Every now and then a little bomb explodes in the search community. Blogs erupt with geysers of information. Authoritative sites spawn dozens of articles, examining the issue from every angle. Webinars offer “answers” to the new issue. And you and I are left to figure out what the heck just happened, and what we need to do about it.
One such bomb is the PostJoint penalty. This one is important, because of how it’s tied to Google’s stance on guest blogging, the future of SEO, and the strategy for content marketing. There are some critical lessons that we need to learn from the PostJoint penalty.
The Story on PostJoint
First of all, let me tell you what happened with PostJoint.
What is PostJoint?
PostJoint connects bloggers with marketers. Bloggers receive content from marketers, publish that content, and often get compensated for doing so. Bloggers like it because they get content. Marketers like it because they get marketing buzz and backlinks.
The website says, “PostJoint turns typical outreach around on its head, and lets marketers and bloggers mutually arrange deals in no time.” Then this — “We’re fast, secure and there’s no footprints.” Apart from the grammatical error in that sentence, PostJoint had a more serious error they committed.
What did they do?
Another term for a site like PostJoint is “guest blogging network.” Although posing as an “outreach” agency or a marketing site, PostJoint is actually in the business of guest blogging.
Guest blogging, as you will remember, was the same primary activity of MyBlogGuest.com, famously penalized by Google in March.
Furthermore, guest blogging, as you will remember, was the primary target of Matt Cutt’s salvo on January 20. His point was that “guest blogging for SEO” is over. While his comments needed some clarification, his words now ring with proven clarity: “If you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop.”
(Subtext: “And if you don’t stop, then we’ll stop you.”)
The issue at PostJoint was guest blogging, which is the new worst sin in SEO so far this year. Guest blogging, at least on a blog network scale, will get you nailed.
Google’s response was definitive and thorough. Go ahead and Google “PostJoint.” Their branded keyword returns no links to their site on page one of Google, except their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
In the words of PostJoint’s Saleem Yaqub, “So Google has knocked us off their engine too.” What follows is his Yaqub’s take on “what Google meant to say.”
(Note: This is not an actual image of the penalty message. It is merely a fictional recreated one.)
Though he doesn’t post the actual message from Google, we can assume that it was the dreaded manual penalty violation. Matt Cutts tweeted this:
Today we took action on a large guest blog network. A reminder about the spam risks of guest blogging: http://t.co/rc9O82fjfn
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) March 19, 2014
It’s probably safe to conclude that unless PostJoint completely revamps its business plan and core activity, then it will take them a very long time to recover from this penalty.
What We Need to Learn
I’ve given you this story and context, because we need to learn some valuable lessons about what works and what doesn’t in this new era of SEO. The SEO methods of the past are dead and gone. PostJoint provides the perfect case study for discussing these lessons.
1. Don’t stick it to Google.
Some pundits believed that PostJoint taunted Google, which may have led to the penalty. The verbiage on their website makes this plain:
Saying we have “no footprints” is like saying, “Psst, come over here. We can help you not get caught by Google!” And Google knows this.
That’s probably why Cutts later tweeted this:
@techtada any link or guest blog network that claims to have "zero footprints" is waving a giant red flag.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) April 18, 2014
PostJoint’s own blog suggested that they were nervous when MyBlogGuest was penalized before their own penalty. They quickly published an apologetic on how they were different from MBG:
Some of PostJoint’s explanation, however, called into question the legitimacy of Google’s algorithm and technique:
And some of it even crossed the lines of what could be considered polite.
What was galling to Matt Cutts, however, was PostJoint’s oft-repeated claim, “PostJoint does not leave any footprints whatsoever.”
Based on this activity by PostJoint, plus the response tweets by Cutts, it seems fairly obvious that PostJoint was penalized, at least in part, by the nature of what they were saying (not just doing) — imprudently claiming impunity for their guest blogging activities.
I’m not saying that you should cower in fear of the all-powerful Google. But as it stands right now, they rule search. Don’t antagonize them.
That leads me to number two.
2. Play by Google’s rules.
Search has evolved to the point where it’s very unlikely that you will not be successful unless you follow Google’s rules. Unless you’re working on the Deep Web, and thus under the radar of standard search engines, then you’ve got to do what Google says is best.
With more than 100 billion searches per month, Google is still by far the dominant leader in search, claiming more than 65% of global searches. Bing and Yahoo just aren’t a big deal, claiming less than 10% of number of searches.
If you have any interest in successful SEO, you should be complying with Google’s rules.
If you don’t follow the guidelines, your site might be penalized.
3. Don’t use a guest blog network.
True to his word, Matt Cutts is lowering the boom on guest blogging networks. Barry Schwartz tabulated recent targets of the guest blogging penalty in an article on the PostJoint penalty. His list is fourteen long.
We should take heed.
If it feels like a guest blog network, looks like a guest blog network, or sounds like a guest blog network, then it’s a guest blog network. Stay away.
As I’ve reiterated many times, guest blogging — the legitimate, high-quality, and squeaky-clean variety of it — is not dead. But guest blog networks are dead, at least in Google’s eyes. So far, Google has blown several of them out of the water. More penalties may be coming.
Here are two telltale signs of a guest blog network:
- Any site whose primary purpose is connecting publishers (websites) and writers. There are plenty of places to post legitimately as a “guest.” But other sites, sometimes touted as a site for “connecting” or “blogger and publisher networking,” are actually just a guest blogging network.
- Any site which claims to be a “guest blogging” site. If a site claims to be a “guest blog network,” then they’re probably telling the truth. This is your cue to click the “x” on the browser tab, and do something different.
There are other ways of gaining great content and awesome backlinks. Guest blog networks are dangerous.
4. Be courteous to your users.
A manual penalty doesn’t just harm the penalized site. It can also affect sites that are connected. The “bad neighborhood” rule of SEO is still true. If you hang out in a web neighborhood with penalized sites, spammy sites, or suspicious sites, you’re going to lose rank.
When PostJoint went down, they took others down with them. Their blog reported this:
You will get penalized for being a guest blogging network, and maybe for purchasing the services of a guest blogging network.
Penalties have a ripple effect. If a site receives a penalty, then sites to which it links may receive a vicarious decline in rank, albeit in a smaller proportion.
There’s an automatic quid pro quo built into the complexity of the algorithm. If you link to authoritative sites, it can lend your site authoritative favor. If your site is linked to by authoritative sites, then it gives your site more authority.
And the reverse is true, too. If you participate in spammy linking efforts, then you will bring SEO guilt upon those who associate with you.
Focus on boosting your site’s credibility by steering clear of spammy sites for destination linking. Occasionally clean up your link profile to erase the negative SEO from spam sites.
5. Engage in alternative marketing methods.
Linkbuilding or guest blogging alone is not sufficient to make your business successful. You simply can’t depend upon it. As recent history shows, the guest blogging networks of today are the keyword stuffing of a few years ago.
It’s time to participate in a diverse array of online marketing methods. At present, content marketing is the most successful, safe, and effective approach to online marketing.
6. Content marketing will accept linkbacks because of great content, but content marketing steers clear of any attempt to manipulate linkbacks.
Content marketing is the high road in online marketing. But, sadly, some have conflated “content marketing” with a tweaked approach to linkbuilding.
Content marketing is not linkbuilding, and isn’t a modified approach to selling, swapping or sharing links. Of course, content marketing has the corollary upside of linkbacks, but that’s not the primary goal.
While we may nod in agreement with the PostJoint penalty, we must make sure that we aren’t engaging in any effort to coax more inbound links apart from purely awesome content.
PostJoint and other guest blogging sites like them have fallen away. They can no longer hope to be successful in the new era of SEO. We should understand and admit that the search environment has changed.
We have new skills to learn and new fields to explore in order to gain a tactical advantage for marketing. Success is still attainable, as long as we make the appropriate strategic shifts.
What other lessons should we learn from the PostJoint penalty?