Thursday 24th May 2018

Why selling guest post slots is bad for the SEO industry, startups and large websites

As more and more large websites "no follow" all outbound links, the web will become a closed shop.
Jason Smith
by on 5th May 2018 | Leave a comment
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Our analysis recently identified hundreds of freelancers offering services to secure links on some of the world’s top websites for fees of up to $1,600.

Some of the websites on which freelancers claim they can secure links or guest posts include Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com, Today.com and USAToday.com.

The services offered by freelancers vary from offering to create content and pitch to the website without a guarantee of link placement to offering “100% guarantees” of link placements and stating they maintain relationships with some of the publishers listed.

Selling access to guest post slots is damaging to the SEO industry, small websites and startups for many reasons, including:

  1. If the practice persists, more and more large websites will begin no following all outbound links and the web will become a closed shop. The top brands will remain the top brands and the small brands won’t grow.
  2. It’s already difficult enough to get a journalist to respond to a pitch. If SEOs are creating business models out of pitching guest posts to journalists, then the process of building relationships with influencers becomes infinitely more challenging for startups looking to gain exposure on popular websites.

Disclaimer:

There’s nothing wrong with guest posting. Some of the world’s foremost journalists contribute to a wide range of publications, as do many webmasters, small business owners, freelancers, academics and professionals across industries.

The discrepancy here is a business model is being developed out of guest posting and the editorial decision made on which websites to link to is being influenced by cash not quality.

Large websites are adding the “no follow” attribute to all outbound links

If a “no follow” attribute is appended to an outbound link, then Google’s crawlers won’t follow that link. Likely, this also means the outbound link won’t pass any value to the website it links to.

Brand mentions may have an effect e.g. if the linking page mentions the brand name then that may afford credibility to the website being mentioned. However, as of this time, most sources believe Google still pays more heed to links than mentions.

Moreover, utilizing a website as a source doesn’t always translate to mentioning a website’s brand name, and a brand mention is not as strong a signal of intent as a link.

As the business of selling guest posts on large websites has proliferated, and as Google has started sending notifications concerning outbound linking penalties, more and more websites have taken to no following all outbound links.

This is or has been the case for websites like Entrepreneur.com, HuffingtonPost.com, Forbes.com and TheNextWeb.com, and even smaller local news websites like Wales Online.

These websites are among some of the most visited and authoritative websites on the internet and are highly valuable platforms for business owners hoping to gain exposure for their startups.

If more popular websites follow the trend of no following all outbound links, small webmasters and startups will struggle more than ever before to leverage the visibility of other brands to promote their businesses.

By this stage, it’s difficult to blame the brands mentioned above for taking this step, particularly if freelancers are exploiting the privilege of contributing to a popular website by selling links to the highest bidders.

However, if it persists, it will lead to the WWW resembling a closed shop, one where only the top brands are afforded visibility.

The last year has witnessed endless discussion about the increasingly homogenised nature of the WWW. If more popular websites follow the trend of no following outbound link — or worse not linking at all for fear their platforms are being co-opted — it will be startups that suffer the most.

It’s already difficult enough to get journalists to respond to pitches

In the last few weeks we’ve pitched our own internal research to journalists and received relatively strong response rates.

However, it’s no exaggeration to say the response isn’t what it used to be. Furthermore, the number of PR pitches we receive daily for Indivigital.com seems to increase with every passing month.

Just yesterday we engaged in a conversation about this topic with a journalist from Fortune Magazine on Twitter.

In online posts journalists frequently note they are struggling under a barrage of emails pitching press releases or stories with little journalistic value.

Many of the pitches fail to even address the journalist by name, mention the website or provide a link. Moreover, many appear to be cut and paste with no inclination to tailor the approach to the publication or website being emailed.

The extent of pitches seems to increase with every passing year and it has the corresponding impact of making it more challenging for genuinely newsworthy research or stories to breakthrough (particularly if a journalist is receiving upwards of 100 pitches per day).

Some popular publications have even stated they receive as many as thousands of emails per day to dedicated news tips or OpED email addresses.

If startups are going to continue to benefit from the exposure given to their businesses by journalists, then there needs to be a quid pro quo, otherwise more and more journalists, owed to the scale of the task that is engaging with 100 communications per day, will simply shut up shop.

SEOs turning guest posting into a business model further complicates the relationship between journalists and PR professionals or startups.

If the quantity of submissions continues to increase then journalists will become ever more cynical about the quality of pitches they receive, and thus even less likely to give them due attention.