So, the news hit, and before I go any further, I love Cyrus Shepard’s tweet:
Statistically speaking, if this trend plays out Google will ban all websites by 2017.
— Cyrus Shepard (@CyrusShepard) January 20, 2014
The funny thing is, for a lot of you higher quality SEOs and agencies who have been doing higher quality content placement, you really don’t have as much to worry about as you think. And that’s because you need perspective on what’s really been going on under the cover of the title “guest blogging”.
I’m talking about any of the service providers you can easily find when you Google “guest blogging service” or “guest posting service”. If you saw what’s being cranked out by those companies, and how well it’s actually been working, you’ll know that Google isn’t going after that small business with a few guest posts over the last year or two. What those service providers are doing is what’s really being targeted in the impending update hinted at by Mr. Cutts.
So again, with that said, higher quality stuff isn’t going to be targeted as badly as you might. In my opinion, it’s the obvious things that are going to be attacked:
1. Blogs that have the majority of their posts written by guests.
2. Blogs with “guest blogging”, “guest post”, “guest author”, etc. category & tag pages that are more than a few pages big.
3. Blogs that accept guest posts that may not be as frequently posted, but have other obvious signs of low quality.
And for those of you who have done just a few guest posts in the past, mediocre or not, you really don’t have much to worry about if they’re in small numbers. The reason is because you need to understand the difference between link devaluations and link penalties.
A link devaluation is when the value of an individual link either is significantly decreased or goes away altogether (we honestly don’t know). That’s why all the high quality sites that are linked to in a lot of guest posts used to disguise the client/target site are not going to be hit.
It’s only when there’s an unusual amount of link devaluations for a specified domain when you have the possible problem of a penalty. Now, in this instance, a couple things need to be taken into account:
1. The amount deemed to be “unusual” isn’t a set number, but most likely some percentage based on the total number of links to the domain. That’s why i.e. SearchEngineLand.com can get away with having 100 devalued guest blogging links, while for JoeShmoPlumbing.com, having that many questionable links will set off red flags to Google more easily.
2. If Google can deem undoubtedly that a link is, in fact, violating their guidelines (i.e. an obvious guest post), you can only guess that the amount deemed to be “unusual” is usually less since it’s more evident it’s a link scheme of some kind.
I want to reiterate that, as with most things in SEO, this is speculative. I came to these conclusions based off various SEOs I’ve talked to and articles I’ve read. I in no means know all the answers; these conclusions were just drawn from my own reasoning.
Now that a specific tactic like guest blogging has had a falling out, and because I’m surprisingly on top of the news from a blogging perspective, you need to understand one broad, strategic approach that will help you avoid penalties in the future.
“Always use a blended approach when building links.”
Seriously. If you ever find yourself using only 2 or 3 tactics for your entire approach, even if you feel that they’re completely white hat, you’re setting yourself up for the possibility of failure.
Why is this? Well, let’s take a look at the landscape 3 years ago. Much spammier stuff was happening, and at the time, guest blogging was hailed as a high quality, white hat tactic to garner links. If you read Matt’s post (linked at the beginning of this post), he even mentions this.
But, as with any tactic, it only takes a few dozen spammers to beat the hell out of it, and evangelize it until there’s nothing “high quality” about it.
So if you use a blended approach, you don’t have to worry about this happening, because the worst that will happen is that those links are simply devalued.
I’m not saying to go out and do a lot of grey hat things in moderation, I’m saying that regardless of what you do, if it’s a significant part of your link strategy, you’re allowing yourself to be put into a position that could result in a penalty. Even if you don’t get a penalty and the links are simply only devalued, if you did rely heavily on those links to rank, your rankings will tank. Sure, you can just build new ones that revive those rankings, but you’ve not only lost time & ground on your competitors, but chances are you’re at a much higher risk moving forward if you weren’t already penalized.
If you’re asking this question, then I highly suggest you do one key thing before you even think about going after any publicized tactics. I’m not trying to beat a dead horse here; I have a point, so just bare with me:
“Create a high quality site first, so you’ve got leverage with Google if anything goes sour.”
This goes back to Cyrus Shepard’s tweet at the beginning (ironically). There’s a good chance that a lot of you might step somewhere near that imaginary border of what Google says is OK and what’s not down the line, not because you try to, but because Google is unpredictable. So be prepared for this.
I honestly believe that moving forward, at least to some extent, you’re going to see Google being more lenient with some sites over others based on the quality of the site. If you’re by leaps & bounds the best result in a given space, and if you get tied up with a possible penalty over some ticky-tacky link scheme interpretation (i.e. not cloaking, doorway pages, sneaky redirects, etc.), I believe you’re going to have a higher chance of either avoiding the penalty or getting out of it than a site that’s mediocre at best.
So try and be the result that they’d be embarrassed not to show (someone tweeted this, sorry for not giving attribution).
Now, if you’re pulling your hair and begging me for some tactics… I’ve already published a big list. Just make sure that when you go after any of these, you’re not thinking, “how can I make this the bread & butter of my link development campaigns” but rather “how can I sprinkle this in to my link development strategy”.