A Guest Post on the Death of Guest Posting


If you haven’t heard yet, Matt Cutts just issued a decree that guest blogging is done, essentially killing another popular SEO tactic.

Consider this my official guest post on the demise of guest posting. Yes, this also makes me part of the reason why (as Matt says) we can’t have nice things in the SEO community.

Guest blogging is a tactic, not strategy

Guest Blogging Strategy
Let’s start off with the word “tactic.” I chose that word on purpose. We’ve all seen the plethora of “guest blogging strategy” posts and articles. I want to make one thing clear–guest posting is not a strategy. It’s a tactic. There’s a difference.

A strategy involves a long term plan and a goal. A tactic is merely one action that helps accomplish that strategy. I’ll get more into this in a minute.

It seems whenever an SEO tactic becomes popular, Google decides to take action on it. Why is that? Conspiracy theorists will be quick to update their usual argument about Google hating SEO and trying to sell more adwords and whatnot. Ignore them. Google doesn’t hate SEO. Google hates automated tactics that provide little value to actual website visitors such as creating links and content just to increase search rankings.

SEOs ruined guest blogging, not Matt Cutts

matt-cutts-refereeThe reason Google is taking action on guest posting is because we ruined it. We ruined it the same way we ruined meta keywords, and directories, and press releases, and blogrolls, and widgets, and infographics, and link exchanges, and article submissions, and forums, and comments, and wikipedia, and (on second thought I won’t mention this tactic, it still works,) and reviews, and ratings, and Pinterest, and, well you get the picture.

We ruined guest posting just like we ruined everything that came before it and just like we’ll probably ruin whatever comes after it. It’s moments like this I’m glad Twitter isn’t a ranking factor, because I’m sure we’d ruin that too.

[Rhea note: actually, SEOs DID ruin Twitter when it and all other major social platforms were forced to implement nofollows!]

We went too “all-in” with guest blogging, and now we’re paying the price. For years it’s been the only link building tactic talked about at conferences and events. We even guest blogged about the best methods for finding blogs to guest blog on. Guest Blogging pretty much replaced the word link building in the same way that “[odd number] things [current trending topic] can teach us about [SEO|ORM|PPC|Mobile|Social]” replaced blog headlines.

Matt’s post shouldn’t come as a surprise. Anybody who’s been around SEO long enough knows that eventually all tactics are abused enough to find themselves in Google’s crosshairs.

SEOs need to fix our strategy, not the tactics

Guest blogging isn’t the problem though–we’re the problem. We can debate tactics all we want, but nothing is going to change. It’s the strategy that’s broken, and we need to address that.

It’s time our industry took a step back from the “what” and started taking a longer look at the “why” of SEO tactics. It’s time we put down our checklists and ranking factors and correlation studies and focused on our overall strategy and goals.

How SEOs brought the decay and fall of directories

How can we forget Danny Sullivan’s famous rant about directories and link building? If you missed it before, I’ll summarize:

A long time ago Google told us to go get directory links. At that time people actually used things like DMOZ or the Yahoo! directory to find sites, so it was good advice. The message was “go get your site linked where people will see it,” but all we heard was the word “directory.” Instead of trying to get our site mentioned in places where people actually went, SEOs started creating tons of directories nobody ever visited solely for the purpose of submitting our sites to them.

Directories weren’t the problem at all–SEOs just got the message wrong.

How SEOs brought the decay and fall of press releases

Sadly, we repeated the same process with press releases. The original message of “put out a press release, and if a journalist picks it up you’ll get lots of newspaper links” somehow got lost as we created programs to submit press releases to thousands of press release sites that have never been visited by an actual journalist.

(Tip: when the homepage of a site is geared toward getting you to submit and not toward actual site visitors, it’s not a good SEO strategy.)

Surely we learned after the PR backlash right? Nope.

How SEOs brought the decay and fall of forums and comments

We did the same with forum links and comment links. But we learned from that right? Of course not.

How SEOs brought the decay and fall of infographics

Like a moth to a flame we went full speed ahead into infographics. Sure, they started out useful. You’d see an infographic about population breakdowns that linked back to the census report or one about test scores that linked to some educational study. These were awesome and got tons of traffic. They were also relevant.

Somehow though, we forgot about the words “useful” and “relevant” and focused only on the word “infographic.” It’s almost as if we thought that somehow being attached to an infographic made spammy off topic links acceptable. Pretty soon we saw infographics about the best places to live in America that linked to play-poker-online-for-free-viagra.info

[Rhea note: actually, that domain is still available. Score!]

How SEOs brought the decay and fall of guest blogging

over-used-and-over-ratedThen came guest blogging. At first, many in the community were saying things like “this can’t be ruined, can it?” “Nobody would be stupid enough to mix in total spam on their own blog or put their name on it would they?”

No, they weren’t that dumb. They were dumber.

Not only did people start posting utter crap, but they even created blogs that nobody ever read for the sole purpose of posting utter crap. Then, they automated it.

I’m pretty sure “automatically generate articles and send them to scraped email addresses until somebody posts them” is NOT what Matt meant when he used words like “high quality,” “original,” relevant”, and “value” in his original condonement of guest blogging.) In his condemning post, Cutts used the word “decay” and given our history with SEO tactics, I can’t really think of a better way to describe it.

It’s not the tactic that matters, it’s the strategy.

If your strategy is to expose your site to a relevant audience by creating useful content and connections, you can’t go wrong. If your strategy is to simply change the method by which you automatically acquire low-quality, irrelvant, and high-risk links, you’ll end up right back here reading this same rant from me in a different medium.

Spammy guest blogging is dead, not guest posting

Guest blogging can still work. You wouldn’t turn down a column on CNN or an editorial in the Huffington Post if they said you couldn’t have a dofollow link would you? Of course not, because those places send traffic – and that’s the key. It’s about the audience, not the HTML.

  • This is a guest post. You’re clearly reading it because I (hopefully) have something interesting to say. There’s probably a link to my personal website or twitter account (I’m not sure, I didn’t ask for anything) but that wasn’t the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post was to share my thoughts and insights with an audience who might find it useful – and that strategy won’t ever die.
  • The same is true for press releases. Those simply writing them for the links from press release sites won’t see any benefit, but those writing press releases that actually get picked up by journalists will see huge traffic influxes.
  • Infographics? Same thing. If you’re summarizing your data and linking back to that data – well then any site including your graphic will gladly send their readers over to view the source of that data and learn more.
  • Directories? Go ask the businesses listed in Angie’s list or APlaceForMom if directories are dead. They might not be getting rankings from them, but they’re getting phone calls.

Link building leads to ranking. Ranking leads to more traffic. That’s always how I’ve viewed it, yet some of us got so caught up in the link building tactics and ranking metrics that we forgot traffic was the actual goal. So yeah, these tactics may be dead from a link building, Google manipulating, Pagerank point of view – but if you approach them solely from a “send me more visitors” point of view, then they remain strong and viable.

Going forward I’m sure Google will have no problem finding guest blogs and ignoring their links and I’m sure several SEOs will find creative ways to disguise their guest blogs and manipulate Google’s author trust–just as I’m sure this won’t be the last guest post about guest posting.

Don’t worry though, I’m confident another SEO tactic will soon take its place; and it’ll only be a matter of time before we ruin that too.

Your Comments

  • Mike Essex

    Wonderfully played guys.

    One thing I find interesting is that a lot of these “dead items” have made a resurgence in safer ways.

    Forum commenting is now been hailed as a good way to build a brand and engage with people if you are transparent and not gaming it. Infographics led to some amazing interactive content pieces and are now being produced in a higher standard.

    Guest posts led to fantastic multi-author blogs that have value in their own right. Whilst press releases have led to a deeper understanding of PR with SEO professionals which has led to stronger outreach and building bigger brands that Google loves.

    Ultimately each time Google attacks something things always work out for the better. How about that?

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Mike, I think that’s the key takeaway. Most of us have hopefully always been performing to a particular level of quality and relevance. When we discuss that success, it gets spun and bastardized into a shell of what we’d meant/envisioned. That stinks! Then it gets automated. Then Matt gets pissed. Then everyone gets scolded. And then I, you, and every other forward-thinking SEO realizes that this approach isn’t dead, just the crap that was being produced based off the great work we were originally producing (and will continue to produce). Right?

      • Ryan Jones

        I think the line was crossed when “we” learned out to paste guest post signatures into scrapebox, get a list of URLs, scrape those URLs for contact info, spin the same guest post 30 different ways, and email it to those URLs – all while we sat at the bar and talked about the “quality links” we were building with “relevant content”

  • rishil

    Exactly what I said in my comment to Econsultancy.

    Blame SEOs… Not google.

    :) You were much more eloquent.

  • Ryan Jones

    Thanks Rhea for letting me post here. It had to be done. (that, and nobody really reads my blog)

    Also, thanks for not putting in the keyword rich links to some of my spam sites. (hehe, j/k)

    • Rhea Drysdale

      No thanks needed. I’m all about a ranty, ironic post that brings it home with great advice on the current and future state of SEO. :)

      Also, be warned… one day I might put those links in!

  • Meg Geddes

    The Photoshop job is a two point conversion.

  • Mike Feiman

    I’m not sure why anyone is ever even remotely surprised when these things get nerfed. Whenever a new SEO flavor of the month strategy comes up, everyone abuses it. Guest blogging, infographics, site/product reviews, forum posts, tag clouds, widget links, comment links and the list goes on and on.

    That said, as long as Google continues to put so much weight on links, people will find new ways to work the system. If there’s a way to manipulate a ranking signal, it will get manipulated to death.

    • Ryan Jones

      hah! I love the usage of the word nerfed for SEO tactics. How did I not think of that? Perhaps I’ve been away from WoW for too long – but that’s a great way of looking at it.

      I’m just tired of all the typical “Google wants to sell adwords so they go after SEO.” it’s so wrong and misguided.

      Google wants to provide users with useful results so that they continue to have an audience so that the CAN sell adwords. Without natural search, there can’t be paid search. Users won’t come to Google if it was all paid.

      It’s users that hate spam. Not directly, but users typically find sites that other people are willing to link to and share without compensation more useful than sites whose only links come from auto generated spam.

  • Sam Harries

    You said that far more beautifully than ever I could.

    The industry gets a bad reputation due to this loud section of the community that just doesn’t get it…

    • David Tapp

      This has always been the way. Matt Cutts himself said as such in his post that guest blogging used to be a great way to reach out and engage with like minded people within your vertical, but then lower quality SEO’s got hold of the news that it worked and could be scaled and that was it.

      I personally will not be stopping any outreach that we were planning. We will not be sending out mass emails to every blogger under the sun though and instead looking to build real relationships with relevant blogger. But I am old fashioned like that :).

      Great post by the way.

  • Nina Anthony

    Great title (made me smile) and sound advice!

  • Dug

    Finger-pointing and blame are over-simplified descriptions of what is going on here.

    Let’s take it one step further; don’t blame SEOs, blame human-nature.

    Where there is money to be made, there will be people with get-rich-quick schemes. The problem with Google and SEOs is that the get-rich-quick schemes actually work (if only for a short-while). This is going to draw people looking for a quick-buck faster than a three-day-old corpse attracts flies on a hot, sunny day.

    The longer-sighted and more temperant SEOs can sit back and cry that the well is poisoned, but for every one voice preaching caution, there are a thousand yelling “free water!”. Ultimately, this is why the World economy is in such a state – untempered greed is part of human nature and it’s everywhere. Consumers blame the banks and the banks blame consumer demand; sound familiar?

    We can blame SEOs for ruining the tactic. We can blame Google for creating the demand with their own success, but both are simply symptoms of avarice. Greed is driving all of this. Cheap SEOs (and the companies that hire them) want a quick buck from success in Google. Google want a quick-buck from their huge market share; this is a self-perpetuating problem and it won’t go away until one business model breaks. Google are doing all they can to make sure it isn’t them by stopping tactics like this and SEOs are trying to make sure it isn’t them by moving on to the next tactic. Wash, rinse, repeat.

    This cycle won’t end until something gives.

    Yes, it’s ugly. Yes, it causes problems. Yes, it would be awesome if humankind outgrew this child-like behaviour, but we can’t. We, as a species, are short-term thinkers that get a dopamine-hit from winning the moment, even if it means losing the day. Individually, we might be able to overcome this, but collectively, we cannot – there will always be a fresh, eager, young upstart who thinks he can avoid the troubles his elders faced and throw their caution to the wind.

    Ultimately, Google needs websites (or their content) and websites need Google (or the traffic they deliver). Greed, however, turns this symbiosis into mutual parasitisation where the only outcome is that one will end-up killing the other – where will that leave us?

    • Ryan Jones

      I’m not sure I can argue with or even add to this. You make some excellent points.

      When I step back and look at “get rich quick” schemes, I sometimes think that the buyers and sellers are all SEOs. We’re sometimes too quick to buy somebody else’s scam even though we just sold them one of our own.

    • Manley

      Loathe as I am so to do, I pretty much agree with everything that everyone has said here.

      It is hard to stick to your guns when you are surrounded by others abusing loopholes which you know are there, but the attitude which I would draw the closest parallels with it environmental legislation.

      We all want a nicer world, so we all want less polluting, but some countries *cough* USA *cough* are happy to allow the rest of the world to cut emissions, whilst they continue to abuse the resource.

      Where I do not want to just say ‘SEOs are to blame’ in many ways it is entirely true – If you dig up all the onions and rely on someone else to plant new ones then you get shit stew next year.

      Wow, some flitting between the analogies here.

  • Elisa

    Very similar to what I said over at WordStream. Any SEO tactic eventually (or quickly) gets spammified by BHSEO’s. But guest posting isn’t dead anymore than infographics are dead — HELLO, the Google AdWords blog posted an infographic on January 17!

  • Barry Welford

    Well said,Ryan. The irony is that Matt Cutts would probably be delighted if the sole link in the author bio was to a Google profile.

    My own rule of thumb now is to write posts that will appeal to my social media audiences. Their liking and sharing will bring visitor traffic to my website and may hopefully influence search engine rankings in the long run.

  • Barry Welford

    I see that Matt Cutts has now modified his original post. His clarification is that his remarks applied only to guest blogging done with SEO in mind and clearly done in a spammy way. I assume there was some internal criticism for his somewhat loose wording.

  • Klaus Junginger

    It’s always been easier to kill something than make it work.

  • Liam@zaddle

    Quick guide to SEO

    #1 – Check out what the automated (link building) software is offering
    #2 – Do the polar opposite

    I’ve only once been offered a guest blogging spot – why? Because (currently) my blogs of not of sufficient “value” to warrant approaches (either by me or to me). When they are I will happily offer without the need for a “back link”.

    It will say my name at the bottom and I will be talking to a new audience (and hopefully getting them to connect to me on a social platform).

    Better SEO guide

    #1 – Earn your spurrs across social,
    #2 – Ensure your website is technically correct (and keeping up with best practices, e.g. schema and mobile)
    #3 – Get GREAT feedback from your customers.
    #4 – Actually BE that local expert instead of pretending to be.

    If I think about this from Google’s view point (and looking at it from the “user”) – the “non” techie people (probably 80% of search population – complete guess) search Google and click 1st page positions. They have no idea WHY that page ranks at the top but make an assumption that the company “must be good” otherwise Google wouldn’t show them first, second, third etc. When in reality it is very likely a very well optimised website with the possibility of crappy tactics included.(appreciate that isn’t always the case).

  • Claudia Corrigan D'Arcy

    Oh I love this in all kinds of ways and probably mostly because I could go off on a rant all day day about how marketing for the sake of marketing ruins all sorts of good things online.

    Like can we talk about how guest blogging and talking about other (more impressive) marketers quoting other marketers in the hopes of getting the (bigger) marketers attention and maybe a RT is just so..so..so.. junior high?

    And it’s true if something is really of “high quality,” and “original,” plus” relevant”, and adds “value”, then it still works.. but it cannot be just for links or ranks or other crap. It has to be community based! What does the community want? Now stop talking about it and DO it. If it’s real, if it has value, then it will work and you won’t have to care when Google tightens up again.

  • Neil Eneix

    Ryan, great article. The industry as a whole has been doing this to itself. Marketers keep looking for fast shortcuts to great results and they’re just not there. At least, not long term ones.

  • Jordan J. Caron

    Good post Ryan and we are totally the problem. I’m going to have to find other methods of linkbuilding as a caution.

    I’ve been using the concept of guest posting but simply submitting my articles to other bloggers and having them post it under their account.

    How can Google pick up on this?

  • Marcus


    I think the directory link is a good one. The SEO sh1tstorm that followed the whitelisting of directories meant there were just hundreds of directories so folks could sell directory link building packages. Ho hum. But now that several years have passed the good directories and portals are really valuable again but the spam crowd moved on.

    Guest posting is the same story and the SEO crowd essentially turned guest posting into article marketing. Greedy site owners would lap up any content for more adsense revenue and greedy SEO’s would post anywhere to sell their “100% whitehat google safe” link packages. Yawn.

    Anyone ever watch the Battlestar Gallactica TV show from a few years ago? They had a running theme: All of this has happened before and will happen again!

    That’s the same with this lark. There will be a new ‘strategy’ or approach that the masses will latch on to (and sadly it seems it may be content marketing) and we will continue to litter the web as an industry.

    Don’t contribute to the dirge – do better. :)