For many SEOs, classic guest posting theory focused on getting posts, with links, placed on as mamy domains as possible. This thinking was based on two major assumptions:
- The number of domains linking to you is more important than the number of links.
- Getting incremental links from a domain that already links to you results in diminishing returns.
These same SEOs probably also focused on including rich anchor text links within the body of the post. In theory, this would be hard to detect with a purely algorithmic approach.
Changes In the Wind
However, the world is-a-changing. Google's Penguin update, and Panda a year earlier, marked the advent of a whole new approach to spam fighting. Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts confirmed this with me in a recent interview:
I really can't comment on it in any specific way, but you are right that these algorithms do represent new types of capabilities for us.
My view is that Google now can identify types of spammy practices offline from the main algo, either manually or algorithmically, do some analysis on them without having to wrap it into the main algo, and then use it as a factor in the results.
With Penguin, it is likely that they manually built a list of article directories they did not like, crawled them, identified sites in those directories, and then went and saw which of those sites were getting a significant portion of their link equity from them. This was all done offline from the main algo and then the output was plugged in as a ranking factor.
The capability that is new is the integration of the output from an offline process into the main algo.
Refocus Your Anchor Text Approach
Now let's look at how this impacts the focus on keyword rich anchor text. In a world without link builders or SEOs, the natural distribution of anchor text to a site might look something like this:
However, if you have been focused on "classic guest posting", you might have an anchor text profile that looks more like this:
The difference in the structure of the anchor text is really quite obvious. Many domains have this problem.
With Google's new capabilities, they can easily implement an algorithm that focuses solely on anchor text mix. Rumors are that some of this is already in Penguin, but it can certainly be made much more comprehensive. Google could go further with this, for example, and perform this analysis at a URL level, instead of a domain level.
Imagine the impact on the SEO community if they chose to do this. How many sites do you know of for which this change by Google would be a disaster? Bear in mind, this is an offline analysis, so even if the analysis is really computationally expensive that's not a problem for them.
Author Authority and Guest Posting
Another major change was the implementation of rel=author by Google in June 2011. One of the great things about this is that it causes the author of a piece of content to get their smiling face included in the search results for their articles:
More importantly, it has provided Google with another type of signal. You can call it AuthorRank or Author Authority, but either way, it is a measure of the popularity of the writings of a given author. Not only can they track where you publish, and the overall authority of those sites, but they can also potentially measure the social response to those articles as well.
Imagine that you publish articles in Forbes and The New York Times as well as writing for your own site. Think that some of the author's authority (in this case you) from writing on two such prominent sites would lend some credence to your site?
Something like this may or may not be in use right at this moment, but the potential value of this kind of signal is obvious.
Now think back to your guest posting. Have you been focusing on maximizing the number of domains or shooting for higher quality targets? Have you been asking those domains to allow you to implement rel=author (would you want to)?
If you think about the implications of rel=author, you may want to start thinking about getting regular posting privileges on major, authoritative, sites. Instead of a focus on domain diversity, you may want to focus more on signals related to trustworthiness and authority. In the Matt Cutts interview, he notes:
By doing things that help build your own reputation, you are focusing on the right types of activity. Those are the signals we want to find and value the most anyway.
Without question, a regular column in a major journal does more for your reputation than one post per domain on 50 low quality sites. Certainly, it has more of an impact on the average end user, because they are unlikely to visit all of those lower quality sites.
I think of guest posting as a brand building process. If you focus on this type of mentality, as per the quote from Matt above, you will find yourself generating the types of signals that Google wants to value the most. That is a good thing.
Yes, Google is far from perfect. They miss high quality signals at times, and you may not always get the reward as quickly as someone who is actively cheating the system. Watching cheaters win is frustrating, and we can all go find them in the search results.
However, that cheater lives with a target on their back, and I have no interest in living my life that way. Besides which, brand building in this era of the web is a lot of fun!