Guest blogging has become a popular practice in content marketing strategies, but brands must be careful about how they earn links through these opportunities.

Guest blogging has entered the search engine marketing fold as a way to build healthy backlink profiles, but not without speculation. Google’s Head of Webspam has come forward to clear up some confusion about whether the practice of publishing blogs on external sites is a safe or punishable, based on the search engine’s quality guidelines.

Marketers eager to earn additional links to their company webpages have embraced guest blogging as a way to add value to their brand content. It’s a longstanding SEO truth that links matter, and quality posts on external sites (with good authority) that link back to the contributing author’s website can help brands rank higher in SERPs. But are some abusing this practice?

The guest blogging spectrum: From spammy to safe

“There is a pretty clear distinction between an occasional guest blog, versus someone who is doing large scale pay-for-links kinds of stuff,” Cutts said in a recent Webmaster Help Channel video.

There is nothing wrong with guest blogging if the exchange is completely organic. But the practice steps into the punishable arena if companies solicit guest blogging opportunities for the sole purpose of building links. Relevance and value must be integral to the motivation for guest blogging, too.

“can be higher-quality stuff where someone really is an expert and you really do want their opinion about something”

“There is guest blogging, which can be low-quality, and frankly, I think there has been a growth of low-quality guest blogging recently,” Cutts added. “Or, it can be higher-quality stuff where someone really is an expert and you really do want their opinion about something that’s especially interesting to your blog’s audience.”

Here are some factors Google takes into consideration when determining whether guest blogs should be penalized for spammy link practices, or given stronger ranking signals.

Bad practices:

1. Purchasing links
2. Contributing blog posts that are irrelevant or off-topic to the publishing sites
3. Using over-optimized anchor text

Good practices:

1. Featuring blogs that are written by an expert
2. Including a paragraph introducing the author and why he/she was invited to write a blog
3. Using anchor text and keywords sparingly

“Guest blogging is the sort of thing that you should think about doing in moderation.”

“Guest blogging is the sort of thing that you should think about doing in moderation,” Cutts explained. “[If you’re just] borrowing a soap box to climb up and talk for a bit and embed some links back to [the] blog … that’s probably not the best way to build reputation for your website.”

This advice seems strikingly similar to Cutts’ earlier advice on guest blogging, as well as guidance provided in Google’s refreshed Link Schemes document. Brafton covered the changes, in which the search engine advised marketers to stick to white hat SEO tactics or no-follow links to avoid penalties.

The same standards exists, and Cutts said the engine is getting smarter about detecting whether links are purchased or organic. Therefore, brand marketers should put all their efforts toward producing top-notch custom content that publishers will want to host and readers will want to share.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.