Guest Posting, Cross Posting, Footer links – the Backlink Grey Zone
updated 12 November 2018
We spend a lot of time with on-page SEO and have a detailed on-page SEO guide and checklist to help with this. But off-page matters too. These are your website backlinks and social links. Guest posting is a great way to collect backlinks and get a sites authority to climb. Done correctly it is a natural part of your business cycle. Reaching out to others in your industry just makes sense. Just like a new Main Street store would reach out to business groups and synergistic companies. But it can be abused. Facebook groups, websites, and others exist to try to game this ranking signal. Cross-posting between websites you own also can be a natural business activity or it can be a pseudo-pbn. And what about those footer links that designers and theme developers inject? Let’s take a look at these backlinks, their SEO value, and risks.
Value of a link
Why care about backlinks? Well, they are the number one factor in determining your domains authority.
Ok, so you want backlinks.
Guest posts, cross posts, footer/header posts, nofollow/dofollow all have/are links but what is the value of a specific link? No one knows for sure and the Google algorithm is certainly not a simple point system. Some things are clear though:
- Links from a highly respected authority in your industry — worth the most
- Links from a restricted domain, (like.gov site) — worth more
- Mid-tier site links — much less relative value
- Links from a highly respected authority outside your industry — worth less than topical
- Links from another site you own — worth a little less.
- Links from mid-tier sites with a different topic than yours — worth a lot less.
- Links tagged with nofollow attribute — no link value
Clearly, the best link is a dofollow from the number one authority in your industry or a restricted top-level domain (TLD). So now that we see what the value of links are, what about guest posting? Good or bad?
Guest posting still works. Finding a great site that wants to feature your content is a huge win. There are many benefits to guest posting:
- A dofollow link from the host site has SEO value
- A nofollow link from the host site can send traffic to your site.
- Shoutouts to promote your site through their social media are great
- Your logo, brand, face etc. on the host site provides branding opportunities
- Your excellent content increases your authority in your niche
But paying for guest posts or accepting money for guest posts on your site is not the same as an organic post for Google. They view that as a link scheme or paid advertising and would want to provide no SEO value for that. Don’t ever advertise that you accept guest posts even if you have an online rate card for display ads. This has been known to attract penalties. Even as far back as 2014, Google’s Matt Cutts wrote:
“OK, I’m calling it: If you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.”
Google also recently issued a warning ( foreshadowing algo update and penalties?). The target of the warning is “large-scale article campaigns” they do go on to define the items that will flag your content as being part of a link scheme:
- Stuffing keyword-rich links to your site in your articles
- Having the articles published across many different sites; alternatively, having a large number of articles on a few large, different sites
- Using or hiring article writers that aren’t knowledgeable about the topics they’re writing on
- Using the same or similar content across these articles; alternatively, duplicating the full content of articles found on your own site (in which case use of rel=”canonical”, in addition to rel=”nofollow”, is advised)
So clearly guest posting is “on the radar” at Google. Google seems to view guest posts similarly to affiliate links. In moderation they are fine but they are areas that can be abused so Google will monitor them closely.
- I don’t want to be associated with any commercial guest posting farms or other low-quality spammy sites. They are a target and your link from them holds a high future risk. Like PBN sites, if they are taken down by Google so may you be.
- I would never use a ghostwriter of any kind for a guest post.
- I always try to “marry up” – find a site with higher authority than mine.
- Would I trade posts with another site? That is trickier. It certainly gives the appearance of a link scheme, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” But again in the same industry, it could be a perfectly reasonable synergistic activity. I doubt one or two well-written posts in a relevant site will get you penalized – even if you publish quality articles from the other site.
- risks increase as the topical relevance decreases.
- Always try to get a dofollow link. If I can control the anchor text, I reserve keyword-rich for select high-value posts – too much is unnatural and likely a signal to Google.
- I do not use the same content on multiple sites including those I operate. Google has the “rel=”canonical” attribute to identify the version Google should prefer or you can 301 redirect to the source you want Google to index.
- Always vet the site and make sure they are at least an equivalent SEO profile to your site.
Many Internet marketers operate more than one site, It makes sense to have some diversity. This brings us to cross-posting. Is it ok to post across theses sites?
I operate a number of sites in the WordPress theme and plugin space. I routinely make announcements on one site about a promotion, new product etc. at one of the other properties. I don’t do this so much for SEO value as I do for cross-promotional value. I make clear in the about page that the sites are part of one big happy family. If you are not clear about the site’s relationships you are running the risk that Google thinks you are gaming them. It might appear as if you are using your sites as a pseudo-pbn. New sites or smaller sites likely have more risk than established sites.
In the end, it seems to come down to transparency. I use the same ip address, same host, and have an organizational chart that makes clear the relationship. I also think this helps from a branding standpoint to show the depth of our organization. There is some debate about one site vs. multiple sites. After all, if they are topically relevant enough to have any link value shouldn’t they just be one larger authority site? That’s a topic for another post though.
As a theme and plugin developer I have used footer links in my products. I always made them easy to remove. Web designers and agency also often use footer links as credits, advertising and SEO benefits. There was a time when these links held a lot of value depending on the sites that used your software or designs. They were dofollow links. In today’s SEO world, what is the value of these footer links? Google likely knows what they are – right.
This is another grey area. It often comes down to your link and anchor text profile. You want a natural ratio of anchor types. If you are a designer of websites and have keyword rich anchor text like Best Web Site Developers with a link to your domain, you are asking for trouble. This will likely create a high percentage of keyword anchors in your backlink profile. An unnatural ratio of link types like this is a red flag to Google. Best practice for both developers and agencies is to make these nofollow links, get permission/inform your clients and make them easy to remove. If you do choose to make them dofollow links make them branded anchors with your company name (assuming no keywords in your company name). Google expects the highest percentage of anchors to be brand anchors.
Guest posting, cross posting, and footer links are all viable backlink strategies. Using large-scale guest posts as a link-building scheme is a bad idea. Keyword based footer links are risky. Between these extremes, the best practice is to:
- Only do guest posts on quality sites
- Don’t advertise that you accept guest posts or have an ad-chart that includes them
- Don’t use ghost-writers
- Use keyword anchor text carefully
- Always be transparent in your company affiliations if cross-posting
- Make footer text on your client sites nofollow or dofollow brand anchors if you are a designer or developer.