On March 19th, Google manually penalized one of the most well-known guest blog communities online – MyBlogGuest – for engaging in a link scheme and violating Google’s guidelines. They also announced that users of MyBlogGuest could be receiving penalties.
It seems unfair to penalize guest blogging. Google cannot manually judge the intent of every guest post on the Internet. Not all guest posts are intended for link manipulation. After all, guest blogging is done for very legitimate reasons, such as sharing expertise or opinion in front of a new or larger audience. Even Google’s blogs accept guest posts.
Regardless of what Matt Cutts or the SEO community says, here’s the real reason MyBlogGuest was penalized.
EDIT: As of August 2015, Google has used this same process to set expectations and trigger behavior for mobile, doorway pages, furthering HTTPS, and more. It’s an important concept to understand so that you are neither cynical of Google nor paranoid of Google’s changes.
What Google Really Wants
Links are still the best way for an algorithm to judge the relevance and trustworthiness of a webpage. They are a proxy for the opinion of a human about a webpage. But the only links that send those signals are editorial links.
Google’s problem is that all links, whether they are in a link scheme or not, look like this: <a href=”URL”>Anchor Text</a>. However, paid links aren’t a proxy for human opinion on trust & relevance. Nor is comment spam, link wheels, or guest blog links that appear to be a proxy for human opinion, but really aren’t.
Sure Google can look at other factors and try to determine intent. For example, many SEOs would agree that Googlebot looks at other links around that link for intent (ie, “what are all these links to viagra, payday loans, mesothelioma, and… cheap air fare? That’s suspicious”).
But really, that’s just a pain. And it has to be really tough to engineer with an algorithm. You’d get a lot of false positives, and miss out on a lot of really useful signals if you ignored them entirely. Instead of changing the algorithm, Google uses a MyBlogGuest penalty to change behavior.
Google takes a tactic from the Federal Reserve (Central Banks in general) and their battle with inflation & full employment, relying on the economic concept of “herd behavior.”
They both use targeted action and language to set expectations and trigger herd behavior. It’s the single loud noise that sets off a stampede.
Google/The Fed use a small herd of people paying attention to them (SEOs/investors) to do the work for them.
When many Americans hear the Federal Reserve, they think of the institution that controls the economy. Or the institution that controls inflation. Or at least the institution that controls interest rates. In fact, the Fed controls none of those.
And yet – it exerts massive influence over a $16 trillion economy. It can start and help stop a recession. The Fed even triggers booms and busts outside the US. It moves the stock market up and down.
Janet Yellen, the Chair of the Fed, will tell investors what they expect economic conditions to be. They announce how many treasury bonds they expect to purchase, and they announce what they expect the overnight interest rate banks will pay to borrow from the Fed.
These seemingly small, targeted actions set expectations among big financial players has a cascading effect on the rest of the economy. If Bank of America knows that in 2 years it will be able to borrow from the Fed at 1%, then it will go ahead and try to make loans today at 5%. The cheaper loans flow to consumers and businesses which grows the economy.
All from setting expectations with targeted action.
MyBlogGuest Triggers The Herd
And that’s how Google stops guest blogging for links and other link schemes. Google doesn’t need to find and detect “bad” guest blog links. It just needs the people doing the majority of guest blogging for links to stop – or do less of it.
Google still wants to use guest blog links, just like it wants to use all signals on the Internet – it just needs to know which links can be trusted as a proxy for human opinion.
Penalizing MyBlogGuest triggers herd behavior among SEOs to move along away from large scale guest blogging.
There are plenty of spammier guest blogging networks. But penalizing them would not have triggered the same herd behavior as MyBlogGuest, since it was seen as different than the more spam-like networks.
It will have cascading effects to clients since they will have 1 fewer option for large-scale link-building. It will encourage site owners to stop allowing guest posts or alter their submission policies.
Guest blogging will be done for the referral traffic and to be endorsed in front of a new audience…which is exactly what Google wants to measure. They’ll get more signal and less noise, all from setting expectations with targeted action.
What It All Means
Whether you are a site owner or an SEO specialist, go beyond understanding tactics to understanding search engines’ end goal – trustworthy, relevant content for the human typing in the search query.
Let the herd stampede over to the next “foolproof” tactic while you focus on creating and promoting content that authentically engages your audience.