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.
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:
— Joe Hall (@joehall) March 19, 2014
— Joel K (@JoelKlettke) March 19, 2014
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.