Guest Blogging: What Happened to It? Nothing, Really.

Guest blogging in itself, means inviting or being invited to write for a blog you don’t own. If Seth Godin or Simon Sinek wanted to do a guest post for MadPipe, they’d me more than welcome. Besides bringing more readership, it’d be really cool to have them around.

Occasionally, I myself like to contribute to other people’s publishing platforms. I’m a marketing philosopher and something of a loudmouth – I like the microphone. There’s no real problem with guest blogging per se, but there is if you’re doing it for SEO.

Guest Blogging Splash Number One: Automated Guest Blogging

guest blogging SEOMarketplaces for guest bloggers made a noticeable splash when MyGuestBlog released a wordpress plugin. You could get bloggers to provide you essentially free content on a regular basis, right in your blog without lifting a finger, in exchange for them getting credit.

The credit guest bloggers wanted wasn’t just a byline – it was links back to sites of their choice on search terms they wanted to rank for (called link “anchor text”). Highlight a phrase in your blog, like marketing strategy guide, and link it to a page – the words are the anchor text. Anchor text tells Google to associate the page you link to with the words you anchored.

If your website was high ranking or likely to become high ranking, the links would pass some of that rank back to a blogger’s constituent sites. That meant writers could sell backlinks and website owners could get content. It was very tempting, but it was spammy, shortsighted and Google warned against it.

Guest Blogging Splash Number Two: Google’s Matt Cutts

Then… it happened. Google hit the guest blogging marketplaces (and their clients) hard – so hard that, when you search for MyGuestBlog or PostPoint (two of the most interesting), you don’t even find their web site. You get articles about why their sites were ‘slapped’ and how they’re dead and about their cries of protest. A penalty like that is salting the earth. Matt Cutts, vocal blogger and spokesperson for Google, warned that guest blogging was essentially dead.

There was a lot of ambiguity over why Google targeted guest blogging, because so much of it is honest, decent sharing and contribution – exactly what the web and social media are about. Here are the essential issues with spammy guest blogging:

  1. All those links in guest blog posts (called “dofollow” links because they pass ‘link juice’ throughout a network of writers and publishers/site owners) constituted a link network. Guest blogging had regressed to the spammy status of gaming the system with an age old technique Google had warned against for years. In short, you aren’t allowed to create a ‘conspiracy’ of link trading to mutually game Google results.
  2. A website owner could set links in guest posts to “nofollow” status, but then you’d get kicked off most of the marketplaces. Using “nofollow” links deprives the guest blogger of any value, unless he sells his services for money. Link settings expose the fundamental ethos and weakness of guest blogging marketplaces. It’s one thing to build your name and reputation – another to build a network of links to manipulate search engines.
  3. A guest blogger could sell his writing for a fee, but if it came from a guest blogging marketplace, it was likely to cause a penalty. Penalties went not just to the marketplaces themselves, but to the web site owners that bought the content, and the sites to which the blogger linked. Effectively, Google was at war with link networks of any kind, even if they operated under the sensible functionality of a guest blogging exchange.

Guest Blogging Splash Number Three: Google

It’s clear that Google probably went overboard, but sometimes overboard seems necessary to solve a rampant problem. They didn’t assassinate anyone, and so far there seem to be few complaints from ‘legitimate’ guest bloggers that they were penalized. What happened was more of a PR fix, which is appropriate since this is about PR.

Legitimate PR has always involved getting written up, written about, and contributing writing/content to some established brand. When Alec Baldwin writes for New York Magazine, that’s public relations, even if it’s to say he’s ducking out on public life.

So Google let the backlash sit for a while, then commented that guest blogging isn’t banned – just guest blogging for SEO purposes. They had done the same thing with anchor text links in press releases, so now it made sense. Nothing happened to guest blogging – it happened to guest blogging for SEO.

Guest Blogging vs. Ghost Blogging

Leave out the guest blogging services and the links (except occasional links to high quality sites like Wikipedia and Huffington Post) and pay the writer, and you’ve got ghost blogging.

Ghost blogging can be spammy too – a lot of site owners are unaware of “spinning” – the practice of rewriting articles so they appear unique. Spinning is a great way to get penalized by Google, too. Google is so good, and articles have to be so dissimilar to avoid penalty, that writing from scratch is less work (and less risky) than rewriting.

The problem is, of course, that many site owners are WELL aware of spinning. They’re rewriting other people’s articles to try for better search engine treatment without putting out any mental or emotional effort or any significant money. They’re avoiding having any kind of a real conversation with their audience, and just cluttering the internet with repetitive crap.

You fakers know who you are, and you’re going to get slapped by Google – if not today, then not long from now.

Like legitimate guest blogging, though, legitimate ghost blogging is a superb way to engage your audience and grow your business. You need content strategists who can shape the message with writers who can deliver it with verve. It will cost a bit, but ghost bloggers can be your other voice. If they and you do the work, a ghost blogger is like a biographer – they can capture the soul of your business even better than you can.

Your digital strategy cannot consist of tricks and gimmicks and remain successful. Google will dance on virtual graves of businesses that try to scam search engines. If you’re not the kind of person who falsifies insurance claims and defrauds investors, you don’t want to get sucked into link schemes and plagiarism. It’s dirty juice and bad juju. To be a brand, publish and act like a brand. Blog with a purpose.

To lay out a digital strategy that is authentic and therefore actually powerful, contact MadPipe, and get your very own external marketing director to help. I’m here.


Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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