UPDATE: Read our January 2014 update on Guest Posting.
A survey carried out by Skyrocket SEO recently took a look at the state of link building and how it’s faring in 2013, now that the Google update upset is beginning to calm down. The survey questioned not only search professionals, but team managers, executives and agencies to gain an overall understanding on how link building is working.
The study found that business and agency spend on link building alone could be broken down as follows:
- 35% spend $0- $1K
- 26% spend $K – $5K
- 18% spend $5K – $10K
- 11% spend $10K – $50K
- 18% spend $50K+
This suggests that businesses recognise the importance of link building, although it’s slightly worrying that the highest figure is those that spend the least. However, SMEs are bound to spend more than large organisations and I suppose the internet would be even more competitive if everyone was spending $50K+.
The biggest challenge that many link building activities face were found to be finding link prospects in the first place, creating an efficient process to go about link building and getting site owners to respond.
Those who have ever worked on guest posting will know that the latter is common, especially for those that take the ill-advised step of creating a universal template and applying it to every site that looks promising.
Best practices for finding links
Many site owners get sick of seeing the subject line ‘request for guest post’ land in their inbox and it’s fair to say that a fair proportion just get thrown into the trash immediately. In order to create a request that stands a chance of at least being looked at, it takes some personalization. This means finding out the name of the owner or editor for the site, as well as taking a good look around at what they publish and suggesting titles which are targeted towards the site’s audience.
Recently, I have been receiving a lot of requests for my own site, so I’m aware that many just don’t cut the mustard when it comes to quality. I’d say about 10% of the requests that I’ve received have been suitable for publication. That’s pretty low and the best approach to guest posting is that you should offer quality. If you can’t, don’t try.
One example of this stands out for me. A new contact sent a speculative guest post in the first instance and it wasn’t fit for publication. I pointed this out (nicely, of course) and told him that I couldn’t publish it; to give you an idea, the English was poor in every way, terminology, sentence structure, grammar, spelling and the actual content had no real weight.
Last week he came back to me with another piece that he’d written, one which was marginally better than the first and included images! I pushed it to one side and was then battered every single day with: “have you looked at my article yet?” Even on Sunday!
Needless to say I didn’t publish it.
Professionalism is also a must
The point of this little anecdote is that persistence doesn’t pay off if the quality isn’t there. Further to this, sending busy people constant requests to publish a speculative piece is likely to get you nowhere.
Of course, guest blogging isn’t the only link building tactic that can be carried out, although the survey found it to be the most popular with 46% saying that it’s their ‘staple’ link building activity.
In addition to guest posting, the below tactics were also used:
- Content marketing & infographics by 21%
- Resource page link building by 8%
- Digital PR by 7%
- Paid linking by 5% (not recommended unless you’re prepared to make it very clear that it’s a paid link)
For guest posting, it was also found that 33% of people found that it’s more effective to have the link in the body text, as opposed to 12% who felt the link fared better in the author bio.
Ill-advised link building
Unsurprisingly, a fairly large proportion of those asked said that the most damaging link building tactic that could be used were:
- Link wheels (81%)
- Blog networks (62%)
- Advertorials (51%)
With regard to the latter, you can find out how Google stands on Advertorials, see the explanatory video from Matt Cutts.
Bearing this in mind it’s interesting to note that 5% of companies are not participating in any form of link building as they are afraid of getting a penalty from Google. An additional 11% said they are unsure which links are good and which bad, something that really raises the question of whether companies should be carrying it out themselves, or employing an agency.
12 month outlook
For the next 12 months the industry looks like it will continue to concentrate on guest blogging and PR as the primary activities when it comes to building links. However, other activities include building relationships with webmasters, content marketing and infographic marketing.
Of these, content marketing has been growing in popularity for some time and has always had a high level of usefulness when it comes to digital marketing. However, I think building relationships with webmasters is an approach we will come to see more and more SEO professionals carrying out.
It’s the personalized approach that works the best and just like social, a two-way conversation is likely to garner the best results.
Whilst in some quarters there has been a lot of noise around the continued usefulness of guest posting, it seems that despite some uncertainty surrounding link building, generally agencies and businesses alike see it as having value for the foreseeable future.
Scare stories about how guest posts can get you penalised are for the most part based on the kind of links that you’re getting. Links from a directory are potentially damaging, as is sending out bulk posts.
All-in-all, the best approach to take to link building via guest posts is to ensure that it’s as natural as possible. Use authors who are part of the Google Authorship program to really up the authority of the post too.
According to Google’s Matt Cutts, guest posting is fine if it’s not overdone. He concurs with the above, that a quality writer producing material that has seen work put in and is well written is fine. However, he also warns that using spun content, offering what is essentially the same article to numerous blogs and short pieces of 300 – 400 words are likely to draw negative attention.
With that in mind, the future of guest posting is quality. It’s no use churning out article after article that has no weight, nothing original to say and is not particularly useful as this is what may lead to penalisation.