Showing posts with label blogs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blogs. Show all posts

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.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Welcome to the Medieval Carnival!

It's my pleasure to host this month’s edition of Carnivalesque, showcasing the best in recent blogging on ancient and medieval history.

However, I’m actually going to start with some stories from prehistory. Something really rather 'ancient', is this piece on Quigley’s Cabinet about artefacts discovered in South Africa that point to the existence of a 100,000-year-old ochre-processing workshop. The History Blog discusses human-inflicted wounds on a 13,800-year-old mastodon skeleton, which prove that 'American hunting is 800 years older than we thought'. And something quite close to my ginger heart, The Ancient Standard tells us that the gene responsible for red hair and freckles may have been found in Neanderthals living 100,000 years ago in Europe.

Stonehenge Thoughts offers a story about a new full geological map of the UK the British Geological Survey, and how this might be of use to those interested in the 'bluestone quarry' at Rhosyfelin and the mystery of the Stonehenge bluestones.

Moving into the early Middle Ages, at Medieval History Geek, Curt Emanuel reviews Nicholas Everett’s Literacy in Lombard Italy, c. 568-774 and Michelle Ziegler discusses childhood illness and mortality in early medieval Ireland, in 'The Mortality of Children, Ireland 683-685' at Heavenfield. 'Even the Bishop of Girona doesn’t always win' writes Jonathan Jarrett at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe. And what's this? The Staffordshire Hoard blog looks for suggestions and explanations of their 'mystery object'.

A story that has captured the attention of history bloggers this month was the 945th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Again, this appears on numerous blogs and websites, including the Ordnance Survey blog, Mr Brame’s Blog, Kaye Jones and E.C. Ambrose. The Historical Novel Society asks nine authors to post on the anniversary on their own sites, and collects the posts on the HNS blog.

And another piece of medieval news this month is the research done into the discovery of the UK's first fully intact Viking burial site in Scotland, discussed on Medieval News. I'm glad I can mention this story, as the co-director of the project, Dr. Hannah Cobb, is an archaeology teaching fellow at the University of Manchester (my own institution).

Perhaps one of the most popular 'medieval' stories of the past month has been the reconstruction of the 'Black Death genome', using DNA samples taken from a fourteenth-century plague pit in East Smithfield, London. I won't list all the blogs that pick up the story, as there are many, but among them are Contagions, and MIT's technology review. For Francophone readers, the story also appears on Docbuzz.

Elsewhere, King's College London's Henry III Fine Rolls project offers a week in the life of Henry III: Sunday 16 October to Saturday 25 October 1261. New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art blogs about rose hips and their significance in medieval seasonal celebrations at The Medieval Garden Enclosed. And at In the Middle, Karl Steel writes about the Canarian's Ship of Fools.

The British Museum's fabulous Treasures of Heaven Exhibition came to a close on October 9th. Over on the museum’s blog, metalworker Jamie Hall discusses medieval metalwork. The 8th October was the anniversary of the execution (or lynching?) of Cola di Rienzi (killed in Rome in 1354). ExecutedToday marks the date with Rienzi's story.

On Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History & Folklore, Diane McIlmoyle introduces us to the Cappel: Cumbria’s 'spooky black dog'. Haligweorc offers a piece by Derek Olsen on liturgical naming: 'Naming Spiritual Communities in the Sarum Rite'. And there's an introduction to medieval superstitions about revenants at Pure Medievalry.

Finally, although it's not a blog (and a little older than strictly appropriate for this Carnival), I thought this Flickr collection was worth a mention. Juliana Lees has been collecting images of pre-1200 Eastern textiles found in Western churches and cathedrals, with a particular interest in Silk Road influences.

Hope you enjoyed this tour of ancient and medieval blogging. If I've missed anything, leave a comment and let me know. Next month's Carnivalesque will be an early modern edition, hosted by Anchora.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

She-Wolf Conference Criticized by Werewolf

During my regular cyber-surveys of all things werewolf, I've come across a few mentions of the conference on blogs, livejournal and other sites. We certainly seem to have caught people's attention. However, tonight I discovered that not all the attention is positive. I found A Werewolf Blog in Brooklyn, a blog written by a 'modern day werewolf from Brooklyn'. The female werewolf who authors the site has taken some offence at the ways in which we are marketing the She-Wolf Conference. In particular, she's not happy about the link I have made between the 'female monster' and the 'female werewolf'.

Of course, it has never been my intention to cause offence. But I would like to offer a brief defence. Theoretical considerations of the 'monster' are becoming more common in academic discourse; literary studies, film studies, psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, history, legal studies, theology... and many other disciplines are becoming more and more engaged with exploring the concept of the 'monster' and the impact this has on our understanding of the 'human'. Though in everyday parlance the word can simply refer to something repellant, unpleasant or dangerous, academics seek to go beyond this and question the far-reaching implications of 'monster-production', 'monstrosity' and the 'monstrous'.

I would suggest that this is even more problematic when examining the female 'monster'. Women - werewolf or otherwise - are monsterized and dehumanized in many discourses. So what happens when we create or are confronted by the monstrous monster? The other of the other? The inhuman non-human? Does this double otherness, as many critics have suggested, give the female monster more power? Or does it render her utterly abject?

These are the questions I wanted to raise and discuss by organizing She-Wolf. And, if you have a look at our programme, you'll see that our speakers will be grappling with these questions from different perspectives and from different theoretical positions. I believe that our discussions will cover many of the representations of the female werewolf in art, literature and culture - but will also explore what it means when we distinguish between the human and the monster.

I hope this clears up some of the thinking behind the conference. Despite the animosity the author clearly feels towards the conference, I would recommend giving A Werewolf Blog in Brooklyn or the downloadable zines a go. It's an interesting read, particularly if you're familiar with a lot of the recent pop culture representations of female werewolves.

Feel free to comment!