I really hate it when someone tries to pull the rug out from under me.
I hate it even more when they’re successful.
Like this Matt Cutts guy.
So one day, I’m sitting at my computer, doing some good ol’ guest blogging, when I see this:
“Could it be?” — I was thinking. “Could it be that guest blogging is really done?”
So today, more than a year and a half later, let’s find how things actually stand in the land of guest blogging.
In this resource (not to call it a spy-piece), we’re going to tackle the following:
- Are guest posts still effective for SEO, and if so, how to use them?
- How to come up with good, shareworthy and linkworthy content that every blog editor will love.
- What role should guest blogging play in your link building strategy?
- How to get the exact link you want from a guest post.
- Are author bio links any good?
Let’s take it from the top:
Are guest posts still effective for SEO?
Let’s cut the chit-chat and look into the data instead.
The first example comes from the Kissmetrics blog and a guest post published there by Jacob McMillen.
In the footer of that post, we can see a bio box with a keyword-optimized link pointing to Jacob’s site (a nofollow link, if that matters, which I doubt):
If we put Jacob’s site along with this keyword into Ahrefs Positions Tracker tool, we’ll see this:
At the time of writing, that’s the 5th spot.
Note: This keyword doesn’t have the highest search volume — as told by Google Keyword Planner — but that’s not the point right now.
Okay, so let’s see who actually links to his landing page ( http://jacobmcmillen.com/professional-copywriter/ ) and what anchors they use.
Here’s the Referring Domains report:
We have 15 different TLDs.
And here’s the Anchors report:
Wow, almost exclusively one phrase: “expert copywriting” — the one he used in that Kissmetrics post.
Doing further lookup — checking the exact snippets that use this anchor and link combo (you can do this with ahrefs too, by the way) — I can see that all of those indeed come from guest posts.
Some proof, although the screenshot doesn’t give it justice:
A guest post on the Crazy Egg blog by Tamar Weinberg.
The bio box:
One keyword-optimized link pointing to http://www.tamarweinberg.com/
Doing some sniffing around via Ahrefs Site Explorer I see the following:
There are 64 referring domains. And:
The term “professional hustler” is used 19 percent of the time.
Again, upon further lookup, all of those links come from guest posts, just like with the previous example.
Okay, but where does the site rank for “professional hustler”:
But let’s stop here for a moment…
I admit, there’s an elephant in the room.
Both keywords I use as examples here are not highly popular and therefore probably don’t hold incredible value for the person ranking at #1.
But I’m doing this on purpose.
First of all, if I were to select a more popular term and found a site that ranks well for that term, I’d also have to take other factors into account.
Like for instance, the possible myriads of other SEO-things the person needed to do in order to secure a good rank, and also everything the competition is doing to make their job harder.
With an easier keyword, however, what we get is a confirmation that ranking through bio links with exact anchors is indeed possible.
Or in other words, we’re not focusing on how easy it is, we just want to know if it’s at all possible, which it seems very much so.
So what gives? Why is this still a thing?
Matt Cutts said it’s the end of guest blogging for SEO, yet some simple, obvious and highly-optimized bio links still do a great job of putting a page on the radar.
I’m no expert on this, and I’ve never worked at Google or anything, but if there’s one thing my computer science degree taught me, it’s that we’re far from developing a truly intelligent and adaptable algorithms that can operate efficiently at scale.
My prediction is that Google isn’t as clever as they would like us to believe, especially when it comes to telling whether a link comes from a guest post or not.
Of course, upon human review things become obvious in seconds. Everyone can recognize a guest post a mile away. But computers still probably can’t. There are too many factors at play.
- How do you distinguish between staff authors and guest contributors?
- How do you tell whether a name mentioned within the body of the post (say, John Smith) is a name of a guest author and not just a name brought up as part of the topic of the post itself?
- How do you distinguish between the guest author’s bio and the first commenter?
- Better yet, can I get Seth Godin in trouble if I publish 100 fake low-quality guest posts and sign them with “guest contribution by Seth Godin”? How do you tell which guest posts are real and which are a lame negative SEO attempt?
For a human, all this is easy to work out. But for an algorithm? Not so much.
Okay, so what to do with all that info?
As with all things SEO, the risk is always on you. If you still want to use guest posts for any SEO gain, it’s your call.
What remains is the question of how.
I’m glad you’ve asked.
Step #0: Build a relationship
“Build a relationship with other bloggers” is the advice we see literally every day. Yuck.
However, as much as I hate clichés, even I have to admit that having established relationships in your niche brings multiple benefits.
First of all, you’re becoming a part of something bigger — a community. You create and influence that community. Effectively, you are the community. Your opinion begins to matter.
Then, knowing people in your niche opens doors to countless opportunities, joint ventures, other business projects, and so on.
And lastly, there’s SEO.
With the right relationships, you can get your guest posts featured on some valuable sites, and then link to your own site from within those guest posts. If you’re
lucky (sorry, luck has nothing to do with this), you can even use optimized links.
In fact, it’s really quite simple. The closer your relationship is with the blogger, the more you’ll be able to do in terms of linking. Once someone trusts you, they will have no problem linking to your pages with whatever anchor text you wish.
But that comes with time.
You’re going to need to put in a lot of groundwork before you can expect an optimized link to be approved for publication.
Just like in offline life, blogger relationships are built on trust. There are hardly any shortcuts.
- Start by contacting bloggers in your industry. Do something for them. Then do something more.
- Don’t stop there, ask about their opinion on something you have going on.
- Share your opinion on something they have going on.
- Don’t force it. Rinse and repeat until asking for a favor no longer feels weird.
I really can’t emphasize this enough, having actual relationships with bloggers is the no.1 most effective guest blogging strategy of them all. Even if you’re a crappy writer, you can still get published on some great sites provided that the owners of those sites like you.
Step #1: Suggest the right topic
Coming up with the right topic is a required element. You can’t just send any old re-hashed piece of content and hope for the best.
Firstly, you don’t want to lose their trust. Secondly, the crappier the topic is, the more work it’ll require on the blogger’s part. And bloggers don’t like work. We all know that.
Thirdly, even if you do manage to get a sub-par idea approved, you’re still probably going to end up with the least popular post on that blog. This isn’t good for the blogger’s brand, your brand, your SEO, anything.
What you really want is for your guest post to be in the upper part of the popularity/traffic charts for the blog. That way, apart from all the exposure, such a post is also going to bring you the most SEO benefit.
Right now, Google pays attention to social shares, comments and other content quality/popularity indicators. The weight of those indicators is debated, but we can still safely assume that the more popular a post is, the more potential link juice it has to pass on.
There are some really great guides on the web on how to select the perfect topic for a guest post (like this and this), but if you’re pressed for time, consider this simplified approach (or a checklist, rather):
- A guest post needs to be your best work, not your second-quality work.
- It should tackle the topics that are popular on the blog (you can find those with Content Explorer).
- It should mimic the style of the blog.
- It needs to speak to the exact audience of the blog.
Let’s do a quick experiment going through the above list one step at a time.
My target is going to be the Kissmetrics blog. Here’s how you can come up with a topic for that blog:
First, look up the most popular content through Content Explorer:
I’ve filtered my results to display “Past Year” only.
This gives you an insight into what works and what’s best received by the community.
Look for patterns.
For example, the things I’ve noticed:
- Ultimate resources work.
- List posts work.
- Expert gatherings work.
- Social media marketing topics that are data-focused work.
Next, mimic the style and speak to the site’s audience.
To figure this part out, you need to look through the most popular content on the blog and note down the common characteristics.
What I’ve found for Kissmetrics:
- short intros,
- friendly style that lowers the reader’s guard,
- content presented as a list, even if the headline doesn’t indicate so,
- a lot of visuals (images, charts),
- longer-form content in general (anything above 1,000 words, up to even 3,000 words).
Once you have this sort of homework done, proposing a headline becomes a lot easier. You already know what works. You already know what the blogger likes to publish. You already know what the audience wants to read. Win win win.
Step #2: Write your post
Your success in SEO guest blogging is all in the content quality that you deliver.
The rule is really simple:
Write quality stuff and link to quality stuff.
One cannot exist without the other. Here’s why:
- Delivering an awesome article will make it a no-brainer for the blog editor to publish it. They will, in fact, thank you for sending it in and then ask for your rates. Don’t stop working on your post until you have something that you think is on par with the best content published on the blog. This is the only type of content that will bring you long-term results.
- Every link in your post will be closely examined by the editor. If something doesn’t seem right, it’ll get scrapped. What this means is that even though your idea might have been initially approved, your link still won’t survive through editing if the destination isn’t of the same quality. Save yourself the frustration of having links removed, link only to exceptional resources.
Which brings me to:
Step #3: Link to your stuff
Ah yes, links and anchors — the evergreen guest blogging riddle.
So how do you link to your own site and do so in an SEO-friendly way?
More importantly, are you only left with the poor simple bio box?
Yes … and no.
The bio box you will get anyway. It’s a standard nowadays, and every blogger who publishes guest posts allows their contributors to have bylines with links in them.
Here’s the kicker though:
Don’t use them for SEO.
Although it might work (the two examples above), it still makes your SEO intentions clearly visible. For that reason, you might want to be more careful.
If you’re going to have a bio box at all, just link to your social media.
When it comes to your SEO money links, place them within the content.
“What?! How?! This isn’t always possible.” — says you.
Well, it is possible most of the time, and there’s actually no reason why it shouldn’t be.
Granted, if in-content links are what you’re looking for then you can only link to things that are thematically related (considering the post itself and the blog you’re targeting). But on the other hand, if your site isn’t related then why are you even trying to get your post published on that specific blog?
Secondly, this is where the relationship part comes into play. If you know the blogger, you can simply say to them that you don’t need a link from the bio box. Instead, you’d prefer linking to your site contextually from within the content.
For example, here’s what Tim Soulo actually did when working out one of his guest posts:
In a nutshell, make your content so awesome that the editor won’t mind the link even being there. Be upfront about what you want to achieve and how you’ll link to your stuff. If the relationship is there, the editor will simply say, “sure, why not.”
Note. If the bio box link is all you can get from a conservative blogger … well, still better than nothing, so run with that.
About linking itself, here’s how to pull it off:
a) Optimized anchors or not?
Even though the examples earlier on in this post indicate that SEOd anchors still work, it’s not the recommended approach. You’re probably better off linking in a way that appears natural (using brand names, general words, or long phrases).
That way, you at least don’t give away your SEO intention right up front to Google and every human reviewer who might be looking at your post.
The contextual relevancy, the headline, the body of the post, and the niche that the blog’s in should be enough to give you an SEO boost in all the right places (for all the right keywords).
b) Contextual relevancy
This is a must-have. The only way for your link to be natural in Google’s eyes is if it’s contextually related to what’s being discussed.
It’s also the way you get the reader dragged into the story and willing to give you a click.
This actually goes back to the thing with topic selection. In short, you need to create your own opportunities and figure out how you’re going to link to your stuff before you even start writing the post itself. For example, when brainstorming possible post topics, ask yourself this:
“What headline could I propose that will allow me to link to my site naturally from within the content?”
It really is that simple.
c) Linking to other websites (outbound linking)
Linking to other websites helps your money link get lost in the shuffle.
If you have a handful of outbound links in your post, it’s no longer obvious which one is yours when examined by an outside reviewer (the blog editor still knows … since you’ve told them).
Don’t go corny here though. Enough with Wikipedia links and such.
Actually do proper research, find valuable resources on other sites and link to them contextually where it makes sense. This will also make your post a better all-around publication.
Bonus. Later on, you can notify the people you’ve linked to and let them know about the post. With some luck, they will share your post and help boost its SEO value some more.
d) Linking to other posts on the blog (internal linking)
Bloggers like to see links to their other work within your guest post.
It proves that you’ve done your homework, and it also raises value of the post itself, making it truly belong to the site.
Adding some internal links takes only five minutes or so. Surely worth the effort.
Is this all cool?
Before we start questioning whether these and similar strategies are cool or not, let’s not forget what guest blogging is ultimately about from your perspective — the person using it as a tool to achieve certain goals.
And in this sense, guest blogging is a transaction.
You give the blogger awesome content, they give you your ROI.
Whether that ROI is SEO-related, or direct-traffic-related, or branding-related, or whatever else, there has to be something. If there wasn’t, guest blogging wouldn’t be a thing.
No one guest blogs for charity.
So if you decide to make SEO your goal — and as I said earlier, you’re ready to accept the risk — then you might as well try getting the most out of it.
But what do you think? Is guest blogging something you’re willing to do for SEO? Do you think Google has an honest shot to shut it down?