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google-red-cardYou would think most guest blog networks would be watching their steps in the wake of the widely talked about penalty levied against MyBlogGuest, but one network named PostJoint has remained steadfast, if not cocky. Unsurprisingly, that means they are the lucky recipient of the second penalty Google is giving to a guest blog network.

Last week, someone tweeted to Matt Cutts that PostJoint had been hit, and it didn’t take Matt long to confirm that action had been taken, stating that “any link or guest blog network that claims to have ‘zero footprints’ is waving a giant red flag.”

When Cutts first began to talk about guest blogging being done for, both PostJoint and MyBlogGuest were outspoken in their defense. The operators of MyBlogGuest tried to argue that they didn’t fit the definition of a guest blog network, and PostJoint tried to explain how they were different from MyBlogGuest after their penalty. Neither defense managed to protect either network.

Perhaps the most entertaining part of the penalty is the response PostJoint has given in their blog titled “Matt Cuts Us Out“. The short story is that PostJoint is confused about the warnings they received while openly admitting that at least 16% of their network received the unnatural links notification.

All of that leads them to conclude: “The fact that only 16% of our sites have been hit shows that Google can’t infact trace all of the sites using PostJoint.” Clearly, PostJoint doesn’t understand how Google’s penalty system works.

We try to keep our readers and clients updated with all of Google’s biggest news, whether it be redesigns, guideline changes, or newsworthy penalties. It makes sense, as Google currently receives over half of all searches made every day.

But, even those of us who keep a careful eye on the best guidelines and policy trends of the biggest search engine can end up outright confused by Google occasionally. A story reported by Danny Sullivan yesterday happens to be one of those situations.

Google has been outspoken against guest blogging or guest posts being used “for SEO purposes”, and they have even warned that sites using these questionable guest posts could be subject to penalties. However, the latest story claims that Google has penalized a moderately respected website for a single guest post. Most interesting, the post was published well before the guidelines were put into place and seems to be relevant to the site it was posted on.

The penalty was placed against DocSheldon.com, which is run by Doc Sheldon, a long-time SEO professional. Recently, Sheldon was notified that a penalty was placed against his entire site. The penalty report informed Sheldon that Google determined there were “unnatural links” from his site.

So far, this is the typical penalty put against those who are attempting to run link schemes of some form. But, obviously someone who has been around as long as Sheldon knows better than that. So what were the “unnatural links”?

It took an open letter from Doc Sheldon to Google, which he then tweeted to Matt Cutts, one of Google’s most distinguished engineers, to get some answers.

Cutts mentions one blog post published to Sheldon’s site, which appears to have been written in March 2013.

The post is exactly what the title suggests it would be (“Best Practices for Hispanic Social Networking”), but it contains two links at the end, within the author’s bio. One of the links takes you to the author’s LinkedIn page. The other, however, claims to take people to a “reliable source for Hispanic data”, which leads to a page that appears to be closer to a lead-generation pitch about big data.

Source: Search Engine Land

Source: Search Engine Land

Now, there are a few issues with the link. The page it leads to is suspect, and some would say that the words “Hispanic data” in the anchor text could be potentially too keyword rich. But, Cutts seems to imply that the content of the blog post was as much an issue as the links. As Sullivan puts it, “Apparently, he fired up some tool at Google to take a close look at Sheldon’s site, found the page relating to the penalty and felt that a guest post on Hispanic social networking wasn’t appropriate for a blog post about SEO copywriting.”

That would be a fair criticism, but if you take a closer look at the top of Sheldon’s site, he doesn’t claim the site to be limited to SEO copywriting. In fact, the heading outright states that the site relates to “content strategy, SEO copywriting, tools, tips, & tutorials”. You may take note that social practices for any demographic could certainly be relevant to the topic of content strategy.

So, as the story stands, Google has levied a large penalty against an entire site for a single blog post with one questionable link, all because they decided it wasn’t on-topic. Does that mean Google is now the search police, judge, and jury? Sadly, it appears so for the moment. Little appears to have changed since the story broke yesterday. DocSheldon.com is still dealing with the penalties, and Google hasn’t backed down one bit since the penalty was sent.

It goes without saying, the events have sparked a large amount of debate in the SEO community, especially following the widely followed penalty placed against the guest blog network MyBlogGuest. The wide majority agree this penalty seems questionable, but for the moment it appears it is best to stay under the radar by following Google’s policies to the letter. Hopefully they will become a bit more consistent with their penalties in the meantime.

Well, you can’t say nobody warned them. Not long ago, Matt Cutts clearly stated that Google was planning on penalizing large guest blogging networks, and yesterday Google followed through. It was widely assumed Google would be targeting MyBlogGuest, run by Ann Smarty, brand manager of Internet Marketing Ninjas, though Ann continuously defended her site, claiming they would be safe because MyBlogGuest didn’t sell links and wasn’t a “network.”

It turns out everyone but Ann Smarty was right, as Cutts announced on Monday that the guest blog network had been taken down, and MyBlogGuest vanished from the rankings, even for branded terms. Eventually Smarty even confirmed the penalty through Twitter.

MyBlogGuest has been running since 2009, and estimates they were averaging 256 articles posted per day at their height. But, the big problem is that MyBlogGuest had a very open policy on linking and refused numerous times to make it possible for links to be nofollowed.

Jennifer Slegg refers to MyBlogGuest’s true purpose as a “well-known secret” in the industry. Numerous agencies were using MyBlogGuest to promote their clients, while supporting writers who would sell links openly. The website community embraced both, making the more questionable actions wildly obvious to anyone paying attention.

Smarty is still defending her site. Since the take-down, she has spoken to multiple news outlets. She told Search Engine Watch “There are lots of networks that openly abuse the concept and promote paid guest blogging (I won’t list any names; I am not as bad as that!) but they choose to hit the oldest, best-known brand first – does it make sense? Instead of setting a good example, they make it obvious that no one is safe even such good guys as us.”

Notably, it seems that MyBlogGuest isn’t the only entity being punished in this action. Even sites that were only benefiting from the guest blog network’s policies are being struck with manual action penalties.

When Cutts made the announcement that Google had penalized the guest blog network, many speculated that sites who had been heavily using the network would also get cut down to size. Then, many sites began to notice manual actions appearing in their Webmaster Tools, but there was no clear confirmation the two were related. That is, until Cutts cleared up the situation somewhat by tweeting that Google is acting against sites that benefited from any spammy behavior on the site, which could range from running blogs hosting guest posts or benefiting from the bad links.

I could almost feel sorry for the owners of the associated sites being penalized for these behaviors, but Google has been warning about penalties for months without taking action. There has been plenty of time to cut away from questionable guest blogging practices and platforms, but many like Ann Smarty believed they could circumvent the rules. In the future, it is better to just follow the guidelines, rather than becoming the face of a new spammy industry’s downfall.

Guest blogs are a new area of content creation becoming more prevalent in the blogsphere nowadays.  Is this something that is good for SEO?  Or is it worthless for link building?

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