Oh guest blogging, it’s been a good run. I’d say we’ll miss you, but no one will miss the garbage content sprayed across hapless blogs in an attempt to artificially pump up site rankings with the fresh blog content Google loves. (Not even the people who wrote it.) What will be missed by the hacks who lack authentic marketing skills is the latest fad way to create cheap content in volume.

Don’t take my word for it. Let’s go to what Google says…

Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.

– Matt Cutts, head of Google Webspam

Hang on there, guest post blogging sounds delightful. Having guests over is a good thing, right?

Having charming guests over for a bit of sparkling conversation is nice. Having dim-witted guests over who drink all your wine, then puke in your front yard isn’t so nice. Having a spammy guest blogger over to your website is the equivalent of consuming all your good ranking by spraying crap content around your blog that repels people and Google alike. Google’s Matt Cutts goes on to explain in a recent post on his blog that the problem isn’t with guest blogging per se, the problem Google has is with the poor quality writing.

Tons of people [are] just spraying and praying, sending out invitations; ‘I’m going to guest blog on all these different things.’ And sometimes they’re spinning their guest blogs. They’re not even writing unique content for each blog.

“This is why we can’t have nice things in SEO.”

Guest blogging started out as a promising idea. Get experts in complementary fields to write guest posts on your blog, and they’ll help provide insights and advice on your topic. You get content, they get exposure. On the flipside: You as a blogger could pass along your expert advice by guest posting on someone else’s blog to help gain credibility in your field and bring visitors to your own site. What happened next is all too familiar to marketing professionals: Guest blogging became one of the most abused practices on the internet. Google eventually had to look at all guest blogging as a red flag that likely deserved punishment, as Cutts explains:

Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things in the SEO space: a trend starts out as authentic. Then more and more people pile on until only the barest trace of legitimate behavior remains.

Anything good can be perverted in the wrong hands. Spam SEO companies in the guise of “guest bloggers” have become drug mules for link juice; hiding their true purpose of spreading phony link schemes behind unspeakable prose and what could be called “childlike syntax,” if it wasn’t so insulting to children.

How do I know if a guest blogger is bad or not?

If the relationship starts with an awkwardly formal letter out of the blue that sounds like it was written by the wealthy ambassador who can’t find his ATM card in the Nigerian scam; then things are probably not heading in the right direction.

The prevailing style of the internet is conversational. From attorneys to Amazon, everyone wants to sound more conversational and engaging. If someone sounds stilted and awkward, that’s your first clue that you’re dealing with a spammer. Your second clue is if they have “beyond obvious” content on their website when you check them out that resembles article spinning and seems to lack an authentic source. You did check them out, right? Here are a few questions to ask yourself when dealing with a potential spam guest blogger…

  • Is it clear who the writer of the blog is?
  • Can you make it through one of their posts and not want the last 10 minutes of your life back?
  • Does the writer have a photo?
  • Are you able to access their LinkedIn profile? (Sorry, Twitter doesn’t count.)
  • Is there any point, or does it feel like a manufactured blog someone put up as a front?
  • All scams have one thing in common: They’re too good to be true. Free quality content is too good to be true.

What if I already had guest bloggers on my website?

Don’t wait for tacky guest bloggers to drink up all your good page rank and puke in your yard. Take the content down. Then do a search for any pages that link from their website to your website, and ask them to remove the content. This is the undoing of the bad SEO part where spam tactics get extremely complicated and expensive. Many of the websites that were sources of spam links were pump-n-dump sites that no one maintains anymore. You can email til you’re blue in the face, and you may never get a response back. But it’s your responsibility to try. That’s the process Google asks you to go through. If that doesn’t work, then go to Google Webmaster Tools to disavow the links.

No whining, you were warned. Google soured on guest blogging years ago.

Guest blogging isn’t even a fairly recent link scheme in internet terms, it’s been a heavily abused tactic by web spammers for at least 2-3 years. In his blog post, Cutts points out that he’s been warning against the guest-blogging-as-spam tactic since 2012. No one wanted to listen. The lesson here is that Google will tell you what punishments are coming; but you have to pay attention. It’s great news for those practicing quality SEO: There will always be ways that the web spammers are slow to react. Once they find a tactic to abuse, they will ride that horse until it’s dead or your website reputation is dead. They don’t care. Google’s Cutts cautions against guest blogging because it has become the go-to link scheme, and he encourages healthy skepticism:

A bunch of low-quality or spam sites have latched on to ‘guest blogging’ as their link-building strategy, and we see a lot more spammy attempts to do guest blogging. Because of that, I’d recommend skepticism (or at least caution) when someone reaches out and offers you a guest blog article.

Google’s punishment of guest blogging wasn’t even a close of a call. Anyone paying attention knew it would happen.

Everyone who has been paying attention knows that Google is targeting spam tactics through changes to their algorithm. As Google goes one-by-one through the spammy tactics that website owners have been abusing everywhere, it’s up to business owners and website builders to not get caught. That means, it’s up to you to find out whether you have been or are currently engaging in abusive SEO tactics that Google will likely catch up to you. As Cutts said, “I don’t think that’s the best way to build links to your site. And so I wouldn’t recommend that [guest blogging] as a tactic.”

But can’t you guest blog without triggering a Google penalty?

Yes, there are guest bloggers providing quality content and associating only with other people who provide quality content. But this is a high bar to meet. In his “Death to guest blogging post,” Cutts gives the example of high-quality multi-author sites such as Boing Boing, which have been around for a long time doing what they do, as examples of sites that are “compelling, wonderful, and useful.”

This isn’t the case for most small businesses who got involved in the guest blogging scheme as a way to alleviate the pressure of creating content, those sites won’t fare so well. As Damian Thompson said in his recent article on the demise of guest blogging on HitTail, “You will need to invest resources and time into either raising the bar of what you’re putting out or start cranking out relevant, useful, resourceful, helpful, likeable, shareable content… The best way to make something look real is for it to actually — wait for it — be real.”

Ignorance is no defense in the eyes of the law. Don’t expect Google to cut you any slack either.

It’s up to you to know whether you’ve been spamming Google. It’s also up to you to understand whether any agents working on your behalf did so – whether it was linking schemes or article writing that barely passed for English. You’re responsible for your website. If you want to profit from it, then you have to be willing to take the blame when you get caught exploiting the system.

Don’t say “because it’s too hard.” Creating content is hard. Spotting terrible writing is easy.

Creating compelling content is hard. Most things done well are hard. Knowing whether you’re spamming Google is easy. Even if you’re not an expert, it’s not that hard to understand spam tactics. Ask yourself if you’re doing something solely to game search engines and not creating something human beings will love. Many people know enough to dislike the cheap content they bought from some off-shore outfit peddling SEO articles, but don’t know enough about Google’s guidelines to understand that it’s not an effective shortcut and will likely harm their business in the search rankings.

SEO BOTTOM LINE: RIP guest blogging. If you’re not paying attention to what Google says, then be prepared to get spanked. Even if you have spammy guest blogs on your site, and you’re still doing fine, give it time. Guest blogging or any other method of link schemes are probably the webspam tactic most likely to come back to haunt you. Your risk is increased geometrically by the massive number of linking schemes each person is connected to. All it takes is for one person you’re connected to get caught, and Google can follow that nasty link back to your website… you know what happens next.

Recommended reading from Google:

The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO by Matt Cutts

How to guest post in a way that drives traffic and thrills Google by Damian Thompson