That is a very sensational title, I know, but what I have seen in the last few weeks is nothing short of this. The tactic of guest posting for links is making it very hard for great writers with fantastic content to have their stuff published and get compensated for it. Site owners are charging for even the highest quality content, and I have even seen one case of someone thinking of charging writers to write on their site. Has guest posting gone too far and are we hurting budding writers in the process?
Disclaimer: I am not against guest posting and in the right instances think it’s a great thing for site owners, clients and writers. There is money that exchanges hands (and should for the writer’s interests and time spent doing their job) and therefore the links involved are in fact paid links. We all know however that paid links are not black and white. The white hat Kate will even say that (ask anyone at Distilled, I am really beyond “white hat”). I am talking about this topic in terms of black/white or paid/unpaid. We can have that debate later. Right now, I want to explore this topic from the interests of the writers and producing truly great content on the web.
The New World
A number of months ago, I got a question on a public forum about a site that someone was thinking about building. They wanted to make a content site and rather than hire writers, the writers apply and pay to be a part of the site’s program. Let that sink in. The writer’s would pay to write content on the site. And the content would be checked for quality and spam.
I responded to their question and stated simply that I didn’t think the site would go far because it seemed a little far fetched for good writers to pay to have their articles published. The only way something like that would work is to invite poor quality content to the site. Companies and link builders would be all over it, but the links and content would be of questionable quality.
This is the new online world where site owners think that they deserve payment for quality content posting in all cases. In advertising cases I agree (and do agree they should be nofollowed and disclosed), but this frame of mind is being forced in so many other cases. This is precisely what a friend (a writer, and a damn good one at that) is seeing in the market right now.
The Background Story
I am not a fan of forced content being pitched as “guest posts” for the basis of getting links and I hate pitching content that isn’t my own. Therefore I have stopped “link building” myself. People can look up my name and know immediately what I do for a living. Then they will assume all I am after is a link. I also don’t do “link building” anymore because I am not an authority on ANYTHING but online marketing. It makes no sense for me to be pitching stories.
Instead, I contract a few really high quality writers (no really, very high quality) to write a story around a given topic. It’s their story, their personality, it’s all them and we discuss the story. If the story works well with a client resource (it has to make sense in the story, cannot be forced at all), then we go ahead with the story. A link is added to the client, but it’s a part of the story. This process cannot be scaled or automated, that is how we get bad content.
The writer then pitches to high quality sites that have great communities and would enjoy that story or article. I help them with the research and the phrasing of the pitch if they need help, but this is their story. They are the one that will need to share the story, answer comments, and edit the story; they are the ones that will want to do all of that.
The first few times went swimmingly. The writers loved getting to write their own stories and really be creative. The stories were pitched by them and they promoted the stories. It was great for everyone involved.
Until recently when every site wants to to remove the links. Not just the self-serving links, all links in the stories. We don’t mind telling editors that there are self-serving links and I instruct all writers to be straight forward. There will be no lying, and if the self-serving link is nofollowed or removed, that is the prerogative of the site owner. They have every right to do so. But removing all links ruins the content in some cases. Nofollowing is fine as they did not put the links there, but removing completely hurts the user experience in my opinion.
How do we fix this?
There are a few things I think we can do as marketers, writers and site owners to help increase the quality of content on the web. I know nothing is going to change tomorrow but I challenge all of us to take these to heart. Each one of us is tired of bad content as consumers, it has to stop and we are the ones with the power to change some of it.
- Demand good wages for your work. If you can’t make a living wage off of it, don’t write it.
- Take Pride: If you wouldn’t promote what you are writing as your own, suggest edits.
- Own your content: Are you adding links and editing your content, or is the “SEO” doing it for you? You know good content, participate! Don’t let anyone downgrade your work with poor links or other edits.
- Work with smart, high quality writers. Don’t sacrifice quality for cost. Agency marketers: if your client pushes on this, push back. They should want the best for their brand and the best writers are going to be that for them.
- Don’t force keywords or anchor text. If the piece doesn’t make sense with the link, go another direction. Ask yourself what would be a good resource for the piece and then have the client make it for you/put it on the site.
- Demand the best quality for your community. To build a great site, you have to have people that enjoy your content. That means offering the best that is out there. Don’t reduce your standards.
- Be willing to pay for greatness. In the same breath, if you like a writer and would like to see more from them, offer to pay them. Articles on a website are just like the Reader’s Digest and other publishing greats of old.
- Consider Sponsorship. If you don’t want to pay, open up to business sponsorship. You have the right to nofollow the links and you should always disclose sponsored posts. But do understand that sometimes writers have already been compensated to write the piece. If that is the case, see the above. Feel free to nofollow the link and disclose the sponsorship, but don’t delete the links. A good writer will put links into the piece to good resources, allowing people to click through to those is still possible with a nofollow.
[Typewriter Image courtesy of Shutterstock]