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Google No Longer Trusts Guest Post Links
Ding Dong the guest post is dead, long live the guest post! If you've been in the SEO space for a while, you'll know the rampant and careless way outreach marketers and guest post networks work. These hired guns have been selling links to anyone who will pay them, creating sites and pulling new sites into their system to try and use guest posts and link placements for the sake of it and not because of the links provide value to the reader.
Since Google placed such a high weighting on links, the dark side of SEO has gone into a link building frenzy to try and hack the Google ranking algorithm. It's been a thorn in Googles side for years, and finally, they've let the trap door open on guest posts, with the announcement that all guest posting paid or free have to be tagged as sponsored or no-follow going forward.
Google had been hitting at guest posting for links being on the fringes in 2012 they said its okay, then changed the stance since 2014, then in 2017, they picked it up again and now in 2020, it's officially been served its papers.
Why are guest posts under the microscope?
So why the slap on the wrist for guest posting? Short answer, rampant abuse. In the SEO space, the "do-follow" link attribute has become the Holy grail of link building, and with the emphasis firmly on acquiring one, this became an auction for links and backdoor dealing were common. It was no longer about the content about merely getting links in puff pieces on any site with the right link and exact match phrases.
This abuse saw plenty of legitimate content creators marginalised by those who can buy links or have access to personal blogging networks or who those who would purchase bulk links.
To try and curb the abuse, Google started introducing sponsored, and user-generated content link attributes. Still, it was never fully adopted by SEOs and link builders, and thus, the hammer had to fall.
The launch of link attributes
Link attributes were updated back in 2019 with Google adding support for tagging links as user-generated content from reviews on 3rd party sites, social media links and forums and sponsored for those who were guest posting or purchasing links on various websites. Google is pushing these attributes to try and discern which links were acquired organically and which were acquired through link building to try and add a higher value to natural links.
This method of link attribution can't be done if SEOs and outreach marketers are blogging their brains out to get do-follow links back to their site.
Sponsored links will still have some merit and should always be added to your link diversification, so don't give up on it entirely, make sure it's not your only source of links and try to maintain a healthy ratio.
Contextual links versus author bio and byline links
Google has come down hard on "do-follow" link milking as I like to call it and this. Update to no-follow or sponsor will not only apply to links in your author bio or byline but also in the content. There will be no way around it if you're guest posting it has to be tagged correctly.
If Google continues to see an uptake in do-follow links from domains that are suspicious for giving them away and never tagging links correctly, this could become problematic for your rankings.
Media sites and larger blogs will also need to watch out for all the sponsored content and advertorials they create and tag the links they send out accordingly, too. Google has openly stated it will flag these links and link schemes algorithmically as they find more data from scraping your site and links may be ignored in your ranking calculations.
Should you update back catalogue content?
Google will not be too strict on back catalogue content only because it could affect the relevance of their search results, which they are not going to risk. It would also be a massive operation for older sites as their link building was done by various in house SEOs or link building agencies over years where it was permissible. So for Google to flag back, catalogue content would be a wrong move on their part.
If you can update recent blog posts published in 2020, It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to try and have those updated to comply with the new policies.
How to change your guest posting strategy
If you're guest posting once or twice a month, I would say no, but I do recommend you have your links tagged as sponsored or no-follow or both when you do. Guest posting that ads value to both sites is always going to be welcomed by Google and if that's your strategy, be not afraid its a slight tweak in the system.
Yes, you may get less value in terms of link equity going forward, but you're still building a massive pool of referral links and a diversified link profile which google does vouch for regardless of "do-follow."
If you're using an agency or outreach specialist, please make sure they are aware of the new changes and review all links you've received from their services to check if they are tagged as "no-follow" and "sponsored."
Stay away from private blogging networks that are only focused on getting links with an exact match keyword and produce low-quality short content that isn't designed to rank or compete for rankings. Focus on quality over quantity.
This may go without saying but host the best content on your site, try to improve your old content and try to push for more long-form articles that are helpful to a range of readers. Content of this nature tends to gather organic links over time and as you can tell Google is placing a distinct emphasis on earning links over requesting and hunting for linking opportunities.
Is their room to game the system?
I wholeheartedly believe there is still room for hacking/abuse of the link building system only because its so widespread. These changes in link weighting and how AI evaluates links won't be able to pick up EVERY manufactured link on every site. If you are a maverick and like to walk the line looking for manufactured "do-follow" links, then you'll need to change up your strategy a fair bit.
Look for non-traditional sites with contextual relevance
When reviewing a site for a guest post instead of approaching sites open to guest post submissions, look for ones in your niche that aren't open to these requests. Chances are they have a much lower "no-follow" and "sponsored" link ratio if any and you can sneak in your link among all the natural do-follows given over time.
Listicles that are already do-follow
Bloggers love listicles because readers love listicles, and so finding them should be a breeze, use services like search operators, content aggregators or social media sites like Pinterest to find relevant listicles in your niche. They should be up for a while now and if all the results are "do-follow", sneaking yours into the list should go under the radar.
Note: If you are going to try and attempt to game the system, please be confident that you know the risks and you've measured it carefully. In some instances, a link left behind could be the better option.
Is link building dead?
No, for the umpteenth time link building is not dead, link building with puff pieces and driving to drive high volumes of backlinks are going to die slowly with this change. Link building that is highly contextually relevant and helpful that would naturally drive referral traffic will always remain a top priority. They may be harder to get now and harder to identify, making outreach specialists an even more sought after service and internal hiring position.
Debating the merits
The news has polarised the SEO community, and with Mueller's history of switching his position, there is still room for scepticism. However, this doubling down on the same messaging for three years feels more like a strong indication that this is not a suggestion, but actual advice. Personally speaking, I think this change is significant for the SEO community at large and will do well to curb the rampant spam of link inserts and personal blogging networks trying to game the system.
A massive link weight change like this will take time to start to show effects, but I think over time, it will reward those who create better content and drive the best user experience over those who can hire the best outreach heavy hitters.
If you're starting to freak out because guest posting as part of you SEO strategy I encourage you to relax, the best reaction is the pragmatic response of using that information to do something better going forward to will help you rank. Google can be unreasonable at times, but they're not going to sacrifice contextual relevance for the searcher to prove that point.
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