SEO: Guest Posting Guidelines

The execution squad of guest blogging has been racking up a number of hits lately.

The first “big” hit was on BuildMyRank

Then MyBlogGuest

And now PostJoint, despite doing their best to tell everyone they’re different.

Then you have Matt Cutts writing blog posts on how guest blogging and posting is dead:

Okay, 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.

Matt Cutts, Head of Google Webspam team

So, it seems like it’s yet another Search Engine Optimization tactic to discard into the dung pile in the folklore of history…

Or is it?

Could there be a way of doing guest posting and guest blogging that’s not spammy, but instead offers value to your visitors and ultimately your site, too?

Here are two words to calm your anxious and terrified SEO heart:

Yes, absolutely.

The “biggest” problem Google has had with these glorified blog networks is the scaling and spam that comes with it.

Our dear friend, Matt Cutts, even says there are many good reasons to do guest blogging:

It seems like most people are getting the spirit of what I was trying to say, but I’ll add a bit more context. I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there. I changed the title of this post to make it more clear that I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.

I’m also not talking about multi-author blogs. High-quality multi-author blogs like Boing Boing have been around since the beginning of the web, and they can be compelling, wonderful, and useful.

I just want to highlight that a bunch of low-quality or spam sites have latched on to “guest blogging” as their link-building strategy, and we see a lot more spammy attempts to do guest blogging. Because of that, I’d recommend skepticism (or at least caution) when someone reaches out and offers you a guest blog article.

Matt Cutts, Head of Google Webspam team

And, if you want to take a gander through some of Google’s guidelines, you’ll see that the part about link schemes rubs them the wrong way.

See, the issue is about quality.

Google wants quality, and a lot of guest posting is just auto-generated, spun, low-quality content.

And it’s more like content on blog networks, which Google absolutely, positively hates with a passion of a thousand burning suns.

So put the link scheming and low-quality, spun content together and you’ll get a nice fat Google slap in your face.

No wonder Google goes ballistic over this.

Still, some of it seems like a bit of overreach and an overreaction, but Google is Google and we’re not — so, suck it up or get out of the game, says the Professor of Harsh Reality.

How To Do Guest Posting That Ranks Your Sites And Makes Google Happy

What then, are we to do about all this?

There is still room for guest posting done right. The biggest element that’s being removed and is under attack is the scaling aspect of it.

Scale, unfortunately, tends to turn great SEO into “SpamEO”.

Google aims to deliver relevant, quality search results to its users.

Your guest blogging and posting needs to give Google what they want.

Yes, it means you might not be able to scale it to the same degree as before.

Yes, you will need to invest resources and time into either raising the bar of what you’re putting out or start cranking out relevant, useful, resourceful, helpful, likeable, shareable content.

Even if you decide to continue down the path of guest posting for SEO purposes, you would still need to heavily modify what you do.

It needs to look real.

If it quacks like a duck, it is a duck.

The best way to make something look real is for it to actually — wait for it — be real.

In no way would I advocate for you, or anyone, to set out to deceive Google’s algorithm.

But what are some of the characteristics of great content that your visitors and Google likes?

Let’s go through a checklist you can use to make sure you’re on the right side of the law and history, shall we?

The Guest Post Guidelines For Fun & Profit

The first rules you need to keep in mind are these:

  • Like it or not, it’s “guilt by association”: If you get associated or “connected” with anyone engaging in publishing or sharing spam, you’ll suffer.
  • If you publish spun, irrelevant, spammy content on your site, you will suffer.
  • If you create spun, irrelevant, spammy content and have it on someone else’s site, you will suffer.

Things like co-occurence and co-citation, what other sites are linked to alongside yours, and so on, all matters to Google.

It’s like a nightmare version of Six Degrees of Separation.

Just avoid “bad internet neighborhoods”, okay?

1. Have high standards for your guest posts

Only publish guest posts that you know are authentic, not spun or copied, is helpful, valuable, insightful, useful for your visitors and readers.

Raise the bar, use expert authors as much as possible (those with other guest posts in the wild, have some social media currency, recognition, and good track record). The guest poster needs to be seen as a credible authority on the topic at hand.

It should go without saying that guest post content is highly relevant and on-topic for the rest of your site. If you’re publishing on a magazine and news site, keep it within category parameters.

2. Be proactive with, and pay attention to, your linking

In general, if in doubt, nofollow links. Be critical and discerning about the sites you link to.

Do not put links in the author byline or bio section. That’s a red flag. Put your links in the article, where it makes sense, and don’t worry too much about anchor text. Do not force keywords to fit.

If you absolutely need to have an author link, consider linking to their social media profiles, like Google+ (for authorship benefits, too).

Your outbound links should be to other high-quality, authority websites. A rule of thumb would be around 4-5 of those and then you can consider link to your site or other sites.

Don’t send your visitors off to websites that will give them a bad experience. Don’t link out to questionable websites that would associate you with them.

3. As always, it’s about your content

Content of quality, relevance, well-written, and valuable to your readers are a must. I know, everyone says this and everyone knows this, but how do you pull it off?

You cover topics, questions, ideas, how-to’s, know-how’s, focused around what your readers and audience wants. Keyword research still plays a role, and still indicates what people are looking for. Don’t neglect finding them and using them.

Use a variety of media here, such as video, images, and audio.

Also, have a plan in place for what happens after you’ve published your piece.

Pay No Attention To the Doom And Gloom Prophets

The pattern of outcry and panic in some parts of the SEO community is predictable at this point.

Everyone is declaring a tactic dead and spends a few months blogging about it.

Guest posting is not dead. It’s just the automated, scaled, spammy version of it that is becoming harder to pull off.

Think about it: if “guest posting” was dead, then all magazine and news blogs would be done and dead with. Google would fail as a search engine.

Just like “link building” still happens, and “blog networks” are still around, so will “guest posting” be a tool in the SEO toolbox.

You probably shouldn’t call it that, though, and instead focus on the marketing and PR aspect of what “guest posting” actually is meant for: getting attention and traffic.

The end-goal is still the same for SEO: drive relevant traffic to your website.

Any guest posting should be done with this in mind: you want to attract new visitors.

Make sure that your quality guest posts appears on sites that will help you accomplish that.

It can be done through a targeted campaign of quality content, strategically positioned on relevant websites.

Keep on guest posting, just do it right.


Promote Content For Traffic Juice And SEO Benefits

If you thought your SEO job begins and ends with some backlinks and on-site optimization, you’ve probably realized one thing…

SEO is unpredictable these days.

I think we can all agree that it’s getting trickier to get by with only doing the basic SEO activities we’ve all come to use (and abuse).

And I keep harping on this, but it’s still true: We’re only doing SEO to get traffic and visitors.

So, if that’s the ultimate goal, then why not focus on the marketing aspects that, in the end, gives us those visitors?

The good news is that if you do, SEO benefits often follow.

And since Google is hellbent on destroying those who deploy scalable link schemes and tactics, why not seek out links in an indirect manner?

The “freshness” factor of the Google algorithm is being abused left and right, so you could still chase after loopholes if you want to.

But let’s play a longer game that will still yield us traffic and rankings in the long run, and “Google Proof” our work.

Let’s toil in the vineyard of content promotion so we can reap the fruits of our labor.

I’ve put together a list of 6 traffic strategies that still work and essentially taps into existing buckets of traffic, helping you circumvent that long, hard road to page 1.

Let’s do this…

1. Leave Product Reviews (Yes, You Read That Right)

Ever thought about leaving reviews on market and industry related books, media, and products on sites like Amazon? If not, you should consider it.


You can build a reputation as a credible reviewed and your profile displays a link to your website. You can also comment on other reviews and capture really interested traffic that way. Think about it: if someone is reading reviews, they’re really interested in the book or product. And if so, it’s not much of a stretch for them to find your reviews, like it, and end up on your website at some point.

Seems far fetched? Maybe, but have you tried it yet?

Amazon gives you the ability almost run a microblog, with your advice, insights, and being helpful. It’s a huge site and receives a ton of daily traffic. Why not try to catch some of it?

This goes for any product site that allows for reviews.

2. Bookmarking Traffic

I know, who does this anymore, right? Everyone.

You can and should still do this. I know there’s limited value in bookmarking links but you’re not looking for link juice here, you want visitors.

  • Your blog and site should be on Do I need to explain why?
  • Use to promote and get social shares of your content.
  • You can surely find an appropriate sub-reddit on Reddit and submit it.
  • is still around, and can still be used.
  • Remember StumbleUpon? Yep, still worth it to submit your content there.

3. Social Media & Community Traffic

There’s certainly more tactics and strategies for capturing social media traffic, so we’re not pretending to go in-depth here. The focus is on small actions you can take:

  • Extract short snippets from your content that you use in your posts and updates on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+. This would be with headline variations, short quotes, statistics, and statements from the content piece.
  • Collect 30+ of them and share them once a day for a couple of weeks.
  • If your topic and content fits on a site like Pinterest, create a board and pin all your posts to it.
  • Use Instagram (you have an account for your site, right?) to share images from your blog posts.
  • Share in LinkedIn groups and on your profile as well as your business page.
  • Use content curation sites and feeds like to drive traffic to your site.
  • Likewise, Tumblr is perfect for sharing niche-focused content and worthwhile to have a microblog with.
  • Sign up for Empire Avenue and reward, and get rewarded, for sharing content and generate network engagement to your blog.
  • Got some how-to posts and domain knowledge? Get on Quora and get involved with the question and answer format.
  • Submit your content to communities like Sulia, Blog Engage, TribePro, and BizSugar. Sure, lots of content, but if you’ve created a huge content piece, like an Ultimate Guide to something, then it’s well worth sharing your content on sites like these.

4. Piggyback On Your Sources

Does your content have references to source and people? Mention them when you share your post. You should do this with interviews, linked, or mentioned to someone.

You might even go as far as emailing them and letting them know, but be careful here to not overdo it, and only do it if you think they, and their audience or market, would benefit from your post to. You shouldn’t do this anytime you barely mention someone, or only in passing.

5. Re-Purpose Content Into Various Formats (Video, Audio, PDF, And More)

Let’s assume your content is of more value than your usual sub-par 300 word SEO article that is as close to spam as you can get.

It only follows, then, that you should share it in a variety of formats so you can reach more people and show up in more places.

Let’s say you just wrote a big 1,500+ word blog post. The next step would be to rework it into a variety of formats, such as:

  • Video
  • Audio
  • PDF
  • Slideshow
  • Graphics (infographics, etc).

With a video, you can publish and distribute it on Vimeo, YouTube, Viddler, Tumblr, on your site, and all over the place. There are millions of viewers to be reached, and even if your topic is narrow, there’s still a potential deluge of traffic to be captured.

And extracting the audio from it is useful for offering an audio download and/or a podcast episode — not to mention, creating a transcript and publishing it with the video is bound to catch some long-tails and additional SEO benefits.

Besides, thumbnails for videos show up in Google, which could lead to a higher click-through rate, too.

If you do end up creating a slideshow, keep in mind that SlideShare has millions upon millions of unique visitors every single month. In addition, it also transcribes it for you for search engine spiders and their crawling.

Optimize the headline, description, and include a backlink to the original post and/or your website.

As with video, this will reach a different kind of audience that may otherwise have missed your blog post entirely.

Oh, let’s not forget PDFs. You know there are PDF sites and communities, right? Places like Scribd and DocDroid allows you to upload and share your PDF content.

6. Pay For Content Ads On Outbrain, LinkedIn, And Even Facebook

A personal favorite is Outbrain, which is a service that promotes your content on other content. Sounds like Inception? It’s pretty simple. Your content ad can show up on other related sites, and you pay for clicks. The cost is pretty low right now and you can target your ideal visitors.

It’s always a good idea to get in front of people who are already interested in the topics you write about, and there’s also LinkWithin and Taboola to make use of.

Aside from Outbrain, paying to promote posts on LinkedIn and Facebook is not a bad idea. You don’t have to do a lot of it, just enough to give it an initial wave of traffic to kickstart the more “organic” social shares and engagement.

I would only do this with cornerstone, evergreen, and really exceptional content.

You Win Or Lose The SEO Game With Your Promotion

Sure, Search Engine Optimization is still a game of links and getting them. I doubt that will change.

But what is changing all the time is how we actaully get links.

Google does not like scalable, potentially spammy tactics. I can see why. I mean, how often do I, or you, want to waste our time on spun and crappy content, right?

More than links, however, and the actual goal of link building, is to get relevant traffic and visitors to our websites.

That will never change, but link building tactics come and go all the time.

So, if links are still valuable, but the desired outcome is traffic, how do we get both?

Easy: create content that’s valuable to your market and audience, and then share and promote it.

Showing up in the SERPs take time, but you need traffic, like, yesterday.

Links and SEO benefits will follow, but you’ve already capturing and directing traffic.



Figuring out what could go viral seems like an exercise in futility.

How much is engineered and how much is just pure, dumb luck?

And this is often not taken into consideration: is your target visitor likely to share, and are there millions of them?

What I mean is this: if you’re trying to share content (and get ranked) for retired dog food distributors, would they share content about “Attention Dog Food Distributors: You Were Giving Out Cat Food All Along”?


Does it have value for people outside of the dog food industry? Possibly.

But that’s the key: the visitors you’re trying to get in front of, are they a large enough group, and is your content appealing enough to a wider audience?

A post about “Graphene research points to environmentally friendly steel” is not likely to be shared by your grandma on Facebook (but if so, that’s a kick-ass grandmother you’ve got!)

See my point?

Viral vs. SEO — Or Both?


But, setting aside all these disclaimers and “your mileage may vary”, there are 3 critical elements to your content that would increase the likelihood of your content getting mass exposure and hundreds, thousands, and perhaps even millions of visitors.

The SEO benefits are a-plenty, as I’m sure you can tell (are you licking your lips yet? This is juicy).

I mean, there’s a reason why we all lose our collective cool whenever Google announces an update to their algorithm…

Or Matt Cutts single-handedly ruins your life by announcing that “guest posting is dead”…

All those meticulously crafted link profiles, backlinks, thousand word articles, video, audio, high PR links, co-citations, on-site optimization, first page, top 3 SERPs….All for naught practically overnight.

And the reason is that, clearly, we really want that traffic.

Our whole worth as SEO professionals is getting that visitor number up.

So, how can you make that happen with viral content?

The 3 Ingredients Needed To Make Your Site Contagious

You’ve probably come across the usual tips and tricks like casting a wide net, play the percentages, study the data, timing, package it well, patience, social, and so on.

That’s cool and all, but there are really only 3 ingredients needed for your concoction to be contagious.

Your content needs to have:

  • Social Currency
  • Promise Of Practical Value
  • Emotions

That’s it.

And these are all about what your target visitors want. It’s never about you. Always about what they will like, love, react to, and share.

Let’s cover these one by one…

We’re Back In High-School With Social Currency

People want to not only feel smart, but also be perceived to be “in the know”.

It’s about a secret handshake, an insider culture.

If you can pass on content that shows you’re one of the first to share, that you know something and understand, it’s the perfect insider signal.

Are people going to get those likes, re-tweets, shares, and comments if they share your stuff?

Will they get attention and relative “fame” amongst friends and family?

Having content that’s compelling, worthwhile, and makes people feel good about sharing will go a long way.

To get there, though, you will have to experiment and test. It’s not always about quality, because the audience decides what thrives:

“One of the things I realized is that quality is not all that matters”
Jonah Peretti of BuzzFeed

People want status and social currency. Give it to them.

Promise The Moon And Practical Value

Another ingredient you need, and what your audience wants, is to feel like they can pass on a nice packet of useful information.

People want to feel smart and be perceived as smart and helpful.

Content that has the right length, in a nice package, with a bow on top, that promises some practical aspect will aid in your content going viral.

Everyone hates clicking on shares in Facebook or Twitter, only to have their time wasted by a crappy and pointless YouTube video, or a useless Top 10 list.

This is where solutions to problems, insights, advice, how-to, and curated lists are of value.

And if you mix that with emotions…

Have A Seat, Let’s Talk About Your Emotions

In order to incite a virtual stampede of visitors, you do need to push certain emotional buttons.

The commonly held wisdom is that if you want your content to “go viral”, you need people to have an emotional reaction (amongst other things, of course).

While each of these emotions will have various application and usefulness for you, if your content can hit on some of these emotions, couple with social currency and promise of practical value, then you’re off to the races.

This is not just about sex, but more in line with cravings and desires for success, money, women, men, results — anything that’s tantalizing to your ideal visitors (those whom you want to get in front of). Often, simply selling potential and opportunity is enough.

We humans have an insatiable appetite for things that surprises us (in a good way, I’m not talking about horror movies that ships you off to the looney bin). This would be proving people wrong, challenging assumptions, going against expectations, new way of doing old things, and so on.

Anxiety & Fear
Missing out, making mistakes, fear or loss, concerns…you get the point. People strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Don’t go crying “wolf” every time, though, or that the world is falling apart — you mainly just need a headline to push these buttons, to incentivize click-through and sharing.

Good news is always preferred over bad news. This would be stories of triumph, inspiring, uplifting, hilarious, and personal stories that connect with readers.

No, not “aww, that’s cute” but more like “this is too good to be true”. Usually, this would be unexpected or an easy solution to a nagging problem.

Invoking anger and a sense of disbelief in a reader before they even click through helps. And once they’ve consumed your content, people are left with need for justice, their voice to be heard, and most of the time end up going out of their way to leave a remark (either as a comment or in a social media share).

Ever come across content that incites any of the above emotions? Then someone did their job.

Should Viral Content Be A Part Of Your SEO Strategy?

If the topic of virality and “viral marketing” even inspires research papers, then perhaps there’s something to it.

SEO has been seen as a, somewhat, reliable way of generating traffic to your site, but is it any more consistent and reliable than, say, viral marketing and content?

We live under the ever-present threat of fickle Google engineers, whose War On Spam is killing off quite a lot of tools of our trade. Algorithms get updated all the time, the rules change, and any decent SEO has to keep up, perform tests, and stay in step with search engines.

Regardless, we only perform Search Engine Optimization because we want traffic — and the right kind of traffic.

Viral content seems to create quite a lot of random visitors, but even so, out of thousands of shares, maybe 25 will end up buying what you’re selling.


The writing has been on the wall for a while now: Google favors its Pay-per-Click

If you’ve been perusing the SERPs lately, you must’ve noticed that it’s getting harder and harder to truly distinguish between an ad and a supposedly “organic” search results.


Even that yellow “Ad” doesn’t really do much.

Let’s face it: your search listing is no longer only competing with 9 other websites.

You have about 20 or so competitors, between ads, local results, other websites, products, social media, images, and more.

Standing out in search results is no longer about ranking #1 for a keyword or search term. Most of the top SERP real estate is given to advertising, anyway.

And when all of these blend together, searchers are looking for results that are relevant and useful.

All you can do to convince them that you’re what they’re looking for is your meta title and description.

The one and only thing standing in between traffic success or being one of a million forgotten websites, are those 70 characters for a title, and about 150 characters for a description.

That’s it.

That’s all you’re given, to somehow convince people to click through to your site.

Are yours compelling enough?


See? Lots of competitors saying almost the same thing.

Which one would you click on?

Forget that one is higher up than the other in the results.

That doesn’t matter as much any more.

It’s all about context, and a few years ago, you would optimize your meta copy with keywords and phrases.

But with Hummingbird, the future is with relevance, context, and situation.

And click-through’s (CTR).

People will only click-through on search results that are relevant to them.

So, let’s figure out how to craft compelling meta titles and descriptions, okay?

How To Write Meta Titles That Captures Attention From Searchers

In any average SERP, you’re competing against ads, local results, images, products, and other websites.

The sole job of your meta title is to demand attention from searchers who are quickly scanning the search results pages, looking for what they think will provide them with answers or info to their search query.

No one will stop and try to decipher what your clever title means.

No one will stop and think that just because their keyword shows up in your title, that it’s exactly what they’re looking for.

You need to write your meta’s from the perspective of advertising and copywriting. Click-throughs (CTR) and targeted traffic matters more than search volume.

So, a few pointers for your meta titles:

  • Make titles relevant to searchers self-interest. You will often have to do a best guess as to what a searcher’s intent is, but the keywords and phrasing they use will reveal some of it. It almost always come down to benefits, features, problem-solving, and WIIFM (“What’s In It For Me?”).
  • Use attention-grabbing words. People will decide if they’re going to read the meta description after scanning through your title. Stop them by using words like: New, Now, How To, Free, The Truth About, Easy, Quick, Wanted, Last Chance, Offer, Hurry, Last Chance, and so on.
  • Appeal to emotions rather than logic. We can all get annoyed by headlines and titles that exaggerate or look like link and click “bait”, but the truth is: it works. People click, and people link. Why not make use of that in your meta titles?
  • Use a cliffhanger approach to your titles. Arouse people’s curiosity and lure them to read on.
  • Avoid blind titles and negative language. People will often miss the negative and think you’ve said the exact opposite, and make sure your title doesn’t depend on the meta description to be understood.

How To Write Meta Descriptions That Generates Click-Through’s

So, all good and dandy on the meta titles, right?

Cool. And an equally important part of how your landing page and website shows up in the search results is the meta description.

If the title stands out and gets someone to read it, the description is next in line when they evaluate and decide whether to click your link or not.

Your meta description needs to have the following qualities to motivate the right kind of traffic to click-through:

  • Insert your Unique Selling or Value Propositions that answers the question “Why should I click to check out your site?” question, differentiates you from your competitors, and speaks to your products or services, if applicable.
  • Understand the mindset of your ideal clients and customers and write descriptions that speak to their circumstances, train of thought, goals, and desires.
  • Write in the language used by, and meant for, your target audience. Colloquial usually works best.
  • Provide direct information that makes it clear what your page will tell them (and why it would benefit them to click-through).
  • Avoid using too much hype — some is good and even needed, but don’t go overboard with hype claims, exclamation points, hyperbole, generalizations, and more.
  • Make descriptions positive, factual, friendly, and straightforward — get to the point.
  • If you make use of Persona’s (which you should), then write descriptions that would specifically appeal to them.
  • Absolutely make use of your keywords (they’ll appear in bold in the SERPs) but don’t stuff it or make it read “weird”, as in unnatural and convoluted.
  • Know your competitors, and write either differently or riff of the same but with your own twist.
  • As always, focus on benefits over features — how would clicking through to your site help them?
  • Appeal to fear, uncertainty, and doubt. This might sound shady at best, but if you can tap into peoples fears, uncertainties, doubts and provide a solution or relief for it, you
  • should make use of meta descriptions that communicate this.
  • End with a call to action. This could be as easy as adding “Click to find out more” or “discover”, “download”, or other actions.

If you start formatting and creating your meta titles and descriptions with all these things in mind, you should see an upswing in click-through’s and targeted traffic.

You might see less overall traffic, but again the goal is conversions, not just visitors for the sake of getting visitors.

Write For Clicks And Traffic, Not SEO

Everything on a Google SERP is, at this point, advertising. Users have a hard time distinguishing between what’s actually paid advertising and “organic” search result.

And the distinction is quickly fading.

A search listing that has meta copy written with the searchers needs in mind, with the right tone, triggers, language, benefits, and incentives to click will ultimately win.

Your website is not just competing against 9 other websites, but against ads, images, local search results, products, social media accounts, and more.

If the goal is to get relevant traffic to your site (and it is!) then meta copy that’s crafted for that purpose is preferred over keyword-stuffed and poorly written copy.

When was the last time you re-wrote your meta copy?



Now that guest blogging is dead, how do we get links?

Do links even matter anymore?

Everyone has been linkbuilding for years, and people still do it.


Because it still works, and it still accounts for something with Google’s algorithms.

Obviously, with the “death of guest blogging” being touted on every street corner, what’s an SEO to do?

Well, guest blogging isn’t necessarily dead — if it’s done right. What that means in Google speak is: “don’t spam it with thousands of guest posts on irrelevant websites with predictable formatting and author links and too many links and spun content and…

You get the idea.

But before that…

How To Squeeze Value-Juice Out Of Links

Your rankings are increasingly relative to your competitors and what they’re doing.

So it only makes sense to do backlink analysis on your competitors.

That means, yes, you conduct a backlink analysis on your competitors websites, which should provide you with great intel and data on the hostile SEO environment of your niche and website.

You should pay attention to things like:

  • Kinds of sites linking to your competitors.
  • Kind of content used effectively and successfully.
  • Keywords targeted by your competitors.
  • Make note of ranking opportunities, especially for long-tail keywords.
  • Successful pages on your competitors websites.
  • Average number of links from, and to, unique domains.
  • Discern any link building patterns, tactics, and strategies used.

Sure, you’ll most likely come across old tactics and strategies that have lost their effectiveness, such as comments, directories, spun articles, forum links, and so on.

But tactics like local associations, some directories, case studies, variation in content (text, images, video, podcasts, and more), and even guest blogging can actually matter.

How so?

Well, think of it like this: if your site is mentioned (“citations”) on relevant websites (no insurance links on beauty product sites, please), in the appropriate context (not around spun content, footer, etc.), and by a good chunk of reputable websites, then even something like guest blogging can work very well.

So can comments.

So could directories.

And if your link profile looks “okay”, as in “natural” (not over-optimized, not using only keywords in anchor text, and more), then the occasional forum link may not look too bad or hurt.

None of these tactics are effective on their own anymore.

But you want to maintain a holistic view of your link profile and linkbuildling, and utilizing a myriad of tactics can go a long way of painting a nice pretty path for robots to follow.

And of course, whatever links your competitor has…

Prospect For Link Gold

Knowing where your competitors have picked up links will help you understand the “neighborhood” of your market.

If your competitors are getting links from plenty of news websites, then that’s something for you to pursue as well.

So, over-optimizing your link anchor text (both internally and externally) is a usual suspect when Google tries to figure out if you’re doing way too much, or just enough.

This fits in with your link profile, too.

With a backlink analysis, you can not only figure out your own but also check anchor text variance of your competitors. This is where you discover strengths and weaknesses — and what you can exploit and make use of.

Clean Up The Duds

You should also clean up that list of link prospects by checking for 404 pages of dead, removed, or broken links.

This would open up the possibility to do what we talked about above, i.e. provide websites with an alternative link. It also helps you know what sites to not waste time on pursuing, of course.

Speaking Of Duds, What About Guest Blogging?

These are scary words:

“So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.”

Matt Cutts

Sounds like the end of the world, right?

Not so fast.

In the world of linkbuilding, it’s paradoxically not even about linkbuilding.

Think of it this way: you want to get relevant traffic (visitors) to your website.

To do so, you need to promote your site, and a blog is great way of doing so. You can drive traffic by acquiring links and show up in search results and doing regular ol’ marketing and promotion, via social media and other avenues.

The idea is to get the right kind of visitors to your site and funnel them to a specific outcome.

So, guest blogging should be done more selectively, without the spammy content, and provide enough value to motivate a reader to visit your site.

This might also result in a backlink, but the primary goal should be traffic, not just link stats.

How Do You Make It Work? 

Here’s a quick run-down of do’s and don’ts:

  • No links in the author byline and section.
  • Use a variety of media, like images, video, and audio.
  • Do not force keywords into anchor texts.
  • Use 4-5 other links, to authority sites, within the article.
  • And obviously: write original, quality articles.

If you intend to make use of guest blogging, this is the only path to make it work for you, and avoid penalties.

It’s not about mass tactics anymore, but crafting a few new ways of using old tactics to get links.

Long Live Links!

If they’re linking to your competitor, and other websites, follow those trails, as you might find more opportunities and link prospects.

Get a sense for how far the “neighborhood’ stretches, and knock on every door.

Tools Of The Trade

So, what tools can you use to do link prospecting?

Let’s look at a couple…

  • Google Reverse Image Search — This is how you find copies, or similar, of an image. You simply use the image to search, not text. If you track down an image you hold rights to, you could ask for them to give proper attribution in the form of a link.
  • — Here’s the basic idea: find sites that have recently expired. Any links pointing to this site will show up as broken. Find out who’s linking to them, and contact webmasters and let them know one of their links is broken, and then you can give them an alternative. Sure, you could use this for nefarious black hat tactics, such as buying expired domains and set up your own private blog and link network, but we won’t go there today.
  • — This is an interesting tool, because it uses a machine learning algorithm to determine content that will be most useful to you, instead of counting links, upvotes, or other social signals. You could find forum discussions, comments, media sources, blogs, and more that might not show up right away in Google, because we often only search for what we know, and blissfully ignore what we don’t know.

Now Bite Into That Gold To Audit It

Now, you have amassed an impressive collection of prospective backlinks for you to try to make use of.

But are any of them good?

You want to avoid “bad” websites and over-optimization, primarily.

Your link profile will give away a ton, and helps Google determine if you’re boom or bust for rankings.

The call to avoid “bad” websites speaks for itself. Don’t go for links on foreign language websites, avoid content that has nothing to do with your niche, spun content, and more.

See? You could still derive plenty of value from links, even in 2014 and beyond. It’s not over, by any stretch of the imagination.

You just need to move from a numbers game and link accumulation, to thinking more strategically and holistically.

Perform audits and analyses of your competitors and their links. Get a good grasp of what they’re doing, and what their profiles look like.

Do some of what they’ve done, but create a better, more “natural”, link profile.

Pay attention to where your links could come from, get co-citations, look to do guest blogging that’s not actually the guest blogging of yesterday.

As always: quality over quantity for SEO in 2014 and in the future.