According to reports, in 2022, 64% of small businesses have their own website. It seems like every business is chasing better rankings, higher traffic, and more impressive conversions.
If you want your business to shape up, you need to get smart with SEO.
And while on-page enhancements and technical SEO strategies are powerful in their own right, they’re not enough.
If you want to dominate your industry, you have to pay attention to off-page SEO, specifically high-quality guest posting, i.e., writing content for another company’s website with a backlink that redirects web users to your site.
As you earn quality backlinks, you’ll climb Google SERPs, boost traffic, and walk away with a pocket full of conversions. Sweet, right?
While guest posting sounds like a walk in the park, it’s a little more nuanced than that. For years, the SEO world has been divided over whether paid guest posts should be accepted or not.
More importantly, which approach is superior: free guest posting or paid guest posting?
As a business interested in earning better sales and consistent growth, which guest posting recipe should you focus on?
In this blog, we’re breaking it all down. What are the pros and cons of free vs paid guest posting? Is there a sweet spot in the middle? Let’s get down to business!
So why do brands engage in guest posting?
Traffic, rankings and conversions?
Yeah yeah, you’ve heard that before. But what’s a brand’s real motivation to launch one stellar guest post after another?
Sure, guest posting brings improvement across all three metrics, but what initially draws brands towards this technique?
For starters, link building.
Touted as one of the most effective ways to endear your website to both search engines and SEO experts, link building helps you earn credibility and become an authoritative source in your industry. As you earn high-DA backlinks, people will start trusting your brand, which in turn will improve the 3 aforementioned metrics.
Let’s say you offer tech support across the US. If you manage to publish a guest post on Forbes, your business will automatically get green-flagged on the web. People trust Forbes. If Forbes trusts a brand, people will automatically trust that brand as well. Your business will be taken seriously.
That’s exactly what you want as a small or medium-sized business that’s trying to make it big.Once you establish yourself as a credible, trusted source, the dough will come rolling in.
This brings us to the second motivation to kick-start guest posting: audience footfall. As more and more people start trusting your business, they’ll start walking into your stores, physically or virtually. Trust is the defining factor in shaping a sale.
If your best friend recommends a product, you’ll trust it. If your manager raves about a new service, you’ll look into it. If a trusted site links to a smaller business, you’ll give it the time of day.
This is the power of guest posting.
Research has shown that businesses are willing to pay for guest posting if it helps their bottom line.
When done right, it can help businesses put themselves on the map, improve their reputation, and grow a wide audience base. Once you have a nice, solid, steady foundation, the sales will come flooding in.
Addressing the myth around paid guest posting
At first glance, paid guest posting isn’t exactly considered the cleanest tool in your SEO shed. In fact, this technique often gets a bad rap.
For years, paid guest posts have been considered spammy and inorganic. If a business accepts money for publishing your articles, do they really care about the quality? Did you really earn that spot?
As long as you’re paying them well, they should be good with whatever you send their way, right? Well, not quite.
Today, high-DA sites have very high, specific, and detailed standards. You cannot publish a slipshod, jerry-built guest post and expect it to be accepted, let alone posted.
Obviously, there’s a caveat to this; with PBNs and “shady” websites, you cannot really account for quality, but more on that later.
Prestigious websites like Search Engine Watch have strict guest posting guidelines. In other words, you cannot “buy them off”.
Here’s a peek at their painstaking requirements:
Notice how meticulous each instruction is. And it gets more and more specific.
With an incredible DA of 88, Search Engine Watch is credible, trusted, and well-known in the industry.
If you want your guest post to achieve its intended purpose, you have to partner with a high-DA company that has an illustrious reputation.
And no matter how hard you try, you cannot sneak a spot on their site if your work isn’t up to par or your business seems shady.
In addition to meticulously scrutinizing your guest post, the host will also research your business, take a look at the customer reviews, check your products/services, and analyze your social media profiles to ensure that everything looks good.
In fact, some top-notch companies also shop from the brand to understand whether their quality and customer service can be trusted.
Think about it. Why would they offer you a backlink if your business cannot be trusted?
If a web user buys from you and ends up disappointed, they’ll stop trusting the company that featured your guest post. As you enter the guest posting world, you’ll quickly realize that quality takes precedence over $$$, which helps keep the integrity of this technique intact.
You’re not buying backlinks and offering gimcrack work in return. You’re buying backlinks and producing quality, well-researched, value-added work backed by stellar products/services, excellent customer service, and meticulous QA practices.
If your business doesn’t boast excellent quality, take a step back from paid guest posting. Before you ask another company to give you a shout-out, ensure your brand is worthy of being given one. Take some time to get things back on track.
Once you’re ready, guest posting is at your disposal. But wait. What does Google think about all this?
Over the years, many low-authority sites, private blog networks (PBNs) and link farms have accepted paid guest posts from second-rate brands. This practice has polluted the guest posting world.
There’s one thing Google absolutely does not stand for: web users being misled. When paid backlinks are offered to subpar businesses that produce weak content, the damage is knee-deep.
But that’s not all.
Some companies also bend the rules by resorting to black-hat guest posting strategies, which is a big NO-NO any way you look at it.
In May 2017, Google released a post about guest blogging. As you scan this article, it becomes clear that Google predominantly focuses on quality.
Let’s sum things up.
Google has a razor-sharp focus on helping web users find quality, relevant, and useful knowledge on the web. When backlinks are purchased, quality can be jeopardized. Contributors may slack off as they’re already paying for the post, so why does quality matter at that point?
Hosts may also take a back seat; the money is rolling in, so why run a quality check and proofread the post? This practice is the biggest reason why Google isn’t the biggest fan of paid guest posting. If you can write paid guest posts ethically and responsibly, you have nothing to worry about.
But this is easier said than done.
When a transaction is involved, both parties can easily become complacent.
If you opt for paid guest posts, you need to be on your A-game.
- Your guest posts must be thoroughly researched, well-written, industry-specific, informative, engaging, factual, well-optimized (not overly optimized), and meticulously proofread.
- Make sure you bring something new to the table instead of rehashing existing ideas.
- Demonstrate industry expertise and avoid making too many pitches. Write with the intent of informing and educating your audience, not making a sale.
- If your piece is top-notch, the sales will automatically follow. However, that shouldn’t be your primary intention. Focus on quality, and you’ll manage to keep your audience, the guest posting host, and Google happy.
- Most importantly, do not mess up the link attributes.
Google’s Search Advocate, John Mueller, has stated time and time again that contributors must use links with rel=”nofollow” and rel=”sponsored” attributes in the HTML code for paid guest posts.
Google has never vilified paid guest posting; their only issue is with low-quality, misleading, spammy, over-optimized guest posts with the wrong link attributes.
So what’s the deal with no follow and do follow links?
In simple words, no follow links do not pass link equity, i.e., you get no link juice.
So while they don’t fetch direct ranking results like dofollow links, they have indirect benefits.
For starters, they serve as hints, as stated by Google.
They also fetch valuable traffic, diversify your link profile, and help you earn credibility.
The same rules apply to affiliate links in paid guest posts.
As long as you follow the rules, you’re good to go. Avoid taking shortcuts or detours. If you underestimate the Google algorithm, you’ll find yourself in a lot of trouble. Paid or free, guest posting should always be done in accordance with Google’s guidelines.
Paying to put “eyes” on your brand is not the problem – Never has been
There’s never been much hoo-ha around PRs and sponsored posts. Why?
If you think about it, they’re cut from the same cloth as paid guest posts. Whether you write a paid guest post, a press release, or a sponsored post, you’re essentially paying to put eyes on your brand.
So why is there such a commotion around paid guest posting while other types of paid content are let off the hook? The answer’s simple: paid guest posts are easier to get wrong. The rules are stricter, and Google is unforgiving.
In June 2020, John Mueller publicly called out SEMrush for selling backlinks and using the wrong link attributes.
Paid guest posting contributors and hosts had already been on edge about using this strategy. Following this tweet, their concerns grew tenfold.
If you gloss over this tweet, the clear takeaway is that guest posts aren’t worth the risk. But if you dig deeper, it becomes very clear that paid guest posting gets the green light as long as you don’t hide anything from Google and maintain full transparency.
PRs and sponsored posts are known for this.
Everything’s out in the open; the public knows the posts are paid for. There’s no underhand business. When you approach paid guest posting with the same honesty and stick to the rulebook, you’re in the clear.
Link building and guest posting has become a massive industry that tremendously benefits up-and-coming businesses. Whether people like it or not, it’s here to stay.
Instead of side-eyeing it, learn the right way to go about it so you can grow your brand and stay in Google’s good books. Of course, paid guest posting can easily go wrong.
If you’re new to all this, partner with an experienced, trusted, and reputable company specializing in guest posting and link building. As they take the reins, you won’t have to worry about penalizations or public call-outs.
Organic/free guest posting: Pros and Cons
An industry newbie might ask, why should you pay for guest posts when you can get them published for free?Sounds kind of ridiculous, right? It does and it doesn’t, but let’s break it down.
Organic/free guest posting used to be wildly popular, and it’s easy to see why.
You could write a stellar guest post, get it approved by a high-DA site and reap the benefits of greater online visibility, increased brand awareness, and pretty sales.
Sounds perfect, right?
Why would you even consider paid guest posting?
Well, there’s a catch. Paid guest posting has some unique advantages over free guest posting.
- Free guest posts include 1–2 links per article.
- By opting for a paid guest post, you may be allowed 3–4 links into the post.
- While both free and paid posts are thoroughly vetted, the latter is edited more meticulously.
- You’re paying the host for their platform and reach.
In recent years, the general receptiveness to free guest posts has also become an issue. Hosts are less reluctant to accept free work. Since a significant amount of time, effort, and expertise goes into the process, hosts prefer making a cut from contributors.
This isn’t true for all hosting sites. However, it’s increasingly becoming general practice. If you opt for a free guest post, there’s also a high chance you’ll have to endure a long wait time until your pitch is finally approved.
This can be extremely frustrating as a contributor. As you wait for months to get your work accepted, it may become outdated by then. Timely approval is extremely important in the guest posting industry, especially if you write time-sensitive pieces.
If you refer to trends, events, or any time-sensitive topics, your piece must be published on time. If there’s a delay, its relevance and efficacy will be affected. We can’t chuck out a generalized statement and say that paid guest posting is better than free guest posting. It’s more powerful but not necessarily the better approach.
At the end of the day, it comes down to your preferences, the host’s requirements, and what you’re getting out of the partnership. If you find a high-DA site that approves your free posts on time and helps you earn traffic, keep at it.
However, you should ideally consider introducing paid guest posting to the mix as well.
As Google develops a stricter stance toward guest post linking, you can’t afford to take any risks.
Mueller recently reminded guest posting contributors and hosts that “paying” companies to acquire dofollow links is against Google’s guidelines.
A webmaster asked him:
“If I dofollow backlinks due to paying bloggers to write highly relevant review articles or paying for high-quality PR news articles, are they paid links that go against Google’s guidelines”.
Mueller responded with:
“So I feel like this question is asked a little bit pointed. And I guess the quick and easy answer is, yes, if you’re paying people to create content with links, then you’re paying people for those links. And if you’re paying for links, then that would be something that would be against our webmaster guidelines. So that’s kind of the easy answer there.”
When questioned about how Google figures out if a dofollow link is paid, Mueller curtly reminded them of Google’s omnipotence.
And if you’re still hesitant about whether nofollow links will actually achieve anything, well, the master is here to reassure you:
The recommended guest posting strategy: Free + Paid
Now that you know how to go about paid guest posting, let’s understand the best way to make things work.
For starters, don’t ditch free guest posting altogether. Instead, find the golden ratio, the sweet spot.
Ideally, you should focus 40% of your efforts on free guest posting and the remaining 60% on paid guest posting. More powerful, effective, and practical, paid guest posting will help you put your brand out there and earn more conversions.
Brands already pay search engines to display their ads. They release one sponsored post after another.
Some of the biggest names today (Forbes, CNN, NYT, and a plethora of other big publications) all hand out sponsored links. So what’s the harm in taking the paid guest posting route?
As we discussed in this blog, there are absolutely no downsides to this approach as long as—you guessed it—the guidelines are followed.
To wrap it up
We can pretty much safely conclude that paid guest posting is here to stay. Although, following the aforementioned guidelines will help you excel in this strategy.
However, you’re in a unique position to identify the exact stage YOUR brand is at and work out a strategy that helps your bottom line. Consider factors like budget, availability of resources and targets and you should be good to go!
Guest Author: Joseph Dyson is the chief SEO strategist and resident darts champion at Search Berg. He’s helped plenty of clients generate higher revenue through organic marketing and targeted content. Currently, Joseph is invested in creating a series of guest blogging research articles for the non-savvy, small business owner.