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The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO (mattcutts.com)
159 points by chaz 920 days ago | hide | past | web | 139 comments | favorite

This is just one of the worst things I've ever read on Cutt's blog. Because they can't really distinguish good guest posting from 'passable' guest posting, it's all done?

Got news for you: guest blogging is relevant for many more reasons than Google. In fact, that's probably one of the least important reasons to guest post or guest blog these days. Referral traffic that is more qualified than organic search, audience building, reaching new channels that organic search cannot quite tap, and many more non-SEO oriented reasons are why guest blogging will never really die out in the way that other types of linkbuilding have died out.

You have to love the world's biggest scraper and source of 'duplicate content' (all the scraped info from weather, wikipedia, etc in their sidebar these days) making up the rules of what is and isn't allowed. Extremely hypocritical, but the good news is that relying on Google never was necessary, and is becoming less and less so as time goes on.

Google have reached the point where they know that every website is fundamentally dependent on them, and now they're taking advantage of it that to make their lives easier by forcing the entire internet to change every time some commonplace practice makes their algorithm's life harder. They've been doing it on a technical level for a while, in terms of stuff like how ads may link to the destination. Now they've simply moved onto dictating the culture and social norms of the Internet. If your way of sharing good writing with your actual readers makes life harder for Google, well you'd better change your practices or they'll punish you, even if you're not doing it for them.

Google have reached the point where they know that every website is fundamentally dependent on them

Isn't that exactly the kind of institutional arrogance that the GP post was highlighting?

OK, some web sites might still be fundamentally dependent on Google. Personally, I'd advise against relying on a business model based primarily on search traffic for a number of reasons, but of course everyone is free to try it if they like.

However, I somehow doubt big name brands like Microsoft or Audi or McDonalds would suffer irrevocable harm if Google disappeared tomorrow. Nor would major sites like Wikipedia or Facebook. Nor would all the popular forum/news aggregator sites, or the popular source sites that repeatedly get linked from them.

Perhaps more telling, I doubt any of the much smaller niche/hobby or family business type sites I know about would suffer greatly if Google vanished tomorrow either. The big G represents only a modest share of the incoming traffic in each case, and moreover the quality of that traffic in terms of engagement and conversions is relatively low compared to most other major sources. They are often beaten on volume by at least one order of magnitude by a single link from an influential blogger in a relevant field who is genuinely suggesting that their readers visit that site, or the equivalent via Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, etc. And that's before you count the viral effect, which can bump the difference to multiple orders of magnitude. Content is king, as Cutts has often said, but in 2014 good content can be found many ways without any help from Google.

I suspect this issue is symptomatic of a serious and long-term difficulty for Google search: their foundation is still basically the idea that you can judge the worth of a page by how many incoming links it sees. I'm reasonably sure that unless they have some shady deals going on with various popular social media sites, they don't even know about probably 90% of the incoming links to most of those little sites I mentioned, nor about 99% of the links my friends and family share to other people's sites. All they've got left is the public blogs and the assorted SEO tricksters, and that's not where a lot of people share genuine recommendations any more.

"I doubt any of the much smaller niche/hobby or family business type sites I know about would suffer greatly if Google vanished tomorrow either."

Many existing businesses already have awareness built through a variety of channels over a number of years, but if search were to die off some newer sites struggling to build exposure from scratch would struggle harder. That said, as Google keeps lifting the cost barrier to entry & radiates greater risk out to the smaller players perhaps building initially from the perception that Google is perpetually late / behind the curve on new sites, & that one needs exposure elsewhere isn't a bad thing.

"They are often beaten on volume by at least one order of magnitude by a single link from an influential blogger in a relevant field who is genuinely suggesting that their readers visit that site, or the equivalent via Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, etc. And that's before you count the viral effect"

If they don't have an SEO strategy (or are selling a unique product that people don't know exists until they see it) & just let whatever search traffic happen on its own then sure it is easy for other sources to drive vastly more traffic than search. But if they are focused on commercial keywords, build content around the consumer demands their solutions help solve, and have an SEO strategy then search is typically in the top few referrers in terms of revenue driven.

A lot of the top affiliate links on Twitter or such are for iTunes song sales: low cost, low friction & low commitment purchases. I think I have had maybe a couple Twitter conversions in years, while search has driven orders of magnitude more. But both are channels that are part of the awareness process & when you add them together its more like 2+2=5.

"their foundation is still basically the idea that you can judge the worth of a page by how many incoming links it sees"

I think they fold in more usage data than they let on, but feel little need/incentive to mention that aspect of the algorithm.

"I'm reasonably sure that unless they have some shady deals going on with various popular social media sites, they don't even know about probably 90% of the incoming links to most of those little sites I mentioned"

Did you see the bit about using Google Chrome's data saving caching feature on Android? Chrome desktop also has security features baked into it. And there are boatloads of signed in user accounts tied to both of these. And large chunks of many social sites are crawlable.

"All they've got left is the public blogs and the assorted SEO tricksters, and that's not where a lot of people share genuine recommendations any more."

The fact that those votes are harder to give means they (often) have greater discrimination value. It is easy to say that social signals should replace links, but that would effectively be Google subsidizing competing ad networks. And even if we ignored that the "relevancy" signals in social are also the ad units, outside of those official ads there are third party strategies to ensure social is every bit as gamed as the link graph is.

Just today I saw this http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2014/01/stealth-marketing-micr... and that reminded me of this from the past http://www.seobook.com/images/tweet-and-get.png

If they don't have an SEO strategy (or are selling a unique product that people don't know exists until they see it)

The second part is what I really had in mind there. One of the sites I was thinking of is a textbook example, a start-up for people who have a certain hobby.

The SEO strategy is reasonably effective: the site consistently ranks on the first page of Google for almost all targeted search terms, which is not a bad achievement starting from a page rank of nothing a few months earlier. But it's partly able to do that because no-one in the field has really done anything similar before, so almost no-one actually searches for anything like it either.

In contrast, more specialised and proactive channels, such as advertising in traditional off-line media or targeting ads at people with that particular interest on social networks, attract very favourable comments and numerically they tend to get far better click-through rates, similar levels of engagement, and in some cases a much higher overall conversion rate/lower CAC.

If you only looked at the hits from Google, your first reaction might quite reasonably be that there was no market for this product, but the feedback once people in the target market actually see it paints a different picture.

Content creators have always somewhat had to bend to the will of the major promoters. It is unfortunate that Google has gained a position that allows them to dictate the means of content promotion, but overall the goal of any content creator is to have it seen. As far as I'm aware, they've always had to fit their way of sharing into some other external system. Creators have to get their content to the audience, and if Google is bringing the audience, then they will do what Google says.

Again, it's unfortunate, but not surprising.

Our startup actually receives very few organic inbound traffic from Google.

It is secondary to our strategy. Facebook is the dominant platform in our target demographic.

I would not consider us, even remotely dependent on Google. If Google disappeared tomorrow the effect on our net sales and exposure would probably be less than 1%.

Google is, for many casual users, a lazy way of getting a full URL. Hit Google. Type Hubspot. Click. Hubspot.

I'm not so sure I'd sleep well knowing my business relies on Facebook as opposed to Google. Talk about a choice between two evils. Diversify!

Why is Facebook evil?

You must have missed the first sentence:

> if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop

Guest-blogging as a link gaining technique is dead. If you want it for prestige, referrers, or whatever, keep on keeping on. You may want to nofollow though.

Guest-blogging as a link gaining technique is dead.

Of course it's not.

Cutts seems to be under the mistaken impression that hyperlinks were invented to provide source data for his employer, and that if his employer now chooses not to pay attention to some of them then the rest of us won't either.

In reality, if there's a link in the guest blog post, people reading that post can follow it. If it's a popular blog and an interesting post on it by the guest author, probably quite a few readers readers will.

I know this is HN, but we're in some really pedantic territory here. Matt Cutts is simply saying that you should re-think your strategy if you want page rank and think guest blogging is a way to do accomplish that goal.

Matt knows his audience and doesn't have to spell out everything to the nth degree--when he talks link building it's 100% of the time page rank related.

The trouble is, there's something akin to Poe's law going on with Googlers these days: I find it very hard to tell whether they're speaking or writing specifically and assuming their audience will somehow infer their intended context, or whether they really are starting to believe that the entire Internet revolves around Google and they have some divine authority to tell everyone else how to make their sites.

When they start giving out blanket advice about what people "should" do, particularly when the advice is as self-serving and frankly laughable as it is in this case, I find it increasingly difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt. I suspect they damage their credibility a little more every time any of them speaks or writes this way.

Exactly. I've been an avid guest blogger, and it has never had anything to do with Google. It's about a wide-reaching, respected brand vouching for my work. There's no PR more valuable than when a relevant influencer grants you their audience.

Having a well-trafficked blog of my own, I also receive hundreds of these awful spam emails. But why would I ever take their offer? My blog is respected by my niche because I would never post junk. Niether would the publications I write for. That's why there's still an audience there.

stephp, it's great that you sound like a high-quality contributor, but my intent was to highlight the issues around the hundreds of awful spam emails that you mentioned receiving. I've seen a lot of business owners fall for them. :(

Matt, if that's the case, then perhaps you should clarify the original blog post. Guest posting is something I would do even if Google didn't consider links at all in their ranking.

If a site author accepts high quality guest posts, should they no-follow the outbound links? That appears to be the message in your blog post.

"perhaps you should clarify the original blog post."

I added some paragraphs of clarification to the blog post.

Thanks. It's clearer now, though you may consider retooling this in the future. Usually I've found your writing + videos admirably clear, but the message here still seems a bit off.

If it helps give you an idea why it's confusing: I get tons of spam comments on my site offering me spam content generation tools, among other spammy offerings.

They're obviously spam. I'm sure some people do fall for these ploys, and it's unfortunate. An appropriate message would be "don't fall for these". An inappropriate message would be "if you're relying on content generation in 2014, stop".

In other words, just because something has spammy elements, doesn't invalidate the practice entirely. What's still unclear about your blog post is this: If someone does legitimate, high quality guest posting, the kind they would do without Google, is this a positive or a negative in Google's eyes, and should links be no-followed the same way you'd do for a high quality affiliate or high quality sponsor.

halcyondaze, we see a lot of business owners with small blogs getting tricked by spammers. If you're doing really high-quality guest blogging to get exposure or branding, that's great, but the majority of guest blogging offers these days are sliding into scuzzier and spammier areas.

This is the part that confuses me, I guess. The business owner gets the email. It sounds spammy. Maybe they fall for it anyway and receive the article to post. But don't they then realize that it's crappy? It's not as if spammers are logging in to their WordPress account and posting on their behalf. Business owners ultimately have full veto and editing power.

So why don't they cut out the spammy stuff like keyword links? Or, if the content is really garbage, say "no thanks"? The only reason I can see is if they're terribly desperate for content, in which case they're knowingly degrading their own platform.

Have you seen what some less tech-savvy small business owners write themselves as content for their site? Not sure that all of them would recognise exceptionally poor material, especially when they're told by their web developer that it's important to get more content up on their site.

I have to disagree, because I don't see what being tech-savvy has to do with it.

There are therapists, landscapers, used car dealers, craftsmen, accountants, etc. All kinds of people are small business owners and have company blogs. Maybe they fumble around their website, but they can tell when the written content of an article on their topic (landscaping, accounting, etc.) is junk.

The tricky thing about content farms, is that it's sometimes hard for humans to tell the crap content from the real content. There is an entire industry of people who will, for $50, give you 500 words on pretty much any topic that you want, and make it sound reasonable - even sometimes without completely plagiarizing Wikipedia.

Not even necessarily $50. There are fairly competent writers who can do 250-300 words for around $6.

Can they tell if it's good enough based on what they see on other web sites, that may or may not be using outsourced writers, guest posts, etc?

A tech savvy user is more likely to be familiar with the reasons and risks and ignore poorer quality writing in their evaluation.

Will the business owners with small blogs get hit by Google or will those doing the guest blogging (those getting the link) get hit?

Probably neither. Google talks about dodgy practices more than they actually enforce against them. Until they actually state that they are penalizing something, they are probably not penalizing it.

High quality content marketing isn't about Google rank.

Google has no control over a visitor to a highly credible blog trusting you as a source and clicking on a link. Clicking the link shouldn't even be necessary, if you're establishing expertise for yourself and your company.

If your sole reason for guest blogging is Google juice, it's reasonable to rethink that strategy.

so because google's algos can not distinguish between spam and ham, we have to throw out the baby with the bathwater (sorry for mixing metaphors!)

we've already seen how google missed a massive and long running link scheme (rapgenius) and had to do a clumsy temporary manual change to save face... now we're seeing them try to stop guest blogging from being used for spam

well guess what, every tactic that can be used to create good SEO can be used in the wrong hands for 'bad' SEO. you can leave a great insightful comment or you can leave a spammy comment. you can do a great guest blog article which adds tremendous value or you can do a spammy terrible article

google is confessing that they are incapable of telling them apart so they want to destroy the whole thing just so they can go on saying that they still know what they are doing

well, let me reiterate what many already know: the emperor has no clothes!

  well guess what, every tactic that can be used to create
  good SEO can be used in the wrong hands for 'bad' SEO
I would suggest that if you're coming up with 'tactics' for SEO you're already on the road to bad SEO.

optimise your search engine placement by, huh, here's a novel idea - having original, good quality content. everything else is secondary. gaming the system is an arms race and not a long-term win.

"I would suggest that if you're coming up with 'tactics' for SEO you're already on the road to bad SEO."

I would disagree. If you are constructing your site with NO regard to how Google and other search engines would index the content, you're just throwing money away on web development.

If you are not following proper canonical procedures, not giving each page title a unique and descriptive text, and not using rich snippets, you deserve your low search rankings.

There is such a thing as good SEO. It's just being smart and letting people find your page. Just like Disney is as concerned with how people get to their theme park as their experience inside.

You need links as well. "Sure, but good content will naturally be linked to", but then ask yourself, when was the last time you gave something you liked a dofollow link on your blog? And even if you did, you maybe gave one link for every 100 you enjoyed but didn't.

People very rarely link to things these days, and the big guys will pay people to provide links. Guest blogging was previously the ethical way to get those links until people started abusing it.

The model is outdated, most links are now shared in closed networks which will happily nofollow everything.

Also depending on your niche many of your users may have never actually placed a link anywhere before (outside of a closed network sharing a link)

I'm in a niche where 99% of the content is on forums and no-follow, and the big blogs typically don't link to each other, unless it's a guest post.

How the devil are you supposed to get followed links? Not every niche is like tech, where a vibrant news and user community blogs and links to other sites.

To their credit, Google does seem to be figuring out that my site is worthwhile, despite the very small amount of inbound, followed links I have.

> having original, good quality content

Ok, so once you have that, what then? What you suggest is not a magical panacea.

If the difference between dofollow and nofollow links is outcome determinative over whether or not some article would be written or posted, then it is SEO crap and it should be ignored at best by search engines.

And if it's not outcome determinative, just put nofollow on the links and you don't have anything to worry about.

Here's a question, though: Is it obvious for non-technical people that their links must be nofollow links?

Maybe I am naive, but I'd imagine that there might still be non-techies out there who would like to be heared (not talking of company blogs, obviously). This thing cuts two ways.

What you are saying implies that any person who is not aware of the obscure technical detail "nofollow links" has nothing valuable to say.

I use markdown for my blog, which is then compiled by Jekyll. Why should I know or care what a nofollow link is? I link to things so that my readers can click on the link and read more about whatever I'm saying.

It's my job to act naturally and not try to game the system. It's Google's job to figure out whether I'm acting normally or gaming the system.

That's a legitimate concern, but it has a narrower application than you've suggested. If a blog post doesn't have links that point back to the author's "home" website, then it's not an issue either way. Also, either the author or the guest site can set nofollow.

So our hypothetical innocent user has to be sophisticated enough to 1) have a home site, 2) blog on a different site, and 3) include links, (and have some legitimate non-SEO reason to want to put links to his home page in the first place) while at the same time neither he nor his host be sophisticated enough to know about nofollow.

It's certainly possible but I'm skeptical that it is a large catagory. Plus, I doubt that whatever countermeasure google comes up with is going to be a nuke from orbit response for a very occasional suspected spammy guest post. Instead I expect they will be going after the many many instances that look like a concerted effort.

I must admit that I'm not blogging myself at the moment, so I haven't really thought about these things before now.

My assumption is that a non-technical person would go with some key-in-hand automatically configured solution. So to be on the safe side, any ready-to-use blog hoster should, by default, set all links to be nofollow links, right? Because you really _have_ to know about nofollow if you want to use it only some of the time.

Also, a non-technical person, upon being told that they can't link to their own site and probably also to the sites of other authors on the blog, might not be inclined to see this as anything but some arbitrary rule.

All is probably lost, anyway. This just speeds up the exodus of non-technical bloggers into the walled gardens that lure them.

Well if someone's hosting guest posts on their blog for non-SEO purposes it's generally because the think the guest blogger's writing is good and that their regular readers would be interested in seeing it.

From what I've seen, it's more or less the norm that guest posters have a blog elsewhere that's linked to in the post; if they didn't have one the host would have no way to assess the quality of their posts, and reputable blogs don't accept guest posts from people whose blogs they're not comfortable promoting to their readers.

This is the difficulty in fighting spam. Google's goal is to determine which sites are the "best," and use, as their measure for doing so, the number of natural (organic) links as a scorecard. And as soon as people realized that's what Google was looking at, they started to mimic the organic links to boost their own ranking.

In a sense, Google is the largest crowdsourced project of all-time. It's a lot like Reddit or HackerNews in that every link is an upvote, but the genius of Google is that each link carries a different weight, and that links are a natural byproduct of using the Internet. In short, the people contributing to the crowdsourced ranking system don't even realize they're doing so most of the time. They're just doing what they like and leaving a byproduct of doing so (links, social signals) that Google can use to tell you which sites people consider valuable.

But that means that once people realize what Google is using to rank, they can mimic those signals, and sway the algorithm in their favor. The problem Google is going to run into is that once spammers can closely (and at times programmatically) mimic what is happening "organically," Google's algorithms cannot tell the difference.

Right now Google's approach seems to be ignoring or highly devaluing portions of the Internet that have been overrun with spam. Article submissions, blog comments, and now apparently guest posting, which sucks for people that do really high quality, organic guest posting; for Google that has to be collateral damage. Spammers will simply move on to the next portion of the Internet, mimicking what Google still uses as a ranking signal. It's an endless battle.

One of the big things I see happening now is entire website hijackings (I've been meaning to email you about that, Matt). I did a quick little report on the search engine results for "Viagra," and 81 of the top 100 are hijacked websites, including a client I have to upgrade to a newer version of Drupal, as the older one has been compromised. I don't know if or how Google will win this battle, but it's far from over. I honestly feel like the new way we gather data to rank websites, and what will be successful in 25 years, will have to be completely unrelated from what Google is doing now, and much harder to manipulate than spreading links all over the Internet.

"One of the big things I see happening now is entire website hijackings"

It's true that website hacking remains a big issue in the spammiest areas of the web even though it's completely illegal. Unfortunately, there's a lot of unmaintained, unpatched web servers out there that blackhats exploit. It's fundamentally a hard problem, but we've been working on the next generation of our hacking detection algorithms.

I've always wondered why we don't see more startups offering hacker protection, detection, clean-up, etc. Companies like McAfee made a lot of money protecting personal computers, and there's a similar opportunity on the web server side.

I think a lot of companies are scared of how good hackers are these days. No one wants to guarantee protection because a hacker of a more elite variety will come along and take that as a challenge, by hacking into the sites that X company has created.

I definitely agree with you that it is somewhat of an under tapped market, but definitely think it needs to be head up by the right individual(s).

It could be scary to try to outwit hackers, but even if you don't tackle the problem head on, a website backup and recovery service could be a big help.

If that's not hint from someone 'in the know' about a startup someone should start, I've never seen one.

Right, but is it really a pain point to the negligent web site owner who doesn't care enough to make sure it's secure - or is it more of a pain point for Google trying to determine what's quality and not?

"there's a lot of unmaintained, unpatched web servers out there that blackhats exploit"

To be sure there are many patched maintained web servers, applications that are also exploited (by someone for some purpose).

The best and the brightest get hacked and software maintained even by professionals regularly needs to be patched for new exploits. (Take Flash which seems to be running at between 1 and 4 updates per month). Or even OSX security updates.

I know everyone seems to think it's the other guy that doesn't have his act together and isn't following the obvious advice but there are many "other guys" that are quite capable and still end up having problems and being exploited. (Source: stuff that I read in news stories the same as everyone else.)

It only applies to WordPress hosting, but that's one of the main reasons we use WP Engine. They actively monitor and protect against hacked WordPress installations.

I know one: http://sucuri.net

Focused exactly on what you mentioned (web site recovery, monitoring and protection).

*I work there :)

"what will be successful in 25 years, will have to be completely unrelated from what Google is doing now"

I know very little about SEO or website design, but isn't google already kinda tipping their hand to what the future will hold?

Without adblock, a quick google search shows that the entire top half of the result page are ads. To me, it's fairly obvious the future will bring pay-for-priority search inclusion. You want a top spot? Break out your wallet.

Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, only time will tell. I'm more curious about search engine competitors 25 years from now. Google's had a great decade, but that can't last forever ... can it?

The top half of the results page will be ads if you searched for something so generic that there essentially are no good organic results. Certainly if you search for something specific, it won't be like that.

For instance, I recently watched a terrible movie, and I'm trying to remember what it's called so I can warn people off of it. Searching for that is a specific piece of information, not a generic "noun"-type thing:


Commercial intent is more important than how broad / generic the term is.

A query like "sports" or "news" may or may not have an ad in the search results. Keywords like "credit cards for people with poor credit scores" will almost always show lots of ads, even though the query is quite specific and contains 8 words.

In some particularly valuable verticals (like hotels) Google then further adds their other paid verticals to the results in addition to the AdWords ads.

One of Matt's videos (not sure which one) mentioned online publishers tend to focus a lot on say 10% to 20% of highly commercial terms, while often paying much less attention to the rest of the searches as the commercial terms typically are far more valuable than the informational ones. (Mesothelioma lawyers can afford to pay more for traffic than say people selling flour, or people offering recipes that contain flour).

Even though fighting spam is a whac-a-mole game, you make it sound harder than it really is.

First of all, it's really hard to replicate high-quality signals. Yes, we've got spammy guest postings and spammy comments and entire websites overrun with spam. But if you were to analyze those links, you'll notice that they are still islands. As in, do you see any Viagra-related links on Hacker News or in your Reddit subscriptions? Do you see Viagra-related links in your Twitter or Facebook stream? What about all your other news channels? The only places I see Viagra-stuff these days is either in my Gmail's Spam folder or on porn sites. And I don't know why, but I'm not seeing much spam in Google's search results while I'm logged in, maybe it's the stuff I search for, or maybe Google learned my interests - but in Incognito mode I get a lot more spam.

And second, if there are dark corners of Google's search engine, search keywords that have been overrun with spam, then Google is partly to blame because they've turned a blind eye towards spam for far too long, as they tolerated and still tolerate Adsense spam and content farms.

If Google is indeed facing a spam problem, then there's a whole lot more they could do. Off the top of my head, why not penalize websites hosted on old, insecure versions of Wordpress or Drupal? Why not expose a "Report Spam" button to logged in users? Why did it took so long for Google to detect and ban scraped websites?

By talking about Viagra you are really picking the low hanging fruit. And yes, I still see plenty of spammy articles on twitter or facebook, and reddit and even here. People have just gotten better at hiding them, so much that they even produce an articles moderately useful to a lot of people.

Great public relations campaigns make people think they are reading the news without even thinking of public relations. http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html

SEO is sort of the same way in terms of there being a range of options. Some people might use SAPE, Xrummer or Fiverr or such (nude person with a URL streaking at a sporting event), whereas others might use more nuanced strategies where any SEO impact appears incidental.

Design itself can play a big roll in the perception of spam. Designs that look crisp can contain nonsensical content without feeling as spammy as they are.

But another factor here is that Google wants to keep raising the bar over time. Things that are white hat fade to gray then black as they become more popular & widespread. And as Google scrapes-n-displaces a wider array of content types, that forces publishers to go deeper (if they can do so without bankrupting themselves).

Google handles content spam much like an email blacklist. What we need is a whitelist alternative, at least for searching spammy subjects like healthcare advice.

How could this work? Well my company is trying something like that now, though it is early going. The easiest way to do this is by filtering the Web by domains instead of individual web pages. This alone removes several magnitudes of complexity.

A couple issues with this:

many topics tend to bleed across niches

sites themselves will change purposes over time

how sites are monetized (and other user experience choices) may change over time

people buy and sell sites

sometimes the desired information is only accessible on sites which are not particularly popular because they are not aligned with moneyed interests

sometimes sites that are popular might be popular because they are inaccurate, conforming to an expected + desired bias

if the whitelist is black and white, entities may change their approach after being well trusted (one of the elegant aspects of Panda is how it can remeasure over time)

What we need is a whitelist alternative, at least for searching spammy subjects like healthcare advice. How could this work?

One idea would be to have sites that concentrate on some topic(s) of interest, where people can submit interesting links they find directly, and where others who share those common interests can lend their support to promote the best material and share other related links they've found themselves. I know, I know, it's a radical concept, but I truly believe there's some potential there...

And then you could annotate each website with a tag about what topic it is to help with search.

Then you could maybe even organize them into publicly based on those tags. You would need a hierarchy of tags then though but that would give you a rather comprehensive, yet still curated, view of the web...


Given the fact that a very large part of the web in 2014 consists of user-generated content, it seems like pretty much every hyperlink should be nofollow.

It's pretty much impossible to get good rel=follow links nowadays. My startup has gotten some pretty good and genuine attention on blogs and forums, but almost every link appearing on the internet to my site is nofollow.

This is not how Pagerank was meant to work. Google has learned that it's core algorithm is failing to be able to fight spam. Nofollow was invented in 2005 and it will be useless in 2015, since the entire internet will consist of nofollow links.

I couldn't agree more. Almost every site is defaulted to nofollow. My opinion is that nofollow has actually come full circle and now makes it easier for the spammers. Since almost all legitimate links are nofollow, the only way  to get "follow" links is to pay people to explicitly put them up for you, have friends give them to you, or create spam websites to link to yourself. The people who happily find my website and are excited about it tend to post to social media, and occasionally some blog posts, but very, very rarely a follow link.

And of course social media links are generally going to be nofollowed. Doesn't leave much use for it.

His title should really be "The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO" because guest blogging is still relevant for traffic, awareness, thought leadership, reaching new audiences, etc.

So while it may no longer a worthwhile SEO strategy, guest blogging still has some other PR-related upsides to consider.

Point taken. I just changed the title of the post; thanks for the suggestion.

Spot-on, Matt. I've been getting these requests with increasing frequency for my old robotics blog. My typical response:

I'm exceedingly picky about the topics and quality of articles on Hizook. In fact, of the few guest posts I've done in the past.... I have (1) known the author in person for quite some time, and (2) usually end up spending multiple hours to help edit / mold the final result. I have so little time to curate (even guest posts), that I'd prefer to just pass.

Of course, the difficulty arises if Google's policy is "all guest blogging is bad." There is a lot of perfectly sound justifications for it besides PR: credibility, new audiences, expert opinions, etc. For example, I shouldn't incur PR penalties if I write a (sadly, too rare) robotics piece for IEEE Spectrum.

A few are ruining it for everyone, and balance is hard.

Well, that's deeply sucky.

I'm spending three weeks on the road in the next month, so I've got three hand-picked guest bloggers taking over the mike on my site, for the duration. Emphasis on hand-picked, i.e. invited because they're interesting and I'm hoping my readers will enjoy what they've got to say. I get to take some time off, they get access to a new audience, and the audience get some new and thought-provoking material -- because from my PoV it's not about SEO, it's all about the quality of the content. (Hint: I'm a novelist, one of the guests is a film-maker, the other two are other novelists. We all pretty much live or die by the quality of our writing.)

The question I'm asking is, how do google's algorithmic processes figure out whether a post is a guest post? Are they doing style analysis on prose now? Or counting outbound links, or looking for anomalous keywords? Or is it just a matter of looking for spam-flavoured advertorial?

Hey cstross, I almost added a link to your blog post at http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2014/01/introduc... as an example of someone doing it right--you've clearly put a lot of thought into people who can add value for your blog's audience. You're at the very tip of the head in terms of quality--most of the scuzzy people take advantage of massive numbers of small, not-very-savvy bloggers who will throw up any submission they receive. So I wouldn't worry at all, and I apologize if my post came across too broadly.

beambot, I agree with your comments and adjusted the title of my post and added on to the end of my post to give more context. Certainly not all guest blogging is bad (e.g. valid reasons for guest blogging include exposure, branding, audience, community, expert opinions, etc.). We just see a lot of spammers exploiting guest blogging and innocent site owners as an SEO tactic, so I wanted to make it clear that we reserve the right to take action where we see abuse.

"we reserve the right to take action where we see abuse." With that option on the table, and Googles broad and subjective discretion, I don't see any reason to ever Do Follow a link again.

It seems like all the legit reasons to link out have nothing to do with search rankings, so why risk Google's Ire?

More importantly, if No Follow becomes the default, wont that be a net negative for Google's index?

Here's a question:

Did they agree to take the guest blogging stint to promote their careers / work generally (or just for fun)? Or did they do it for the purpose of increasing the page rank of whatever websites they happen to have an interest in?

If it was one of the former reasons, I don't think whatever changes are coming down the pike should be a big deal. Although I can't speak for google, I imagine that whatever algorithm they use will look for pervasive patterns. So assuming that this guest blogging stint is a rare or unique thing for these guys whatever changes are made will probably have no effect at all (i.e. the dofollow links will still "work"). The next most likely thing to happen is that the algorithm somehow figures out that they are guest posting and disregard the any backlinks. Finally, there's a possibility that there will be a slightly negative effect. If it does turn out to be the case there is a penalty, then in the future you can configure the CMS software to put nofollow on guest post links and then it will certainly be neutral.

Regardless, they will still all get the exposure that comes from getting their names out in front of your blog's regular audience.

Here comes Google, the Internet police! Do as they want or say goodbye to 80% of search traffic.

Do as the people who use Google want (I'll give you that they have a big influence on that). But come on, spammy guest post SEO hacks are not something in any Google user's interest.

Ironically, with their guidelines, Google is probably responsible for shaping web content more than any other entity or spammy SEO tactic.

PageRank and AdSense likely go a long way towards encouraging all the MFA sites and low-quality guest-written content people would dislike on the net.

Matt Cutts: (I know you lurk here, so hopefully you answer this)

Will guest posts on high quality sites still count toward link building? I'm talking about well known sites that accept only a fraction of high quality contributors. Thanks

I.e guest blogging on SmashingMagazine etc.

Right. Same goes for VentureBeat, TechCrunch and every other major web publication out there that solicits guest posts. And not all of them are of great quality, either. Many come across as nothing more than thinly veiled advertisements that wouldn't look out of place on Ezinearticles or somewhere similar.

I understand what Matt's getting it with this decree but it's very hard to selectively enforce this in a way that doesn't come off as favoritism towards big brands.

Ah yes, the commando Google support desk.

This is too bad. Most of the other SEO-spam tactics (paid links, affiliate networks, etc) were pretty clearly destined to be spam traps and invite Google's wrath. Unfortunately, one of the things I thought was best about content marketing and guest blogging was that it encouraged founders and experts to find where the audience was that would appreciate their product, and create high quality content explaining why it mattered. Many have written about how founders can be tempted to stay in and wait for customers to come to them, but a guest blog could help bridge that gap, as they can stay in while still finding customers, and honing their message (plus the comments to these are often really valuable wells of feedback from people you may not have been able to reach before).

Here's hoping for a happy medium here.

Is this a response to this? http://nenadseo.com/new-seo/

Now that the cat's out of the bag (and getting some attention), I guess it's sensible for Google to jump out of the "big brand's" pocket. Sounds like they're trying to avoid the interpretation that big brands and Google are scratching each other's back by blaming it all on the practice of guest blogging.

Relevant: "Expedia Lost 25% Of Their Search Visibility In Google Possibly Over Unnatural Links" - http://searchengineland.com/expedia-loses-25-of-their-search...

Along similar lines, if someone offers to translate your website for free, it's not free.

Someone might e-mail you out of the blue with a translation of a website you control. They'll ask you to leave in the links to them as a way of giving them credit. The links are there to give PageRank to a shady SEO organization.

I admit, I came close to falling for this once, when someone offered to translate a documentation page I maintain into Romanian. But I have a friend who speaks Romanian, who read it and pointed out that it was the worst Romanian he had ever seen, and that was enough for me to look into what was really going on.

Somebody does you a service, and you give them a link? That seems perfectly reasonable to me. If SEO means trading a good value service for a better reputation, then SEO sounds like it's working pretty well.

Google doesn't own the internet so it's unfair that they get to decide whether or not a concept like guest blogging should or shouldn't be allowed.

You can still guest post. Google just won't be ranking it for SEO. True guest posting is valuable regardless of SEO. You should be targeting the web site's users, not Google.

> Google just won't be ranking it for SEO.

Ah I mistakenly remember a similar post by Matt saying there would be penalization for that.

If you nofollow the links you won't be penalized.

Google owns Google. Feel free to keep guest blogging in spammy ways and working with Yahoo and Bing (or AOL or all the other search engines that show up at conferences). Still, it is a bit sad that this will discourage some of the extremely high quality guest posts that I've seen founders and experts contribute recently.

> Feel free to keep guest blogging in spammy ways...

Make assumptions much? I don't guest blog, I'm merely asking a question.

Sorry, that wasn't directed specifically at you, just at the idea that Google owns the internet. They don't claim to, and if you find it unfair, there are other search networks that you can use.

Indeed. Also an apology for being overly defensive ;)

I don't see any question.

Have to agree, don't see any question either. Do see a statement though.

They own Google search. Bloggers can decide if that means they own the internet.

How can this be enforced? Will Google determine when the author meta data is different for a blog and not pass page rank for those posts? Blog owners would just react by making the post under their default account. Isn't the real issue the quality of content, not who's writing it? It just seems odd to hear that Google is going to go after guest posts instead of focusing on the content.

It's easier to go after authors. My (possibly naive) hope is that they are working really hard on evaluating content (Arguably G+'s social signals are the most important input for this), and they'll move towards that as they improve. High quality guest blogging is fantastic, and it would be sad to see it vanish because of this.

Next up made-for-social-media articles, or why we're fed several helpings a day of "Random Startup Anecdote" by companies just looking for backlinks and traffic.

Can anybody give an advice on how one can gain quality backlinks?

Because competition is so high that to rank on any damn keyword it may take years without link building.

Ignore SEO beyond the basics, and focus your efforts on other things. If you're in travel/accommodation, go all out to get the best ratings on TripAdvisor as an example - competing on Google is an arms race that wastes time. If you lose on TripAdvisor, at least you'll do so trying to provide superior service.

If you're a plumber, encourage word of mouth and other viral methods (discount vouchers for referrals, etc).

For almost any business in a competitive field, throwing money at SEO will only escalate. Win a different way.

Funny you should mention TripAdvisor. Go back about 9 years and guess who was one of the biggest SEO link buyers?

Did you just ask Hacker News for SEO advice? Who cares whether it's you or someone else who "ranks" for a "keyword"?

Build something of value. Then people will go there.

Enterpreneurs care. And I mean really care. Because ranking equals their cashflow, simple as that. And hackers are the best to ask for advice when searching for a complex engineering problem. That explicit desdain for SEO is misguided, at best.

It's a legitimate question, although maybe not worded perfectly. I care whether it's me or someone else who ranks for a keyword, maybe my site is better, and I (like anyone else rational) would prefer to make the revenue. I think understanding what ways you can gain links that is still acceptable under Google's guidelines is a very important thing to know, and truthfully pretty difficult to figure out. If you try to build a really great product and never tell anyone about it, I don't think you will last long enough for Google to give you the proper recognition.

Said it true sir.

Upvoted rspeer to counteract all the SEO creeping out of the woodwork on this thread.

Check what your best performing competitors are doing. Usually they will be doing something grayhat. There are a lot of practices (eg. link exchange) that Google has publicly frowned upon, but stopped short of actually enforcing against. You get left with the option of being uncompetitive when it comes to SEO, or adopting the grayhat practice and getting penalized along with your competitors whenever Google does start enforcing against it.

Google would tell you to go and buy some AdWords. Getting to the top of their search results without paying them is just stealing, don't you know?

Said it true. Google just wants everyone to spend money on Adwords. Hope someone will break their monopoly in Search Market.

DuckDuckGo are you listening me?

There are black hat groups owning high PR 6, 7, 8 websites and they're using the sites for SERP manipulation. The high PR websites are legit too.

What would be a solution to this? I just hope it can be stopped.

Hey Alex, I'm always happy to hear about specific link schemes or websites that spammers are using.

The implied solution appears to be manual discovery/detection? Google has this https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreport?pli=1

Not sure there is an automated system that could detect "legit" sites selling links unless you have a larger body of evidence.

The Boing Boing reference irked me more than I though it would. Guest posting is bad unless you're a brand we've heard of? Sorry but the line between spammy guest post on some anonymous blog isn't far from the trash that gets posted on legitimate blogs.

The rules should apply evenly to all, no matter how well we know the brand. Google seems to violate this when it comes to respected business models. If you toe the line and Google hasn't heard of you? You're done.

Will Google be doing something about spammy guest posts that cite a bunch of so called experts who are part of a link scheme network like Young Entrepreneurs Council? Or do they get a pass because they post on big name sites like these:






I fail to see how Google could work around this kind of thing. I mean, you've got nothing flagging the "guest" post as illegitimate other than the fact that it links to an SEO-target, assuming the SEO emailer is telling the truth when he describes non-spammy unique content.

Likely, that's all they could go on - "Your blog has a dofollow link to this site that we know is super-sketchy and now you've been sullied by the link".

> Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop.

Matt, are you saying guest posting is penalty-worthy or simply "not useful"? It sort of sounds like you're threatening to penalize anyone who is, plans on or has done guest posting. If so, it seems strange that google would retroactively penalize people for a practice that it previously endorsed.

Can you clarify that at all?

If Google's street view car cannot take picture of house paints in black, you should not painted your house in black.

This article kind of reminded me if this comic strip:


What we're saying here is that someone offered to let the blog owner post some well written and original content on their blog, that would be relevant to their readership and mutually benefiting to both parties. But that's bad because Google says so.

Now, if the content is bad, or not relevant to the readership, or overly spammy, then the blog's readership will presumably react. So it's up to the blog owner to protect their reputation and vet all content that they publish. But assuming the content is good, haven't we just got to a nice place? With marketers realising that the best way to promote their product is to persuade respected content publishers to endorse their products and by making content that people want to read?

Human beings can't even always tell what is faked or paid shilling, should we really expect Google to do better than human beings?

Gaming the system seems to be a constant in nature. Species all over the animal kingdom develop mimicry, camouflage, and other techniques to fool predators, prey, and mates. Black hat SEOs are just the digital equivalent of the mimic octopus (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-LTWFnGmeg)

The Web is an ecosystem. You can expect Google to evolve overtime to respond to cheaters, but you can also expect the cheaters to constantly involve new ways to game the system. There's no foolproof algorithm.

I posted and predicted this today at the same time cutts was writing his post. https://linkaudit.co.uk/blog/predicting-the-beast/

Something I learnt recently is that what Google makes sound like blackhat and the blackhat practices it actually enforces against are two very different things. I realized that when I noticed that a niche site ranking highest for a particular query was involved in link exchange as well as operating a network of sites that despite being unrelated, pointed toward that one site. Looking into it further, Google has made link exchange sound bad (just like this post makes guest blogging sound bad), but stopped short of ever claiming to penalize it or ruling it out.

The issue is that competing marketers can use "negative" signals as a weapon to hurt competitors. Google is handcuffed somewhat (less so as time goes on) when penalizing for bad SEO.

Does this mean that if I do a high quality guest post, I should ask the other site to no follow the link? I have a few guests posts lined up and want to stay on the right side of things.

If a blog owner wants to place a small ad (say via guest post) in their blog why should they be penalized when the same blog is not penalized when they place an ad via Google ad network? (Referring to near spam text ad placements in between content that you see in many sites).

Because Google makes money from one form of advertising, and makes no money from the other.

Because Google can easily tell that one is paid for, but not easily tell with the other. The method of ranking by incoming links is very flawed and prone to abuse.

Wow, just wow. SEO as if it were good for the people who are on the web. Google as if it were a shadowy govt agency run by a secret cabal to rule the world. Frankly, I am surprised at so many SEO spammers participating on HN in this thread and not getting called out for it.

For the regular folks who want to use the Internet, let me put it this way:

Okay, I’m calling it: if you’ve ever advocated, used, bought, or benefitted from guest blogging, you're part of the problem on the Internet. It has always been and will always be a scummy and spammy SEO technique that devalues and dilutes the value of information on the Internet. It is pure entropy.

And no, I'm not talking about Charlie Stross taking a vacation and having relevant people write on his blog for his fans. I'm talking about the brokers, the people who buy and sell content and links, the people who see their online content as a means (way to make money by selling ads), not an end (way to give value or entertainment to people).

My 5-pence is how on Earth can you rehabilitate your position in SERP once you have been mistakenly penalised for "spammy guest blogging"? Punishment will be done automatically, right? Any guidelines for making things the right way?

The question becomes: What about links from sites like HuffingtonPost, Forbes, and Medium?

Once again, Google has no method for weeding things out, so everything gets tossed out.

It would be funny if everyone used nofollow for every link. Google would find itself in a pickle.

Could you explain what you're referring to ("once again")?

Google's ranking algorithm is getting less and less able to discriminate between "good" and "bad" content. Their response is just to whinge at people who won't play by their rules.

Google's definition of 'good' and 'bad' is the criterion...

Great to see this confirmed. ~ an SEO

Whats your Username On BHW ?

From doing some SEO, truth is: Googles algorithm is stupid while they have the image of being genius.

This results in two things: Although Google tells you that you should optimize for your clients, if you do that, Google has no clue what the website is about. If you sell paper, a user knows what to do with these - package gifts, wrap books. Googel doesn't unless you put "paper to wrap books" on your site, it doesn't show in peoples search results. A list of mobile phones? Google doesn't know that you try to sell these, your website visitor immediatly does. If you only have brand names and don't use smartphone, if your button is called "add to basket", it does not show your page for "buy smartphone" unless you stick it to your site, a lot of it, but just below the Panda threshold. This is the reason ecommerce sites explain what a "jacket" is on their search result page. No user needs this, but the web is plastered with "hints" for the Google algorithm by legitimate websites, not spammers. Everytime I surf pages, I see this Google hints making websites ugly everywhere.

The other result of Google is so much different from humans in reality: The algo can't determine between legitimate content (e.g. good guest posts) and spam. So there is more and more collateral, websites and blogs that are hit, legitimate business that is lost due to some Penguin update, never to recover - without any bought links. (Go to seo/bigseo Reddit)

Googles algorithm is so much less intelligent as they want you to belief it is with their "just design with the user in mind" to rank on Google. If you do this, you're lost.

PS: The only people that love Google and do not care are spammers. They put up a website, spam it, make money and when hit move on to building the next cheap website.

This is 100% true and I can't help but agree.

matt cutts should not be determening what is and what is not quality on the www period. the world needs to get rid of googles influence on the web.

So don't use Google. Use Bing or DucDuckGo.

Hey Matt, just wondering what your Username on BHW is?

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