Below is a 2-part email newsletter sent out on June 19 and 20, 2020.
After I sent Part 1, I received a lot of feedback from readers showing me just how effective guest posting still is for rankings. Based on that evidence, I reconsidered my position… slightly. I am now convinced only a particular type of guest posting is good. I explain it all in the 2-part series below.
I went to the dark side.
Not the blackhat dark side (been there, done that).
The clickbait dark side.
I just used the “Is… dead?” subject line.
Actually, it’s a relevant question in light of what a senior Google rep recently said.
John Mueller of Google recently said that Google’s algo devalues guest post links and has done so for years.
Interestingly he did not say Google penalizes for such links. I guess that’s the silver lining.
Seems like Google is getting soft in its old age.
Back when I got started, I walked uphill both ways to the office and the search penalties were dished out for the slightest infractions. It was medieval. I’m glad Google embraced more genteel methods.
These days magnanimous Google merely devalues guest post links; not penalizing.
But are they useless?
I’m going to be a Google fanboy here and suggest they are worthless taking Google at its word. I suspect it’s pretty easy for the 40,000 engineers working at Google to tweak the algo to spot guest post links.
That said it wouldn’t be the first time Google overstated its capabilities. Who knows whether it’s true, but let’s assume it’s partially true.
Let’s suppose the algo isn’t perfect but it works to a certain extent. Let’s say it’s 70% successful at spotting guest post links.
If that’s the case, is it worth guest posting for links?
I say no way.
What’s the going rate for a guest post on a good site these days if you outsource it? $100? $200? Let’s be generous and say $100. I suspect it costs more for quality sites, keeping in mind these outfits deem a site with 10,000 monthly visitors as “high quality”.
If only 30% of guest post links count, that means if you spend $100 per guest post, you must spend $1,000 in order to gain the benefit of 3 links.
That’s $333 per link, not $100.
If you spend $200 per guest post, you’re actually spending $666 per effective link.
Is that worth it?
Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.
For me, it wasn’t worth it when it was assumed every guest post link counted.
Because there are better ways to go about ranking content such as focusing on publishing great content.
I have inbound links from over 7,000 domains to my portfolio of sites. I built maybe 15 or 20 of them a few years ago. The rest are natural. I explain how I did this in my natural link building course.
For ,000 I can pay for some seriously great content.
For example, that’s 2 months’ salary for my graphic designer who creates killer illustrations for various blog posts. These illustrations get ripped off by other sites who link to me. Plus it makes for great content. Win/win.
Another example is $1,000 pays for thousands of images on Shutterstock. Again, other sites rip me off by using some of the images and link to me.
Another example is I could take that $1,000, buy 7 products in my niche and write a phenomenal batch of reviews and “best of” article.
And yet another example is $1,000 will get me 8 really good articles.
Besides, much of the “outreach” guest posting industry is junk. I’ve tried several services over the years. The results were dismal. The sites linking to me were atrocious.
They don’t actually do outreach.
They build up relationships with questionable sites where they rifle out questionable articles to them for links.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re paying for access to quality sites… as in buying links.
Okay okay, what’s with dumping all over guest posting?
I like dumping on things that are a waste of money.
If guest posting worked and it was risk-free, I’d be plowing thousands into it. I don’t care what Google says. Blackhat link building is not illegal (short of hacking sites).
For me it’s a business decision.
I can spend $1,000 for maybe 3 functional links (and that’s assuming Google’s algo isn’t perfect at detecting guest post links). Or I can invest in PROVEN methods such as publishing great content.
For me it’s a no-brainer.
I’ll invest in content.
But Jon, how do I rank my “Best website hosting service” article if I shouldn’t build links via guest posting?
This is how.
Sign up for and test 30 leading web hosting companies. Don’t worry, this is a lot of fun.
Load up a similar site on every hosting service.
Ensure you know what to look for under the hood when assessing web hosts.
Take hundreds of screenshots, speed tests, more screenshots.
Take a week and write the article.
You probably now have the best article on web hosting.
Here’s the deal. Ranking #1 for “best website hosting” will earn you tens of thousands of dollars per month.
If you want to swing for the fences, that’s what it takes… but that’s not all.
You’ll need to publish many more articles of that quality on that site.
I hate to say it, but whoever does the writing really needs to know web hosting. Your 6 months with Bluehost does not qualify you.
And then you have to wait, and wait and wait.
You will be going up against powerhouse sites.
But if you do it right and don’t stop and build up brand, maybe. and just maybe you will rank one or some of your “best of” articles.
And when you do, pull out your wheelbarrow to haul all that money to the bank.
But it’s a risk because even if you do all of the above, there’s no guarantee.
That’s why I hedge. I avoid the “swinging for the fences” approach and go after easy keywords.
I don’t make $25K/mo from any single article but I make more than that from thousands of articles.
At the end of the day, do what billion-dollar publishers do
Billion-dollar publishers don’t go out and build links.
They publish content. They attract links. They build brands.
Do you think DotDash websites have a link building department?
I receive a TON of guest posting pitches but I’ve never received one from DotDash.
Same with HuffPost, Business Insider, Wirecutter, Techradar, CNet, Martha Stewart… the list goes on.
If you want to rank for lucrative blatant affiliate promotion content, you need to bring your A-game to every review, comparison and best-of article.
That means actually using what you’re writing about. Yeah, I’m serious.
Wirecutter’s success isn’t an accident.
The founders saw an opportunity in the fact most affiliate sites were junk. Those other affiliate sites wrote about things they knew nothing about yet still ranked.
Wirecutter founders realized that if they actually used/tested products featured, their content would be superior and it wouldn’t take long for Google to recognize it.
More importantly, it wouldn’t take long for people to recognize it.
Case in point:
I’m moving my office in 2 weeks. I need a new printer/scanner.
I don’t want to waste time reading garbage articles.
I went straight to Wirecutter, found their article on the best printer/scanner combo machines. I clicked the link and bought it on Amazon. I didn’t read the article. I did not hesitate. I scrolled to the “best overall” box, clicked the link and bought.
It took all of one minute for a $300 purchase. Why? Because I trust Wirecutter.
Why do I trust Wirecutter?
Because they’ve earned that trust and consequently earned a commission.
On the flip side, for lesser lucrative content published by top-tier sites like DotDash, Huffpost and others, it’s not all that hard to out-content them.
Their content is good but it’s not “blood sweat and tears” good. There are some good opportunities to do it better.
Out-reviewing Wirecutter isn’t easy, but out-writing many other sites is surely doable.
Moral of the story:
If you’re investing monthly in guest post links, maybe there’s a better use of those funds.
If you want to be a billion-dollar publisher, do what they do.
Chalk me up as a lunatic Google fanboy and go blow thousands of dollars on links.
P.S. Just what you’ve been waiting for – a detailed over-the-shoulder video of me writing a detailed outline for articles. It’s been a long time coming. This was added as a lesson in both the On-Site SEO Deep Dive course AND the Content Site Autopilot course. I couldn’t decide which course it was best-suited so I put it in both.
Whoa, the first round of “is guest posting dead?” I sent out yesterday sure sparked some interest and controversy.
Many of you replied with great comments and provided stellar examples of guest posting working like gangbusters.
As an aside, I do read replies to these emails. I appreciate them. I do my best to respond in kind.
It’s clear to me that knocking ALL guest posts was overstating it.
I was wrong… in part. The evidence is irrefutable.
I should have been more nuanced.
Universal proclamations, while great for clicks, is bad form. I overstepped.
Let me rephrase the last email. Here it is.
Guest posts from low-quality sites are worthless and may even result in a penalty.
Put another way, guest posts from high-quality sites (very high-quality) seem to still work wonders for ranking.
One reader pointed me to this SEMRush article showing that guest posts accounted for 45% of penalized sites.
I guess Google isn’t as genteel as I thought. They’re still dropping the old penalty hammer on sites. Lots of fun.
What’s a high-quality site?
This is up for interpretation but it’s definitely a higher caliber than most guest posting services call high-quality.
Based on examples of sites ranking like crazy from guest posts, these are sites at the upper echelons in their niches. I’m talking 100,000 plus monthly visitors (many with much, much more traffic), killer content, a true brand in the niche, engaged audience.
In the Fat Stacks space examples would be Hubspot, GoDaddy, Ahrefs, AuthorityHacker.com, Backlinko… the powerhouse sites. There are many more but you get the idea.
DA is not necessarily an indicator of high-quality. It’s a factor perhaps, but traffic is more important (and it has to be waaaaay more than 10K visits per month).
Another reader told me he does get guest post pitches from big companies all the time. I know him. Long time reader. Super smart guy. Successful. Often replies with insightful comments. I have to give him the benefit of the doubt.
On the other hand. a member in the Fat Stacks forum posted the following which I thought interesting:
I wrote for Dotdash for many years (back when they were just About.com) and was with them throughout the transition to splintering into multiple portfolios of sites.
I can’t speak to what they are doing now but can confirm for you that they indeed did not have a “link building” department. Writing for them from an SEO perspective these were the three biggest priorities:
- Publishing LOTS of new content (good quality and original of course).
- Substantially updating one older post for every new post written.
- Internal linking.
That 3-pronged approach sounds familiar. It’s what many of us do, although I don’t update one older article for every new post written. That is quite a feat. I may have to ramp up existing article improvement.
If it’s good for DotDash, it’s good for me.
It appears that some big sites go out and build links. Again, I overstated.
Where does that leave us with the guest posting quandary?
It’s a murky subject. Google is now saying all guest posts for link building are bad but if you do it, the link should be nofollow or sponsored attribute.
The problem lies in that there is no shortage of bloggers sky-rocketing traffic thanks to guest posts on high-quality blogs (and by high-quality I’m talking tons of traffic, authority and established brands).
One interesting thing I noticed
One thing I overlooked is the exponential power of links from high-quality sites. What I mean is that content on these sites is often syndicated getting you more links. As your rankings for big keywords improve, natural links pour in. So 10 high-quality guest post links can result in dozens of natural links.
I’ve been wrong before, but you read this email newsletter for my opinion, even if I revise it here and there as I’ve done since yesterday.
So my opinion (revised) I shall give.
If you’re going to build links guest posting, restrict them to only the best sites in your niche. I’m talking about established brands with loads of traffic.
I’m afraid unless you hire an outreach person in-house, you have to do it.
Avoid the guest posting services
Restricting guest posts to the best brands in your niche means it’s probably best not using guest posting services.
If you don’t want to do it yourself, and who could blame you, hire someone in-house to do the outreach to ensure quality control.
If a site requires nofollow or sponsored attribute link, there’s still value in that. It’s worth considering.
Avoid the “scaling guest posting” mindset.
Focus on quality. Let’s call it “the boutique guest posting model”
How to rank your “best web hosting services” article
It’s clear to me that high-quality guest posts can quickly grow your site’s authority. While you may not get links back to your wonderful “best web hosting services” article you may get links to other articles that you can then link to the money article.
Is this bulletproof?
No. While this appears to still work, it does not mean it will work indefinitely. I can’t say anything will work indefinitely. While I might own a couple of shares of Google in some random fund, I don’t have a seat at the board and I certainly don’t have the ear of any powers that be at Google.
What am I doing and going to do?
It’s true I don’t and probably won’t do guest posting for my niche sites despite my revised view. I like my current methods of growing niche sites without building links. I see no reason to change.
But Fat Stacks is a different kind of site.
If I decide to grow search traffic for Fat Stacks (I don’t pay much attention to SEO now as you can tell by my keywordless articles), it wouldn’t be hard for me to get accepted as a guest poster on some quality blogs in the space.
It’s a smallish community. I know a few folks. I’m sure those posts would grease the SEO wheels. It’s that kind of community… an anomaly of a niche in many ways. In other words, I’d have a lot more success landing great guest posts in the Fat Stacks niche than my other niches.
What should you do?
You should do as I do of course.
Kidding aside, if you want to rank for some serious keywords, gun for some guest posts on the best sites in your niche. Avoid scaling with garbage.
Pursue “boutique guest posting” but do so knowing that no link building is risk-free.
Now that my pendulum has swung a tad over the other way, I’m ready for more comments, criticisms, praise and whatever else you can throw at me.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.