Guest Posting in 2023 by Ian Howells of Traffic Think Tank

Bernard Huang

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Ian Howells of Traffic Think Tank joined us for a webinar on Guest Posting in 2023.

Ian highlights two types of guest posts: byline guest posts and stealth guest posts.

He breaks down when to pursue a guest post, what to watch out for, and what makes a good guest post.

Watch the full webinar

Ian was gracious enough to share the slide deck here.

About Ian Howells:

Ian is an independent SEO consultant, affiliate marketer, and Co-Founder of Traffic Think Tank. he has been publishing and monetizing web content since 2001, and leading digital marketing teams since 2007.

Previously, he held roles at Opendoor, LendingTree, Red Ventures, and eBay Enterprise.

Follow Ian on Twitter:

About Traffic Think Tank:

Traffic Think Tank is an accelerator for your SEO skills, network, and career. The TTT Academy has hundreds of hours of material, with 111 lessons added over the course of 2022. The mastermind is like your private sounding board, with folks in the trenches sharing their knowledge on what's working.

Follow Traffic Think Tank on LinkedIn:

Read the transcript


Ian is an independent SEO consultant, affiliate marketer, and co-founder of Traffic Think Tank. He has been publishing and monetizing web content since 2001 and leading digital marketing teams since 2007. Previously, he held roles at Opendoor, LendingTree, Red Ventures, and eBay Enterprise. If you're not familiar with Traffic Think Tank (TTT), they are an accelerator for your SEO skills, network, and career. The TTT Academy has hundreds of hours of material, and they published over 100 lessons over the past year. Ian, welcome to the stage, appreciate your time.


Awesome. Travis teed up, we are going to be talking about guest posting today. So we're going to cover first our guest posts safe? Because in TTT and even my Twitter DMs, one of the most frequent flavors of questions I get is, "Is X, Y, Z safe? Can I build this type of link? Is a link from this site good?" It's such a recurring theme and I think especially over the last three to four weeks when we saw yet another link spam centric algorithm update rollout it's kind of a timely discussion unfortunately.

The next thing we'll roll into is the two types because there's actually two very, very different links that people are talking about when they just say guest post. And I think it's very important that you understand which one somebody's talking about when they're advocating for or against it and which one you are actually thinking about doing. And then from there I would recommend you avoid doing it or pursuing it and going for it. And then some quick thoughts around what makes a good guest post, right? To really kind of hit that question that I mentioned up top.

So right in the beginning, are guest posts safe? So the one word answer is, no. But I'm assuming what you actually mean is, is guest posting with the following link a tactic that Google wants to reward. Whether they do reward it or not is a completely separate question. If they want to reward it, the question is a no, right? And how do we know this? Okay, so two things will run into explaining why. I give such a definitive answer on this, assuming I'm understanding the question correctly.

So a couple summers ago in the throes of the pandemic, a popular SEO asses tool rolled out a guest post marketplace to a large kerfuffle, and that led to Mr. Mark Preston asking Google's John Mueller directly, okay, great. We know buying links is bad, but what about guest posts where no money changes hands, was the crux of the question. And John's answer was not unclear. He said, "The money isn't the problem. The money is bad. And we have an explicit call out in the guidelines saying don't buy links. The problem is the links. The links should be no follow." If you are providing the content, the links to you should be no followed, right? So it's the old analogy of link building is links are like votes, right? So the more and the better links you have, the more it's a vote for the quality of your site.

Well, the very basics are Google doesn't want to count you voting for yourself. The Chicago style of elections is not the thing that Google wants the search to turn into. So that's basically what they're trying to prevent. And John notes two things that I think are worth calling out here. This is not new. And then to back up the fact that this isn't new, there's a little screenshot of a search engine land post there where Marie Haynes was 10 years ago, almost, in July, it'll be 10 years ago. 2013, calling out in a recent, I think it was a webmaster hangout, John said, "Links and guest posts should be no followed." So this has been any fairly clear advice from Google for literally a decade running. So I can't imagine being John and still getting these questions and not wanting to just sigh and turn off the bird app for good, but it still happens. So for a decade we've had fairly clear, no, we don't want to reward it.

The other thing I think worth calling out is the end of this tweet where he says, we catch most of these algorithmically anyway. So there are specific algorithms, Jesus, or pieces of algorithms meant to identify guest posts and not count them. Either, not count them or produce a penalty for them. So consistent advice for 10 years explicitly saying, we try to catch these with an algorithm, fairly clear they don't want to reward it.

So one other example is a screenshot of a link that was given to me in a manual action notice. So while I was at LendingTree, we acquired MagnifyMoney. MagnifyMoney was another finance, still is, I keep saying it was just because I don't work there. But MagnifyMoney still is a personal finance blog. At that point in time, Mandi Woodruff was the head of content and she was executive editor at Magnify.

So as a freelance writer would, she had a bio that said, "I'm the exec editor here, I host this thing. I used to work here." The basic trust builders that an author would put in their bio section and she used the brand name to link to the homepage. So branded keyword anchor linking to the homepage is about as transparent and upfront and above board as you could possibly try to be when doing a byline link. And that was on Teen Vogue. It wasn't on some super spammy brand new tech blog. She's a legit freelance writer. That's how she made her living for a while before Magnify and after it. It's not some small spammy PBN site or something like that.

And that was a link that was highlighted for me in a manual action. Thankfully it was a good manual action. It was the unnatural links applies to links which was the version of Google saying, we're going to torch the value being passed by these links, but we're not going to tank your entire domain, so we're not going to pull everything down, we're just going to negate any value that you are getting from these links.

Interestingly, rankings didn't go down at all, which is a whole other discussion, but I think it's worth calling out that a lot of the guest posts that affiliates like me, I'm not absolving myself from guilt here. A lot of the links we go build are not anywhere near this transparent or this above board or on a site like Teen Vogue. I wish I was getting guest post links from a site like Teen Vogue. But even within those parameters as clean as you could presumably do guest posting, it was a link highlighted in a manual action.

And yet, if you were to go read SEO blogs or look at agency blog sections, what you're going to see a lot in the industry is people insisting over and over and over again that guest posting is white hat link building. Coincidentally, these are typically folks that sell guest posts. So it is not terribly surprising that when somebody is trying to sell you a certain type of link, they are also going to publicly hold the position that that type of link is completely fine with Google and it's never going to cause you any problems. We're not going to get you penalized. By the way, here's the order form, click here, click here, click here.

So the reason I point that out is it is frustrating for me because then my DMs are filled with a whole bunch of confused people who aren't sure whether what they're doing is okay or not. And it is frustrating in the sense that there are a lot of folks that aren't giant SEO nerds who stare at this stuff all day long who are just a small business owner trying to figure out how the heck do I get better rankings? Okay, I've heard I need these link things, great, what do I need? How many? What do they cost? There are folks who were very not entrenched in the minutiae of the SEO world who see stuff like this and think what they're doing is fine and then it can come back to bite them in the ass later on.

Travis, I forgot to ask, can I curse on Clearscope webinars? I don't know how family friendly these are supposed to be.


Yeah, you're fine.


Okay, so ass is okay, Travis said so.

Now, all that said, manual actions are really rare. Now they're really rare. They're much rarer now than they were in the past. I have had to try pretty hard to get a pure spam manual action in the last 12 months. So manual actions are rare. We're mostly looking at algorithm updates and the ups and downs that come with them.

Second point, I would caveat all this with, if you may not have many other options. If you're building an affiliate site in a space where you don't really have a ton of expertise and your site building is tactic led. So I would define that as you're starting from the position of I can rank stuff with Google and get traffic and turn that traffic into money. Now what topic am I going to build a site around? What would be a profitable topic for me to build it around?

If that's the angle that you're approaching, you're probably going to end up generating a site where you've got mostly content that I would call a cert book report and a cert book report in my internal head language is when you get a target keyword, maybe even a whole cluster of keywords and you go to Textbroker, or Upwork or, WordAgents or whatever and you say, "Okay, Mr and Mrs. Writer, I want 1200 words on keyword X, Y, Z." And what happens is they probably don't know anything about the topic you just assigned them. They're going to go to Google, they're going to read a bunch of stuff that ranks on page one and then they're going to give you back effectively a book report on the stuff that ranked on page one for the topic that you asked them to write about. So no real point of differentiation, no new information being added to the discussion, no real expertise, just kind of rewording back stuff that's already on the front page of Google.

So if that's your site, it's really hard to earn links the way Google wants you to earn them and whatever because there are not a whole lot of reasons to do it. So you may be playing a game where you don't have many other options. You've got to go by guest posts. The other thing to note is it can be fairly safe and really effective. So I'm trying very hard to be specific and say Google does not want to reward these because the simple fact of the matter is they still do.

Some sites are feeling very differently coming out of this December because there's been a step back I would say in some of that depending on what the sites look like, but they can be really effective. And in all fairness, I think that is a large part of the confusion and the back and forth and the debate around it, is it okay or not, gets very muddied and collides with the question of does it work or not? So I am trying to be very specific in saying it does work in many cases, but Google is very clear that they do not want it to work.

So the last point I would make to segue into our next section here is some guest posts are way safer than others. So if you decide, okay, great, I know Google doesn't want to reward this but I'm going to do it anyway. There's some versions of guest posting that are much safer than others. So then this brings us into the two different types and this is where I think we have people talking past each other a whole lot.

So the two types, the verbiage I'll use for them and how I refer to them in TTT and in Twitter, I think too. So if you see me saying these words, this is what I'm talking about. So byline guest posts are what I call the traditional guest post. This is what the word meant years ago. It's very transparent about the author. The link is typically in the bio section, the Mandi Woodruff version we looked at before. It might have content links as well, but generally the bio section is where the link comes in. There's a clear understanding when you are linking to Mandi's bio, she was very upfront about the fact that I am the executive editor at company X, Y, Z.

What I refer to as stealth guest posts are not transparent. The link is almost always in the content, right? Because as SEOs we want content links ideally with our keywords somewhere in the anchor text. It is intentionally made to not look like it's you linking to yourself. So if I go to a guest post marketplace and I buy a bunch of links, the phrase Ian Howells is not going to appear on any of those pieces and these aren't even really guest posts. The name guest post came because it was a blog inviting in a guest author to write a post and then their name would appear on it or the owner of the blog would tee up the article and say, "This week we have a guest post from blah blah, blah, they're going to talk about yada yada yada." And then the actual content would show up. It is a guest writer writing a post that is what the word means.

But stealth guest posts, which is effectively what's being sold as guest posts now almost never are they posted with that framing. It's generally posted by an existing author of the website and made to look like a normal piece of content, just another new article. So they're not even really technically guest posts, but that's usually what people mean. So if you're going out and you're buying guest posts, you're probably buying stealth guest posts. If you are doing a guest post campaign as part of pr, you're probably doing byline guest posts and some arguments that I've seen on the bird app seem to send down to this where somebody is arguing in defensive byline guest posts saying that it's totally fine and other people are saying guest posts or spammy because what they're really talking about is stealth guest posts and people are talking about two very different things and just talking past each other and arguing about it for God knows what reason because nothing was ever resolved on Twitter. Ever.

Byline guest post, to dig a little bit deeper kind of what I just said, they're historically posted under a guest author account. The two different framings of the link would be something like on the left where in the main body of the content they're going to say, "Author bio Avi is the co-founder of blah, blah, blah." And they're going to give a little bio or you get your own author account and you have your own built right into the template. At that point, you're more like a regular contributor, you're behaving like a real contract writer, good for you. But you also have an author account at the site and so you can produce more content. You don't have to go back and email to get a piece of content placed every time you get to generally just log into the CMS.

For stealth guest post, like I said, there's no disclosed connection between the site receiving the link and the person creating the content. The name of the person that's on the published piece or the actual writer that was behind creating the piece in the first place, almost always by design meant to be published into the site by a regular author and just look like any other article, any other up to date on the site. And again, this is usually almost always what guest post marketplaces and link building services are providing when they say they will sell you a guest post.

So with that said, when do I think you should pursue guest posting, and when should you avoid it. So the biggest thing is knowing the difference between real sites and sites that are made and alive on the internet solely to sell links. That is I think the big first step on the decision tree. So I recommend going for it if you're very confident in your ability to sniff out stuff like this and tools make it easier, make it faster for sure.

So the screenshots that I have on the bottom of the slide here are an example site in the backlink portfolio of someone's site that got wrecked in December, and they asked me to take a look and, "Hey, what do you think is going on?" They have some problems that predate December apparently, but there was definitely some issues that look like were dealt with we'll say in the last link spam update. So the site sending them a link, one of the examples has 1500 ish pages looking at their site map. It's more like 1200 and then they've got 300 pages of crafted category archives, tag archives, stuff like that indexed. The SEO stats on the top line are pretty good. It's a DR65, which is high. It's a DA31 Semrush score of 30. So it would kind of check the box and get into an inventory list on lots of guest posts sellers.

The problem is it can't rank for anything and doesn't get any traffic. So these are what I refer to as fake DR or fake DA. And I don't mean fake DR in the sense that this website owner intentionally went out and bought one of those Fiverr gigs that promised to spike your DR or whatever. It's not. They might have, I have no idea. It's not necessarily that though, I mean fake DR, not in any intentional action, but in the sense that if the site was actually as authoritative as Ahrefs in this example thinks that it is, if it was a real DR65, if it was earnestly that powerful, it would rank for much more than 35 keywords and get much more than two visits a month. So the SEO stats for this domain and Google's actual opinion of this domain are worlds apart because any real DR65 would actually be getting some traffic. So that's the real biggie.

I think if you are not comfortable digging in and knowing the difference between sites that just check the boxes on the high level SEO stats and sites that Google actually seems to trust, I would not recommend doing guest posting because guest post can be expensive. So this can get very pricey very fast.

The other times I would recommend guest posting, you're pursuing a bunch of different link acquisition strategies. So you are doing some traditional PR, maybe you're building some statistics pieces and shopping those around. Maybe you're still doing broken link building, unlinked brand mentions, all the kind of bread and butter link building tactics and guest posting is just one of many. If you're completely relying on any frankly one method of getting links, that's probably not a good thing. But relying solely on guest posting is probably not a great idea.

For Buyline links specifically, if you would benefit from writing that guest post without getting a link at all, right, or a link that's no followed if you would knowingly do it. So as a freelance SEO consultant, I would be totally fine doing a webinar for Clearscope or doing a guest post for Clearscope because their audience is a group of people that I should have an interest in getting in front of. So hopefully I say some smart things and people in my target customer audience seeing me say smart things is a good thing for me, whether there's a link there or not. So if there's actual business value for you in creating that piece of content for a byline link specifically when we're being transparent about who's writing it and where they're from, that would be a totally valid reason to go do a byline guest post.

And then the next two kind of go together. So the other time I would recommend it is you feel like I know what I'm doing. I know Google doesn't want to reward these, but the simple fact of the matter is for now anyway, and for now we'll extend to some unknown period in the future, possibly forever, they are rewarding it. So I'm okay doing gray hat stuff or black hat stuff, however you want to label it. I understand that it's a risk reward decision here. I'm willing to spend the money or spend the time to go out and run these guest post campaigns. I know that one day they may not work, but I'm confident in my ability to get an ROI between today and the hypothetical day in the future where maybe these links stop giving value to me. So if you're very confident and you know what you're doing, go for it.

I do not attach moral stances to link building tactic. If you're hacking somebody's site and whatever, okay, yes. But the idea that some folks get very passionate and say that guest posting or breaking the Google guidelines is wrong, it's, okay, I mean, I guess I do not personally attach the good, bad moral compass to a type of link building. Again, unless you're doing illegal stuff and hacking somebody's website.

If you feel like I know what I'm doing, by all means, go for it. I am not trying to tell anybody not to do guest posting. I am simply advocating if you're going to do it, you should know what you are doing and you should be confident that you are going in kind of eyes wide open. And I think unfortunately, a lot of folks, at least based on the messages that I get, a lot of folks don't, a lot of folks then are in my DMs going, "I just got crushed in the last Google update. What the hell's going on? I've got 70% do follow, 30% no follow." And they start rattling off all these shapes and sizes of their back link portfolio thinking that makes it okay.

And it's hard to get those messages because these people are in a bad spot. They may have very much been counting on the income from those sites, but it's also very hard to be like, "You're going out there and doing stuff that Google has been very clear that they don't want to reward. So having the surprised Pikachu face when they stopped rewarding it is a weird thing." So clearly these folks did not fully understand what they were doing before they started doing it. And that's the scary part that I would hope this helps folks avoid is really just advocating for make sure what you're getting into, especially before you start spending thousands of dollars purchasing these things. I guess it's a little different if the loss here is time, if you're doing it all yourself.

So what makes a good guest post, if you're going to do this anyway, what makes a post good? So for byline posts, I'd probably say no. Followed links or followed is fine if you are ready for Google to ignore them. So like I said before, if you would do this anyway without the link, then that's a very good sign. Audience match, so is it a group of people that you want to get in front of? Is it likely to get you referral traffic? Is it likely to produce a business outcome for you? Right? Again, byline posts we're talking about being very transparent. So if I was doing it would be written by Ian Howells. So in short, you would do the guest post without any rank benefit whatsoever. If you could say yes to that, then that's a good byline post.

For stealth guest posts, this gets a lot trickier. So I'm going to try and do this very briefly, but this can delve into a much larger discussion around what is a good link or not. So I would strongly advocate when you're going to be doing link building to think about link acquisition in multiple tiers. Tier one being the best, and then you can have as many or as few as you want. This is how I view any link building that I do. So tier one, best links I can get my hands on. I have examples for these on the next slide, so I'll try and not dive into examples just yet. Tier two, would be great domains a bit riskier on the method, so you're probably buying them. May have a lot of overlap with tier one in terms of the actual domains.

Tier three, for me, again, personal definitions here, topic matches pretty tight on topic with the stuff that I'm talking about. Their traffic is either stable or growing and maybe this link is bought, maybe it's traded, maybe it's natural. I do retrofit my natural links when they happen into these tiers as well, so I can get a feel for how my mix looks. Tier four, sites are pretty similar at first look to tier three, but the topic matches the little looser. There may be one or two steps over from the actual topic of your site. They may be declining in traffic. So if Google is losing trust in this site, if Google's shoving this site back to page five, okay, good to know, at least. It's certainly going to affect what I'm willing to pay if I'm buying a link there. And the links from here can be bought, bartered, natural, doesn't matter. Tier five free for all and tier six, automated spam. We'll get into examples of these in a second, but I try and delineate my links out into these different tiers.

So an example, if I was doing link building campaigns for Traffic Think Tank, tier one for us would be large marketing media publications. So a Fast Company, or the Semrush blog or marketing site, blogs, agencies, podcasts, the stuff that is right in line with our audience match. So who would likely be a TTT member? What are other sites that cater to that same type of person? That would probably be our tier one.

Tier two would be something like buying a link on Entrepreneur, so probably a topic match, good strong domain authority or yada, yada, yada. Lots of traffic, but the paid nature of the link knocks it to tier two for me because of the asterisk that well, if I'm buying a link on Entrepreneur, this author is compromised, right? They are on the take. If they're going to sell a link to me, they're going to sell a link to other people too. And eventually Entrepreneur as an organization may find out that this person is out there on the fly selling links off of their domain and then all their historical content might get deleted. All the outbound links in their historical content might get stripped out, or no followed, right? There is a much more high likelihood of this link having a expiration date on it if I am paying for it. Just because people get nabbed selling links. It's not super infrequent. It happens, and your link can go away. So that knocks it down a peg for me.

So for TTT tier three, I'd be talking about links from tech or business or money-centric, how to earn money online, how to earn money as an affiliate, niche site builders, stuff like that. But again, stable or growing traffic, things are looking pretty healthy for the site. Tier four would be the same type of site, but things are not looking good on the traffic front. Things are in decline broadly. Tier five, so what I put is free for all this would be any site where you can just sign up and make an account and either insert a bio section that links to your website or you can put content in and have that link. So think Cora, Reddit, SEOChat to do one that's more niche specific. And then tier six automated spam, anything that Scrapebox, or GSA, or X Room, or what platform of your choice, anything that they can place. And this does overlap with tier five for sure.

So I try and think of my links across these different tiers. And so any link, not even just guest post, but this absolutely applies to guest posts as well. Any link can be good. It just depends on why you're building that link. So if I have an affiliate project where I'm cranking out a bunch of AI content tiers four, five, and six, that's probably where I'm going to live. I'm not going to spend a lot of money buying links to a site that I just loaded up with 350 articles of AI content. So that's fine. If a potential guest post fits into one of those tiers, that is a match for the thing that I am doing.

When people get themselves in trouble is when they claim to be making a tier one site, they claim to be making a white hat site that is intended to rank for the next five years, or they take on client work, which should presumably always be tier one as far as a site quality, and then they build links in tier four or tier five. If you do a bunch of crappy link building to a project that's supposed to be white hat, it's not a white hat project anymore. So I think long as you know what you're doing and you can match style of link to style of money site or level of link to level of money site, you should be in good shape, because that should necessarily mean you are doing things on purpose. You are not unknowingly bringing in a bunch of risk that you're not actually prepared for if things do go sideways on you.

So that would probably be my big takeaway for any link building method and why it's hard when somebody just shoots me an example website and asks some version of, "Yo, is this a good link?" "Well, I don't know. What's it for? Is it for a Gray Hat affiliate project that you're doing where you're outsourcing all the content to a cheap content producer or chat GPT?" If that's the case, then maybe yes, right? The bar is much, much lower. If it's, I have a local attorney as a client and I need to build links for their website, my answer on whether that's a good link or not may be very, very, very different. So there isn't a one size fits all, this link is good, this link is bad.

All links have purpose. There are people doing quite well, blasting out hundreds of thousands or millions of GSA style links every month. If you know how to utilize them correctly, they can be fine. Even though you may put that page in front of 50 SEOs and 48 of them may say that link is garbage. If you can find a use for it can be good. So good bad link is fairly subjective. It's all entirely dependent on the goal you're trying to achieve this site. This site you're pointing it to, as to why you're doing what you're doing.

So before we get into the Q&A portion, the other I think primary quick tip. It's a quick tip, but it's kind of like the foundation of how I would approach guest posting, stealth guest posting specifically here. I'm not going to go into prospecting and email templates and stuff like that because I think once you, A that's been written about a gajillion times, but B, once you give a prospecting method, everybody then goes and uses that and then the same sites are getting beat up with guest post requests over and over and over again. And then none of us are getting in the inbox anymore. We're all delegated to promotions tab forever and everyone's sad. But if you're going to do stealth guest posts, my biggest tip would be ask for money.

No one at a good website, nobody that's an editor of a legitimate publication believes that you want to give them free content for exposure. This shtick where we send a guest post outreach template that says, "Oh, I just loved your site and I'm trying to get my freelance writing career off the ground, and so I thought I would do an article for free and blah, blah blah." Nobody believes that, everyone's heard it a thousand times, nobody believes you. You know how freelance writers pitch, they ask for money, they send their writing samples, they send their rates and they say, "If you're ever looking for a freelance writer, please let me know. I'd be interested." If that is your pitch, you are much more likely to get your email responded to than enough another one of the 5,000 examples of wanting to provide you a piece of high quality content for free because I'm just so nice and there's nothing at all in this for me.

I swear to God. Ask for money, act like a writer, pitch like a writer, and then there is your into writing for a site and your link acquisition cost gets very much cheaper because you're getting paid for the guest post. So that can offset most or all of what you then pay to actually have that guest post written if you're not writing it yourself. So that would be the biggie. Lower your link acquisition cost up, your acceptance rate up the rate of the type of site that you can place links on just by acting like a freelance writer and asking for money instead of trying to slip an article into a website for free.

So I went a little bit faster than I wanted Travis, but we are here at the Q&A section and I see chat kind of lit up, so we'll see what folks had to say.


Yeah, that was awesome. It's a good feedback too on act like a freelance writer, you kind of blend in, I like that. So we have a couple questions. I think the first one is, "You mentioned checking domain authority and organic search traffic. Are there any other metrics you kind of take into account when choosing where to pitch on guest posts?"


So that's really the biggie and not so much any of those in isolation. It's the relationship between the two. Does this make sense? There are certain times when there can be a high DR site that doesn't get any organic traffic. TTT is a very good example of one. We're a DR60 something and I think ahref thinks we get 300 organic visits a month or something, right? And it's not because it's a garbage domain, I'm biased, but it's because all of the content we create, almost all of it is in the members area. Google can't index any of it. So we don't have much public indexable content. We certainly don't have any content that we produce that is intended to rank for a valuable search warrant. We probably should, but we don't. So okay, great. If the site is not trying to produce content to rank, then a low traffic number is not surprising. When it's like the example site I looked at before and they've got 1200 and something articles all targeted to a keyword in the headline, the title of it, okay, you're trying a rank you just can't.

The other times would be they've got a massive technical problem, they have eight versions of every single page on the site and Google can't make heads or tails out of it, but the domain itself is actually pretty strong that could lead to that big mismatch. That's kind of it. Outside of those cases where they're screwing something up or they're not trying, you should be able to see a DR and a traffic level that makes sense together.

Where I see a lot of craziness out there is the DR50 plus and then a thousand visits or 2000 visits from a 1500 page website. Okay, yeah, 2000 visits ain't nothing. But if it was really a DR50, it would be ranking significantly higher than it is right now. So I think it's really the relationship between those two things. It's only in Majestic, but the trust flow citation flow ratio is another good one because that helps balance. Low trust flow, high citation flow basically means it got a ton of back links and they're not very good. So quality of link is in the trust flow metric, amount of link is in the citation flow metric. So the closer they are to moving together, the less likely it is that site went out and built a whole bunch of spammy links because that will spike citation flow without doing much of anything to trust flow. So that's another one worth looking at too if you have a Majestic account.

Otherwise, do they rank for stuff I want to rank for if they only get a thousand visits a month, but they're on page two or three for search queries that I want to be on page one for. I don't care if it normally doesn't fit my matrix of what I'm looking for. If you rank somewhere reasonable for a thing that I want to rank for, that's a link that I want and I would take for sure.


Nice. And then Dana asks, "Apart from Ahrefs, Semrush, Majestic, do you recommend any other measuring tools?"


Not really, no. I think they're all going to get you to the same place. I like looking at more than one because we saw in this example Ahrefs may say DR65, but then MOS and Semrush, their scores are more 30. So okay, that's one eyebrow razor right off the bat is we're not a little bit apart based on tool where literally a hundred percent different between two tools. So that could be another fairly easy automated check to do as well. Is there rough agreement between different tool scoring. But I think Ahrefs and Semrush in particular, being able to have at a glance a strength method, strength score based on link profile verse actual estimated organic traffic in one tool is hugely beneficial. So if you had to pick one, I would pick one of those two because they have the organic traffic estimate right in there.


Nice. And then Molly asked if you have any examples from each of the tiers that you provided. I'm assuming she's wanting kind of screenshots of what that content would look like or the end result.


Yeah, so I gave examples for tiers one and two, and I think those are easier to talk through. Tier three and four, I can find examples of sites that would fit it. I don't want to screenshot examples of things that I know are guest posts because I think that's pretty crappy to do to a publisher and whoever's on the buying end of buying into those links. But I would say... I'm trying to think offhand of what would be good examples of tier three or four.

They're really the same, frankly, they can be the same. It's really just like are they getting beat up in algorithm updates and losing traffic? That's what kicks them down to four. So you may not look at the site and think anything weird is going on, but then if you look at their organic traffic history, you may quickly find out, oh, they're getting 20% of the traffic they were getting a year ago. Clearly things are not going well. There may not be anything visual about the site that kind of tips the hand there, but it would really be any legitimate blog on the topic that you want it to be on would be that kind of tier three. I always feel a little weird about giving examples in those... Tier one, if you're Fast Company, you're Fast Company. It doesn't matter if I say it, but for those folks, I don't want to put a magnifying glass on anybody's site.


Yeah, that makes sense. And then Steven asked, "Do you have a standard anchor text ratio you aim for?"


So the brand name of the site I am unconcerned with how many times, I'll use that as many times doesn't matter. Everything else, I try to never use the same anchor twice. So if I am doing the more gray hat approach where I'm actually building and shaping the anchor text portfolio, generally I use a whole ton of phrase match and try never to repeat the same thing twice if I can help it. So that's kind of the short rule of thumb. I think if you've got a keyword anchor, an exact match keyword anchor that's more than two, 3% of your anchor text mix, you are just painting a target on yourself and asking for trouble. So whenever I can, I try to literally not double up on anchors ever is kind of the short rule of thumb.

So then you end up with, if you look at it in the pie chart view in Majestic, you've got a nice big slice for the brand name. Maybe you've got another nice big slice for URL, no anchor links, and then just a whole ton of really, really tiny slices because you've got this giant other bucket where every anchor is used once, maybe twice, and there's just hundreds or thousands of them.


That's good feedback. And then Neil has a question, "Are contextual value added link exchanges worthwhile and does that create good link equity?"


Contextual value added link... So just link trading? Is that how I'm interpreting that?


Yeah, that's how I interpret it.


Yep. Okay, cool. So-


Yeah, he said yes.


Yes. So even the direct you link to me I'd like to use still helps. I think if you do it over and over and over again, it forms a clear pattern and you're just upping the likelihood that that's going to get negated. I think the smarter way to always do it is kind of the, "Hey, I run multiple sites. You run multiple sites, I'll link from one of my sites to one of your other sites, and then you link from another one of your sites to another one of my sites." So two sites linking to each other over here to linking to each other over here, there's no crossing the streams, it's just I'll give one of your site A links to site B, site C links to site D. You're basically doing a trade behind the scenes that does not appear to be a trade because there's no actual back and forth.

I think with anything like that. The problem becomes if they will trade a link with you, they will probably trade a link with a whole bunch of other people. So then the thing you have to watch is what do the external links from this site look like? Are they linking to a bunch of garbage? Are they linking out with exact match keyword anchors all over the place? Are they sending out all these signals that are basically just begging Google to figure out this site is, because it looks like you're selling links at that point. That's what it looks like from the outside, even if no money is changing hands and it's all just borrowing.

So that's the real sticking point with a lot of trades is just with selling links, if they'll trade with you or they'll sell to you, you're not the only one. You're not exclusively dating here, they're going to be selling links to other people too. And if they don't have a high bar for who they'll trade or sell a link with, you are going to end up looking bad just by osmosis. Just being next to a really crappy link makes your link worse. So that would be the biggie to watch out for in those cases.


Yeah, cannot echo that enough. And we got a question from anonymous, "Do you think it's useful to build tier two links i.e. building links to initial guest post links?"


Yes. So to expand on that, yes, helpful because really all you're doing is making the page that's linking to you stronger. So another way to very simply ask that question is a link from a strong page better than a link from a weak page? Well, yep, absolutely.

Where people get hurt is when they fail to take the same type of precautions they would take on their tier one. So if you have a tier one link and then you build a bunch of tier two links to that tier one link and you hammer anchor text on tier two, you may still cause problems for yourself. You can get more aggressive, but don't throw all the rules of how you would do link building out the window just because it's a tier two link and the farther down you go, okay, people tend to get dirtier the farther down their tears go, but don't treat tier two as a free for all and you will save yourself a lot of headaches, I would say. But in general, yes, super powerful. The problem is good links aren't cheap, so tiering good links on good links, it turns into a pricey endeavor pretty quickly.


And then Neil's other question, "What do you think of sites that are clearly SEO farms but have decent organic traffic across a variety of terms?"


Good for them, enjoy it while you got it. Try not to be holding the bag when the music stops. Yeah, a lot of stuff works until it doesn't, right? Some traffic graphs and history and at trips and some rush will look amazing and then they fall off a cliff and it's like you never know where a site is in that. So I think I would be cautious on assuming because somebody else is able to do a thing and get rewarded for it, that you will be able to exactly mimic that. If you have a stable of test sites, absolutely go crazy. But I would strongly caution anyone from just looking at, oh, so-and-so did it, and then applying that to a client site for sure. Or your primary sites that you are highly concerned with their long-term performance. It is going to be a meaningful impact if something bad happens in the next algo update. Don't just meet two tactics at that level of site because you never know when it's going to stop working for that person.


That's good. And then Brody asked, "We get people reaching out offering to pay us to guest posts on our websites to relative and similar sites, and we usually just ignore them. If we decided to monetize the blog post, how do we determine how much to sell them for?"


So I think the short answer would be sign up for... I'm not even going to say their names because that's kind of crappy too. I'm waffling on whether I should name companies or not. There are companies that you can find without too much trouble that are guest post marketplaces. So you can browse an inventory. Some of them tell you what the domains are ahead of time, which I'd love because then you can actually go do your own full due diligence. Others obfuscate the domain, but give you all the stats. They'll say, DR this, DA that, traffic this, blah blah, blah. Go and take a look at those and see where your site lines up with those. And that will basically give you the rough, here's what the market rate is for sites that look and feel kind of mine, the topic's the same, the DR ballpark's the same, the traffic ballpark's the same. That'll help you hone in on what is the market currently tolerating for links from sites that look like mine.

And then again, I would just be very careful not to link to garbage. If they're actual legitimate business websites that are willing to pay you because you're a topic match and they really value a link from your site and it's going to be beneficial to them. Okay, yeah, there's value there, so you should probably be paid for value. But the way to be cautious about it is to do it infrequently and have a high bar for this should be a real business. Don't link two affiliate sites that might be on an expired domain. If it's an actual provider of goods and services, I would feel much, much more comfortable selling somebody in that situation at length.


Nice. And then Neil's has a question kind of piggybacking on the SEO farm question, "But what do you think then is a good history of traffic?"


So amount of time that somebody's doing well for it to feel like, okay, they're probably onto something. I would say it used to be longer, but I would say now a year just because updates are all the time now. If I look tired, it's because I am. Updates are all the time now. So I think if somebody is showing a good track record for 12 straight months, they're probably onto something. They may overdo it and end up burning themselves, but there is very likely something to learn in their kind of set of tactics if you can reverse engineer it.


Nice. And Stephen has a question, "When building affiliate sites, do you ever start with a brand new domain?"


Yeah. So sites that I want to be much more long term. If I cannot buy a site that is already live, I'll start with a new one. I buy a bunch of expired domains, but they are not for projects that are meant to still be around in five years. Fresh reg is fine, it just takes a long time. So if you're looking at it as a very long-term project, sure, yes. If the idea is I need this thing to produce cash flow in the next six months, a new domain is probably not the route that you want to go.


So true, the sandbox is real. And this might be the last question Neil asked, "Are there SEO vendors that you recommend that build good links in the right way?"


So I would say I would revisit my definition of what a good link is. So it depends, which is the crappy cop out answer. But I will say my approach for link acquisition for my long-term properties or folks that I consult with Mesh's very well with the way Siege Media views the world. So Siege is building very unique data statistic type pieces that are meant to get a little bit of a push and then rank for queries that are likely to be searched for by folks looking to cite data so that they naturally generate good links over time. That is, I think, the holy grail of link building. So when LendingTree bought Student Loan Hero, they ranked really two keywords that mattered. Refinance student loans and student loan refinancing. That was it. The site could have ranked for nothing else and we still would've bought the thing.

They ranked there in part because they ranked number one for student loan debt statistics and student loan debt stats. And the student loan debt stat page by itself automatically built 25 to 35 good links every month because every time a reporter for MSNBC or whoever needed to cite a statistic about student loan debt, they would go to Google and search, "Student loan debt stats," or "Student loan debt statistics," and student loan Hero was right there in the number one with a giant piece doing all of the homework for that reporter and just spoon feeding it to them in a very digestible format. So they got quoted and cited all the time and didn't have to lift a finger on outreach. They still did, but not for that and just got links on autopilot, right? So that is the, for me, holy grail of link building is when you can find stat type terms like that. If you can answer that query and rank for that term, you're just going to get links on autopilot and you don't have to constantly be out there sending guest post pitches.

Written by
Bernard Huang
Co-founder of Clearscope
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