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October 25, 2012

Google’s Stance on Guest Posting

Google has always been purposely vague about which backlinks are good and which are bad. Sure, we have “quality guidelines,” Penguin information, and Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, but there’s nothing definitive out there from G that gives guest posting a true green light.

The search giant has been clear about rewarding sites in the SERPs that sport backlink profiles full of high-quality websites; this much we know. The definition of “high quality,” however, is constantly shifting. It’s a moving target, and keeping up with the changes can make or break your website in the search results.

In a lucky turn of events for those of us in the world of SEO, Matt Cutts released one of his infamous Google Webmaster Help videos on YouTube, and in this one, he finally tackled the issue of guest posting for links. In particular, he addressed whether the practice helps websites climb the SERPs or instead earns them demerits from Big G.

What the Heck are “High Quality Writers”?

Matt Cutts made some comments about what exactly constitutes “high quality writers” in the video, and he noted that you should be happy to host content from these types on your blog. But who exactly comprises this elusive group of people? Well, first let’s look at what he said, then we’ll take it apart. Here’s a quote from the video:

“Say you wanna give a shout-out to Lisa Barone, or someone like that. She’s at a conference, she’s blogging, and maybe she wants to do a guest blog on some other blog… that blog should be happy to have her. You know, Vanessa Fox, Danny Sullivan, these sorts of people who write something [on a] different blog… in general, you should be happy to have them write an article for you. Because they’re bringing a lot of insight [and] knowledge to that.”

Sounds confusing, but if you read into what he’s saying, it’s actually not. The examples he gave are all respected leaders in the SEO industry. They’re well known, and Google knows that, so articles they write will have an Author Rank signal that will help them show up in the SERPs more readily than their lesser known counterparts.

But how does Google’s algorithm know they’re people who matter? Googlebot is still just a computer at the end of the day, so there are signals here that it takes into consideration in combination with PageRank. Check out these snippets of all three of the people Cutts mentioned in his quote as they appear in search results:

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The first attribute I noticed right off the bat was the number of Google+ circles that each person was in – they number in the thousands… and, in Danny’s case, millions! It seems to be a major factor in authorship status. If you click on the “More by…” link in each result, you’ll find a list of other places around the web you can find authors. I noticed that each author penned articles for a handful of websites in their respective niches as well.

In essence, this means that Google defines a “good writer” as someone with their hands in many different (well-respected) pots. This must be a ranking signal, so take note, and make diversity a key part of your guest posting strategy as well.

Guest Posting No-Nos

In the video, Cutts dispelled some long-held beliefs about article marketing. He specifically pointed to the practice of submitting the same post, regardless of quality, on many different websites. It’s a no-no, and yes, it will count against you.

I found this extremely interesting given all the advice I’ve read over the years about the power of submitting one article to multiple websites. Cutts is stating here that the practice is bad and it will not help you – regardless of the quality of your content. Debate this all you’d like – his message was pretty clear, and I’m inclined to trust the source on this one.

Cutts also specifically condemned the practice of trying to “turn the crank” by churning out a barrage of similar (i.e., slightly reworded) guest posts as quickly as possible for a number of different websites. Make sure to submit different guest posts for every single website that agrees to host your content. Even if the topic is the same, strive to approach it from a different angle and include fresh new insights in each piece you write.

Here’s some other (more obvious) practices to steer clear of when you guest post. First, don’t submit spun content. At best, you won’t rank. Worst-case scenario: the bad content will count against your website. This one’s a no-brainer, and even if you tried to submit spun articles to respectable websites at this juncture, you’d be laughed all the way out the virtual door.

The news that guest posting is a go, when compounded with the fact that many other backlink-obtaining options are off the table, is creating a climate in which webmasters of established sites are swatting away guest post inquiries right and left. That’s why high-quality posts that rise above the rest are the only way to stay in the game if you want your content considered for publication.

More for You to Chew On

Your guest posts should have a unique angle. You can use news, evergreen topics, or industry info to your heart’s content, but whatever you do, strive to infuse everything you write with a one-of-a-kind perspective. Bring something to the table that readers won’t be able to find anywhere else.

It merits pointing out that Cutts made some clear remarks about word count for your guest posts. He said anything in the 200 – 400 word range was considered the “bare minimum” and it would not do readers much good. He didn’t give exact numbers, but he left viewers to infer that longer was better. I’m guessing something in the 800 – 1000 word range is likely the sweet spot. Don’t write to fill the page, however. Every sentence you write should be a tool religiously working toward one goal: adding something valuable and unique to the larger conversation.

Now we know that guest posting is a good thing – if you do it right. Thank god. For a while all that was coming out of G’s camp was “write it and they will come.” This isn’t Field of Dreams, here – it’s the Internet, and the competition is cutthroat. It’s nice to know we have Google’s blessing to add guest posting to our arsenals.

Nell Terry is a tech news junkie, fledgling Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She thrives on social media, web design, and uncovering the truth about all the newest marketing fads that pop up all over the ‘net. Find out more about Nell by visiting her online portfolio at Content by Nell.