Not so long ago Google’s Matt Cutts “called time” on guest posting for SEO purposes for the usual reasons, it had been abused by spammers to the extent that it’s no longer considered a valid practice. In my opinion it had also been abused by many SEO companies who appeared to view it as an easy way to gain links for clients, with the result being a web full of 300 word fluff pieces. For the rest of us, it was a little bit of a blow, as good content is perfect for developing relationships with editors and for gaining a good reputation and promoting thought leadership.
However, it’s now a precarious practice, but it is still valid, if you’re careful and you approach editors in the right way. Just one dodgy link can and does get people penalties though and it doesn’t just apply to backlinks, one guest post on your own site can also land you in hot water if it doesn’t appear relevant to Google’s algorithms.
So with this in mind, what’s the best approach to take to link building in this brave new age of Google spam updates?
Guest Posting is Still Valid
Matt Cutts banned guest posting for SEO for good reason, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be used. However, you should approach guest posting in a different way now and forget about chasing that link, if you want to be safe. Sure, you can still include a link, preferably in the bio and ensuring that you’re completely transparent about the site you’re writing for. However, don’t insist that it’s a dofollow link or you may very well find your piece is denied.
I accept guest posts on my own site and have very strict guidelines that anyone wanting to post must adhere to.
- Must be excellently written, with great grammar and spelling
- Must be a minimum of 1000 words
- Must be something that contains new ideas, not standard filler/fluff that can be found all over the web
- The author must include a bio at the bottom, which can include a link and a G+ link
- Must be original content
- Must be highly relevant to the industry, as should any site linked to
- Must not contain any links in the body to the author’s site or any of their clients
- Must contain links that support the information given in the article
Despite this, I still regularly get pieces sent to me which are far from appropriate as they are poorly written, or below word count, or industry irrelevant. It seems that no matter what I say when the initial query letter comes in, some people just take no notice and send in a 500 word blog that’s completely inappropriate.
Tips for Submitting a Guest Post
When approaching editors, it’s a good idea to have a portfolio of some kind, so that you can prove your intentions are to provide good content, not get that link. If you’ve not written very much, then develop your own blog with your bio on it first. This will also help you to attract links back to your own site, as the one thing that gains backlinks is great content.
On first approach, mention that you would like to offer more than one post, editors are interested in getting good content regularly and just as importantly, it looks far more natural to Google if you write for a site more than once.
Your main objectives for writing these guest posts should be:
- To develop a relationship with editors
- To drive traffic through great content from your bio link
- To promote yourself as a thought leader within your industry
You might get a dofollow link out of it too, you may not but whatever the case, it should no longer be your main objective. Don’t attempt to sneak a link into the body of the article either, you’ll get found out and that will be the end of your relationship and if you approached the wrong editor, possibly your reputation.
Get it right and you could get a regular slot on a good site which will drive traffic to yours and boost your rankings. Remember too that if your content on your site is excellent, the traffic you drive is likely to gain you links through your content. People remember good material and will link back to it from their own work, especially if you have a growing reputation as an industry authority.
Whilst you can use your link in the author bio, don’t be tempted to overuse keywords that are optimised, such as “writes for a hairdresser in Sydney” every time and don’t just use variations either. Use a branded link, such as your company/blog name and it will appear much more natural than keyword optimised anchor text.
Other Link Building Activities
Of course, guest posting isn’t the only link building tactic out there, you can also look at the following:
- Directory listings
- Article directories
Coming first to directories, I have to warn that if you use these for link building purposes, then you should approach with extreme caution. Personally, I don’t carry out any link building activities beyond producing excellent content and that would be my advice to anyone in this precarious age. However, you can add directory listings if you want, but follow some guidelines.
- Make sure the directory is of a very high quality
- Only use industry relevant directories
To find out the quality of a directory, first all you have to do is use your eyes. Those that have naked women advertising dating on the banners, you should immediately disregard, that’s not quality. Remember too that should there come a time when you need to get that link removed, many low quality directories don’t have any contacts. You will usually find a contact form but in my experience, it’s not very often that you will actually get a reply from these so you will end up having to disavow the URL.
You can check out the quality of a site by using Google Page Rank and it’s also a good idea to install MozBar, which allows you to see the site’s trust and authority metrics at a glance. For example, if you look at Yell’s metrics, the site has a domain authority of 87, which indicates that it’s a trusted site as it’s so high. Many very poor quality sites will either have no measurable metrics at all, or they will be very low despite the domain being registered for years. New sites also tend to have low authority metrics and this doesn’t mean that they are poor quality in that case, just that they have not yet had the time to build their authority.
Note: When approaching sites for guest posts, try to aim for sites with a similar domain authority to your own and build upwards or it will appear unnatural if you suddenly begin to garner links from high domain authority sites.
Comments can be useful for gathering backlinks, but don’t go mad and overuse. I tend to only comment when something has caught my attention and I want to contribute to the conversation and would recommend that you follow the same practice.
If you do guest post then make sure that you reply to any comments left on your article. The editor will thank you for getting involved with the community and it will strengthen your relationship; most commenting systems also allow you to enter your URL.
The same really goes for forum posts – only post if you have something useful to add to the conversation. Remember, you’re promoting yourself as an industry thought leader, someone that knows their job and doesn’t mind sharing useful information with others. Try to keep it that way and don’t leave throwaway comments anywhere.
Should you use article directories to build links? Here’s what Mr Cutts had to say on the subject back in January:
So no, it’s not recommended practice and from what our friend Matt is saying in the video, it may not yet be overly harmful, but the algorithms won’t make it worth your while as these are seen to produce low quality content.
Links in press releases are seen to be spammy too these days, so if you write a press release, then you should leave links out of it altogether. However, there are plenty of newshounds out there just waiting for a nice story to drop onto their desk, so they can still be used as a tactic, but only really if you have something worth writing about.
If you’re putting on a great event, or doing something for charity, or you’ve just launched an innovative new product, then it’s worth producing a press release and making sure that you distribute it as widely as possible. You may be lucky enough for a relatively high profile news site to pick it up and provide a link back to your site. However, don’t do it for link chasing purposes, as it probably won’t get picked up and all you will have gained is a wasted good few hours’ work.
If you want to attract links from press releases then you have to do something newsworthy.
Content Marketing Will Earn You Links
Many SEO professionals don’t actively seek links anymore and this is by far the safest approach. The idea of earning links is a much better (and safer) one and if you are producing content that can attract links, then you’ll get them and you don’t have the additional worry of a penalty.
Content marketing has been hailed as the next big thing for a couple of years now, but in reality it has been in use for many years. Content marketing is what it appears to be, marketing a company and what it can do with the help of content, which can take a number of forms.
- Articles and blogs
- Presentations (SlideShare, for example)
Other websites need a good reason to link to the content you put out, but if you make sure that your content marketing material is high quality, it will attract them. However, this shouldn’t be your primary reason for producing the content, it should be produced with the aim of educating, informing, or entertaining your customers, potential customers and visitors to your website and social media profiles.
Talking of Social Media
Use social media to get your content out there. I find Twitter is still the most effective at driving traffic and for people actually reading and commenting on content. However, LinkedIn and Facebook are also useful and Google+ is great for getting posts to show up in search.
Make sure that you also post content from others too, so that your social presence is as useful as possible to the audience. There are lots of tactics that you can use to grow your audience, here’s some to avoid:
- Never, ever buy followers, even to get you started. It’s easy to spot for others and the followers that you ‘gain’ will not be quality ones, if indeed they’re human at all. Bought followers tend to be old accounts and are generally controlled by bots.
- Automation programs can be great, but have a good read around first and if they use an automated message to your followers, remove it or don’t use if you can’t. There’s nothing that looks more spammy than “thanks, you were followed back by [insert name of program]”
You can also use resources such as Paper.li to gather your content and the best of others that you follow in one place. A similar resource that I only came across recently is Rebel Mouse, which I think is better than Paper.li as it has a lot of great features.
There are lots of things you can do to promote your business and content and get found in search without chasing links. Yes, gaining backlinks does of course still have high SEO value, but there’s just too much risk involved in taking shortcuts. With that in mind, think more about how you can build relationships with your followers, customers and editors and concentrate on creating excellent content and the links will come to you.