The role of advertising on the Internet is changing. With the rising power of Google and the role of links in determining placement in the search results, a growing number of companies are seeking to buy their way up the rankings by purchasing links on other websites.
The problem with purchasing links in order to boost search engine rankings is that it is growing out of favor with Google. Any links which do not provide added value to your users but are merely there for search engine purposes are against their webmaster guidelines unless tagged with a rel=”nofollow” attribute.
There are admittedly gray zones here, but my understanding is that the content on your website should be relevant so that the search engine results can also be relevant. For example, receiving a free book as payment for a book review which links back to the author is probably ok, since a book review is useful and valuable to your readers. Adding a link for “debt consolidation” and stuffing it somewhere in the sidebar, where its only purpose is to pass page rank, is probably not ok in Google’s eyes.
A new trick up their sleeve
So, what’s better than paying a website owner to put a link back to your site? How about sending that webmaster a “guest post”, with a conveniently embedded URL associated with your targeted keywords? If you’re lucky, the webmaster will buy it and will publish your guest post, giving you a link back for free as well as providing valuable content to the users.
Except… these “guest posts” aren’t really the same as the conventional and legitimate guest post which you might receive from another blogger. They are either copy/pasted or auto-generated content which is changed just enough so that you don’t find any duplicates when you do a search. They don’t contain much value on their own, but serve mainly to direct users toward the website being advertised. In short, they are a trick by which the advertiser can exchange poor-quality content in return for a high-quality link back to their site.
I was recently approached by a debt consolidation advertiser who wanted me to provide free advertising via a “guest post”. Now this is better than a paid link, because at least the users have the potential to get useful content in return, the key word being “potential”. Here are the mistakes that she made:
- She contacted me via a comment on a post, instead of using the contact form on my site. I was tempted to delete it as spam, but curiosity got the better of me.
- She contacted me using a Gmail address (though this might be a common practice).
- She was writing on behalf of another author. If it was a real guest post, the author probably would have contacted me herself.
- The first guest post was decidedly of poor quality and contained an embedded link after I had said that that was a no-no. I told the advertiser that this could not be published as it was, and I asked them to send back a better post, as well as an author byline.
- The advertiser wasn’t happy about me removing the link, and proposed that I keep it in exchange for back links on other sites. I rejected this idea, and said that I would only be linking back to them in the form of an author byline instead of embedded within the post.
- The advertiser accepted this, and sent me a better guest post along with an author byline.
- The author byline still had the link “keyword targeted”, so I would have changed that had I published the guest post. What was worse was that I could not find the existence of this author anywhere on the advertised website or elsewhere.
- The advertiser then apologized and offered another author byline, whose profile I could actually find on the website. This new author was a male, yet she forgot to change the gender in the byline.
- At this point, this was the end of the game for me, so I pointed out her mistakes to her and I also pointed out that this was just another form of gaming page rank, which Google hates.
The person who contacted me was nice and polite the whole way through, however, she still tried to get something for nothing, which is a bit insulting to the person on the short end of the stick.
I still gave her her link back in this post, though perhaps not in the form that she wanted! Let this be a lesson to her and to the company, and maybe she can provide the next blogger she contacts with some real value, instead of filler content.
Have you been approached with “guest posts” by these companies before? What do you think about these tactics, and for that matter, what do you think about debt consolidation? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.