Have you ever clicked a link and been disappointed with what was on the other side?
I recently read an article on a pretty popular magazine’s website. It was about novel ways to winterize your home and use less energy during the cold months. The content was spot on and an enjoyable read, but when I clicked one of the links embedded in the article, lo and behold, I ended up on someone’s product page.
I was hoping to learn more about winterization, but much to my dismay, I was frantically reaching for the back button and felt something like this:
That sparked my curiosity to see who wrote the article and what their motives were. It was, indeed, a guest post from a company that sells energy-efficient heating appliances. I checked the rest of the article and found another two links that directed to various product pages.
They were well hidden among other authoritative links but weren’t hard to find if you were looking for them as I was. The product links were using misleading anchor texts and added no value to the reader. And in my case, they ended up being an inconvenience.
Even though the content was good, they clearly wrote that guest post purely for those misleading links. Is it that the writer didn’t understand what link building truly is and how to go about it? There used to be a time when link building was a form of social capital.
Each link counted as a vote. The more votes you have, the more popularity and authority you pull on the web. That’s why links are considered to be a significant ranking factor. But it’s much more than that now.
Link data helps search engines to figure out what pages are about and how different pages are related to each other.
Here’s what Moz has to say about it:
“Thanks to this new focus on algorithm use and analysis of links, growing the link profile of a website is critical to gaining traction, attention, and traffic from the search engines. As an SEO, link building is among the top tasks required for search ranking and traffic success.”
Well said, but I’ll add that it’s equally critical that your link building is done right. Consider the experience I described earlier. Including an irrelevant and off-topic link in your guest posts does one thing:
It prevents search engines from doing their jobs which is only going to hurt your SEO. The misplaced product link has no relevance or value to the reader. And that’s where guest posting purely for links becomes a slippery slope.
That same guest post with the irrelevant link was published in a magazine that has has been around for more than a hundred years. I must admit that I expected more. Sure, it wasn’t a recent article, but it ranked high in the SERPs. It got me thinking about how people use guest posts as a link building strategy and how some people still use the same tactics that were popular three to five years ago.
They create guest posts just for the sake of an iffy link or two. Despite all of the hand-wringing and talking about the demise of guest posts for link building, it’s clear that some people didn’t get the message. Even if you’ve earned a guest post, doesn’t mean you’ve earned the link. Personally, I prefer to build links on resource pages, but I still believe that guest posts can (and perhaps should) be used as part of an overall link building strategy—when they’re done right.
The Purpose of a Link In a Post
The real purpose of a link in any guest post is to support the content. But so many people dress up shoddy links in their guest posts. They disguise a link to their product page somewhere within a 500-word SEO-optimized article and pray the editor doesn’t notice. In most cases, a link to a service or product page doesn’t support a guest post’s content. We all know what an iPhone 6 looks like, so why would you link to it?
Aside from how disgruntled and disappointed the user is when they land there, those links aren’t earned. They’re forced into the content for SEO purposes or maybe shoehorned into the content in hopes of receiving some naive clicks. They break the user’s trust and abuse the editor’s goodwill.
Those links weren’t awarded based on merit—they were masqueraded under the cover of darkness.
Here’s what an acceptable link in a guest post looks like:
- It provides additional information: the destination link should substantiate your topic, so that it provides more value to the reader.
- It cites a reference: you should include statistics, quotes, numbers, and whatever data is necessary to drive the message home. It’s always best to link to the primary (original) source of that information.
- It’s on-topic: your destination page should be related to your topic in one way or another. It could simply expand on your point of view or provide another take altogether.
- It links to an author’s previous work: the credibility and track record of the author is essential to show that they are qualified to speak on the topic at hand.
The next time you place a link in an article, ask yourself:
Which one of those bases does it cover?
If it doesn’t pass the test, remove it. A bad link is only going to be detrimental to your users, and by extension, your SEO.
The Value of a Guest Post
I chuckle when I look at someone’s backlink profile, and it only contains links from guest posts. It’s funny because it’s unnatural. They aren’t putting any thought and strategy into link building. They’re just doing it, because somewhere along the line they read that it works.
And don’t get me wrong, guest posting works. I’ll tell you why it’s a reliable strategy, but first here’s how my friend, the late Eric Ward, put it in this interview:
“There needs to be a better understanding of what “guest posting” really means, because the term “guest posting” is a useless term in that it doesn’t define any specific strategic approach, goal, or outcome. It’s nebulous. Why are you doing it? What is the point of it? What are you hoping to achieve? Why?”
“I think of guest posting in a completely different way than many people I talk to. For example, trying to build links by writing a piece of content for somebody else’s blog, in hopes that the link will help your site rank higher is, in my opinion, a fool’s game.”
There’s tremendous value in guest posting beyond getting a link. And links should only be used if they add value for your readers, and if not, you’re better off leaving it out. So, what can a guest post do for you?
Nurture relationships and build community
Because it’s all about who you know, right? That’s one way to put it. But in many ways, it’s really not about “who you know.” Instead, it’s the quality of the relationships that you build that matters. And guess posting is an excellent way to build the kind of connections that will serve your business for years to come.
When you guest post on other blogs as well as invite others to blog on your site, you’re exchanging real value. Don’t just do it for a link. Craft helpful and actionable content. Engage with readers in the comments. Show that you care about the audience. The relationships that you build as a result can be game-changing for your business.
Targeted traffic and increased reach
The most prominent advantage of guest blogging is the quality of traffic that it can generate. If you pick the right website and create the right content, you can capture some of that audience. The way I see it, that’s even more valuable than gaining a link.
You get something better – a more extensive prospect pool that you can market your products and services to. The more prospects there are, the more chances you have to convert them into customers.
That’s the dream, right? When it comes to customer acquisition and retention, platforms like social media and email are dominating. It’s because they increase reach and drive traffic.
Authority is everything in the online world. It’s one of the surest ways to boost your business sustainably. How do you build authority? It’s simple. Demonstrate your expertise in a way that is truly helpful to your audience.
When you secure that authority, it does several things.
- Potential customers will be naturally drawn to you. You don’t have to do all the marketing gimmicks in the book to try to attract them.
- Providing value is a more natural and sleaze-free way to convert customers. Sure, it’s a long game, but it’s worth it.
- You immediately become top of mind every time your industry comes up. You’ll be the number one resource in your market.
Of course, these kinds of benefits don’t come easily or without a strategy. I recommend guest posting on authoritative blogs. People will give your content more credence if it’s associated with an already powerful site. If people think your content is amazing, guess what? Google will get the message, because it’s job is to serve people with information that will help them.
Build brand recognition
Guest posting is a great way to expand your brand equity. As you increase your exposure, more people will start to recognize you. And that’s precisely what you want – to become a household name in your niche. Each post that you publish, whether it is on your blog or somebody else’s, is a new point of contact for prospective customers. So take advantage of it. Use a consistent writing voice. Stick to the same niche. Be congruent so that people can readily recognize you as THE authority in your space.
Build social capital
This one’s a biggie. We all know the power of social sharing and engagement. 74% of marketers agree that they can tie their social media to hard ROI.
Guest blogging is an effective way to expand your social media reach. Create content that is truly share-worthy. Add links to your social media in your bio or within the body of the article where relevant. And make sure you call readers to action. Want them to comment? Leave a question at the end of your post. Want them to share? Ask them.
Now: We’ve gone through quite a few benefits of guest posting, and there’s certainly more. But here’s the deal. None of this will be achieved if you don’t have something worth linking to. That’s right – it all comes back to content. Let’s get into how you should approach guest blogging as well as what you shouldn’t do.
I’ll start with the absolute no-no’s, or at least, the things that will not help your business. And there are many. Avoid them, and you’ll be good to use guest posting in a way that will amp up your SEO.
Stuffing keyword-rich links in your articles.
First off, keyword stuffing is already a bad idea. Turning these keywords into anchor text for your links is even worse. Sure, there was a time where optimization was all about making sure your keywords and anchor text matched. Nowadays, that’s seen as overkill. It’s forceful, and it will hurt you.
Instead, make sure your anchor text describes the destination page. It does not have to be optimized for your target keywords. Here’s what a descriptive, SEO-friendly anchor text looks like: Including links that are not a right contextual fit for your content. Links shouldn’t just be placed where it simply doesn’t make sense for your content or your readers.
An example? Leaving a link to a product page in an article that has nothing to do with that said product. Unless it’s a product review or a resource page, that’s a terrible practice. Ensure that the link has meaning that will immediately be recognized when it’s clicked.
Outsourcing guest posts
This happens a lot, particularly when you go on a guest-posting spree and you can’t create all the content yourself. It’s even worse when the content is outsourced to a writer who isn’t knowledgeable about the topic they’re writing on. If you truly have an expert command of a topic, guest posting is a chance to demonstrate that to an audience that you can later tap into. Hiring a writer who isn’t on par with that knowledge can only undermine your authority.
Guest posting on sites with no quality control.
Here’s the scenario. You don’t have to seek the highest authority sites out there. It’s not easy, and it’s not always possible. But consider the flip side. You create a super high-quality article that would be valuable to anyone reading it.
Let’s imagine that the site you publish it on doesn’t have a content strategy, doesn’t post regularly, has no social media presence, and offers a poor user experience. What do you think the result would be? For one, it’s a waste of this great linkable asset that you’ve built. And secondly, it’s unwise to be associated with a site that has no editorial hurdle. At least ensure that the site has the basic checks and balances when it comes to user experience and content.
Using spun content across the same article.
If ever there was a textbook example of terrible SEO, this is it. Spinning content is the practice of playing around with words and sentence structure to communicate the same idea in a previously written sentence. Yes, people do that. It means for the length of the article, there’s really no substance or new ideas. This one is a no-brainer, so I won’t go into it too much. Any link builder worth their stuff wouldn’t touch articles that have been spun.
Publishing the same article across multiple sites.
Duplicate content isn’t the worse SEO offense. In fact, it may not even result in a penalty. But it does present some challenges. If the same content is published in more than one place, search engines will have a difficult time knowing which version to index and rank. This can affect your traffic and rankings because Google is unlikely to present all versions of this content in the SERPs. Then what do you do?
Guest posting as part of a reciprocal link exchange.
I know it’s an appealing idea.
You’ve developed a relationship with someone in the same niche as you (or at least, their site has some relevance to yours). Why not just guest post on their blog and they do the same for you? It’s a cunning way to build some link juice, right? Not exactly. Google also frowns upon that. If there’s a large number of links pointing to your domain from the same site, that’s a major red flag. It’s why you should be very particular about the diversity of your backlink profile.
Now: Knowing what not to do is one piece of the puzzle. Knowing the best practices is the other.
So what’s the secret to guest posting success? More importantly, how can you approach it in a way that serves your link-building? Here’s how.
Guest post in moderation.
I wouldn’t recommend going on a link building/guest posting excursion. Be strategic about which sites you target and the timeliness of your post. This way you don’t sacrifice quality for quantity, and you don’t end up making any of the bad judgments mentioned in the previous section. Think about it. You’re more likely to outsource posts and skimp out on quality if you’re on a guest posting rampage.
Guest post for more than just a link.
If a link is the sole purpose of your guest post, you’re doing it wrong. Have a bigger, more meaningful, and more people-centric motive.
Perhaps you want to grow your email list. Then you know you actually have to produce a ton of value in your post. You could create a post-specific content upgrade and link to a landing page. This way you can help readers while building your email list. To me, this is the ideal measure of success for a guest post. The more subscribers an article brings you, the more valuable it is. This could have a direct impact on your SEO as email is one of the primary traffic channels for many sites.
Create a high-quality linkable asset.
I speak about linkable assets a lot on this blog. That’s because it’s non-negotiable. If you don’t have solid content, you’ve already lost. The good news is, it’s not hard work to build that asset. Here’s what I recommend.
1. Make sure your guest post topic meets two important criteria.
For one, it should interest the target audience. Otherwise, it won’t resonate, and they won’t engage. Secondly, ensure that the topic is closely aligned with your blog. An easy way to find the right topic is to use Buzzsumo. Enter your general keyword and check out all the top content. I’d also suggest conducting a simple google search. Go through several pages of content, read them, and find the right angle. Another tip is to go on the target blog and pinpoint the top posts. Most sites will have a “popular posts” section and If they don’t, search for their domain in Buzzsumo to find their popular content.
2. Make your destination page conversion-friendly.
That doesn’t mean that you should link to landing pages that are specifically designed to convert subscribers. You can, but this is about expanding the value of your post while getting that audience in the habit of saying yes to you. This is how you capture their attention and draw them back to your hub. It could be something as simple as adding a call to action to connect with you on social media.
Target highly relevant and authoritative sites.
You need to find the right targets.
Here’s what doesn’t make a good choice:
- The site has no authority
- The site is irrelevant to your blog
- The site doesn’t have a decent reach
So what you want is reach, relevance, and authority.
How do find blogs that fit those criteria?
- Check their social media profiles for a sense of their social reach. The goal is not to dismiss anyone who doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of followers. It’s just to get a sense of their following, so you know what you’re working with.
- Get a feel of their influence. How? Check the level of engagement on their posts. Reach is important, but the influence that a site has is what leads an audience to take action. Look for comments, shares, user-generated content, etc.
- Use a tool like SimilarWeb to get more detailed data. I’ll show you how.
Type in the site’s URL and click search. You’ll get a bunch of traffic statistics to help you decide which site to target. Another neat trick is to use a tool like Ahrefs to analyze the backlink profile a particular site. I recommend analyzing your competitors. If a site links to a domain that is similar to yours, then that site would make a great target.
Treat your guest post as if it were published on your site.
It’s instinctive to want to keep the best content for your site or skimp out when you’re publishing on someone else’s site. That’s a bad idea. It’s self-sabotaging, and the reason is simple. Your name will be attached to that content. It means the result – good or bad – will also be associated with your name. So, treat guest posts like they are being published on your site.
Here are some ideas.
- Keep the same quality control measures. Sure, every site has its own editorial guidelines. But if you won’t publish something on your site, don’t publish it elsewhere.
- When the post goes live, engage with readers in the comments.
- Share the post with your social media community.
- Link to the post as if it were pointing to your domain. If it’s a quality article , it’s worth linking to.
It’s Not Just About Ethics
Now that you know how to go about guest posting for links, there’s more to consider. If you’re serious about this strategy, it’s important to know what’s search engine’s position on all this. After all, this is about SEO. We’ve all heard about Google’s RankBrain, which is focused on understanding and figuring out search intent to serve up the best results that are actually valuable.
I do not doubt that Google has its way of evaluating which links are actually earned, based on merit, and are adding value to the reader. In the similar vein, it can tell which links have just been forced and camouflaged into the content for the sake of their SEO value. In fact, according to Cyrus Shepard that is precisely what Google engineers are trying to determine when evaluating links, so that you can arrive at a good result.
If it’s not entirely implemented into the algorithm today, it’s just a matter of time till useless links become completely devalued. Google has in fact issued warnings against propping up your SEO with mass guest posting campaigns. Let’s say that you decide to launch a link-building campaign.
Your strategy? Write dozens of guest posts solely for a link. The result? Google will find out. And this is not a practice that is favored. If you’re wondering if search engines take action against spammy guest blogging, the answer is simple. Articles of low quality that include links of an equally low quality will affect all parties involved. Both the site owner and the link builder will be affected. That could happen either directly with a penalty or indirectly by doing a disservice to your audience.
The Litmus Test
If you plan on building links with guest posts, I have a litmus test that I use. Let’s say there’s an article that has already been published, and you reach out to the editor or webmaster and tell them you have an additional resource to support the post. If they read your suggested resource, would they add the link? Assuming it’s not a big deal for them to go back and make a quick edit, they should be more than willing to add the link, even after the article is published, right?
Each time you want to add a link to your own content, homepage, or even product page, go back to that litmus test. Would your editor, who is carefully considering both the original post and the additional resource, be happy to go back and add that link after they’ve already published? They’d only add a link that actually has merit. A link you’ve earned.
Now, of course, not every publication will be willing to make any changes after an article went live, so in some instances, it may be hypothetical. However, I’ve built many links in posts that were already live, and the webmasters added the link as an additional resource without any issue. I know that I’m not just pulling something out of a hat here. If the link has merit, and if you’ve really earned it, the webmaster will be happy that it’s there. Every link in your guest posts should be subject to editorial approval. Even if you know your editor doesn’t have time to check every single link, think of it in those terms anyway. If a vigilant editor would approve that link, even after a post goes live, you know it’s a good link.
Guest posts can accomplish many things. Supporting camouflaged and useless links isn’t one of them. Every hyperlink should support your content, especially when you’re writing for someone else’s site.
And, just because you aren’t able to get a link into a guest post– that’s okay. There’s a lot more to guest posting than just links. In the end, when done correctly, guest posting can be a great supplement to a thoughtful, user-focused link building strategy. I’ll say this though: In 2018 and onward, these old-school SEO guest posts can’t be your bread and butter anymore.
It’s time to consider how the link actually fits into the content. Link building isn’t about forceful and cunning tactics. It’s about strategy and how it’s going to serve your business in a way that is sustainable and authentic. Do it right, and the rewards will be greater than you can possibly imagine.
Have you tried guest blogging as link building strategy?