Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Guest Bloggers Wanted (but only if you exist)

So... this is a blog post about blogging. How very postmodern.

I started this blog in 2010, and it was originally intended to be a website for a conference I was organizing (She-Wolf: Female Werewolves, Shapeshifters and Other Horrors). I soon decided that I could use it for more than just promoting the conference, and started to include various bits and bobs about female werewolves, then some book reviews, then some other CFPs. After the conference finished, it made sense to keep the blog going, and it slowly became my own personal site. The focus is still (kinda) on female werewolves, but it's now more just a repository for stuff in my brain or my inbox that I think other people might be vaguely interested in.

After about a year, I got my first 'guest blog' request. If you run a blog, you might be familiar with these. A 'journalist' or 'freelance writer' sends you an unsolicited email offering to write a blog piece for you. They give you links to previous work they've done and tell you that there will be no fee for their services. They might give you an outline of the sort of thing they'd like to write for you. Sometimes they'll say something kind about your site, or about how interesting they find your posts.

In my experience, these requests range from the almost-genuine to the sublimely ridiculous. I had one from a 'writer' who wanted to write something on education - that sorta fits with some of my posts. But the most recent wanted to write about a driving school in Manchester, because he thought it would be of 'interest to my readers'. Of course, this post (like all the others) would just have to contain one small link to another site.

In case you don't know - and as you'll see in a minute, a lot of bloggers really don't know this - these requests aren't really from freelance writers and journalists. Well, they might be in a way, but they're always a little bit economical with the truth. They are from SEO or advertising companies. The purpose of the guest post is to get that all-important 'organic backlink' without invoking the wrath of Google's mighty penguin.

© Thethirdman | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Stock Free Images

Here's how it works:

If you run a business and want your website to move up search engine rankings, you can pay for a 'Guest Blogging Service'. These are companies that will target bloggers on your behalf (usually using one or another form of analytics to target blogs with high rankings, appropriate content, etc.) The Blogging Service will then contact the blogger and offer to write a guest post containing a link to your site. I'm (obviously) not going to link to any of these sites, but do a search for buy guest blog posts and you can see how it works in practice. It is solely for the purpose of moving the client's website up Google's page rankings, and is not intended to be active engagement with either the blog's content or its readers.

Is it deceptive?

Not always. In some cases, the Guest Blogging Service is up-front about what it is doing. Some do employ genuine freelance writers to write content tailored to a specific blog. These people won't necessarily be specialists in a particular field, but they will go to some effort to research and present a decent piece of writing. Decent SEO companies say that best practice is to avoid creating fake personas, and to research a blog thoroughly before contacting. They also advise being honest with bloggers about the SEO/advertising purpose of the guest post.

However, only a couple of companies operate like this. Most just churn out and regurgitate content that vaguely fits with the theme of the blog. It may be copied and pasted from other websites (I've seen one that just took chunks of Wikipedia and repackaged them as a post). The same post (or very similar) may be offered to multiple blogs. At best, this content is vapid and insubstantial. At worst, it is plagiarized and could lead to copyright issues. The 'writer' of the piece will be a fake persona created by the company.

Introducing Nancy - one of the most prolific writers who doesn't exist

I recently got an email from 'Nancy Parker', a 'freelance writer and journalist' who wanted to write a guest post for my site. I'd had a few emails along these lines that week, so I was a bit annoyed. I decided to see what I could find out about 'Nancy'.

Just Google Nancy Parker Guest Post, and you can see what I did. Wow. That 'writer' sure gets around! I found posts on numerous sites about better blogging, how to promote your business and SEO, but also posts on chronic back pain, talking therapy for surviving 'difficult times', childcare, finding a good nanny, cooking cheap meals for the family... I have just found one of 'her' posts entitled 'Gather Evidence to Prosecute Cyber-Criminals with Tech Forensics'. What got me more irritated was the number of posts I found on book and writer blogs - from this so-called 'writer' - about how to write good secondary character, how to self-publish, how music can inspire writing. While the SEO blogs must (surely) have known what 'Nancy Parker' really is, the indie writers who invited 'her' to their site didn't. Some seemed flattered to have been asked.

None of 'Nancy's' posts contain any links (how clever!), but each one comes with an identical biography for her:
Nancy Parker was a professional nanny and she loves to write about a write about a wide range of subjects like health, parenting, childcare, babysitting, nannying. You can reach her at [webmail address].
Somewhere in that bio, either as a hyperlink or just written out in full, will be a link to a company called eNannySource. (This is the company that paid for the creation of 'Nancy Parker'.)

A lot of Nancy's posts come with a very fetching profile picture of the writer.

© Richard Cleveland apparently 
(though 'Nancy Parker' doesn't acknowledge this)

Nancy Parker is not a real writer - she's not even a real person

How do I know this? Well, for starters Nancy Parker has no presence on the internet outside of her guest blog posts. That's pretty rubbish for a freelance journalist and writer! She has no personal blog, and no social media accounts. Secondly, that profile picture does not look like a typical writer's headshot. It looks a little bit more posed and professional to me. One quick reverse image search reveals that it is, in fact, ripped off from this MySpace page for a freelance photographer.

Are bought guest blog posts a problem?

In my humble opinion, yes and no. They're a form of internet advertising, which is no bad thing in itself. Some bloggers are happy to include them, as they offer fresh content on the site and (if they're done well) talking-points for readers to engage with. Occasionally, guest blog posts are researched and well-written, though they are more likely to be generic. You can also take it as a compliment and a sign of your page ranking that the Guest Blogging Service viewed your blog as a good place to advertise.

However, they can also be deceptive. Bloggers are not always informed that the guest post they are publishing is, in fact, just a piece of advertising. And bloggers are not paid for offering this advertising space either. This leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable. The Nancy Parker childcare and nannying posts get under my skin a little too, as parenting advice from a non-existent person seems rather dubious. I'd also advise any bloggers to thoroughly check the content of a guest blog post before publishing to ensure that it doesn't include any plagiarized or copy-and-pasted material.

To be honest, I like to think of Guest Blogging Services as the bill posters of the internet. They aren't doing any harm, per se; they're just provided a service to companies who want to boost their search engine ratings. But the tactics they use to advertise their clients are irritating to those of us who own the metaphorical walls they want to slap their posters over.

© Arrow | Dreamstime Stock Photos 
Stock Free Images
PS I do, on occasion, feature guest blog posts. If you are a real person and would like to write something for the site, please feel free to get in touch.


  1. Very interesting and informative. I learned something valuable today. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Susan. Glad it was useful. :-)

  3. Wow, that's weird. I have never heard of this business. I had some guy contact me once about another blog I have asking if I'd take a copy of his ebook for free and review it on my blog which I was happy to do and then he never sent the book. I wonder if that was a real person. FYI, I am currently trying to promote my real persona who's and author, and my alter ego (this is the alter ego speaking) who is an author, and one is going to steal the other's book and publish it. I'd love if you could post about me on your blog :0) But, TECHINICALLY, since I am the alter ego right now I am NOT a real person! GAH

  4. I've never had a request for a blog post before, but I have got lots of those 'I love this blog. Very informative. Buy a lawnmower from me' style comments ;p

  5. I've never heard of such a thing. I'm more interested in the female werewolves! I wrote an online serial scout wolves, sharp shifters and high school! Fun stuff.

  6. I laughed out loud when I read "invoking the wrath of Google's mighty penguin." Great article!