This article was inspired by Geoff Livingston's poignant post "8 Myths of the Zombie Content Apocalypse," published on copyblogger as a reaction to the phenomenon called "content shock." It's a principle that introduces basic economics to content marketing - there are only so many eyeballs, and they can consume only so much content. What's ironic is that there is a real relationship between the content shock concept and the pervasiveness of scaled guest blogging for links.
Scaled guest blogging for links is partially to blame for the proliferation of content across many verticals on the Internet today. A percentage of it is "Crap - The Content Marketing Deluge," as described by Velocity Partners. According to The Content Promotion Manifesto, 2.73 million blog posts are published every day.
It's noisy out there.
The proliferation of guest blogging at scale has helped create some bad blog neighborhoods that aren't hard to identify. No doubt, the demise of scaled guest blogging for links will help the Internet be a little less noisy than it was yesterday. Google has taken manual action on large brands that have used this off-page strategy, too.
When Matt Cutts comes out and emphatically pronounces something as done, the SEO world usually splinters into different camps for a while. We may even see this play itself out in the comments section below. In one camp is a group that likes to scream foul and scorn Google; these are the folks who tend to be pretty snarky and usually suffer from GAUA Disorder. A second and equally snarky group of defenders or I-told-you-so's also usually forms; they tend to disparage the first group for defending tactics that Google has deemed as spam. This population likely didn't have their SEO campaigns negatively impacted or believe they won't be.
The last group of the bunch is the pragmatists. These folks look at the issue sensibly and practically and adjust their strategies and expectations to suit the new order of things. The pragmatists understand that one thing's for certain: Google will continue to evolve. The tactics used today may not work tomorrow. However, brands and SEOs who execute good inbound marketing and public relations (PR) are the ones who will be truly insulated from Google's changes in the future.
1. Relax. Scaled off-page SEO is not undead - it's alive and well.
Truth: Zombie guest blogging is not the only way to scale link acquisition.
Here's a little-leveraged PR secret that naturally scales link acquisition: real media coverage, op-eds and columns get syndicated hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of times online within hours. Influencers read, cite and share this content.
The example above shows a search for the actual sentence containing a prudent call to action (link to a landing page) on a real media column from an executive. The resulting syndicated links, social buzz and original posts covering the story were a major force in growing organic search traffic consistently month over month (see below).
There are three ways to leverage the media for scaled link earning - create newsworthy content and pitch it, earn true op-ed opportunities or land a real column. Company executives who are truly industry experts shouldn't have much of a challenge earning op-ed opportunities or columns in relevant industry media outlets.
2. Scaled guest blogging is now zombie spam.
Truth: If Matt Cutts says it's spam, it's spam.
It doesn't matter whether SEOs agree with his proclamation or not. Google holds all the cards and will always do what's going to benefit its stakeholders the most. Whether we like it or not, SEOs are not Google's stakeholders.
3. Keep calm. If you weren't bitten by a zombie then you won't look like a zombie.
Truth: Doing real, authentic guest blogging is not the same as scaled guest blogging for links.
Many are concerned that Google will target guest blogging indiscriminately. Not all guest blogging is bad, and Matt Cutts has a history of communicating this. Marketers and PR professionals who use guest blogging for real brand exposure and thought leadership, not for scaled link acquisition, have nothing to worry about.
4. Link building is for undead zombies; link earning is for the living.
Truth: This is the difference between creating and pitching spam and developing great problem-solving and/or entertaining content that consumers, the media and peers want to consume, share, cite, click-through and syndicate.
Let's face it: earning links via real PR makes the most business sense. It not only scales link acquisition but drives brand awareness, click-throughs and conversions. When a media outlet organically links to another website, its readers are much more willing to click through and convert because they trust the source.
The violet in the graph above represents the actual number of conversions from one earned citation over two weeks last year. In that timeframe, site-wide conversion rates grew to 9.4% and hit its highest one-day total of 19.9%. This stands in stark contrast to the 3.9% normally witnessed. The month of January had an 84% lift in conversions versus the month prior.
The earned citation continued to drive conversions months after it went live and to date is responsible for driving over 9,000 conversions. This technique is Google-proof because it drives value way beyond search.
5. Matt Cutts is attempting to extinguish what life remains of the content link zombies.
Truth: SEOs have seen this before. Cutts came out and essentially did the same thing for press release link building, infographic embed code, article marketing, directories, widgets, site-wide footer links, etc. For the most part, it worked in eliminating spam associated with these tactics.
Good SEOs know that a diversified off-page strategy that drives multiple marketing key performance indicators is the best path for staying in Google's good graces today and in the future. It's the one-trick-ponies that are at risk.
6. Zombies want to eat Matt Cutts' flesh.
Truth: SEOs and brands who have leveraged scaled guest blogging as their primary off-page SEO tactic are not very happy with him.
Some of the loudest critics of Cutts' pronouncement rely on scaled guest blogging for themselves and for clients. It's understandable that they'd be upset because manual penalties associated with this can have devastating effects on the businesses targeted and the agencies supporting them.
However, this writing has been on the wall for over a year. If these folks and the businesses they support didn't see this coming, it's hard to feel sorry for them.
7. Google created the virus that spawned zombies in the first place.
Truth: Google's heavy reliance on the link graph in its ranking algorithm has created an environment that has rewarded SEOs for building links through guest blogging at scale.
There's been grumblings of a possible future where links don't matter to Google's algorithm anymore. This may or may not be the future of its algorithm, but in the meantime, links still matter.
Given Cutts' sentiment, motive behind the placement of a link is what makes it spam or not. That's why real digital PR is Google-proof off-page SEO. It drives business value far beyond search alone, and it's motivated by said value.
8. Real content-driven public relations vaccinates SEOs from future zombification.
Truth: Real and true online media coverage, syndicated columns, featured op-eds and influencer outreach will never be targeted for spam by Google.
It's simple - marketers and PR professionals will desire and pursue media coverage whether Google exists or not. As previously stated, it drives massive value far beyond search. It just so happens to drive tremendous off-page search value, too.
9. Zombies can be cured.
Truth: SEOs and brands can drop scaled guest blogging and replace it with digital public relations and earn the same or more inbound links naturally and safely.
Depending on how good and aggressive a media outreach team is, digital PR can drive more links than guest blogging at scale. Long-time successful PR veterans have established media black books and real relationships with journalists, editors and influencers. The outlets associated with these folks tend to get highly syndicated, shared and cited. Targeting coverage from these media outlets and earning citations creates a cascade of inbound links that can easily surpass a month's worth of guest blogging efforts within days of publication.
As the dust begins to settle on the zombie guest blogging apocalypse, scaled guest blogging will take its seat on the retirement bench with infographic embed code, press release link building, etc., and the proliferation of crap content will be a little more muted. If content shock is a real phenomenon, Google's actions will help delay its inevitability and marketers can relax a little bit longer.
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