You’ve just written an article that is potentially worth thousands of dollars and you’ve done it for free. Welcome to the world of guest posting in the SEO community. But does the process have to be so shitty?

Even before Elephate was awarded the “Best Small SEO Agency” in Europe, our crack team of specialists was often invited to write for other SEO blogs and publications in order to share their expertise. While seeing our in-house superstars getting their work out there for others to see has been a constant source of pride, the process has also been revealing.

Considering the Wild West nature of the industry just a decade ago, it’s no surprise that a lot of SEO agencies wear the notion of White Hat SEO like a badge of honor. The industry is savvy enough to recognize that there’s a right and wrong way to do business, but it weirdly turns a blind eye to its own problematic publishing practices.

In this article, I want to talk about publishing in the SEO industry and how everyone’s focus on White Hat SEO has helped create a blind spot that is allowing a Black Hat publishing industry to thrive.

BLACK HAT PUBLISHING?

The SEO industry — like any online industry these days — has managed to create a hierarchy of websites and blogs that feed one another through guest posting. It’s essentially a virtual ecosystem fueled by link building and (whether we admit it or not) ego.

Guest posting was the core of the SEO industry’s growth for years due to links. This idea is so deeply entrenched in SEOs that they don’t think twice before publishing some of their best content externally.

Taking away the prestige of being published by the bigger sites, you need to remember that you could be giving them an enormous amount of backlinks, visits and…RANKINGS.

Take for example “Going Beyond Google: Are Search Engines Ready for JavaScript Crawling & Indexing?” which was written by Elephate’s Bartosz Goralewicz for Moz (who, honestly, I’m mentioning here because they haven’t done anything I’m going to be addressing in this article).

As you can see, the article was successful for Moz, generating 200 referring domains and 500 backlinks.

There are clients who would pay top-dollar to have content that could generate those kinds of numbers in any industry.

(Some context: in February of 2018, Ahrefs calculated “the average cost of buying a backlink [as] $361.44.” For those keeping score at home, that would make Bartosz’s article worth over $180K.)

Now that you know what’s at stake, I want to zoom in a bit and focus on the publishing practices themselves. Specifically, I want to look at the SEO industry’s publishing practices that are predicated on writers doing all the heavy lifting for publishers who seem unwilling to meet their half of the implicit agreement.

This is what I mean by Black Hat publishing.

1. THE PUBLISHER WINS

The average amount of time it takes from a website reaching out to write for them to us delivering the final article is around 18 days. Considering this is being written on top of the enormous amount of work our specialists need to do, this isn’t a bad average.

Such articles require a lot of research, so you need to factor in the time needed to gather all of the data before the writing starts.

Once the first draft of an article is finished, other specialists usually have access to the document to make sure everything is correct technically and offer suggestions. This could be up to two specialists.

And when that draft is checked, it then goes through our own internal editing process. This could be up to two editors. This is done not only because the quality of the work is important to us, but we’ve found that this is often not done by the publisher.

By the time the article is ready to be sent to the publisher, at least five sets of eyes have gone through it. That’s five people who have written, reviewed, proofread, and edited the article.

No one will be paid additional for this work.

At the end of the day, the writer did all of this work for some good old fashion exposure bucks.

Exposure bucks were great when you were a struggling writer looking for your first break. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with paying writers with the promise of exposure, it only really works when publishers do the extra work to actually get the work exposed (see HONOR THE WORK below).

Now you’re probably thinking, well, the writer is really doing it for the valuable backlinks to your agency, and you’re absolutely right about that. But it’s not uncommon for some of those links to disappear from an article a month after publication.

And here’s the real kicker with articles being published at major SEO blogs: there is very little kickback from these “peer-reviewed” links. There isn’t a sudden influx of traffic to Elephate. And there certainly isn’t an uptick in clients.

The publisher, on the other hand, got its content and the links and traffic that comes with it.

2. RESPECT THE PROCESS

When publishing in traditional media, there is generally good communication between the writer and the publisher. A lot of this is designed to make sure everyone meets the proposed deadline and that there are no surprises with the end product.

There’s no one way to write any story or article, and if the publisher and the writer aren’t on the same page, the final article could end up being a poor fit for the publisher.

This is why I’m constantly surprised by the complete lack of communication between our writers and the ones who want to publish their work.

Usually, communication comes down to these three basic emails:

  1. Do you want to write something for us?
  2. Great! When can you have it finished?
  3. We got it! Thanks for writing this.

And we’re lucky if we get the third email.

In addition, there are usually no emails regarding:

  • Checking in on the writer.
  • The quality of the finished work.
  • The publication date.

The last point is a real kicker. Since there’s no acknowledgment that they received the article, we don’t know when and if the article is going to be published. So what usually ends up happening is that the article suddenly appears on their site without any warning, forcing us to alter our social media plans.

This is a process that needs to be respected. While I’m all for letting the writer have the freedom to do what they do best, they also need to be reminded that you’re in their corner.

And the best way to accomplish this is by keeping the writers in the loop so they know they’re not wasting their time.

3. HONOR THE WORK

The article is finished and now it’s just a matter of waiting for it to be published (whenever). And when it finally happens, you click to see the final product…and it turns out to be something you don’t really want to link to.

The most common problem I see — even with the bigger SEO blogs — is poorly formatted articles. Basically, the articles are being cut and pasted and submitted without any sort of revision.

Dramatic recreation.

This means paragraphs not being spaced apart, different fonts and wonky sizes, and more, all amounting to a visually unappealing experience for the reader.

This reminds me of when I taught at university and students would sometimes blatantly plagiarized essays by cutting and pasting from the internet. I’d get pages of unformatted text with three different fonts (and colors) and the Wikipedia brackets still in place.

Publishers need to honor the work. If you’re not going to pay them and communicate with them, the very least you can do is make sure their work shines. Do the work to make sure that everything is formatted correctly, and consider taking a few extra steps to make sure that the images you’re using are stellar.

On top of that, give them a push on social media. We get that you have no control over what gains traction online, but make the effort to give the article a fighting chance.

I’m continually baffled by websites that do nothing to promote an article or decide that Sunday at midnight is the perfect time to tell the world about a technical SEO piece.

This drink was for Bartosz.

And the last thing, and probably my biggest gripe about honoring the work: spell the writer’s name right. More often than not, I’ve had to contact the publisher to correct the writer’s name.

4. CREDIT THE WRITER

One of the quickest ways to lose my respect is to publish an uncredited article. It’s such an awful thing to do. It’s up there with eating mayonnaise with a spoon straight from the jar and murder.

In a perfect world, you’d give the writers some real estate on the page to shine, like a picture, a short bio, a link to their social media, etc. But even I know that’s asking a lot these days, so I’m always happy just to see the writer’s name.

And it doesn’t hurt to list the writer’s name when you’re promoting them on social media.

I get that some readers don’t care about who wrote the piece (because they’re monsters), but that doesn’t mean that you should do the same.

WRAPPING UP

The goal of this piece wasn’t to name names and burn bridges. I simply wanted to shine a light on this issue because I’m tired of people in the SEO community acting like this is normal.

It’s mind-boggling how everyone can profess to being a White Hat in their own industry but not carrying it through in all aspects of their work. The point is: we can all do better.

You might be asking, hey, Christian, what happens if the tables are turned? How do you treat writers writing for your blog?

Well, that’s easy! I reject them all!

Christian A. Dumais is the Creative Director at the award-winning Elephate, one of Europe’s premier SEO and Content Marketing agencies. He has decades of experience in journalism, publishing and writing.

Feel free to yell at him on Twitter: @PuffChrissy.