A requiem for MyBlogGuest

So the mysterious link network that Matt Cutts has been referencing turned out to not be a link network at all.

Blogging platform/community MyBlogGuest received the death notice from Google this morning and the site is no longer appearing for any branded or non-branded searches in Google’s first few pages.

On one hand, it’s a surprising move by Google. MyBlogGuest is much different from BuildMyRank or the handful of foreign link networks that were nuked in the past few weeks. It’s a step in a more aggressive, investigative direction from the types of penalties Google has handed out before for obvious link networks.

Going after MyBlogGuest is like punishing Twitter because people arrange drug deals via direct message.

MyBlogGuest was a place where independently owned and operated websites exchanged content and ideas. No post ever published via MyBlogGuest was done so without full editorial approval.

On the other hand, MyBlogGuest had become more heavy-handed recently in taking control over the websites that participating in the community. Google probably doesn’t care about providing a forum or platform for people to link up but when you start bullying people into removing rel=nofollow you have probably crossed a line. That is the type of thing that will get the Google Police to your doorstep.

Still, this is a big departure from previous actions that Google has taken. For the most part, all posts distributed via MyBlogGuest were:

  • Unique
  • Editorially reviewed and approved by site owners
  • Void of objectionable anchor text
  • Watched closely by community moderators

MyBlogGuest was world’s better than the BMR model where spun content and anchor text were greeted with open arms and chaos reigned. Real, well-known SEO minds were running the site.

Moreover, the site was so well-regarded just a couple of years ago and recommended by everybody as the best, safest and most white-hat way to build links.

Rand Fishkin via Moz:

From founder Ann Smarty, MyBlogGuest provides a platform for those seeking to write and receive guest posts. The service is relatively simple, but potentially quite powerful….I’ll be surprised if some Silicon Valley style startups don’t pop up to copy this model.

 

Google is starting to make a habit of telling and encouraging users to do one thing and then banishing them from search results a couple of years later. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of that is self-inflicted by SEOs but what does Google think is going to happen?

There’s an endless cycle with SEO. Smart marketers identify a nice, scalable way to gain backlinks without making too many people mad. Eventually, other people catch on and scale the process to death until it annoys people and Google has to make an adjustment.

You can banish MyBlogGuest but it doesn’t really fix the problem of an algorithm with a handful of inefficiencies that can make you rich if you figure out how to exploit them. Guest blogging or MyBlogGuest is a symptom of much bigger issues in the world of search.

A year or two from now, we’ll probably be having similar discussions about the merits of infographics or visual assets or video blogs or social buttons or who knows what.

SEO is an endless cycle of cat and mouse and Google will change the rules whenever they want. One of the scariest things about SEO is that you not only have to worry about links you build last week or last year…but also those from several years ago and where they fit with Google’s ever-changing rules.

More than FUD

While Google’s approach with MyBlogGuest seems to have become more aggressive with this move, I’ve still seen a lot of people claiming FUD and nothing more.

I disagree.

I first used MyBlogGuest back in 2012 for a few side projects. I hadn’t touched them much since this and the sites backlink profiles were fairly reliant on posts from the earlier days of MyBlogGuest. Good, unique content and no crazy anchor text, but MyBlogGuest helped find homes for the posts.

Those sites all got hammered with sitewide penalties last night. I’ve read a few other reports of similar penalties. Matt Cutts had a tweet that seemed to confirm this.

So this is definitely more than FUD. Nuking the MyBlogGuest.com domain would have been FUD, but dishing out sitewide penalties to the publishers and writers on the community is more than that and a sign of things to come.

Sure, you can still rank with a well thought out private blog network or through some super high quality guest posting but for all the critizing of Google I’ve done in the past, I am taking them seriously on this one.

A few other thoughts:

Classic Google move to launch this during Pubcon. There is a huge FUD element to the timing of the whole thing and it feels like a shock and awe move by Google.

There are two big groups in SEO right now and they seem to be on opposite sides when it comes to MyBlogGuest. Both groups of SEOs know that you need links to rank. One group is open about this, prefers the term SEO and will still talk about scalable and actionable link building in 2014. The other group believes in links but focuses on non-SEO related strategies to earn them.

It’s a subtle difference but the group that still highly values link building sees MyBlogGuest and can empathize with those who used it to build links.

The later group celebrates every new “link network” that is taken down in hopes that it will validate their content/inbound focus.

The right place to be right now is probably a mixture of both of those schools of thought, but if people are going to take sides (and they are from what I’ve read) these appear to be the two camps when it comes to MyBlogGuest.

With every penalty, link network bust and site takedown, my fear of Google’s power only grows. Remember – a penalty doesn’t just hurt a bunch of websites on a “link network.” It hurts real businesses, real employees and people who know nothing about SEO, anchor text or Penguin. Google’s influence extends far beyond the SERPs and super aggressive moves like this should serve as a reminder of how far down they’ve planted roots into our world.

 

Why I believe in SEO

SEO is not going away any time soon.

Maybe Hubspot goes public and inbound marketing becomes all the rage and the term du jour for Internet marketing/SEO/SEM/online marketing/etc.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the majority of your marketing actions online have the end goal of increasing search engine presence. You can call yourself a content marketer or inbound marketer but you are likely aiming for the same thing at the end of the day as the guy down the street calling himself an SEO.

Why is search still the most important end goal for marketers by any name?

Because search is a freaking awesome marketing channel. Search embarrasses most other marketing channels and here’s why:

1. It’s cost effective. SEO can get expensive at times, but you aren’t paying a dime to anybody when a qualified customers discovers your business through organic search.
2. It scales. Once you learn SEO or hire somebody who knows what they are doing, there is nothing stopping you from rapidly growing your search traffic and online revenue. Compare scaling a local outdoor advertising campaign to a national level vs. scaling an SEO campaign to a national level.
3. It’s targeted. There are very few wasted impressions with search. Qualified people are finding you and your time isn’t spent blasting out a message to people who don’t care.
4. It’s democratic. You could debate this one, but the search medium makes it just as easy to click on a result for Walmart as it does a local general store. It may be harder for a local store to rank highly, but there is no infrastructure to battle if you are a small business. The platform is the same for everybody (in theory).
5. It’s learnable. Not only is SEO a powerful marketing platform for all of the above reasons, but it’s one that can be self-taught fairly easily. It’s much easier to learn SEO best practices than to learn how to produce a nationwide television commercial, write an editorial or plan and execute a viral campaign.

No matter what you call your online marketing efforts, chances are you are hoping to boost your presence in search engines. Even if you “abandon” SEO and focus on content creation, usability and social media, a marketer worth his salt is still hoping that those efforts will result in an increased search presence.

What we refer to our occupation will certainly change as time passes but as long as people are searching for information on the web there is a place for search engine optimization.

If Google owned the YellowPages

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Imagine if Google had owned the YellowPages.

It’s 1989 and I need to make it easy for people to find my company. I don’t have a big budget, but the YellowPages is one of my top priorities because it drives local customers to my store. You can’t just submit your business to be listed in Google’s YellowPages. Well, you can but nobody would ever see it buried next to the thousands of other listings that look just like it.

To really succeed you have to optimize your listing as an advertisement and make it noticeable. It’s the only real way aside from word of mouth for people to hear about your business.

Google’s YellowPages has a lot of guidelines for these advertisements. They need to be ‘natural.’ When you submit your advertisements, they can’t have fonts that exceed a certain size. They can’t contain certain language deemed to be low quality. They can’t be too similar to another ad. There’s a huge list of rules.

Last year, I made a mistake.

My ad designer used a big, bold 24 point font to make sure I stood out. It worked for a while but Google’s algorithm quickly ruled that it was in violation of one of their guidelines and when the newest edition of the YellowPages showed up on my doorstep I wasn’t listed at all.

Attached to my YellowPages book was a vague note saying that I violated Google’s YellowPages guidelines and that I wouldn’t be getting any more phone calls because my business was receiving a penalty.

No phone calls from my latest YellowPages ad was one thing, but Google went several steps further. I had a manual penalty which meant I wouldn’t be getting any phone calls from any listing. Ever.

I tried and tried to explain my error in judgement and asked Google why they didn’t just remove my listing or tell me to change the style of my ad. They told me to stop by their helpful support department and other business owners would be happy to help me figure out my problem. They told me I had no clue what I was doing and made fun of me.

Competitors of local business had even started buying ads that violated their YellowPages guidelines to sabotage one another.

The fate of my entire business rested in Google’s vague, algorithmic hands.

It’s scary when a company has an iron grip on a marketing channel but when a company has an iron grip on the way an entire world finds and interprets information it is downright terrifying.

Smarter social sharing buttons

Social sharing buttons are pretty much ubiquitous at this point. Nearly ever site uses them, which is mostly a good thing but, like most things, blindly adding every social sharing button you can to every page isn’t always a good idea.

For one, social sharing buttons often destroy page loading time. For WordPress, a lot of people are installing bulky social sharing plugins that add precious seconds to every page load on the site.  This isn’t great for SEO purposes, but it’s even worse for users. Social sharing buttons are designed to help users but if people aren’t able to access your site in a timely manner then it probably doesn’t even matter.

Another problem with traditional social sharing buttons is that they are ugly. You spend hours on customizing the look of your site until it’s perfect…and then you use stock social buttons from 3rd party sites? Most of the time, stock social sharing buttons only add clutter to a well-designed website.

The Solution?

People are starting to put together some smarter solutions for social sharing. I really like what New Internet Order has done with their new offering — Social Share Starter.

It’s minimal, doesn’t shove negative social numbers into users faces and only focuses on essential networks.

This might not be the perfect social sharing solution, but it’s a great step in the right direction for most websites and I’m happy to see people thinking outside of the ‘row of social buttons’ or the fixed position bars that are a pain in the butt when you try to actually read somebody’s content.

It might be easy to copy and paste sharing buttons from social media sites, but you can get a much better solution by thinking critically about how these buttons impact your site and your usability.

What they don’t know about SEO

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I spend around 10 hours a day thinking about, talking about and reading about Internet marketing. I cannot get enough of it. I enjoy waking up on a Sunday morning and reading the all the good articles going around Twitter about SEO or link building. I love what I do.

But every now and then I’ll get knocked out of my little SEO bubble by the real world and I must say….it’s refreshing. When you spend your afternoons studying the percentage of queries displaying authorship markup and spend your nights building new keyword research tools you lose something very valuable: perspective.

Because I’m in the trenches with SEO every day, I tend to look at everything in our industry at a microscopic level. The same is probably true for most industry professionals.

That sort of in-depth analysis is important for us to better understand how search works, but our time is better served trying to solve bigger issues with SEO and Internet marketing.

While we’re debating about how quickly SEO figureheads respond to tweets, the masses still have no clue about SEO. That is an actual problem worth debating.

We talk about granular topics like disavowing links with exact match anchor text when 99% of web users and website owners have no idea about:

– Structured markup. Go outside of the tech/media/marketing industries and it’s rare to see sites implementing any of the advanced markup that we think is common sense.

– Link building. For all of the talking and research we’ve done, nobody really has any clue what link building is, how it impacts SEO or why its important.

– Google paranoia. I’ve been beating the “Google is now evil” drum for a while. So are a lot of others who study Google. The general public, however, is very apathetic.

– Social media ROI. There are small businesses wasting time/money publishing hourly social media updates that nobody is reading. Social media might be one of the most misunderstood marketing channels ever.

– Negative perception of SEO. Most everybody thinks SEOs are full of it. I did before I started working in the industry. This is the biggest problem of all.

The SEO bubble is a nice little place to hang out in but it’s a lot different than the real world. Talking to people outside of the industry is extraordinarily valuable. Talk to your parents. Talk to your barber. Talk to your nephew. Talk to your neighbor.

If you are really passionate about SEO, learn what people don’t know and then do something about it.

SEO Maxim: Content is your greatest asset

Your most valuable online asset is your website’s content. Links will get taken down, followers will unfollow and design will go out of fashion…but your content has staying power. Content is what actually gets people to convert into customers once they arrive on your site. Content is the engine that drives traffic, links and shares. Content is what defines you and your brand online.

Don’t take shortcuts or neglect your content. It’s easy to get caught up in other metrics and marketing efforts, but nothing can rival the long term value of your content.

The decay and fall of Google for search

Note: This is satire

Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using Google as a way to search the web in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more self-serving platform, and if you’re doing a lot of searching then you’re hanging out with really bad company.

Back in the day, Google used to be a respectable thing, much like getting a coveted, trusted expert to find the answers to your queries. It’s not that way any more.

Here’s an example of a search results page that I recently received:

image via seobook.com

If you ignore the bad spacing and read the parts that I bolded, Google offered me a spam results page full of Google-owned properties. That’s a clear violation of Google’s quality guidelines. Moreover, we’ve been seeing more and more reports of “SERP crowding” that are really “GOOG hitting the quarterly numbers” or worse, “we’ll milk every dime out of you until we control the entire online ecosystem.”

Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things in the search space: a new company starts out as “Don’t be evil.” Then more and more changes pile on until only the barest trace of legitimate search results remain. We’ve reached the point in the downward spiral where people are creating “private search engines” and writing articles about “Google taking over the world.”

So stick a fork in it: Google is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn’t recommend doing a Google search query unless you are willing to vouch for their shady advertising practices or know Matt Cutts personally. I wouldn’t recommend relying on Google, Google+, YouTube or Blogspot as a strategy for finding information online.

Paying For PageRank

Earlier today, Matt Cutts published his magnum opus on guest blogging and why it is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. It’s the same sad song that we’ve seen before with directory submissions, article submissions, blog commenting, etc. I’ve seen people “selling” guest blog posts on popular UGC sites and am getting tired of spammy requests from overseas vendors wanting to submit a unique article to my site. Guest blogging had a nice run but I agree with Matt’s broader point that it’s time to put it to rest.

So where do SEOs go from here? If you read between the lines at all, you can tell that Google is going to be taking some sort of action against networked guest blog posting in the near future. I’ve written before about the problem with just writing great content and hoping for links to start showing up and money to come trickling in. The works in the perfect world, not the real world.

The long term problem that will keep Google and SEOs at odds with each is that something of value is always going to be exchanged for links and promotion online. One of Matt’s biggest issues with guest blogging is that people are “paying for PageRank” by exchanging money or content for backlinks.

This is a complex issue. I’m sure Google is aware of this, but money is exchanging hands behind-the-scenes like crazy when it comes to online publications. Today’s journalists aren’t schooled in ethics like they used to be and people don’t mind taking handouts from brands to write about them. Microsoft, for example, has been paying people on YouTube to talk about the Xbox One. How much different is that from accepting 500 words for your blog in exchange for a link? Is one form of marketing worse than the other?

No matter what type of link/press you are acquiring online, you are paying for it one way or another. If content is a currency that constitutes “paying for PageRank,” are images, graphics, time, money, talent, et. al also in violation?

If Google really wants to stand tall against “paying for PageRank,” guest posting should probably be the least of their worries, but I can’t say I’m sad to see it go.