Guest post by James Agate, founder of Skyrocket SEO – the content-led link building agency.
When I read a recent post by Ryan here on the Linkbuildr blog which talked about an individual who had received an “unnatural links” warning through Google Webmaster Tools seemingly because of his guest posting, I was pretty astonished and was certainly keen to read on and find out more details around the scenario.
Similarly to Ryan, in my opinion, the individual concerned was probably involved in some other form of link building or had been involved with something a bit greyer in the past. As much as many webmasters that post to Warrior Forum profess to be whiter than white with their links, very few actually are.
This issue aside, it inspired me to highlight some ways you can manage your guest posting footprint since if this guy actually did get an unnatural links warning because of his guest blogging then it would likely be because of the way he was doing it rather than the tactic of guest posting itself.
I am a firm supporter of guest posting being one of the best ways to proactively earn editorially relevant links in today’s web. That being said, there are some common mistakes that people make which can actually negate the positive benefits of guest posting and may even harm your search engine rankings.
1) Manage your persona(s)
There is nothing wrong with establishing a persona or multiple personas to improve the effectiveness of your guest posting campaign. In fact, in my recent study which I published on SEOmoz I proved that in most scenarios it is better to approach the website as a female persona since it generates a higher response rate.
There is something wrong however if you aren’t using your persona accounts intelligently. If you are an agency re-using the same persona across multiple client projects and industries then you are leaving one herculean footprint which could potentially de-value all the hard work you’ve put in for your clients.
If you are guest posting for your own websites then establish personas for the different niches that you wish to post within – it will be more effective since your niche-specific persona account will have a much more relevant track record but it will also ensure the whole campaign is really natural. This is particularly important if you are planning a large-scale campaign.
2) Be fluid with your site criteria
In the same way that a link profile with hundreds, thousands or even millions of low quality links looks suspicious, a link profile with only links above a certain PageRank or domain authority looks similarly manipulated. With Google coming down hard on over-optimisation, diversity can only be a good thing.
Don’t set too rigid requirements in terms of a link’s strength, guest posting to a new website in a niche or one that is really relevant and perhaps just under your “usual criteria” is likely to still have a positive impact.
Many would argue that the relevant link is a myth but I’m not convinced. I think there is tremendous value in attaining highly targeted and contextually relevant links. I will concede that perhaps the full search engine rankings benefits are yet to be felt (but Google is getting smarter) and from a marketing and visitor potential point of view, a relevant link is always going to be powerful.
3) Explore other link building tactics
At Skyrocket SEO, we offer a guest posting service (see here) which is popular with agencies and direct clients alike however we always advocate clients utilizing our other services or ensuring they are pursuing other types of links as well.
No matter how natural guest posting is, it can still make your link profile look manipulated if you only chase one kind of of link. Diversity is once again the name of the game; engaging in quality content creation, linkbaiting and digital PR are also advisable. Furthermore, for now at least, it can be effective to invest (in a strategic way) in building some lower level links such as quality directory submissions, topical article submissions etc.
4) Vary your bio
With just a moderate amount of competitor research, it can sometimes be quite easy to identify almost entire guest posting campaigns by Googling just a section of their bio in quotation marks. If it is that easy to manually unravel your campaign then you might be negating some of the benefits of your efforts. Make it more difficult for your competitors to identify where you’ve guest posted to avoid them snagging the same links in next to no time.
You’ll never be able to hide your campaign entirely from them but if you make sure to cover your tracks as best they can then at least they’ll have to wait for the next time their favourite link research tool index updates to see what you’ve been up to.
Additionally, including the same links and linking structure are two recipes for an unnatural link warning from Google. Some might argue that 2 links are better than one but in my eyes, it is vital to vary this sometimes linking only link to your homepage, other times just to a deep page and sometimes to both. If you’re publishing post after post with a link to the homepage and two deep pages then you’re potentially leaving yourself open to accusations of over-optimisation.
5) Analyse the content quality of the target website
There are a number of blogs out there that consist almost entirely of guest posts, I personally see this as a bad thing. I could be completely off the mark here but as a general rule of thumb, sites that publish practically no posts themselves start to look like they are solely for SEO purposes. Being associated with a site like this probably isn’t going to do you any favours if you are trying to develop a trusted brand online.
There is a caveat to this of course and that’s the community blog. You might find a different guest contributor being featured every day, but this is counteracted by a much higher editorial standard which helps to maintain the integrity of the website – preventing a deterioration into nothing more than a link whore’s hangout.
I am pretty certain you’ll be able to tell the difference between a community maintained blog and one that’s just publishing guest posts daily through laziness and that is exactly why we view the manual analysis of each guest post target to be so important.
6) Don’t just target the obvious ones
You are probably familiar with the unwritten rule that the harder a link is to get the more valuable it is likely to be and when it comes to guest posting, it can really pay to dig beneath the surface and identify opportunities that are less obvious.
It’s hard to believe but some bloggers and website owners still have no idea what guest posting really is, remember that the person who runs a gardening blog might be doing it purely to feed their passion, they aren’t necessarily well versed in “blogging” as a profession. Reaching out to them and proposing a guest post, guiding them through how it works and what’s in it for them can result in you getting a link that your lazy competitor couldn’t dream of.
Furthermore, if you can develop a strong relationship with that individual then you may be able to informally secure exclusivity by becoming their guest expert in your particular area of knowledge – imagine that, a link you have that your competitors will unlikely be able to get…ever.
It isn’t just about the SEO benefits either because getting close to a site owner when they are perhaps less savvy as to the protocols of blogging and online marketing means you can develop with them and possibly draw customers from their audience on a regular basis long into the future.
Just because they don’t have a “write for us” page, doesn’t mean they won’t perhaps accept a guest contribution from you or your client.
7) Don’t hit one niche too hard
This point relates once again to the importance of diversity in your link building.
Think laterally, think naturally. Guest posting on blogs outside your usual realm of influence can often make a lot of sense, not only does it increase the site theme diversity of your link profile but it can give you direct access to your clients if you can identify blogs that they read. Always be identifying crossovers between subject areas and looking for opportunities to take your content to new corners of the world wide web.
This may appear to contradict my earlier point relating to site relevance but in this case I am referring to sites that are still relevant and make sense from a user’s perspective. Let’s be honest though, in some of the more dry industries, you’ll struggle to get links from directly “relevant” websites since most of these will be your competitors. If you’re promoting a lawyer’s website and getting links regularly from other lawyers on a regular basis then you’ll have to teach me some of your Jedi mind tricks. :-)
8) Don’t overcook your anchor text
Ryan commented in his last post “We here at Linkbuildr are a huge proponent of NOT bothering to give two shits about anchor text anymore…”
Now, I don’t entirely agree with him just yet, I don’t think anybody can deny how effective anchor text still is when it comes to search rankings. However I will say, increasingly we have been seeing some interesting activity across the SERPs that we monitor.
Namely, websites with link profiles that consist solely of keyword anchor text links (even if these are distributed across a broad range of keyword terms) haven’t been performing as well as sites which have perhaps less keyword anchor text links BUT also branded links. I think this gives us an insight into the future of SEO which is going to be much more brand and reputation driven.