Let’s fix blogger-SEO relations

I’m not singling out Darren here, he makes some very valid points and really as the unofficial spokesperson for bloggers raises some issues which I suspect are on a lot of people’s minds.

Darren Rowse (founder of Problogger) put a post out on Google+ labeling SEO guest posts “The New Scurge of a Bloggers Existence”.

Darren cited impersonal template emails and poorly written content as common characteristics of these guest posts from “SEO companies or from individuals and brands who are trawling for links”.

Needless to say this caused a little bit of a stir in the SEO community.

It’s Darren’s site so that’s entirely his choice how he decides to handle guest posts but the thing that concerned me was how this might impact guest blogging as a whole – how soon before this kind of sentiment spread across the blogosphere? That’s why today I am trying to bring our two online realms back together, I want to try and clear up some of the misconceptions and misunderstandings many of us have and eradicate this you vs us mentality.

Attention all Bloggers

I’m ready to admit that there has always been a sub-section of the SEO industry that is getting the guest blogging thing wrong.

It’s been amplified though just recently because there are a whole lot more people running these kinds of campaigns. Speaking from experience as someone who operates a few blogs, I feel your pain, but don’t banish all SEOs to the same corner just yet.

This post is not going to be me whining “Why won’t they give us a link?” – I just want to examine things from a blogger’s perspective, clarify a few misconceptions and hopefully make a reasoned argument or two.

Misconceptions about SEOs

SEOs aren’t all the same. We’re not all spammers out to ruin your blog or feast on the dreams of small children whilst they sleep. There are SEO companies that employ some of the smartest (and handsome) people in the world, support worthwhile charities and help their clients grow (creating consumer spending, tax revenue and employment around the globe).

In addition to this many of us are genuinely interested in making the web a better place, we want to do good work and add value to online communities and markets. Believe it or not, few SEOs get a buzz from submitting a site to a load of directories. On the other hand, sending you a solid guest post, getting positive feedback from you and watching your audience share all over the web – that gives many of us supreme job satisfaction.

With this in mind, let’s also explore…

Misconceptions about the practice of guest blogging

- All guest post links should be nofollow

A statement I frequently see in guest posting guidelines across the web is one that says all links from guest posts will have the nofollow attribute added to them.

It’s your blog so it’s your choice but if we look at Google’s take on this, nowhere do they explicitly recommend the need to nofollow links in guest posts.

Google recommends adding a nofollow to things like comment forms or guestbook entries, paid links and internal pages that aren’t important.

They do say you can use nofollow to tell Google you are linking to a page or website that you don’t necessarily trust. Many bloggers I suspect use nofollow this for fear of being penalised or thought of as being part of a link network. If you are concerned with a penalty for linking out to a questionable website then there is something easier to implement than a nofollow tag, just don’t accept the guest post. (See my point later on about more content doesn’t necessarily = better). Do you see the likes of SEOmoz getting penalised for pushing out a guest post a day (on YOUmoz) with links that are ‘followed’? Nope.

The notion, that you’d accept content on behalf of an individual or organisation which you are openly telling Google you don’t trust or can’t vouch for, is kind of a strange one.

In situations where we’ve spent considerable time developing a relationship with the blogger, putting together a solid article, tweaking it and then only to be told at the last minute, “Oh yea, I’m going to have to nofollow the link in this.” It’s frustrating, yes we’ll push ahead with allowing you to publish and hopefully we’ll enjoy some referral traffic but you might not make my Christmas card list.

What’s in it for you?

I’m not going to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes and suggest that the SEO hasn’t at least thought about the link but believe me, the sophisticated among us are thinking beyond just a link. In a mutually beneficial world why can’t you get some great (free) content and the SEO/their client get exposure to your audience and some additional trust from Google (in the form of a link)?

I honestly believe that a bloggers time could be better spent than worrying about nofollow links.

- You want to link to a company? That’s a sponsored post

I get that as a blogger you probably want to earn a living from your website, again it is your website so entirely your prerogative. However insisting that every time somebody wants to link to a company that this somehow becomes a sponsored post or advertorial is a little frustrating.

Companies (or to be more precise the individuals running and advising companies) by and large have recognised the need to publish content that is interesting and valuable, not just sales copy rehashed into an advertorial. If a company wants to send you an advertorial masquerading as a ‘guest post’ on 5 reasons you need a printer then bust out a PayPal invoice by all means but for many companies who just want to contribute a great post that your audience is going to enjoy, can they not be treated the same as any other party looking to write a guest post?

The effort (and expense) that often goes into producing a high-calibre guest post means that it may well surpass the quality of other submissions you receive. We see (and we help) many companies to contribute content that ties back loosely to their products and services but ultimately offers incredible value (in the form of information or enjoyment) to a blog’s audience – to label it a sponsored post just isn’t necessary.

That content (were it not produced on behalf of a company) would probably merit publication anyway – that for me is the real test.

What’s in it for you?

There are clear advantages to developing relationships with companies looking to guest post, one key one is the reach that business likely already has. Not only does a guest post allow the company to get in front of a blog’s audience, there is also a chance that the blog can get in front of the company’s audience. Many businesses have mailing lists and existing social media channels that they can push your guest post out through, the exposure alone would surely surpass the $50 fee you were going to charge for a “sponsored post”

- You can’t put links in the body of the article

Seriously? If you are looking for one sure-fire way to make your blog look like a content farm made for links then this is it.

It is completely natural for there to be links within the body of the article, links are the very backbone of the internet. They give context, they direct users to further reading, they are often incredibly useful for the reader.

I understand that you don’t want guest posts littered with affiliate links or promotional plugs and that is of course fine but please give anyone contributing to your website the benefit of the doubt. If we send across a post for your consideration full of promotional links in the body of the article then you have every right to reject this but preventing us from including any links at all is damaging to the user experience for your audience and could well be marking your website out as spammy or low quality even if it isn’t.

Google “prefers developing scalable and automated solutions to problems” (source) in other words apart from occasional manual intervention, by and large it will be a machine classifying your website. Hallmarks like zero links in a post and then 1-3 links in the bio or author box COULD potentially push your website into that “guest post farm” bucket – if Google decides to create one that is.

What’s in it for you?

Ever since Google rolled out the Panda update it is has been essential to ensure your content (and your website) meets certain quality standards. Now, Google hasn’t specifically confirmed or denied certain factors but they did issue some fairy loose guidelines to help us all create “a high-quality website”. Richard Baxter, founder of SEOgadget did a really good job of interpreting what the guidelines could mean. One thing he touches on which is really pertinent here is the idea that high-quality content will likely cite, link to and reference other sources from around the web including other experts and organisations. If you stop contributors from doing this, you are somewhat restricting their ability to send you stellar work.

Don’t forget the human benefits of allowing links as well. It could be that the individual writing the guest post links out to another blogger or organisation which alerts them to the guest post. Not only will they get to hear about the guest blogger you have on your website but they’ll also see your blog, perhaps earning you a new subscriber and fan in the process.

- More content = better

It is fairly common for a blogger to “open the floodgates” to guest blogging and they dive in with the “more=better” mentality. Anyone who wants to contribute a guest post on nearly any topic is welcome, never mind the fact that the topic has been covered 5 times before or that the website being linked to is completely irrelevant. Unfortunately, this is not a good way to operate.

The relevance and value of the content is so important. Guest bloggers can become an integral part of your content generation strategy but they need to be intelligently managed and controlled. This might sound odd since I have been spent the best part of 2000 words explaining reasons to loosen your control over guest bloggers and now I’m telling you to tighten up, but bear with me for a second…

If we go back to the Google Panda update (sorry, algorithm change) again and explore the guidance Google issued on navigating this difficult to understand update, there two things which really stand out to me… “Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics?” AND “How much quality control is done on content?“.

Panda was designed to target the content farms with their overzealous content production just to dominate the long tail regardless of the user experience that content provides but you could just as easily find yourself tripping these kinds of filters by allowing anyone and everyone to post a contribution on your website. It is vital that you maintain some kind of editorial strategy (where does this guest post fit into your content calendar), curation (how can this connect with other posts on the topic?) and stewardship (is this really a good fit for my blog?).

What am I asking of you?

Keep an open mind. Hear us out, let us participate and work with you in areas like guest blogging. If an SEO let’s themselves down with a poorly crafted pitch or tragic guest contribution, feel free to show them the nearest exit but please don’t shut us all out. Many of us are hiring top-notch writers to produce stellar content – we’re not all article marketing junkies (many of us are recovering addicts but those days are behind us :-)!).

If at this point you’re thinking… “Yes James, you would say all this, you want links from us.” You’re not wrong, the SEO industry, my agency and I would like to work with you but we want to collaborate and develop a relationship that is mutually beneficial. OK maybe not the relationship where I phone and ask how your nephew’s birthday went but a professional relationship that works for both of us.

We (both the SEO industry and our clients) have a great deal of value to add. Many of our clients have deep expertise in markets, fantastic reach, intentions and budgets that allow for stellar content to be produced. We as SEO companies have creative minds, communication capabilities and the ability to bring audience and content together.

Attention all SEOs

This has mainly been a piece which is targeted towards helping bloggers make the most out of guest blogging and working with SEOs but in order for this to happen, we as an industry do need to make sure we are holding ourselves accountable to certain standards.

Firstly, let’s clear up a few misconceptions:

  • It’s not your god-given right to get a link from every blogger you contact. It’s that individual’s website and therefore their right to choose to work with you or not. (as John Doherty pointed out, sometimes we focus just a little bit too much on us and what we want).
  • You may have targets to hit this month but that’s your problem not theirs.
  • Answering your outreach email is not the only thing they have to do today.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to read Darren’s G+ post. Darren outlined criteria for guest posts that he would be accepting in future:

* relevant content to my blogs topic
* useful to my readers
* written with enthusiasm
* written in a genuine voice
* written by someone who knows what they’re talking about

You’d do well to stand by these as guiding principles, not just for contributing to Problogger but any website.

I propose that SEOs and bloggers can work together (and both get value out of the relationship) – help mend blogger-SEO relationships and share this with as many SEOs and bloggers as you know!

3 Comments

  1. avatar
    Nick Eubanks August 28, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

    James – Thank you for posting this.

    I think in general Darren’s post stirred emotions very quickly and the bits of backlash I’ve seen/heard about were rooted more in misunderstanding or the feeling that something ‘holy’ must be defended than in actual disagreement for what he was saying.

    I think the points Darren are making are valid, and for me, the biggest takeaway was that the content shouldn’t be forced and to some extent it should be easy to write, because the author is passionate (enthused) about the topic – and that it makes sense, offers a perspective, new information, or even a position; but serves a purpose.

    Thanks again.

    • avatar
      James Agate August 29, 2012 at 6:58 am #

      Thanks for your comment Nick. I agree that Darren makes some very valid points and I feel partly that he probably knew the kind of attention/response he’d get – like kicking a hornet’s nest! :-)

      I think the bullet points Darren added were by far the most valuable part of the post and as I said will put anyone doing guest blogging in a good position.

  2. avatar
    Ricky Shah August 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Yes, after demise of private blog network, even I have got many guest post request. I can not even imagine the amount of guest posting offered to big fellas like Darren Rowse. In a way, he is absolutely right that SEO company are now running behind guest posting opportunity. You can call posting as a new private blog network of 2012.

    But it doesn’t necessarily hold true for people who are genuinely offering guest post just to help out the people or to build a community around them.

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