Guest posting, as you might have gathered from the rest of this blog, can be a lot of work. There’s a reason I’ve set up all of this to help you, after all. I wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t demand for it.
As with any complicated process, there are people who are more than willing to outsource every aspect of it, for the right price. Some of those prices are even pretty cheap. The question you have to ask, though, is this: are they a trap?
How an Agency Might Work
Before we get into whether or not an agency is worth it, it’s important to discuss how these agencies work and their business models. There are essentially three different ways a guest posting agency might work. Put yourself in the shoes of an entrepreneur who wants to start one up, and follow with me.
The first is to do all of the legwork yourself. Establish an account – or several, if you want to make a bunch of sock puppets – with a defined identity. You might make different accounts for different industries; one for marketing, one for small business information, one for mommy blogging, one for food blogging, one for fashion, and so on. You could hire people for each of those roles, or you could do it all yourself, depending on the sort of resources you have on hand.
With these accounts, you work to build relationships with big name blogs in those industries. Following steps like these and get connections with various editors on blogs of various sizes, from mid-range to industry leaders. Once you have a semi-regular contribution space, you’re set to start selling your services.
Now you set up your site as an agency to sell guest posting slots. Someone comes and wants marketing links. You leverage your connections to write content for publication on a site like Moz or Inc or Business Insider. You get the post published, they get the link, you get paid.
The problem with all of this is that it’s a ton of work. You’re not optimizing the process at all, you’re just doing it when the person you’re charging is too lazy or too inexperienced to do it themselves.
The second method of running such an agency is to do basically the same thing, with a handful of optimizations. Instead of getting contributor accounts on big name sites, you do it on low to mid-range sites. You contribute to sites that don’t have much in the way of SEO value, but which can form a diverse link portfolio for someone in the industry. You might establish a bunch of sock puppet accounts, or you might just run everything through one generic author account. It’s less work, because you don’t have to care as much about quality for the sites you’re publishing on, and you can manage a larger stable of them because each one requires less individual effort. You might even be able to save some time by outsourcing the creation of your posts to a content mill.
The third method is to cut out the middleman entirely. With both of the above options, you’re always at the mercy of the site owners. Every rejected post is a waste of time and money, and a potential lack of contract fulfillment that can hurt your agency. So instead, you just make up a bunch of blogs and populate them with basic content. Every post on every site you own becomes a sock puppet in what is essentially a private blog network.
Of course, this is by far the least effort, and you can outsource basically everything for fairly cheap. On the other hand, your service isn’t really providing much value to the people buying it. It’s there to make you money, not to help the people who are contracting your services.
As you might expect, option 1 is the most valuable but also the hardest to find and by far the most expensive to purchase. Option 2 is in the middle of the road, and option 3 is going to be everywhere. I would wager that the majority of the services available today fall into this category, and so I recommend avoiding them whenever you can.
Reasons an Agency can Fail You
There are a bunch of good reasons to avoid contracting an agency. If you’re experienced in marketing, you can probably already point out a few of them.
First and foremost on the list is that the majority of agencies out there are either buying content on private blog networks or are managing private blog networks themselves. It’s a well-known fact that Google hates private blog networks, and they’ve been known to penalize sites that use them, even if they aren’t part of the network directly.
Whether or not they will admit it, an agency’s author accounts can and will eventually be considered part of a private blog network.
Since private blog networks are generally thin content or low value spun content on small blogs or microsites, they don’t have much or any SEO value in and of themselves. All they do is filter some minor value from a few incoming valuable links, which is so diluted as to be virtually worthless. If the network remains undiscovered, the links aren’t doing you much good. If Google discovers the network, they might delist the entire thing, and all your links become actively detrimental to you, or at the very least completely valueless.
Another issue that crops up with these sorts of agencies is the authors used. Many of these sites make sock puppet accounts, but they don’t necessarily have a lot of them. They might have one account for everything relating to business and marketing, one account for everything related to food, fashion, and health, one account for everything related to DIY, and so on. These become overly broad accounts, cranking out dozens of posts per week on a wide variety of subjects.
These accounts are essentially ticking time bombs. I know a guy whose account was removed from a big name site just because they didn’t like what his brand did; all of his links and, worse, every other writer account associated with him and his brand, was removed. If you purchased guest posts from someone who used an account like that, all of your links are suddenly gone, and you’re left with an investment that disappeared. Let me be clear; the guy I know wasn’t selling links or anything, but someone who is would be even worse off.
At the same time, Google also tracks the authors of various pieces of content. Authorship isn’t a thing anymore, but they still associate content with author. They’ll notice when an author is posting throughout various sites in various industries. They’ll also notice when every post a particular author writes tends to be low quality or spun content or links out to known spam sites or sites known to buy links.
Google doesn’t like sites like that and will penalize them, and when they see an author account that has a link profile filled with that kind of content, they’ll devalue posts by that author regardless of their location or their content. It’s a sort of soft blacklist for these known bad actors. Even if your site is fine and the site the author is posting on is fine, their known association with spam sites might hurt you.
Agencies also tend to try to do everything as quickly and as cheaply as possible, in order to minimize their own effort and maximize their profits. This means they don’t necessarily spend a lot of time building contacts or researching modern SEO techniques. Many of them, in fact, have formulas they follow when creating content that result in a lot of keyword-stuffed or over-optimized content with repeated long tail keywords, exact match anchors, and other signs of poor SEO. All of this bundles together to make the content look like it’s written by someone who has very little idea what they’re doing, or who is using gray and black hat techniques. This, again, can hurt you.
Speaking of formulaic content, they often tend to create content that is very basic, cursory, surface-level content. It’s not valuable, it’s not deep, it’s not insightful, it’s all just filler as a basis for links. That alone isn’t necessarily super detrimental, though it’s not good by any means. The problem is that these accounts also tend to have fixed numbers of posts they publish every week or every month, on a regular schedule, all with the same basic formula. It tends to look spun, or might even be stolen or copied, and it all ends up looking extremely artificial. Even all of this could potentially be ignored, but the other signs all combine to make it one more red flag in a red flag store.
At the end of the day, though, the biggest reason not to use an agency is simply because they’re expensive for something you can do yourself. Just read other posts on our blog; you can learn how to guest post appropriately very quickly. Plus, instead of relying on an agency, you’re building relationships for yourself and a reputation as a content creator. You become an influencer through guest posting.
For Those Set on Agencies
Some of you will read all of this and will still want to outsource your guest posting to an agency. It’s okay, I won’t judge you too harshly; it is a lot of work, after all. Sometimes it’s better to build a base for your site through an expense like an agency, before you go out trying to forge relationships. You build leverage, then you exercise it.
If you’re going to contract an agency, there’s a process you should go through first. Here’s what I would recommend doing.
Step 1: build a disconnected test site. Set up a small microsite with a handful of pieces of content, some affiliate links, and some analytics. Make sure it’s disconnected from your main site; different WHOIS information, different architecture, different topics, different content. The goal is to make sure that if the links that come into it are bad, they can’t spread their negative influence to your main site. The only reason to add affiliate links is to be able to recoup some of the loss you incur from the agency if it turns out to be bunk.
Step 2: identify the agencies you might want to contract. There are tons of them out there, from freelancers on Fiverr to big name agencies. Make a list, preferably in a spreadsheet, so you can keep track of results and avoid forgetting and re-finding an agency again.
Step 3: look around for reviews of the agency. If the only reviews you can find are sponsored posts on BlackHatWorld or something, it’s probably a good idea to steer clear of them. If they have more widespread reviews, see if they’re generally positive or not.
Step 4: look for warning signs in the agency site or page. Is their content written well? Do they list sites they contribute to with examples? Do they list clients you’ve heard of or can research? Are any of their examples delisted in Google? Does their content look like something you would want to have your name attached to?
Step 5: if the agency has passed all of these filters, go ahead and purchase their smallest package for your microsite. Wait a while and do some research. Where did your links end up coming from? Were they all delivered, or did you pay for 10 and get 8? Is the content terrible or is it decent? Are you getting traffic or a higher ranking because of them? Generally check to see if they’re providing any value to you at all.
At this point you are able to make a final judgment about the agency. If they have provided what you paid for, and if the content they have provided is high quality, and if it’s published on sites that are legitimate and not private networks, and if you’re getting traffic out of it, then the agency has passed the test. Then, and only then, can you feel moderately safe buying another package for your main site. Even then, you want to start small, and make sure it wasn’t a fluke that the were delivering something valuable. Some agencies are crafty and will have a few top-tier resources they use to hook people running tests before they revert to their low quality primary sources.