The advice of Googler’s over the recent months have lead webmasters to fear the wrath of the next algorithmic update and many sites are dishing out nofollow links like it’s 2007 all over again.
In a webmaster hangout earlier this year Google employee John Mueller advised that if you are guest posting as part of your SEO strategy then links within the articles should really be made nofollow as they are not editorially given. After all if the blog has a significant audience and the content is of a high enough quality then the reward for the post is that referral traffic will flow via these links to your web properties, not PageRank. Since I started this article Marie Haynes has covered this in more detail.
I am sure you and many bloggers will disagree with John.
The fact of the matter is that the majority of bloggers do actually care about the quality and the relevance of the links referenced within the articles they choose to host, but these types of comments do nothing to help dispel the many myths that circulate. It would be naïve to assume that all blogs are well managed but if the post has to go through any kind of manual review process why must Google feel the need to treat all bloggers who open their doors to others as a criminal associate?
As of today July 8th 2013 this is what Webmaster Central states about nofollow links and unnatural content (emphasis mine):
Untrusted content: If you can’t or don’t want to vouch for the content of pages you link to from your site — for example, untrusted user comments or guestbook entries — you should nofollow those links. This can discourage spammers from targeting your site, and will help keep your site from inadvertently passing PageRank to bad neighborhoods on the web. In particular, comment spammers may decide not to target a specific content management system or blog service if they can see that untrusted links in that service are nofollowed. If you want to recognize and reward trustworthy contributors, you could decide to automatically or manually remove the nofollow attribute on links posted by members or users who have consistently made high-quality contributions over time.
That’s right it clearly states that if a webmaster wants to recognise and reward people who add a meaningful contribution to a site s/he can make links dofollow.
But with more FUD flowing from Google employees mouths it’s no surprise that bloggers are adding plugins or hacking WordPress Core to make all external links from their sites nofollow, which is iterated in this post by James Agate on the breakdown of SEO/Blogger relations last year.
Guest Blogging Going Underground
When Google eventually work out an effective way to lower the PageRank of sites that host guest posts (as they already try to do with obvious paid links) this will just drive more people into avenues such as paid link schemes, private blog networks or other agreements with more deals struck away from prying eyes.
One area I see rising significantly will be “ghost posting” where link builders will find webmasters who are willing to publish guest articles under the webmasters own name or pseudo-authors who write for the site regularly.
Putting “Ghost Posting” to the Test
Two weeks ago I pitched 183 bloggers in various niches who clearly advertised they accepted guest posts on their sites on guest blogging newsletters or via advanced search operators with Scrapebox.
I decided against using a throw away Gmail account for this exercise and bought myself a fake domain and threw up a quick coming soon splash page to make my “fake content and PR firm” look a bit more legit.
All the blogs had a minimum Domain PR2 and a Domain Authority of at least 30. The email template I sent is below:
Hi [First Name],
My name is Jason from [Company] in the UK and I represent a number of clients in the [Niche].
I noticed that you accept guest articles on your site and I wanted to make a proposal to to see if there is an opportunity for us to work together.
We have a team of great writers who we work with on a regular basis and we would be willing to contribute regular articles to your website if you would be happy to post them under your own name.
Would you be interested in this type of arrangement?
I look forward to your reply,
Tel: [Fake Tel Number]
Surprisingly from this email I had 11 people immediately say they would be happy to post my content under their own name should it meet their guest blogging guidelines and several others asked for payment or some further details…
With a poor email template I would have scored a potential 11 links on blogs ranging from DA 31 to 47.
The Ethics of “Ghost Posting”
Personally I have battled with hitting the publish button on this article as I will no doubt be lambasted for bringing another tactic out in to the public domain but the fact is that if Google get heavier with the link penalties people will find new/creative/shady ways to get links by any means necessary.
Yet, it is not surprising some people showed an interest in this type of arrangement.
We can debate the ethics and potential legalities of this type of tactic until the cows come home but obviously there are individuals who are happy to accept content that is written by others and pass it off as their own work.
Most bloggers have a full time job and can only dream of the day that they make the big time and can make their hobby a full time job. Often the main motivator for a blogger to open their site to guest authors in the first place is because they do not have the time to write for their site.
It’s a zero sum game, the rewards can be huge and this simply means some people will push the boundaries – cheat, lie or steal their way to the top of the rankings, despite the ethical, legal or financial risks they are willing to gamble with.