Could Google penalize you for guest blogging?

by Tim Hill (aka Doodled)

February 6th 2014
Google penalties for guest blogging?
Could Google introduce a penalty for guest blogging?

This is inspired by David Edbrooke-Stainer from WTF SEO. In reply to my post 'What does Matt Cutts mean: Guest Blogging is Done' David said he would never use guest blogging.

His argument runs that guest blogging is essentially a way of paying for links. The content you give to the blogger is the payment in return for which you get a link or two.

Google's guidelines on paid links are very clear: mark them as 'no follow'. If you were to do that in your guest blogs then your website won't benefit from any of the link juice, but if you don't could Google decide one day to penalise you for not marking your 'paid' links correctly?

My line of thinking doesn't go quite that far - I'll explain the logic a little more.

Where did the articles go?

Once a little while ago Google said that links would count for more if they were within the text content of a page. This lead to article websites where you could submit your few hundred words of text on any subject in return for a couple of links back to your site.

The article sites made their money from advertising but they filled up quickly with, well … dross. Most of the articles were of little value, many were generated by computers, and internet users themselves rarely found anything useful there.

Google branded them 'content farms' and announced that links from such sites would count for little or nothing. If you had been spinning articles and posting them on very spammy article sites you could even be in for a total ban from the search results.

When articles became guest blogs

“Ah”, somebody whispered, “Google didn't say anything about guest blogging”. And with that blogs sprang up left, right and centre offering people space to guest blog.

SEO companies that once stated their monthly package included “X number of articles” scrambled to change their wording to “X number of guest blogs”.

For reasons (which I cannot comprehend) some vast sector of the SEO world thought everything was going to be OK. But there is no difference between a blog filled with guest posts and an article site filled with other people's articles.

They are exactly the same thing but in different clothing.

Guest blogs are now evil?

What you will see now is a wave of activity as SEO companies who offered “X number of guest blogs” per month as part of a package scurry around and look for something else to replace guest blogging with.

That's not because guest blogging is evil but because so many SEOers have a habit of rushing to the other side of the ship when Matt Cutts mutters something, essentially throwing the baby out with the bath water.

There are still article sites where, if you get a link, it counts. There are still blogs where, if you get a link via a guest blog, it counts.

Could Google move the goal posts?

But what about David's argument? Could Google suddenly claim guest blogs, no matter the quality of the blog itself, are paid links?

Google already penalises websites that have large numbers of back links from spammy sites and content farms. If you, or your SEO company, are creating endless guest posts at the moment that are being put up on phantom blogs then you are cruising rapidly into dangerous water. Spammy sites are spammy sites, not matter how they are dressed.

But could Google start treating all links in a guest blogs as paid links? I'm not convinced.

The business world is made up (ideally) of win-win situations which are not always financial in their immediate nature.

I'm often asked to write articles for respectable magazines and newspapers in return for which they mention my company. This concept has been around since the printing press was invented and even the most high-brow publications often host guest columnists, clearly stating where they have their day job.

When it comes to payment it is clearly there – the guest columnist gave content in return for advertising. The guest blogger gives content in return for advertising and a link.

Because this is an accepted practice, online and offline, I don't expect Google to start penalising it across the board. After all, that would mean penalising websites who are referenced from sites such as Wikipedia … which wouldn't exactly help Google's search results.

It's not the activity, it's the way it's done!

So many an SEOer dumped article writing and took up guest blogging. Now the stampede is to get as far away from guest blogging as possible. Should you be moving with the herd?

There is nothing evil about article writing, the evil part only comes in if you are article writing in the wrong place. If NewsWeek asks you to write an article it is going to count. If you plan to post on an article site that no one ever reads and which is full of random ramblings it is going to come into Google's radar and it is going hurt.

There is nothing evil about guest blogging, the evil part only comes in if you are guest blogging on the wrong blog. If a highly popular blogger in your field asks you to guest blog it is going to count. If you plan to post on a blog that only exists to take guest blogs it is going to come into Google's radar and it is going to hurt.

And if you are falling for one of these "I have a private blog network so can offer multiple guest blogging spaces" it is going to hurt multiple times over.

My main curiosity though, I have to say, is what all these SEO packages that offered X guest blogs for $Y per month are going to offer now … and how long that next particular fashion will last … !