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Is guest blogging a tangible long-term solution for link-building?

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 by Heather Clark

Google PenguinLink-building is a bit of a dirty word in the world of SEO and SEM. Many of the penalties that hit sites following Panda and Penguin updates have been down to mass link-farming and old, outdated practices. It is no longer acceptable to build reams of directories or dump articles on syndication sites. These are all techniques that used to work well, but their effectiveness has long ceased and they now cause more harm than good to your site’s ranking.

This is not news to most and the shift has caused both SEO companies and site owners to alter their link building strategies to a more organic track – with guest blogging taking the main stage. This, however, is not a quick and easy solution to building the authority of a site and if done incorrectly it can still be detrimental – as Google is taking a bigger interest in these types of links as they are used more and more.

Once Google starts to take an interest in something, there is bound to be a risk of penalty involved. Econsultancy recently published a great article about whether guest blogging was becoming too risky. The conclusion was that there is risk involved with all link building, but there are ways to keep your nose clean and post safely without creating guest post spam.

The art of avoiding the creation of this ‘guest post spam’ is the Holy Grail for those responsible for placing and promoting guest blogs. If guest blogging is going to attract attention from the big G, then following a few rules should help you stay out of hot water.

Don’t just do it for the links

Yes, building a decent backlink profile is integral to a good SEO campaign, but it’s obvious if this is your sole intention and offers no real value back to the sites you are posting on. There are other reasons to guest blog that are equally, if not more important than simply adding to a collection of backlinks. Using guest posting in the correct way (i.e. offering something of interest to your reader, rather than simply using content as a vessel for your link) is a great way to increase exposure and gain credibility, as well as simply build links.

Create great content

It’s not just Google that is getting wise to guest posting culture. Site owners, especially those with mid to high quality blogs, will certainly have noticed an increase in requests for these types of posts. The way to stand out from the noise is to create truly informative and useful content.  If you can legitimately offer value to the host’s site, then your chances of success are massively increased because you avoid the hard sell.

Link position

The position of the link itself in a blog post is very important. A recent Moz post spoke of the  algorithmic devaluation of footer and sidebar links that were being purchased in bulk – and the possibility of this happening for other areas. Many guest blog posts will have links in author bio boxes and some sites insist this is the only place they will accept them.

This is a point of controversy, but given the fact that these types of bios are positioned in similar places and are easy for Google to identify, there is a big chance they will be targeted with the same kind of algorithmic devaluation as footers and sidebars, and therefore should be avoided. As Rishi Lakhani said at the start of the year “If it isn’t in the main body, I don’t want it”, and if this is the only option a site will accept, then you should just forgo posting on that site.

There is likely to come a time when these ‘boilerplate links’ are seen as spammy and as low value as comment links (and in the interests of future proofing – over short term gain – they should be avoided). Links in body copy, however – especially longer tail keywords – are generally seen to be relevant and add weight to the content. Thus, it will then rate much higher in the eyes of the search engine and also encourage interested individuals to click through.

Context

Getting a post hosted on a relevant site is crucial to increasing authority on a certain subject. For this reason, content syndication sites do not work as your post can be picked up by any site, on any topic. Bypassing relationship building and gaining the trust of those in charge of good quality, relevant blogs means that you will be sacrificing placing your content in the best context available.

Anchor text should look natural and be a mixture of long-tail key terms and blended anchors. More information on long tail keywords and their advantages can be found here. Blended anchors contain other words that may not be a keyword but which join a sentence so that it flows naturally without the need for shoehorning. Using these methods to anchor links into your text appears much more natural than simply tying them to a top level keyword.

Paying for links

There is great debate on paying for links. Of course, as more sites become aware of the demand for links, they have realised that there is a value attached to these. Whilst paying for blog posts is not bad in itself, there are some major concerns about this type of link-building. You must be careful that, if you do go ahead and part with cash in return for hosting, the links are ‘no-followed’ as Google does not look favourably on paid posts. Many sites will also insist on being open about which posts are sponsored – especially in the US – and will put a note on the post to say so.

The way to avoid having to pay for guest blogging is to make sure your content is top-notch and adds value to the site at which you are aiming it. If a site owner knows that what you are offering is of great quality, will drive traffic to their site and be of real interest to their readers, they will likely not require monetary compensation in addition.

Diversify

Guest blogging is a great way to get the word out and build brand awareness the same time as generating some quality links to your site. However, you need to remember that there are other kinds of links and that a site with a backlink profile of only guest blog posts looks unnatural. This is then likely to trigger Google into further investigation.

Mix guest posts with other links such as good quality directories to help make your link profile appear much more natural. If you are creating good content this should start to happen naturally as people link to your content on and off page.

Link-building has changed in the past few years and those that are not keeping up will have found themselves hit with penalties. Guest blogging has taken off as the key alternative to old link-farming and bulk creation, but even this is not safe. However, be careful to follow some self-imposed quality control and you should see great, maintainable results further down the line.

Happy blog hunting!

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About the author

Heather Clark

Heather Clark

Heather joined Vertical Leap in 2013 as a Content Promotion Specialist working on outreach for our clients. Having studied Journalism at the University of Portsmouth and subsequently worked in digital marketing Heather has a strong interest in the relationship between content and SEO and blogs about this for our readers. Follow me on Google +