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The Tragedy of the Guest Post

Insights January 21, 2014


You can’t say you didn’t see this coming, right? You must have been on Mars for the past two years if you didn’t see Matt Cutts’ most recent edict on guest posting coming down the pipe.

There was a time, of course, when guest posting was an organic element of the web’s natural ecosystem. Weary publishers, hard-up for creative ideas, welcomed (and openly solicited) the barnstorming contributor as a means of shared exposure. The quality of the post was generally excellent, as the author was being given an opportunity to gain access to another publisher’s audience. Editorial oversight of the content was likewise nitpicky (in a good way) as the publisher was essentially sharing their precious pulpit with an outsider.

The natural checks and balances of quality control limited the value of creating or publishing weak content, as the fundamental goal of guest posting was still about impacting audiences–not search engines. It was a self-governing corner of the web.

With Google’s devaluation or penalization of so many scalable link building tactics, the once-innocent guest posting model was forever tarnished by SEOs flocking to these unwitting site owners with promises of a relevant post for their readers. (It should have been a sign that so many of these unsolicited contributors felt the need to validate their posts as “engaging and relevant.”) In reality, engagement and audience resonance were the furthest things from their minds, as they saw only so far as an opportunity to create a piece of content just good enough to be posted with all their do-follow links intact.

Scale trumped quality, relevance, and engagement as the guest posting world became another SEO-scorched landscape of porn, pills, and poker links. In fact, this valley of smut laid the groundwork for an entire generation of sites that no one actually read, visited, or maintained–except for search engines.

So, is guest posting dead? If your sole purpose in creating content for another site is to gain links, then the answer is probably yes. It may take Google and other search engines a few months to catch up, but rest assured there are enough patterns inherent to the model that they will begin to take action on sites relying solely on this type of link building.

But what about brands? Behind any link worth its marbles are real, living, breathing, actual brands, right? Should brands really abandon the opportunity to get out in front of impactful blogger audiences as a result of Cutts’ most recent announcement?

Of course not.

Brands (and their friendly SEO consultants) need to get better at aligning the things that make them compelling or valuable with the audiences with whom that information truly resonates. There are ways to measure these things. When your brand is mentioned, is the content shared socially? Are audiences receptive to branded mentions within the content? Does the content align itself naturally with the fabric of the blog’s other posts? Are the editorial guidelines for the site clearly defined and enforced? Brands don’t hide behind third-party sleight-of-hand mentions to their websites, they embrace the opportunity to share the things that make them great.

Fortunately, while the rest of the SEO community has been churning out garbage to open submission sites that no one has ever read or engaged with, these are the questions we’ve been asking ourselves for years when evaluating the value of a guest contribution for all our clients.

As a brand, it doesn’t really matter what you’re selling. Where there’s a market, there’s an audience. While the dark corners of the unread web are unlikely to be visited anytime soon (or ever valued by search engines again), studies show that blogs still represent a great opportunity to create influence among those audiences attempting to learn about you.

The stakes have been raised. If your brand can’t look in the mirror and tell their consumers what makes them great or interesting, then you’ve got bigger problems than link building to worry about.

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