they can log into the content management system and write their own content. They may even wish to have basic publishing or editing rights so that they can send the guest post out into the world without very much oversight from the website’s owner or editor. These are not the kinds of people that websites should want to deal with. Instead, it’s a good idea to tell all contributors that they will not receive their own author account.
All edits must be done by the website’s staff, and contributing authors have to be okay with that. If they can’t give up control of their content to the website’s editor, then they should be viewed with suspicion. Be wary of those who prefer to publish whenever and however they want, without regard for the hosting website’s policies and preferences.
To assert the great reputation and good name of a guest post’s author, website owner should require them to be active in the community and engage with users who see fit to comment on their work. Let them know the expectation: They should listen to readers, respond regularly, and add even more value to their guest post in order to be considered for future contributions to the site. If authors are looking only to contribute a post with a few key links embedded, and add no additional value after submission, their goals are likely suspect and their content should be suppressed in favor of more reputable, interactive authors who know how the process is supposed to work.
No website should unwittingly become victim to a content mill. By letting authors know that their content will be released from their possession and become the sole possession of the website where it is published, a few things will be communicated and established. First, authors will understand that they give up rights to their work as soon as it is submitted and published. Second, they will understand that it is illegal to sell or publish their content on dozens of other websites after it goes live as an initial guest post. By keeping the content proprietary and unique, website owner will increase its value and uniqueness, building SEO value in a dynamic way.
Some guest post authors tend to meander aimlessly in their guest posts, perhaps overwhelmed by the pressure to produce something valuable, useful, and critical all at the same time. This is where editing comes in. Make sure the post has an introduction and a thesis, a body, and a strong conclusion. Make sure that the post features a call to action or a controversy that virtually requires comment from authors. Without these things, it will likely add no real value to the community after being published.
There’s certainly a great deal of value to be found in a long guest post with lots of useful information. All too often, however, guest post authors tend to make their work longer only because it allows them to include a higher number of links to compensate for the word count. Make sure that every word contained in a guest post is there for a reason and has real relevance to the topic at hand. If the post seems full of fluff, it might be time to reconsider the arrangement or engage in useful editing that can pare down the post to only its most useful points.
Websites considering accepting guest posts from outside contributors should develop a style guide with a basic outline of how guest posting works. Include a minimum and maximum number of links for posts and bio sections. Make sure the style guide covers the minimum and maximum length of the content, the emphasis on useful content over fluff, and the importance of adding both value and action to the post after publishing. Good, respectable authors will follow these guidelines from day one. Others will overlook them and should be punished or refused space because of that behavior.
Though guest posting is not as useful as it once was in terms of boosting SEO for both the host site and the contributing author’s website, it’s still a great way to gain publicity or lend a hand to a new presence in the online community. By being wary of the tend conditions listed here, website owners will save themselves the hazards and hassles of a spam-laden, subpar post that could otherwise damage their reputation and sink their existing Google page ranking.