This is the first in a series of articles where we’ll focus on guest blogging. To start, we’ll cover a brief history of the practice showing how it evolved, was exploited, and ultimately refined. Check back again soon for additional posts where we’ll cover how to vet and get approved on guest blog websites, how to find valuable topics, and how to build lasting relationships that result in an audience of your own.
What is Guest Blogging?
The concept of guest blogging was simple: create credibility and gain traffic by writing interesting blog posts for popular websites. Many people found that it was a great way to expose their brand to a large, already established audience at another popular website. Users who read an interesting piece of content on a site that they trust were more likely to visit the author’s website. The arrangement was mutually beneficial. The trusted website received a source of free content to further grow their footprint. The up and coming blogger Receives a new source of traffic to their website.
“1 in 10 blog posts are compounding, meaning organic search increases their traffic over time.” (HubSpot, 2016)
And everything was great! But problems began to occur once people realized that it was also an easy way to build links back to their website. This, in turn, boosted their organic ranking in Google and other search engine result pages (SERPs). Once people figured out that they could game the system, the practice exploded. SEO and marketing agencies latched onto the practice and began churning out content. Often times their main focus was on quantity over quality just to get those all-important backlinks. This went against the primary tenant of guest blogging: creating valuable content.
Inevitably, this came into conflict with the goal of the search engines. Their results were being artificially manipulated by the junk content. As we know, the primary objective of most search engines is to provide relevant results based on the keyword being searched for. Therefore, it stands to reason that they would want their top results to reflect content which users will actually gain some value from. Not websites who’s primary goal is a high quantity of unreadable ‘fluff’ that packed with keywords, obnoxious promotions, or backlinks.
“60% of consumers feel engaged/positive with a brand or company after reading custom content on their blog” (Source: ContentPlus)
So the day of reckoning eventually came, and Google and the other search engines updated their algorithms in an attempt to weed out the the ‘fluff’. This effectively meant a de-emphasis on guest blogger posts and backlinks as a metric for success on the SERPs. These updates on Google were known as Panda and Penguin and focused (in a nutshell) on promoting high quality content rather than sheer quantity of backlinks and low-grade, keyword stuffed content as the main driver of search engine results. A highly-debated article written by Google’s former head of web spam, Matt Cutts, helped seal the public’s opinion at the time: guest blogging is dead.
The Rest is Internet History
The rise and fall of guest blogging is pushing five years at this point, and all that remains is a sour taste in many a marketer’s mouth (or so it seems). But the question remains: Is guest blogging really dead, and if its not, is it worth my time? After all, the original mutual benefit between guest bloggers and guest blogging websites hasn’t changed.
The updates that the search engines implemented were in response to blatant manipulation. NOT to the underlying concept itself. So does this really change the mutual benefit and appeal that guest blogging provided? Isn’t it still possible to gain access and build trust with an established audience on another website? Popular websites with established traffic are free to allow other bloggers to write for their websites, aren’t they?
“Marketers who prioritize blogging efforts are 13x more likely to see positive ROI” (Source: HubSpot)
Well the truth is, as with everything in life, there is a fair amount of nuance that needs to be considered. The Google updates did reduce the rank of some of the ‘junk’ guest blog sites,. As they should since many of their posts were not providing value to their readers anyway. This in turn caused a significant drop in their traffic. But the sites that offered quality content were still able command a strong audience.
So the reality that was exposed, is that by default the higher-quality sites that offered guest blogging (and likely already had higher standards for who they would let write posts on their websites) continued to prosper. In response to the content quality issue, many of these websites increased their scrutiny of potential contributors even further. With regards to backlink exploitation, many websites also implemented the practice of adding the ‘nofollow’ link onto any external website links, which effectively negates any SEO value that the website being linked to receives.
Only the truly high quality blogging opportunities still allow authors to add one or two ‘follow’ links to their articles, so long as the links are supportive of the content. They do this because of their high standards for quality as well as the authority and trust they’ve built with their readers. The downside is that it makes it more challenging for newcomers to break into the game.
So, is Guest Blogging Worth It?
In our opinion, this can still be a very lucrative opportunity, but it is something that takes time and must be done properly. If you can make it through the rigors of getting approved to contribute on a guest blogging website that you’re targeting, then your focus will need to be on creating engaging content that users find valuable. Your goal should be to build a lasting relationship with the reader base of the website. This, ultimately, is the original aim of guest blogging, and if adhered to can still net strong results for bloggers.
In the additional articles in this series, we’ll explore how to find and vet guest blog opportunities, ways to determine what topics create value for readers, and then ultimately how to gain their trust and build an audience of your own.