Dear Google Webspam Team: Isn’t Good Content Still Good Content?
When it comes right down to it, how does Google know if a link is paid or not? How do they know if a site is participating in a “link scheme”? The short answer is that they don’t. So it seems they’ve taken the policy of erroring on the side of caution. That means the outbound link they’re penalizing your site for may not really have been a paid link at all. In fact, NOTHING at all may have been exchanged for the content. They just think it could be; so they take action against your site. This begs the question: Isn’t good still content still good content?
In other words, if I’m a publisher and I have content-hungry visitors and you’re a writer and you’ve got a great, relevant, thought-provoking topic, why can’t we work together? Isn’t that essentially what all of the news outlets are? Isn’t that exactly what sites like The Huffington Post are (perhaps sans the “thought-provoking” part)?
How do you avoid the scenario where Google mistakes your content for paid content or part of a link scheme? If you’re already on the receiving end of a manual penalty, how do you fix your status with Google and restore your website in search results? Read on and I’ll share my personal experiences.
I made some mistakes. But I fixed them. You can, too.
I made some mistakes on my personal blog in the past, but I’ve since fixed them. Below are the big mistakes I think I made and how I attempted to make good on my mistakes.
Mistake #1 – I advertised that I accepted sponsored blog posts.
I had an “Advertise On My Site” page that actually stated I accepted sponsored guest blog posts. This pretty much opened the door for Google to think that any links that looked “odd” coming from my site could be paid. I never did post any pieces that I got paid for, but if I had, I would have (and should have) marked them as “sponsored” and “nofollowed” their links.
I’ve since completely changed my guest posting policy and I no longer accept sponsored guest posts of any type. Hopefully that helps to color in some of the grey area for Google.
Mistake #2 – I accepted blog posts that were on-topic, with back links that weren’t.
I did post a few guest posts from quality authors on my site that had back links to their sites that weren’t quite relevant to mine. The post they submitted was a great quality article, but the relevancy of the link itself may have been questionable. I’ve since removed those posts or made their backlinks “nofollow” to remove any suspicion those links may have been purchased.
Mistake #3 – I let my site get hacked.
Yeah, shame on me. I know websites can be vulnerable to hackers, but I didn’t take the necessary steps to lock my site down. I’m not saying this directly contributed to the manual penalty, but the timing was only a few weeks off and there may have been some links that were hurting me before I was able to restore and secure my site.
I’ve since locked my site down and completely scrubbed all outbound links on my site.
So, is guest blogging really dead?
Back in January, the head of the Google Webspam team posted an article that seemed to turn the SEO industry on it’s face. Matt Cutts’ article was titled, “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO“.
Search engine optimization experts far and wide sliced and diced the words in this post a thousand times over, trying to figure out what it really meant.
Are back links dead?
Is guest blogging dead?
Matt’s post seemed to create more questions than it answered for some, but I think the message was pretty clear.
Is guest blogging dead? No. It’s not. Guest blogging still lives on in the form of quality, high-value, relevant content the user wants (or needs) to know. But it took a pretty serious blow from this post and subsequent algorithm updates and manual spam penalties that were issued. I think the key take-away from Matt Cutts’ post was the notion that guest blogging for the sole (or primary) purpose of getting a back link is dead.
So, can links to your site actually harm you?
In short: YES!
But we saw the writing on that wall with the disavow tool, didn’t we? Matt’s article seemed to signal a fruther shift over at Google away from the notion that back links can’t harm your site; it was previously assumed that they can only help your site. It also signaled an increase in the importance of the quality of links that originate on your site and point outward. I leared a few of these lessons first-hand.
What’s also dead, or at least hopefully dying, is any value that can be derived from spammy, low-quality, “churn-style” guest posting. If you’re a webmaster, I’m sure you’ve received the guest posting offers similar to what Matt posted in his piece. I get dozens of them every day. They’re annoying at best and ineffective or even harmful now for the company that’s ultimately paid the spammer to build back links for them.
If you’re a publisher and you receive a random (read: spam), poorly-written request to post content on your site, be sure you do some research before you agree to publish their content.
Seven tips for writers and publishers of guest blogs.
Guest posting isn’t dead, but you have to be a lot smarter about it now than just a year ago. Here are a few tips if you want to continue guest blogging or publishing guest blog posts:
- Make sure your blog topic and your link is super-relevant to the host website’s primary topic(s).
- If you’re a publisher, make sure the post truly fits your site and is one that you would have written yourself. Google WILL manually penalize your site if your guest posts appear too far off topic, low quality or resemble the churn-style guest blogging they’re clearly targeting.
- If you’re distributing guest posts, make sure your blog post itself is of the highest quality you can muster. You should be writing the posts yourself if they’re represented as coming from you on the host site. Ghost thought leadership is a farce, after all.
- As an author or thought-leader, be extremely selective where you post your guest blogs. Quality trumps quantity and poor quality will get you penalized.
- Write for quality, not quantity. Don’t see how many guest posts you can do in a month. Set a goal to have a post published on just one top-quality site (per month, week, etc).
- Use your guest post opportunity for more than just the back link opportunity. You should be trying to build your audience, establish your industry credibility and connect with the host’s audience before you’re even thinking about the link back to your site.
- Consider NOT linking back to your website in your guest post, but rather, to your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or other social profile page(s).
What do I do when my site receives a manual penalty?
Stick your head in the sand. No, wait. Don’t do that. Follow these steps instead:
Step one is to not panic. A manual penalty doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or that you have a sub-par website. It just means you may have messed up, or, in some cases, that Google is being a bit over-protective of their search results.
Step two is to determine what type of penalty you’ve been hit with. For example, are they penalizing your site for links that originate on your site or for links that point to it? The type of penalty will dictate the type of fix required to get you back into Google’s good graces.
Step three is to plan your fix. This can be a painstaking process and require a good amount of effort combing through either the links to your site or your own site’s content. There are tools and experts out there that can help.
Step four is to submit a “Reconsideration Request” to Google, asking them to restore your site in search results. This step is pretty simple, and can be done from inside Google Webmaster Tools.
What do you think?
I hope the tips above help. If your site has been struck with a manual penalty from Google, feel free to shoot me a message using my contact form.