Matt Cutts caused a shockwave among the digital marketing community when he declared that guest posting is dead. He went further, and added: “So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy”. So what is the real story? Should you abandon all your guest posting efforts?
In a word, no. Getting published on high quality 3rd party sites is a basic component of any branding strategy. Done correctly, exposure on these sites can represent a strong endorsement for your brand and help build your reputation. To put this in perspective, classic branding strategies included seven major elements: strategy, integrity, mission, vision, value, identity, and marketing.
In today’s digital marketing environment, these seven components of branding are not enough. The potential customers of any business have easy online access to what others think about them. Businesses have to proactively manage and cultivate how they are perceived online or else their reputation will suffer.
This means that branding has to expand to include several new elements, all oriented around building and protecting their brand. These new elements are reputation, relationships, trust, and connections.
Publishing authoritative content on authoritative web sites (aka “guest posting” or “bylined articles”) is one very powerful way to build your brand online. It is the starting point for reaching out to address these 4 new elements of branding, while helping serve the seven traditional elements at the same time.
For many publishers the real problem came when they relied on SEO agencies to handle guest posting for them, particularly when the main goal of the campaign was SEO. These agencies were not concerned with branding and reputation. Some of the tactics that these agencies used were:
- Placing keyword rich anchor text in a link back to your site. It does not matter if the link is in the body of the article or in your attribution. Having it contain keywords that you want to rank for is a bad idea. This type of anchor text makes it seem like the link is “payment” in return for providing the article.
- Seeking out large numbers of different domains to publish your guest posts.
- Placing posts on low quality sites.
- Creating poor quality content for use in the campaign.
These tactics are clear signs of guest blogging solely for the purpose of SEO. The reason this problem became so large is that many SEO agencies saw guest posting as an easy way to get lots of links for their clients at relatively low expense. If you are doing any of these things now, or they are being done on your behalf, stop now.
Quality Guest Posting
Guest posting can remain a valuable part of your digital marketing strategy, and it can still bring you SEO value. The following guidelines are essential to any guest posting efforts, whether you handle it in-house or use a 3rd party agency. If you plan to use an agency make them tell you how they go about guest posting and then see if they are compatible with these requirements:
1. Reputation and Branding Must Be Your Primary Goals. No other primary objective is acceptable. If you truly focus on these goals, the targets you select for your campaign are much more likely to be safe. One side effect of this is that the number of sites available for you to target will go way down. That’s OK. Quality trumps quantity in today’s world.
2. Relevance is Everything. If the site has no (or low) relevance to your target market, you want nothing to do with it. In addition, the post you write for them should have direct relevance to your business, as well as to the page receiving the link on your site.
As shown in the preceding image, each major component of a guest post needs to have a high degree of relevance. The guest post needs to fit on the site where it gets published, and the content of the post needs to have direct relevanve to your site, and in particular any pages on your site receiving any links from that guest post.
Here is one good test for sufficient relevance: Is there a strong possibility that someone reading the article might click on your attribution link and become a customer? Now that makes for a solid test of relevance.
3. Target the Highest Possible Authority Sites. Take the time to identify the most respected sites in your market. Do not use PageRank to determine this, but instead, ask the opinion of highly respected people in your market space. Verify that the target sites have lots of engagement, such as comments on the posts and published articles are shared by many people in social media, with the content they publish as well. These are your targets (the “Top Tier”).
If you are just starting out, Top Tier sites may not be willing to work with you yet. If that is the case, identify the next tier down of publishers (the “Second Tier”) and work with them. Establish your reputation solidly in the Second Tier, and set yourself up to go back to the Top Tier later on.
Another approach to getting connected with the Top Tier is to engage with key people that work for them in social media, or go to conferences and meet them face to face. This can significantly accelerate the process of building enough trust with them to establish a longer term relationship.
4. Never Approach Anyone and Ask if You Can Give Them a Guest Post. Your approach to them should always be about the potential relationship. Your initial contact should focus on building a trusted long term relationship based on trust and mutual respect with the person you are contacting. Your opening paragraph might look like this:
I am reaching out to you no behalf of [expert_author] and we are interested in establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with you. You can see some of [expert_author]‘s work in this articles: [link to article 1], [link to article 2], and [link to article 3]. We see that you have published a lot of content on similar themes to what we have done and we would be interested in finding ways to collaborate with you …
The point is that you don’t simply focus on getting your post on their site. You can suggest that later in your pitch, but do focus on the notion of a relationship first as this is where the biggest benefit will be in the long run. Note that most SEO agencies don’t know how to do that well.
5. Links to Your Site Should Only be in the Author Attribution. Don’t link to yourself in the body of the article unless it is essential to the content of the article to do so. There are possible exceptions to this rule, but don’t go looking for them until your reputation is very well established.
6. Don’t Use Rich Anchor Text in Links to Your Site. This is akin to begging Google to punish you. Just don’t do it. Anchor text such as “click here”, “my article on this topic”, your company name, or the URL of the page you are linking to are just fine. Remember, you are doing this for branding and reputation. Here is my favorite example of bad anchor text:
The author of this article could not even take the time to figure out how to put “used” and “cars” in the same sentence!
7. Write Columns. If you want to do guest posting, this is one of the best tactics to pursue. Columns on top quality sites relevant to your target market is good for your visibility, reputation, social media presence, and yes, SEO. This also goes very well with the notion of establishing a relationship.
Want to build your brand and reputation? Nothing better than a column in one of the top jounrals covering your space!
8. Never Compromise on Quality. Hopefully, this goes without saying, but sadly, many SEO agencies considered quality secondary to the goal of getting many links. Since your guest posts are a part of your branding and reputation strategies, the quality of the article is not something you can compromise on.
Managing Your Agency or Hiring Help
If you are selecting an SEO agency or PR firm, or hiring someone to help you with this, don’t give them these guidelines up front. Make them tell you how they propose to do it first, and show you examples of their past work. If they won’t show you examples, or their examples do not follow these guidelines, they are not the agency (or new hire) for you. Getting these types of guest post placements requires a different skillset than “guest blogging for SEO”, and you don’t want them learning on your dime while your reputation is on the line.
In addition, if you are using an external agency make sure you review and sign off on every single piece of content they publish on your behalf. Verify that the content is something that your company can be proud of. Would you be willing to show the content to a potential customer prior to their buying from you? Would someone seeing the content be more likely to buy from you after reading it?
Summing it Up
Guest blogging is not dead, and it should remain a viable part of any content marketing plan, but you need to own the result. That content, where it is placed, and how it is positioned represent your brand. Doing this improperly is playing with fire. Doing it the right way will still be good for your SEO efforts.
You need to manage this whole process as carefully as you would manage any other branding campaign. You can’t simply hand off content marketing campaigns to a 3rd party agency any more. You can use an agency, but you need to be directly involved. They have a lot less at stake in the result than you do.