POV - Google, SEMrush, and Guest Posting

June 18, 2020
min read
POV - Google, SEMrush, and Guest Posting

Time for an in-the-weeds-SEO post.

We wanted to proactively offer our POV on some recent communication from Google and John Mueller (Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google) regarding guest posting as a link building tactic.

Why we're writing this

As part of our SEO services, we offer an effective link building service on behalf of our customers. We want everyone we work with (and anyone else for that matter) to know that I’m aware of these events and would promptly alter our product offerings if we ever thought work we were doing was ineffective and / or would ever put customers at risk. This is not the case. We also haven’t posted in a while and saw this as a perfect opportunity to start developing a more regular posting habit :)

Key points

  • Guest blogging is when you write for someone else’s blog and get a link to your site
  • Google denounced SEMrush for their guest post link building product
  • SEMrush promptly discontinued the service
  • Google has stated that there will be no penalization for guest post links
  • However, Google claims that the algorithm ignores these links anyway

What is guest posting and guest post link building?

Guest posting is a way to get backlinks to your site used sometimes by SEOs. You write a blog post as a guest author for someone else’s site and they include a link to your site - usually in an author by line or bio section.

For example...

Second example...

So, what happened?

The catalyst of these events occurred when the popular SEO reporting platform and research tool, SEMrush, began marketing a new product feature, which allowed SEMrush customers to order and fulfill external backlinks through a guest blog posting workflow managed by SEMrush. Upon seeing this, Google representatives quickly reprimanded SEMrush for the launch, citing that the link building tactic violated their webmaster guidelines. As a response, SEMrush discontinued the service and apologized.

Why did Google react this way?

Google’s algorithm relies on external backlinks as a means of determining where different pages rank in search results. It’s a foundation of their product. When they suspect that links can be created at scale in a way that may manipulate search engine results, they historically discourage this behavior, noting it to be “unnatural” and against webmaster guidelines. In a simplified description of how backlinks affect search results, Google’s algorithm finds all the mentions of your site (backlinks) around the web and adds that to a credibility score to help determine rankings. According to their guidelines, that credibility should be earned through genuine and organic mentions of your site. The fact that SEMrush advertised a product that could get any customer backlinks on websites of a caliber of their choosing implied to Google that the links are both scalable and not derived from genuine, organic mentions. Thus, the swift and reprimanding reaction.

Our take

Google will always vehemently defend against scalable ways to manipulate their organic search engine results and they have done so many times in the past. SEMrush advertised a means of developing backlinks at scale, which threatens to take control away from Google. Not to mention it could in theory provide a viable option to spend on better SEO rankings rather than forking over more paid search budget, which goes to Google.

To be honest, I’m surprised SEMrush launched and advertised a product that clearly posed such a threat to Google algorithms. Google claims that these kinds of links are ineffective, but if they were completely useless then why not just let SEMrush and others waste their time with these kinds of practices? To me the incentives are clear - Google has to protect their product (Google search) and also has to defend their business model, which derives revenue from paid media placements. Threats to that will always be met with resistance.

Our advice to anyone

You can’t take Google’s word as gospel. They have their own incentives and you have yours. My advice is simple and consistent - don’t invest in anything you can’t accurately measure. Google claims that they render unnatural links like the ones they suspected SEMrush to be providing inert. Basically, they ignore them, but don’t penalize them. Thus, the risk for you is only wasting time, budget, and energy. It's possible that Google finds a way to categorically discount guest post links, but that would not be easy to do. If you’re worried about your links, take a closer look at the correlation between link building activities and effect (rankings). The data is the only thing you can really trust.

Our link building and SEO services continue to generate results

At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. Our SEO strategies, which typically leverage link building as part of the equation, show clear results and have done so consistently for years. As our business name implies (and does so by design), we are built upon a culture of accountability and our link building services come with clear expectation setting and before-and-after reporting.

  • Our primary link building service is not guest posting
  • Our links exist in the body copy of editorial content, they are not in author by-lines or bios as has been exploited
  • All link building programs come with clear reporting to show results correlated with link building activities


Here is the full story about SEMrush

More about Google’s comments on guest posting for links