Will Google Punish a Guest Posting Strategy Due to Unnatural Link Patterns?

The Missing Link

"The Missing Link" is a Search Engine Watch exclusive reader-driven Q&A column with veteran content publicist Eric Ward. You can ask questions about all aspects of links and link building and Eric will provide his expert answers. Submit your questions here, and you may be featured in a future installment!

Until Google's recent algorithm changes we consistently ranked on top of the search results for our primary keyword phrase. Now we are on page two for that phrase so I am looking into pursuing guest posts on other sites. To my understanding Google will detect and penalize unnatural link patterns. As a result I am wondering if I obtain guest posts from a blog network would or could this be easily detected and penalized as a pattern?

– Blue on Page 2

I'll give you a short answer and a long answer.

Short answer: Writing posts for other sites (which is a form of guest posting) is still an effective way to build credible links.

The devil is always in the details though. Here's a longer answer.

First, a video from Google's Matt Cutts addressed this exact subject. I strongly suggest you watch it:

Of everything Cutts said, the thing that struck me most was when he said, "It's a long and time honored tradition" for writers with expertise in certain topics to share content with each other. In other words, it's absolutely acceptable.

In fact, this column you're reading likely falls into that category. I've written this post for Search Engine Watch and nobody else.

Technically, this is a guest post. But this is much different than a guest posting approach where you aren't selective about where you seek out posting opportunities or, on the receiving end, you aren't selective about who you accept guest post content from.

Here are few guidelines/criteria that may help you as you seek out guest posting opportunities:

  1. Look for signals/signs of credibility and longevity:
    • How long has the target site been on the web? Longer may mean more credibility.
    • Who owns/operates the site? Have you ever heard of them?
    • Is there an editorial team with clearly stated guidelines? There should be.
    • Is the target site's content made up of mostly guest posts? If so, be very cautious. Search to see if the posts have appeared on other sites.
    • Look at the other guest posts on the site. Search on author names to see who they are and what kind of web presence they have.
  2. If you want to take your credibility analysis really far, do a backlink analysis of the target site, as well as the target sites of the guest posters, to see just how credible their existing link profiles are. I personally stay away from any site that has any evidence of a spammy backlink profile, because I don't want my site to have any negative signal association with those sites.

One final point: at the start of your question, you specifically mentioned your Google rankings. Consider that even under the best guest posting circumstances, you can only take guest posting so far as a ranking-specific strategy.

You can't permanently guest post your way to the top of the search rankings. Nor should that be the only goal.

In fact, I look at guest posting opportunities for their potential to help my direct traffic and exposure to an audience I'm interested in reaching. I don't guest post for search rank. Seeking search rank via guest posting can lead you to make poor decisions and leave a linking footprint that Google can detect as manipulative.

About the author

Eric Ward founded the Web's first link building and content publicity service, called NetPOST. Today, Eric provides strategic linking consulting, link building services, training, and consulting via EricWard.com. The publisher of the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, Eric is a co-developer of AdGooroo's Link Insight.

Eric uses his experience and unique understanding of web's vast linking patterns to teach companies his link building techniques. He has developed content linking strategies for PBS.org, WarnerBros, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, About.com, TVGuide.com, and Weather.com. Eric won the 1995 Tenagra Award for Internet Marketing Excellence, and in 2007 was profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes.