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Guest Blog vs Sponsored Post: Fake and Genuine Guest Posts

Paola Bassanese is a freelance author and writer specialising in food, lifestyle and entertainment.

Is It a Real Guest Post?

If you are running a fairly established website or if you have been blogging for a while, you are likely to receive a regular stream of guest post requests.

The question is: how do you spot a genuine guest post request from a non-genuine one? Unfortunately, some people don’t act on a full disclosure basis and will pretend to enquire whether you accept guest posts without revealing that they are representing a client.

Quality Links, Quality Content

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Why You Shouldn’t Accept All Guest Post Requests

Because not all guest posts were created equal if you are responsible for the content of your website you need to be very clever with external submissions. While it’s tempting to get “free” content, especially if you are facing writer’s block or are too busy to write your own articles, you still need to be aware of the quality of guest posts, particularly of their embedded links. In recent years Google has started penalising link building practices aiming to improve a website’s search ranking, for example, link exchanges where you accept a link from a website in exchange for a link back on that website, or guest posts containing one or more links. Guest posts are easy to sell: they are a tangible asset that an agency can offer a client. Unfortunately, when you receive a request to publish a guest post, you may not know that money has changed hands behind your back, and you will not see any of it. If you are curious to know what goes on behind the scene when a client buys a link in a guest post, this article from Authority Hacker is very useful. An interesting fact from this article is that a site that has a low percentage of guest posts, low direct traffic, and high organic search traffic has good editorial quality and is more appealing to clients who want to pay for a sponsored post.

Google’s Strict Policy on Links

In case you are not aware of it, Google published detailed quality guidelines about links. Publishers are responsible for their content and Google advises to focus on good quality content, saying: “Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.” The advice is to have as many organic links as possible for a healthy score. If one or more links look unnatural, this will be flagged.

I was once penalised by Google because I had some product reviews on my site. Like many other bloggers, I received free products in exchange for an honest review; however, Google decided to clamp down on this practice from 2016 and introduced strikes for non-compliance. I received a message from Google out of the blue saying that my website was temporarily going to be penalised in searches until I removed some links. Google also asks publishers to disclose any relationships they have with the companies and the products they feature, particularly when it comes to sponsored posts.

It seems there is no longer such a thing as a freebie – in the first instance, receiving a free product comes with the commitment of writing about it, which is a cost to the publisher as it takes billable time. Secondly, if dofollow links come with a strike, the publisher bears all the risk.

Fake Guest Posts Are Usually Sponsored Posts in Disguise

Have you ever received an email from newbie freelance writers who are very keen to contribute to your website? Their initial messages are very complimentary (normally copy and paste paragraphs) and quite generic, mentioning how good your website is but without proving that they have been actually reading your articles.

The first sign that a guest post request may be a sponsored post is when a freelance writer expresses an interest in becoming a regular contributor. These people can be working for SEO companies trying to place articles for their clients on a number of websites, and they are scouting for potential publishers.

How to Spot a Non-Genuine Guest Post

Apart from the generic nature of the initial contact, as explained earlier, another sign that a guest post request is not genuine is the type of content shown in the writer’s portfolio. Sometimes you don’t even get links to previously written articles, and you have to ask for them. Sponsored posts will look different from organic articles: for example, they will only have two links in total of which one is for a product or service. Please note that not all publishers will reveal they have received compensation for a paid feature. In fact, some unscrupulous agency acting as guest post requester will ask the publisher not to mention that the articles they submit are sponsored posts.

For example, I was once approached by an agency who explicitly would pay more/offer more sponsored posts opportunities if published articles weren’t labelled as paid features:

“Will the post be labelled as sponsored or paid? (It would be very helpful, and I could offer you more posts if they weren't labelled anything)”. This agency did not pretend to be a freelance writer; however, it offered an extremely low rate for sponsored posts. Let me repeat it, you, as a publisher, are taking all the risk for embedding a link that is not organic.

Unfortunately, some introductory emails from fake guest bloggers may also be full of grammar mistakes. In a way, that in itself makes it easier for you to filter out such requests altogether. To give you an example, I once received an email saying “I went through the blog and it was a good attraction towards me. I am happy to say that I am so interested to do a guest post in your blog.” As you might guess, I didn’t even waste my time replying to that email.

A firm request from agencies posing as genuine guest bloggers is that the featured link is dofollow.

How to Spot a Genuine Guest Post Request

Genuine guest post requests may feature one or more of these characteristics:

  • they come from newly established companies aiming to gain some PR through guest blogging, so they ask their community outreach manager to contact you
  • they have links to good quality content from a domain they own
  • they mention a specific article in your own website (however, even fake guest post requests may refer to one article to assume an air of authenticity)

Always Have a Sponsored Post Rate

Have you calculated your own sponsored post rate? While there is no science behind how to calculate your own rate, there are some useful guidelines online which can give you an indication of how to charge based on your Domain Authority and monthly visitors.

The agency contacting you will likely try to negotiate the price down, but as long as you have a good starting point, you can at least make some decent money. Alternatively, you can simply deny the request for a guest post either because the price is too low or because the proposed content does not align with your content strategy.

Best Practices for Bloggers

Once again, when in doubt, ask Google, which published this post advising bloggers on the official Webmasters blog. The main takeaway lesson from Google is that, if you receive free products in exchange for a review, you should use a nofollow link. Always explain how you received the products and, in case you also accepted payment, disclose it clearly in the post.

Are Sponsored Posts Worth the Hassle?

In conclusion, when it comes to accepting sponsored posts from reputable companies, the question you should ask yourself is: “is it worth it?”. You have worked hard for your traffic and your domain authority. One or more bad links may penalise your website in searches and, even when you accept a good payment for a sponsored post, you should only work feature links that would have a natural fit with your content.

© 2018 Paola Bassanese