Matt Cutts Says 'Stop' Guest Blogging for SEO: Here's Everything You Need to Know

Stop

We've been seeing the writing on the wall for quite some time when it comes to the viability of guest blogging as an SEO tactic. As the quality declined and the prevalence of poor quality content through guest blogging increased, it was only a matter of time before Google would need to do something about the problem.

Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts, posting on his personal blog, advises webmasters to no longer use guest blogging as a way to gain links. Also, if you accept a blog post, make sure it's written by someone you're willing to vouch for in terms of quality and credibility (this also applies to a site that you submit blog posts to).

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.

History of Guest Blogging

bloggingGuest blogging used to almost be seen as a badge of honor for the ones writing the guest post, especially when a high-profile website asked for or invited others to guest blog. In essence, it was a big deal when a high-profile website thought your content was awesome enough or that you were important enough that they would republish something you wrote on their site.

Back in the day, guest blogging used to be a respectable thing, much like getting a coveted, respected author to write the introduction of your book.

It's for this reason, it was a strategy that many websites employed, not necessarily as a link building strategy but rather so they didn't always have to always produce their own high quality content, as well as introducing their readers to writers or topics that they thought their readers would enjoy.

When you look at guest blogging for SEO overall, while it actually did take a while for guest blogging to really kick off as a SEO technique, and slightly longer before we saw just masses of spam being churned out by often fake guest bloggers, it had been viewed as something that was great for both SEO and the site. Guest blogging for legitimate reasons was very popular for site owners, authors, and readers.

While this worked well for a period of time, it wasn't long before this tactic was compromised as a way to cheaply build links.

Several years ago, I would have said that the default answer when someone proposed doing a guest blog post would "yes." However, with the rapid rise of low-quality or spammy sites trying to build tons of links via guest blogging, so I'd say that the default answer now should be "no." Of course, if you know the person writing the blog post well, or want to vouch for them, or if the author is happy to nofollow their links, then that changes the calculation–it's much more likely that someone is looking for a new audience instead of a way to get keyword-rich links.

Again, just like links, you should lean toward writers you can personally vouch for.

The Decline of Quality & the Rise of Spam

google-spam-canThe quality has definitely declined over the past few years. Guest blogging has caused a tremendous influx of low quality content disguised as a guest blog. Worse, accepting these guest blog posts can tarnish a site owner's credibility, as most visitors expect the owner of a site to vouch for the quality of its own content.

It has also become much more prevalent for "authors" to offer to pay for their blog post to appear on what they perceive as high quality sites. Many site owners think, "wow, easy money!" But really, the authors are simply disguising paid links in the context of a guest blog post – and usually the content is poorly written for very low cost, or is simply stolen from other websites.

So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it's just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn't recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn't recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.

Why Now?

Matt CuttsMany have been expecting that guest blogging would be hit hard, and it is somewhat surprising that it has taken this long. Cutts has been warning about guest blogging throughout the past year, with several webmaster help videos on the topic of how to guest blog without spamming. Many saw this as a sign Google was about to put the final nail in the coffin of guest blogging for the vast majority of cases.

However it seems that even Cutts agrees that his message wasn't coming across clear enough to the SEO community with those videos. So this blog post definitely makes it a lot more clear and concise about the issues with guest blogging and why he is suggesting it no longer be done for SEO purposes.

@MichelleDLowery the nuanced ways that I said it in my last 2-3 videos didn't seem to be getting the message across clearly enough.

In other words, despite the official Google webmaster help posting videos regarding the dangers of guest blogging, many either weren't paying attention or were outright ignoring the signs.

Guest Blogging Hurting Uneducated Site Owners

Another side effect of guest blogging was innocent webmasters being suckered into posting guest blog posts simply because spammers promote how guest blogs give their site's "freshness" and "free content" yet obviously they don't reveal the potential consequences of doing it.

Cutts feels that innocent site owners are getting brought down because they don't understand the negatives of poor quality guest blog posts when they get approached by a spammer. So these websites are getting penalized because they get convinced by these guest bloggers that their site would actually improve with all these guest blogs, when in fact all they are is disguised link schemes.

halcyondaze, we see a lot of business owners with small blogs getting tricked by spammers. If you're doing really high-quality guest blogging to get exposure or branding, that's great, but the majority of guest blogging offers these days are sliding into scuzzier and spammier areas.

stephp, it's great that you sound like a high-quality contributor, but my intent was to highlight the issues around the hundreds of awful spam emails that you mentioned receiving. I've seen a lot of business owners fall for them. :(

Unfortunately, it's hard to reach and educate website owners who aren't involved in the SEO community – as we clearly saw with the number of site owners receiving warnings for unnatural linking penalties due to practices they had no idea went against Google's webmaster guidelines.

There are certainly reasonable and valid reasons to consider guest posts, but regular site owners should be aware of the risks as well. I was talking to a small business owner recently and she was delighted that someone wanted to write a guest blog post. She thought that her small blog was being validated, when in fact it was being targeted.

And just like bad links, otherwise great sites whose only flaw was being owned by someone not familiar with the ins and outs of SEO could easily fall victim to these guest bloggers.

At first, they're thrilled that someone would want to contribute an article. Not everyone realizes that if someone contacts you out of the blue offering an article, it's good to be skeptical.

Is There Still a Place for High Quality Guest Blogging?

question-mark-puzzleHowever the definitely are many cases where guest blogging can be high-quality and can be useful to a site's visitors, and Cutts doesn't want to discourage this.

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.

Cutts also posted on Hacker News, in response to an author who was commenting that he had invited some good quality guest bloggers to post on his site while he was going to be unable to do so himself. Cutts said this is actually a perfect example of where it is appropriate to allow guest blogging and why they don't want to discourage this type of guest blog posts.

Hey cstross, I almost added a link to your blog post at http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2014/01/introduc... as an example of someone doing it right--you've clearly put a lot of thought into people who can add value for your blog's audience. You're at the very tip of the head in terms of quality--most of the scuzzy people take advantage of massive numbers of small, not-very-savvy bloggers who will throw up any submission they receive. So I wouldn't worry at all, and I apologize if my post came across too broadly.

The majority of webmasters who are soliciting great quality content, from authors they know and can vouch for, are not the ones targeted by this guest blogging crackdown. Just think of it from the perspective of where Google wants you to basically say "Yes, the quality of this author, content and links I can personally vouch for."

One anonymous (and somewhat trollish) comment left on Cutts' blog was by someone who took exception to the fact that Cutts accepted a guest post on this blog before, albeit from Vanessa Fox who worked for the Google Sitemaps team at the time.

BREAKING: Beware of Spammy Guest Blogging!!! Here's a Really Evil Example: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/guest-post-vanessa-fox-on-organic-site-review-session/ … See the dofollow "site review tool" link.

Spam and Should be Banned both Websites. Linking and Receiving. Thanks

Cutts turned it around into a teaching moment to say that those webmasters who can't distinguish quality guest blogs and those that aren't should avoid guest blogging entirely.

Nope, this is actually an example of high-quality guest blogging that remains valuable. I know Vanessa and I'm happy to vouch for her. Her intent was to inform an audience, not to get links or get PageRank. And if you can't tell the difference, then you should avoid accepting guest posts on your site.

And when you go and view that guest blog post in question, it actually went above and beyond proper linking for guest blog posts because the post only links to Google's own sites as well as a single link to a Pubcon conference session, despite there being the opportunity to link to additional sites.

What About Guest Blogging for Traffic, Exposure & Branding (Not SEO)?

sem-manager-bloggerPeople need to see quality guest blogging and how it can be useful to build traffic, which many people seem to be missing with this announcement. Ryan Jones, in a guest blog for Outspoken Media, said that guest blogging can still work, just in a different way from how most people are using it today.

Guest blogging can still work. You wouldn't turn down a column on CNN or an editorial in the Huffington Post if they said you couldn't have a dofollow link would you? Of course not, because those places send traffic – and that's the key. It's about the audience, not the HTML.

At the core of any SEO marketing strategy, one of those goals is simply to get traffic. It is just that now webmasters need to look at guest blogging as simply a vehicle to get the direct referral traffic, to build up a company's brand awareness and not about what it will do to help further their rankings in Google. Many people simply forget that the success of a link, regardless of whether it is nofollowed or not, can also be measured in how much direct traffic that link generates.

Look at your metrics for guest blogs you have done in the past and measure the performance of that link outside of passed PageRank. Investigate how those direct referral traffic is actually performing for you, in terms of page views, bounce rates, conversions, and revenue. You could be surprised with how direct traffic from some sites performs when compared to search referrals. However everyone is just focusing on the negative aspects of guest blogging being dead and how it affects SEO.

Cutts did update his post to say that there are still many reasons why some guest blogging is good. But guest blogging as an SEO strategy should not be utilized

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.

Guest blogging is still viable for traffic, branding, exposure. So it is still worthwhile for authors to reach out for guest blogging, provided it's high quality content (and it probably is in your best interest to suggesting nofollow links, or link to a Twitter account, Google+ page or Facebook page instead). Think of blog posting as audience and not links.

I agree that some guest blog posts can be a good way to get exposure to a new audience. I just wanted to highlight that guest blogging as a whole has gotten pretty spammy at this point.

Is This Bad News for Multiple Author Blogs?

Bad news tabletCutts stressed that Google isn't planning to target blogs such as Boing Boing, which regularly uses multiple authors in their blogging strategy. While not all multiple blogger sites are high quality, many of them are among the top websites and are read regularly by hundreds of thousands of readers.

I'm also not talking about multi-author blogs. High-quality multi-author blogs like Boing Boing have been around since the beginning of the web, and they can be compelling, wonderful, and useful.

So if your blog relies on multiple authors, you don't need to worry, unless some of those authors are producing poor or suspect content, something which the site editor should be watching for before publishing.

Google is targeting the many low-quality sites that employ guest blogging as their link building strategy, without being concerned about quality of the content or the appropriateness of the content on a particular site.

That said, it's always a good idea for a site owner employing multiple authors to regularly do quality audits on the writers and ensure that the quality is living up to your standards in terms of content and to also check the quality of any outgoing links. There definitely seems to be a higher incidence of bloggers on high profile multi-blogger sites to try and sneak in paid links, so they can make some extra income on the side. Unfortunately this definitely can have negative effects on the site, especially if someone targets those links and outs the site to Google.

The Role of Nofollow and Guest Blogging

Some webmasters were concerned that high quality guest blogging, even with no follow in place on the outgoing links, was going to be targeted as well. But Cutts reiterated that as long as links are nofollowed, there is no impact on PageRank, and it becomes a nonissue.

If the links are nofollowed, then they don't affect PageRank, so it would be outside the scope of my team at that point. A high-quality guest post with nofollowed links can still be a good way to get exposure to a new audience, branding, etc.

As with any link you place on your site going to an external sites, think about whether you would vouch for the quality of the link. If you have any reason to distrust it, then definitely go ahead and place a nofollow on that link.

The same applies to guest blogs. If you have any reason to distrust the links in the guest blog, just make a practice always nofollow them. Again, check the quality and originality of anything before you publish.

Does Google Have the Right to Tell Bloggers What to Do?

Some people feel that Google has no right to tell them how to solicit content for their sites or dictate what types of content you can publish on your own site or even what types of SEO tactics you can use.

Ann Smarty, who is one of the top experts on guest blogging, a guest blogging consultant, and the owner of MyGuestBlog feels the same.

If someone likes your content and wants to publish it and reference you, what's broken here?

Nothing…

If someone wants to contribute to your blog and you LOVE what they have to say? Do you need to be on your own because Google wants you to be alone?

No…

You want to depend on Google, good luck with that.

You want to be heard, then screw Google and keep doing the legit things you can – to get heard.

In that regard, it's also Google's prerogative to rank or not rank sites based on a wide variety of parameters, including guest blogging. So any webmaster can choose to ignore Google's guidelines, but they will have to face the consequences if and when they find themselves on the receiving end of a spam warning in Google Webmaster Tools.

Although Google isn't the only search engine in the game, they are definitely the most dominant in terms of search market share in North America. At the end of the day it is a webmaster's choice whether they want to follow the Google webmaster guidelines, as it is Google's choice to decide whether they want to display your website or not in their search results.

Hey Gareth, I think I've always been clear that webmasters can do whatever they want on their own site. But I've also tried to be clear that I believe Google has the right to defend our search results from low-quality or spam results in our opinion. So when I do a post like this, I'm trying to provide guidance on the sort of behavior or activity that Google would prefer not to reward. From where I'm sitting, there's enough spam taking place under the rubric of "guest blogging" that I wanted to provide people with a heads up.

But you can always do whatever you like on your website, in the same way that Google is able to decide not to return a website in our search results if we believe it should rank lower or shouldn't be returned.

Blame Matt?

It didn't take long for marketers to raise their virtual pitchforks and attack Cutts for killing off something that so many people were using, whether they were using it for good or for evil. After all, anytime Google kills off the SEO marketing tactic, they have to learn or discover the next big SEO thing. Just like we saw the rise and fall of link bait, links in widgets, and the popularity of directory links, this can be added to the list of "past SEO techniques."

In Jones' post, he said that despite many people blaming Cutts for ruining guest blogging, it actually wasn't Cutts who ruined it. It was SEO practitioners. Cutts was merely the messenger.

The reason Google is taking action on guest posting is because we ruined it. We ruined it the same way we ruined meta keywords, and directories, and press releases, and blogrolls, and widgets, and infographics, and link exchanges, and article submissions, and forums, and comments, and wikipedia, and (on second thought I won't mention this tactic, it still works,) and reviews, and ratings, and Pinterest, and, well you get the picture.

We ruined guest posting just like we ruined everything that came before it and just like we'll probably ruin whatever comes after it. It's moments like this I'm glad Twitter isn't a ranking factor, because I'm sure we'd ruin that too.

SEO professionals will blame Cutts for whatever the next commonly known SEO technique that gains mass popularity that ends out being targeted by the spam team. But smart marketers have already moved on from any SEO technique that gains mass popularity and move onto the next thing, because they know it is a matter of time before gets taken down.

Now What?

What should webmasters do now that clearly guest blogging as an SEO tactic is dead? Even though this particular strategy no longer works from a SEO or Google perspective, it still works from a traffic perspective, Jones also noted:

Link building leads to ranking. Ranking leads to more traffic. That's always how I've viewed it, yet some of us got so caught up in the link building tactics and ranking metrics that we forgot traffic was the actual goal. So yeah, these tactics may be dead from a link building, Google manipulating, Pagerank point of view – but if you approach them solely from a "send me more visitors" point of view, then they remain strong and viable.

Blogging isn't dead. It's simply a specific blogging method to produce mass quantities of a natural links through guest posts that is dead. And people are moving on to viable SEO techniques that have yet to be targeting or that have yet to hit the spam team's radar.

SEO Takeaways

Guest blogging still has its place in the online marketing ecosystem, and likely always will. But it has shifted from being a source of link generation to simply being a tool for branding, traffic, and exposure.

Will we see more frequent penalties related to guest blogging? While most of the applicable penalties would fall under unnatural linking, we could see Google targeting sites and blogs that host poor quality blog post with bad outgoing links.

Does your site have a lot of guest blog content on it? Now would be a pretty good time to do a content site audits and employ plenty of nofollow links on any guest blog posts of questionable quality you have accepted previously, outside of those written by people you can personally vouch for. Just as we've seen Google apply penalties to things that have been done previously to guideline changes, we will most certainly see Google going back in targeting the use low-quality guest blog posts.

You should neither shy away from accepting great quality guest blog posts, nor should you shy away from offering blog posts yourself. But do it strictly for branding and exposure, not for SEO, going forward.

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