We all know that SEO relies heavily on backlinks. And what’s one way to get your link placed on high-authority sites? Hire freelance writers to leverage their relationships on popular publications and include your link in their content.
Unfortunately, there are several problems with this tactic, including that it’s potentially illegal.
I continue to receive personal requests or see job ads asking for these types of services. Businesses ask freelance writers write a blog post for them and place the article on a site the freelancer has already established a relationship with. The idea is to place the company’s link without anyone noticing that it’s unnatural and sponsored.
Sounds like a great idea, right? It’s not that simple.
I’m not saying that guest blogging can’t work; I think under the proper conditions and with the right relationships, it can end up benefiting everyone. But I see more downsides to these requests. Here’s why I’ve decided not to be part of these campaigns.
1. Just because I’ve written for a publication before doesn’t mean I can get your article on that site.
Almost every time someone contacts me for a request like this, they mention ProBlogger or Lifehack. They want me to pitch an idea for one of these publications, include their link in the content, and publish it on these big-name sites.
The first issue with this is that I’m not a regular contributor to a lot of sites in my portfolio. My article on ProBlogger, for instance, was a one-time guest post.
If I wanted to write for them again, there’d be no guarantee that I could. I’d have absolutely no way to promise my clients that their link would end up on the type of high-authority site they’re looking for.
2. It’s too unpredictable and can ruin my client relationships.
Let’s consider the information above. What happens if I make promises about where the content will be published or a client assumes these things based on my portfolio? I run the risk of ruining client relationships if I can’t finish the project due to forces out of my control.
And if I did get my pitch accepted? The site could always remove the link, which means my client just paid me for nothing, again risking our relationship. That’s a bigger issue that has nothing to do with my portfolio or skills as a writer. How can I put any confidence into that?
3. It goes against most sites’ contributor guidelines.
Even if I did pitch another idea to ProBlogger, they have clear guidelines that state that they don’t allow paid links within their content.
Lifehack is the same way. While I do have a contributor account there, their guidelines don’t even allow me to include links to my own material. Do you think they’ll let me include links to clients’ sites? I actually contacted them personally about this, and the answer was no.
I wouldn’t have much of a problem pitching ideas to sites and letting them know I was including a paid link if they allowed it. Unfortunately, I’ve run across very few sites that are okay with paid links (or any promotional link at all outside of the author’s bio). Why? Because link building schemes like this can ruin their reputation with Google and with their readers. The ones that do allow them aren’t usually very well-known, which means it doesn’t do much for your marketing strategy anyway.
4. I don’t have the authority to accept these offers.
Yes, many writers get away with offers like this, but unfortunately they do not have as much control as they might think. It is the blog that publishes the article that ultimately has control over the final piece. They could easily remove the link or make it nofollow.
Not only that, but if I did comply with these requests, I could be damaging the site’s reputation and get them in big trouble with Google, the FTC, and their readers.
I simply don’t have the authority to promise links in exchange for money. If you do want to include links like this, it’s the target blog you have to talk with, not contributing writers.
5. It wouldn’t be honest to my readers.
Several requests I’ve had for guest posting services include something like this: “Please include a do-follow link, but please don’t tell the site that you’re getting paid for it. That could backfire, and they might remove the link.”
Not only is that dishonest to the publication, but it would be dishonest to the readers, too. Ethical practices would include a disclaimer about the paid link, whether it’s a guest post or a post on a private blog. It simply isn’t fair to readers to recommend a resource that I’m biased to (since I’m getting paid to recommend it) without disclosing the situation.
What happens when readers or publications find out that I’ve been promoting links I’ve been paid for? They may not trust my content anymore.
6. It comes across spammy. Why would I hurt my reputation like that?
I certainly don’t think that everyone who takes a stab at this tactic is looking to spam the freelancers or the target publications. More often, I think people are misinformed about marketing tactics.
Even if it’s not your intention, this still comes across spammy.
“I represent Company X and would like to include their link on your site. Is that okay with you?”
How do you think that comes across sounding? Even if I wrote a decent pitch, the idea that I’m hoping to include a client link will send off the big red flashing “SPAM” lights in any blogger’s head.
Why would I want to kick off a relationship with an authority blog that way? Not only am I likely to get a kind “no,” but who’s to say that they would accept any pitch from me in the future if I come across as spam in my first pitch?
7. Most of these requests go against FTC guidelines. That means it’s potentially illegal.
I’m based in the United States, which means I’m within the FTC’s jurisdiction. Endorsing a client’s site without disclosing that I was paid to include the link goes against FTC’s endorsement guidelines (since the link is considered an advertisement).
If the client is okay with me disclosing the paid link, I can get a little more on board with that, but that doesn’t mean the site I contribute to won’t remove the disclosure before publishing the piece.
Why would I put my credibility on the line and put myself into a situation I can’t control?
Even so, guest blogging can be effective and ethical under the right conditions.
When we talk about guest posting being dead, we’re talking guest posting as an SEO tactic. While it’s still a great way to gain exposure, it’s not a great way to manipulate search engines any longer.
The thing is that your business can still utilize the guest posting strategy without entering unethical grounds. Freelance writer Kerilynn Engel and I discussed this topic, and here’s her take on it:
While guest posting is definitely still a legitimate marketing strategy, it’s not something you can lazily outsource for a quick boost in traffic or search engine rankings anymore. From what I see, companies who are guest blogging successfully are either handling the placement & relationship building in-house and then hiring ghostwriters just to write the content, or hiring a PR/marketing agency (who may outsource the writing to freelancers) to handle all of it.
So if you still think that guest posting can do something for your business and you feel like you need to outsource it, outsource for the right reasons and under ethical conditions. Hiring someone to ghostwrite your content while you establish a linking agreement with the target blog, for instance, would be an ethical practice.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve written about this subject (read about it here and here), but it continues to be an issue. Luckily, other freelance writers are noticing a decline in these requests. If you’re thinking about starting up a campaign like this, I hope you’ll think twice and consider alternative ways to increase your exposure without buying links and hiding behind a freelancer’s credibility.