A couple of days ago, on March 19, 2014, a popular website that gathers an online community of guest bloggers was hit and penalized by Google. The search engine’s official public announcement quotes: “Today we took action on a large guest blog network. A reminder about the spam risks of guest blogging: goo.gl/cnkoFA”.
This led to a massive discussion on Twitter and as Rae Hoffman guessed right it was the My Blog Guest that Google wiped out from its SERPs that day. The controversial opinions on the issue lead to some pretty curious questions and stands: some were favoring Google’s manual action; others were expressing their support towards the affected website owner Ann Smarty. Truth be told, it would be rather naïve to accept this case as a simple piece of news and ignore the underlying reason why Google have decided to penalize this particular site and practically publicize its action on the same day.
“We took action on a large guest blog network”
Why does this line remind me so much of Bush’s words: “I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.”?
So let’s iron out our terms first: My Blogger Guest could hardly be called a network – an open forum for people interested in guest posting where writers and blog owners meet –that very well might be, but a network – that would hardly be the proper label for it. Using such wording Google actually reveals its helplessness in distinguishing between the guest blogging as a way towards attracting interesting people with distinct competences and knowledge to entertain your blog audience with their fresh ideas, and the guest blogging as online spam.
We might just as well ask: is talking about guest blogging forbidden too? Is a community that gathers on a site and shares insights on article topics and themed content the one that is shaping up a so-called network? Later on Mat Cutts shared on Twitter that the participants of the community will bear the penalty just as the forum itself: “when we take action on a spammy link network, it can include blogs hosting guest posts, sites benefiting from the links, etc.”
It would be curious to know whether Google will address the quality and site authority (as they claim to do before penalizing), or they will immediately punish the MBG bloggers for posting other writers’ works and referring those pieces to their online profiles. On the same day when the news that MBG was penalized spread online, users of the forum started sharing that their blogs have been affected too. Did they deserve it really or were they a scapegoat for the online community to learn from? …
Doubtful reasons for the manual action
As Ann Smarty said herself, the message left by Google in her Web Master Tools account, stated that the website was penalized due to the “Unnatural links to your site”. However this could hardly be the reason why Google removed MBG from the SERPs because:
1. Matt Cutts would not have otherwise tweeted Google’s new victory against “a large guest blog network” – the sole statement implies that the search engine’s team has taken action against a specific type of websites. They considered it important to shed some light on what the penalty actually stands for – action against the guest blogging practice.
2. The actual backlink profile of the website has a decent representation of quality links from really respected websites such as http://moz.com, http://www.searchenginejournal.com, http://mashable.com, etc. If we are to delve into more details, neither the anchor texts of its backlinks, nor their trustworthiness is the real problem.
3. The timing of Google’s announcement is also really interesting to take in mind. Cutts shares the penalty info on the same day that it is imposed. Usually Google is really sparing in giving out info. Whether they release a new update of their algo, or they make some gradual tweaks of their dashboards, or change their SERP design, they do not communicate these changes in real time. They make their tests and let the online community guess what has happened. This time the case is different – now people need to know – Google is trying to put us on track just like a parent is disciplining his spoiled brat: “See that guy? Do you want to end up like him?”
“Not all guest blogging is bad”
This conclusion made by Matt Cutts on his own blog is somewhat more alarming than soothing. It further engraves the guest blogging conflict – if not all guest posting is bad, then who is objective enough to distinguish one from the other? Apparently quality is the one thing Google lists as a key benchmark, but then again a search engine could hardly assess quality other than noticing spun, keyword stuffed or thin content. The authority of a website is another characteristic of guest blogging that Google mentions in terms of good and bad practices – but does this mean that one site should be admitted by Google to be of high authority first in order to be able to start welcoming writers and referring to them in order to credit them?
Wasn’t quoting your source the most essential thing that you should do in order not to be blamed for plagiarism? Should we be careful when referring to our sources because Google finds it hard to tell a bad referral from a natural one? Google is encouraging natural content, natural web promotion and natural sharing while we are demanded to unnaturally place nofollow tags?
In our fear not to harm our business we all blindly follow rules that add more and more constrains to how we express our thoughts in writing, how we credit our influencers and guests, how we share and even ask our customers to review our business and it is only normal to take some time and reflect on why we are doing this and is it really necessary to go through all this. As Ann says: “I don’t think Google is THE Internet … The power is in people.”
After reaching out to the owner of MyBlogGuest – Ann Smarty, we were able to get some further insight on the case and hear out her personal stand on the recent events:
Do you buy the reason Google gave (“unnatural links to your site”) for penalizing MBG or you read something else behind this act?
Ann: No I am not buying it actually, I think they just listed the reason because there’s no way they can list “personal vendetta” as the reason : )
If the penalty regards to your backlink profile and not to the MBG platform and what it stands for why you have considered adopting a new nofollow byline links option for your publishers?
Ann: Like I said, I don’t think it’s the links to the home page. They are bullying our publishers, so we decided to give them the flexibility to assign nofollow links to the byline mentions.
How would you comment on the recent rise of penalized bloggers who in a desperate attempt to put their writings again on the map (up in the search results) adopt the nofollow all the external links on their blog?
Ann: I think we are being bullied by Google who force us use unnatural tags to please them and fix their broken algorithm
Do you think that the expected rise in social should not be limited to Facebook, Twitter, G+, etc. only but should be interpreted as actual socializing on fellow authors’ blogs. Or nowadays the act of guest blogging represents an actionable fraud in all its variations.
Ann: I am not sure I understand the question but I think guest blogging is the most social of all forms of content marketing!