The MyBlogGuest Penalty: What It Means for You

Matt Cutts, the head of the Webspam Team at Google, has spent a lot of time the past couple years gunning for link networks, sites that exist solely to manipulate search engine rankings. But Cutts’ crusade isn’t stopping with penalizing the link networks, which are considered a seedy practice by most search engine optimization companies. Cutts recently struck at a different sort of network: the leading guest blogging platform, called MyBlogGuest.

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The community had been a haven for SEO specialists and bloggers where they could upload content they had written and field offers from bloggers to publish those posts. While participants were required to pay a fee to upload content, it was by no means a textbook link network or even a paid link scheme, in the traditional sense. It served to connect content providers with bloggers.

Google’s decision to penalize MyBlogGuest appears to have hurt many legitimate sites that accepted or benefitted from the site’s links. The search giant’s action is yet another reminder that there are no shortcuts in search engine optimization. Links must be high quality, and any outbound links should be carefully considered. Here’s what the takedown of MyBlogGuest means for business owners and webmasters.

Expanding Their Target Zone

Google has been going after link networks for some time, with Cutts leading that charge. For years, what mattered to Google in determining its search rankings was the quantity of links that a business received on the web. But the past several years, Google has become more focused on the quality of those links, and it’s begun punishing sites that essentially serve as an artificial ranking inflation service, putting up nothing but low-quality posts full of links to shady SEO company’s clients.

Google even reconfigured its search algorithm last year to value high-quality links over low ones, and every minute it’s working toward rooting out the link networks that, it argues, devalue legitimate mentions of businesses that should be determining which sites come up first in a search. For instance, if you’re looking for a plumber, the listings that comes up first should be those with good reviews and a great track record of success, not the one that paid the most for its SEO program. In essence it boils down to this: Google doesn’t want to run a popularity contest; it wants to run a talent contest.

Real Problem or PR Scheme?

Many businesses have employed these SEO tactics simply because it was the only way to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. With other companies employing link networks and seeing their search rankings soar, their competitors had little choice but to do the same. Once Google decided this was no longer a legitimate approach, these companies had to look for a new way to get their business out there, and MyBlogGuest seemed to be a happy compromise: A more straightforward approach to guest blogging.

After Cutts teased the penalty against the site, MyBlogGuest’s Ann Smarty took an interesting approach. She accused Google of targeting the site not because it poses any real threat to Google’s preferred way of search optimizing but rather to put fear into other sites. As she told Search Engine Journal: “Matt Cutts is using us for the PR game: To get more people scared. We are the hugest guest blogging brand out there: He could not have got more publicity by hitting anyone else.” Others agreed:

It’s an intriguing accusation. Certainly Google did get a ton of attention for going after MyBlogGuest, because it was a departure from the link networks it’s been targeting of late. It could be that, after months of laying out the same types of sites, Google wanted to generate headlines by going after a site considered more “legitimate.” And if that was its aim, it seems to have worked. People are now questioning what is and what isn’t considered a Google-acceptable form of search engine optimization, and they are worried about ticking off the powerful company by using even white-hat tactics that have become commonplace.

Learning Google’s Lessons

Confusing as the MyBlogGuest penalty may seem, there are some lessons to be gleaned from it, and here’s the most important one: Don’t try to cut corners. The smartest SEOs know that in the end, the only thing that will fuel a sustained traffic supply and ultimately, conversions, for their clients is using proven, Google-approved tactics that don’t put your client in any danger of penalty.

Here are a few things you can pursue without worry:

  • Focus on a human audience. Don’t worry about search engines and search engine optimization all the time. Think about how your copy reads and whether it will resonate with real people, rather than trying to get it picked up by the search bots. It’s still possible in this day and age to build strong traffic based on word of mouth.
  • Value quality over quantity. Invest in content marketing, secure in the belief that smart, useful information will help your business more than tossing a few keywords onto a site that may or may not be run by a legitimate blogger. For instance, a motorcycle lawyer might start a blog with news of interest to bikers, not simply promoting his business but providing a real service to riders.
  • Target smart keywords. Ethical SEO does not mean abandoning all search tricks; it simply means targeting the right ones. Have a few keywords that you target throughout your site for consistency’s sake, and use them in all your branded content. But make sure you’re not speaking “search-ese” (i.e., talking like a human Google search). That doesn’t read well on the page.
  • Pursue legitimate guest posts. There’s a reason why link networks thrived. The idea behind them, pumping up the number of links to your page, worked. But don’t use a link network to distribute your guest posts. Be selective and hook up with high-quality blogs that you’re proud to see your name associated with. Always be straightforward and honest in all your dealings.

As Google seems intent on teaching us, your mother was right. Honesty is the best policy, whether you’re in kindergarten or trying to generate more page views on the web.

How to Create Awesome Linkbait

linkbaitContent marketing is a bit of a blunt instrument. It’s a number’s game, after all, designed to boost metrics like site visits, conversion rates and Shares, Likes, Tweets and Pins. You might not always feel like there’s a lot of subtlety at your disposal when you create marketing content, but the truth is a little more complicated. The very best content marketing is capable of doing two things at once: (1) Contributing to a rich marketing campaign to entice prospective customers and (2) Offering something of real value to the audience.

The word “linkbait” might sound at first like something exploitive or cheap, but the fact is that its place in an effective content marketing campaign is assured for the foreseeable future. Here’s a look at why that is.

What Is Linkbait, Anyway?

Linkbait can mean the difference between content that’s “just okay” and content that just begs to be shared, right now, with everybody. The name itself might be unpleasant; the word “bait,” after all, is an integral part of phrases like “bait and switch.” The good news is that there’s nothing inherently dishonest or exploitive about linkbait, despite the relatively inelegant name.

In fact, the Internet is full of editorials from experienced marketers that give linkbait their wholehearted endorsement as a sound marketing practice. To put it simply, linkbait refers to a type of content that readers will be compelled to click on, because they expect it to benefit them in some way. Linkbait can take many forms, but the endgame is always the same: to entice readers to click a link with the promise of high-quality content. Of course, delivering on that promise is another story entirely.

What Does Linkbait Look Like?

If you want to take advantage of linkbait as a method of capturing the public’s attention and loyalty, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the types of linkbait that are at your disposal, and take a look at which ones have proven track records.

Some of the very best linkbait out there are articles that promise to teach the reader something. As a result, articles with “How To” or “Beginner’s Guide” in the title can be highly attractive.

In addition, readers are always on the lookout for useful resources about the topics they’re interested in. Consequently, another type of linkbait you should consider is an extensive resource list, such this one, compiled by 12 Keys. Because they maintain this list, they have gotten many high-quality links from universities, health organizations and other health institutions. If linkbait is about offering the best of the web, then turning your website into a valuable and credible resource for readers is a great way to ensure not only that they return again and again, but also that they’re sharing your resources with their friends and family.

Quality linkbait can also be highly visual. If the information you hope to pass on to your readers is numbers-based, you’ll probably want to spend a great deal of time thinking about the best way to visualize your data. A great way to go is to build an infographic. Infographics offer an uncomplicated way for your readers to learn about your brand, the issues that matter to you or the values that you stand for.

Is Linkbait Future-Proof?

As one of the driving forces behind content marketing strategies, Google has a tendency to make the SEO and marketing worlds nervous any time they introduce a change to their search algorithms. Most of the time-honored SEO practices are still alive and well, but with each algorithm update, Google has propelled us closer to the end of link building as we know it.

While link building is still alive and kicking, it’s our approach and even our very definition of the practice that needs to change with the times. That’s where linkbait comes in.

Link building is the process whereby quality online content is encouraged to go viral. Marketers take advantage of the influencers in their niche and their own contributions to social circles and online communities to distribute their brand across the web. The thing is, Google is actively forcing content marketers to pursue more organic approaches to link building. Linkbait, coupled with a sound social media campaign, could prove to be that missing link.

No matter what Google does, and no matter how radically they redesign their framework or their algorithms, high-quality content will always be the order of the day. Where and how that quality is shared is changing, however. Today, quality linkbait thrives on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, where passing on a piece of content that inspires laughter, thought or self-improvement is as simple as hitting the Share, Retweet or Pin button.

As marketers, we’re the ones who get the ball rolling. Fortunately for us, the tools to do so are already available. Thanks to Google, Facebook and the rest of the Internet giants, we really don’t need to actually build a new framework. Instead, the task that falls to us is as straightforward, albeit somewhat difficult: to use our creativity to provide something compelling and valuable for our audience.

Link Building Strategies for 2013: Presentation by Ross Hudgens

Ross Hudgens, founder of Siege Media, presented on link building strategies at BlueGlassX this week in Tampa, Florida. Ross was full of Einsteinic energy and gave the audience so many fantastic ideas.You can see his presentation below.

Ross starts out with some link building tools that could very useful to you and then he unleashes some outstanding ideas on how you can jump right into link building strategies immediately. This is a presentation you must review, carefully! And take some notes. :) A big thanks to Ross for giving away so much information.

Which link building strategies explained in the presentation did you like the most?

Can You Handle Rejection in Link Building?

Link building can be an extremely daunting task. SEOmoz did a poll once asking SEOs what their hardest task was, and link building came out #1 (click View Results). When they asked their readers what they’d like to see more of on the blog, link building again scored high. It’s something everyone seems to struggle with, despite it being such a key part of SEO.

I’ve spoken on a few link building panels at conferences in the past, hoping to inspire new internet marketers in their link efforts. But if I’m not speaking on those panels, I always make sure to sit in on them, as there’s always some nugget of information dropped that I can use. I devour link building articles for the same reason.

Without a doubt, the biggest hurdle I’ve come across in link building is not having good content to get anyone to link to. But once you’ve got that under control, there’s another giant hurdle to leap.

Rejection.

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