A couple of weeks ago, Matt Cutts dropped a bombshell into the SEO community with a blog post titled “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO.”
Predictably, every body went berserk.
It’s obvious that any one dependent upon the web for their livelihood must obey Google’s guidelines. It’s also obvious that ever since SEO, there have been spammy black hat SEO tactics. What’s not so obvious is what in the world Matt Cutts was getting at.
I will explain what Matt Cutts meant to say. I’ve provided some translation at the end of this article, but a bit of context will help.
Who is Matt Cutts?
First, if you haven’t been introduced to Matt, allow me to introduce you.
Matt has been an employee of Google for fourteen years, as of this month (January, 2014). He’s a genius. He’s a software engineer. He has a vengeance against spam. He now leads the Webspam team at Google.
In other words, Matt Cutts makes the world go round.
Sort of. He is responsible for the omnipotent algorithm, the demise of many a black hat SEO technique, and the rise and fall of websites galore. He has probably received death threats and accolades alike for his tireless labor to rid the Google empire of spam. And he’s the subject of some pretty awesome memes.
Next time you bump into Cutts at a conference or something, you should say “thank you.”
Click to enlarge thirty-four relatively awesome memes.
What did Matt Cutts say?
In his blog post, Matt Cutts basically said that “guest blogging” is bad. His definitive statements go like this:
- Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop.
- So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done
- It’s just gotten too spammy
- I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally
- I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.
- So there you have it: the decay of a once-authentic way to reach people.
- Given how spammy it’s become, I’d expect Google’s webspam team to take a pretty dim view of guest blogging going forward.
Sounds pretty conclusive, huh?
To drive his point home, Cutts reshared several of his favorite videos, explaining various SEO iniquities. Like this one:
What happened next?
Whenever the oracle speaks in the SEO community — or any community for that matter — people get excited. Everyone has to share their viewpoint, prognostication, or frustration. And so it went…
Basically, people are still confused, still troubled, and still bothered by what Matt Cutts said, even with an addendum that he posted on the same article.
What was his point?
Matt Cutts was just saying the same thing he always says.
When Matt Cutts speaks, it’s always going to consist of one of two topics:
- Against spam
- In favor of quality content
So, his latest blog post wasn’t exactly a new revelation. A Vesuvius of destruction and chaos it was not.
It was the same tune: Create great content. Don’t do spam.
But why did he say it?
There’s a good chance that Matt Cutts had a cup of weak coffee that morning in the Googleplex, or maybe that spam email that he copied and pasted just really irked him.
I get that. It would irk me, too.
So, in the true manner of an Internet antispam mogul, Cutts unleashed his civil and balanced blog post.
I also conjecture that Cutts might be trying to figure out how to coax the algorithm to get more aggressive against shady guest blogging practices, but he’s not being 100% successful. Right now, in his office in Mountain View, surrounded by nineteen massive displays that are backed by huge Google mainframes, Cutts is working on THE ALGORITHM. And, like all mere mortals, he has tough days.
The algorithm isn’t perfect, and it’s letting a lot of crappy spam still rank high on the SERP totem pole. It could be that, after a long day of working with the algorithm Cutts just decided to take a stab at the whole problem with his blog post.
Whatever the case, he made waves.
So, enough of this boring preface and introductory stuff. What we really need to know is, what now?
What should we expect for SEO and the future of the world as we know it?
In the wake of The Cutts Blog, we need to know what to do. How is SEO changing (or not)? What will my e-commerce website look like in ten months? Should I still try to post on that blog? Is that online magazine I read just a spammy link farm? Should I name my firstborn Matt Cutts? Should I go off the grid and homestead in North Dakota? What is the meaning of life?
Obviously, we can’t answer all those questions in this article, but we can hone in on a few facts for the present day.
Here are the four facts that you should know, to respond to “what now?”
1. The algorithm evolves.
Enter the SEO world, and you’ll hear buzz about the “algo.” The algorithm is basically the entity that dictates what comes back when you type in a Google search. It’s a pretty complicated thing.
The algorithm has been a work in progress ever since Google launched the toolbar extension in 2000, a mere two years after the launch of Google Inc. Fourteen years later, the algorithm has evolved into a breed of algorithm unlike any algorithm that exists on the planet. To say it’s “complicated” is like saying that Alpha Centauri is “kind of far away.”
Each year, Google performs hundreds of tweaks and improvements to the algorithm. Some are so big that they have names — Penguin and Panda, for example. Others are so small that they just have numbers.
As the algo changes, so does the boundaries of what works and what doesn’t work in the SEO world.
Some things never change. Great content, for example, has always been the kingpin. You’ve heard the hackneyed cliche, “content is king.” Well, it’s true.
Some things, however do change. Adding white keywords on a white background is a spam technique that’s as old as the search engine. It doesn’t work anymore. Stuffing your content with keywords doesn’t work anymore. Using exact match anchors doesn’t work anymore.
And guest blogging is Google’s new frontier in their attack on webspam. The algorithm is changing to develop an intuitive recognition of bad guest blogging and good guest blogging. There is such a thing as good guest blogging. The time has come, however, that Google’s algorithm will have to use the equivalent of a bazooka before it can use a sniper rifle to oust the spammers from the land of guest blogging.
You’ve been warned, because Matt Cutts said it himself: “ I’d expect Google’s webspam team to take a pretty dim view of guest blogging going forward.”
2. Aggressive, legitimate, and reputable content marketing will still win the day.
If you look at the legion of changes over the past decade and a half of search engine science, there is one thing that has remained steadfast and resolute.
In two words, it’s quality content.
More than ever before, the search engines are interested in returning high-quality content in the search results. That’s why “content marketing” has mushroomed as an industry in the past two years.
Content has become so important that a company can’t exist online without high-quality content published on a recurring basis.
Ron Faris, CMO for Virgin Mobile said “A brand with no content is a brand with nothing to say.” More to the point, a brand with no content is a brand that doesn’t exist online!
Content is more than product descriptions on a money page for your ecommerce website. Quality content consists of great information that people want to read, people want to share.
Marketing in the online world doesn’t consist of PPC and banner ads anymore. You’re wasting money by going those routes! Instead, marketing consists of paying a great content marketing professional or (really good) writer to create killer content.
Content will win the day. It’s not an instant win. Nothing legitimate is instant. Over time, however, you’ll see results and get returns on your investment.
Notice, however, that I said “legitimate and reputable” content. By using this word, I’m excluding spun content, cheap content, and content mills.
One of the best ways that Google has devised to promote reputable content is Google authorship. Most web searches today provide a snapshot of content author.
Such snapshots do several things:
- They result in higher click-through rates. According to some studies, search results with an author photo result in 250% higher CTRs.
- They lend an element of trustworthiness to the content. When the search user sees a human face, he or she is more likely to trust the content. Internet researcher Jakob Nielsen’s research suggests that people are distrustful of the lack of human connection, even on web pages. Instead, Alex Horstmann has shown that people are naturally drawn to look at faces thereby adding trust to the interaction. It’s not just the picture that does the trick. Because the author data is derived from Google Plus, it also conveys the popularity of the writer. Here’s an example:
- They provide a way for the search engine to approximate the value of the content by the authority of the author. More and more, Internet content is becoming highly personalized. Companies don’t say things. People do. Content comes from individuals, not faceless corporate entities. Thus, you can’t create a company Google+ account. Instead, you have to create one through your own personal Google login. Similarly, you can’t post to a website under a company name. You have to use a personal name. In this hyperpersonalized milieu, the value of a personal brand has grown exponentially. Google knows how reputable you are based on what sites you contribute to, how many users have you in their circles, and a variety of other factors.
3. Do what Google says.
Like it or not, Google still has the big say regarding what gets returned and what gets rejected in the search results.
It is in your best interest to follow their rules.
As independent minded or antiestablishmentarian as you may be, you’ve still got to keep your SEO strategy within the rails that Google has laid.
While tinkering with SEO tricks and blackhat practices can be intriguing, it never results in long term payback. SEO as an industry is being redefined as “content marketing.”
Focus on content, and brush up on your Google quality guidelines, and you’ll do just fine.
4. Guest blog the right way.
What Matt Cutts meant to say is that he’s tired of spammy guest blogging. But that doesn’t mean that PCWorld is going to have just one writer, or that HuffingtonPost is going to fire their entire staff of journalists. It doesn’t mean that Syntaxxx content will come from just one person.
What it means is that the days of spammy guest blogging is coming to a close. Enter a new era of more trustworthy guest blogging. Allow Cutts own comments to introduce you to the wonderful world of guest blogging. I’ve provided my own free periphrastic translation.
- “There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future.”
- Translation: You can still do guest blogging. In actuality, there’s a lot of great benefit, and you always have our permission to do so without penalty. Go ahead, do it.
- “And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there.”
- Translation: There are some great guest blogging writers. You guys know who you are. Your’e not selling links. You’re pushing out the best content you can possibly create. You’re doing things right. You can keep it up. There’s no way we’re going to penalize you!
- “I changed the title of this post to make it more clear that I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.”
- Translation: What really bothers me is this new black hat effort to pawn links and try to game my fine-tuned algorithm. Please stop. What I’m trying to put an end to is the spammy, low-quality junk that gets shoved off as guest blogging.
- “I’m also not talking about multi-author blogs.”
- Translation: Okay, so Syntaxxx — you guys are okay. It’s a great blog and it has a lot of authors. That’s fine.
- “High-quality multi-author blogs like Boing Boing have been around since the beginning of the web, and they can be compelling, wonderful, and useful.”
- Translation: In fact, there are several thousand of these high-quality and multi-author blogs. They’re going to be just fine. That’s not really guest blogging. In fact, I don’t know what to call guest blogging anymore. I’m kind of confused. Sorry.
- “I just want to highlight that a bunch of low-quality or spam sites have latched on to “guest blogging” as their link-building strategy.”
- Translation: I’m come full circle around the barn in this blog post to restate that I really, really, really think you should have quality content. And so does my algorithm. So there.
- “We see a lot more spammy attempts to do guest blogging.”
- Translation: See? It’s spam I’m after — junk content. Don’t do junk content.
- “I wanted to give people a heads up mainly because the practice has gotten so spammy.”
- Translation: So there, I said it again. No more spam.
I recommend a gracious and grateful response to Google’s head of webspam. He’s trying to make the web a better place. He’s not trying to shut down your business, crush your guest blogging enterprise, or put you in a bad mood.
He’s just saying, “cut it out with the spam, will you?”
That’s what Matt Cutts meant to say.