The Anatomy of the Perfect Guest Post - Part 1: SEO and Linking
It would be remiss to start any article about guest blogging without mentioning Matt Cutts’ now infamous blog post on the subject back in January of 2014. Cutts, who is Google’s Head of Webspam, warned digital marketers and SEOs everywhere to ‘stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.’
Unsurprisingly the article caused waves of panic to spread throughout the SEO community. Such was the resulting consternation and storm of plaintive and often confused commentary (657 comments on Cutts’ post alone, not to mention the innumerable articles written on third party sites) that Google’s penalty-enforcer-in-chief chief was compelled to write an addendum to the post stating that he was ‘not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water’ and that there were still ‘many good reasons to do guest posting.’
In hindsight it was Matt Cutts’ choice of words, along with the legacy of legitimate SEO practices becoming undermined by spammers, that created the somewhat understandable frenzy of alarm and anger. Thankfully the panic now seems to have all but abated, as SEOs have come around to the conclusion that all is not lost. What Cutts was in fact trying to do was to highlight something that had long been known in the SEO community, which is that guest posting should always be about content and not links… or rather that link should be a natural by-product of good content.
So what makes a perfect guest post? Since that infamous post, this question has taken on a new importance. In the first part of a two part guest post, we take a look at the importance of good SEO and linking.
Write for Humans (but don’t forget the Robots)
The benefits of writing for humans and not robots should be self evident to anyone setting out to produce guest content for third party sites. Whilst you should always be aware of the benefits of well optimised content it’s important that the content always comes first. If you’re on-subject and on-message, then things like keyword distribution, keyword rich anchor text, natural relevant links and citations will often come through in your content naturally.
On the flip side though, it would be foolish to ignore the benefits of optimising your content for the search engines. A bit of tweaking here and there afterwards is always a worthwhile exercise. In his article on link building in Search Engine Watch, Jon Ball, stresses the absurdity of an ‘if-you-build-it-they-will-come attitude’ to modern web marketing and the need to ‘invest in visibility.’ With links still the strongest signal to Google about a piece of online content, we as marketers cannot ignore their importance. As soon as you start to write purely for SEO purposes though, then you inevitably begin compromising on quality.
Anchor Text Best Practice
The Moz website describes anchor text thusly: ‘Link relevancy is determined by both the content of the source page and the content of the anchor text. [Anchor text,] in combination with complicated natural language processing, makes up the lion’s share of link relevancy indicators online.’
Little surprise then that anchor text is something SEOs obsess over. Given the veracity of Penguin’s war on links and the number of sites getting hit by algorithmic penalties as a result, over optimisation of your anchor text can all too easily get you into trouble.
Conversely though, not optimising at all can seriously reduce the efficacy of your linking. The secret here is variety. Using long tail keywords protects you against Penguin updates and in recent years their use has become seen as a very powerful SEO and linking method for leveraging influence over highly competitive keyword search terms.
Authority Site Linking
It’s important not to overlook the use of links to authoritative sites. As has hopefully been demonstrated by this article so far, links to relevant articles and further reading on a subject or topic can help the reader discover more about the subject and clarify facts. If you’re quoting individuals or citing studies, then it’s even more essential to link to them.
Of course, there’s also an SEO benefit. By putting links to authoritative sources in your work, Google can better ascertain what your article is about and better understand its relevancy to specific search terms and theoretically, this can, therefore, affect the pages search rankings.
Internal SEO and Linking
Ask any SEO and they’ll tell you that guest posting is as much about outreach as it is about actually producing the content. In fact many more hours are spent finding appropriate publisher sites in your sector and building relationships with the owners and editors of those sites, than actually producing the content. One of the best ways to impress any new prospect is to make sure you link internally in your article to one of his / her other blog posts. It’s important not to force it, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a post relevant to something you’re talking about.
Dropping in internal links like this does two things. First of all, it helps the site you’re publishing on by creating links between relevant pages, which is a powerful onsite SEO and linking technique and a good indicator to Google of a well-structured site. Secondly, it’s a sign that you recognise the authority of the content on the site you’re publishing on to the extent that you’re willing to reference it in your own content. In a world where building relationships is as important as building content, this is very good practice.
Joe Cox is Head of Content for Bristol Digital Marketing agency, Bespoke Digital. He has written about SEO, social media and video marketing for the likes of Smart Insights, Ad Age, JeffBullas.com, Social Media Today and Search Engine People.