Measure For Business Benefit

Matt Cutts is just toying with SEO’s these days.

Going by some comments, many SEOs still miss the big picture. Google is not in the business of enabling SEOs. So he may as well have a little fun - Matt has “called it” on guest posting.

Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.

The hen-house erupted.

The hens should know better by now. If a guest post is good for the audience and site, then do it. If it’s being done for no other reason than to boost rank in Google, then that’s a sign a publishing strategy is weak, high risk, and vulnerable to Google's whims. Change the publishing strategy.

Measuring What Is Important

Although far from perfect, Google is geared towards recognizing utility. If Google doesn’t recognize utility, then Google will become weaker and someone else will take their place. Only a few people remember Alta Vista. They didn’t provide much in the way of utility, and Google ate their lunch.

Which brings me onto the importance of measurement.

It’s important we measure the right things. If people get upset because guest posting is called out, are they upset because they are counting the number of inbound links as if that were the only benefit? Why are they counting inbound links? To get a ranking boost? So, why are some people getting upset? They know Google doesn’t like marketing practices that serve no other purpose than to boost rank. Or are people concerned Google might confuse a post of genuine utility with link spam?

A publishing strategy based on nothing more than Google rankings is not a publishing strategy, it’s a tactic. Given the changes Google has made recently, it’s not a good tactic, because if they can isolate and eliminate SEO tactics, they will. Those who guest post on other sites, and offer guest post placement in order to provide utility, should continue to do so. They are unlikely to eliminate genuine utility, regardless of links, and at worst, they'll likely ignore the site it appears on.


To prosper, we need to be more interesting that the next guy. We need to focus on delivering “interestingness”.

The buzzword term is “visitor engagement”, but that really means “be interesting”. If we provide interesting material, people will read it, and if we provide it on a regular basis, they might come back, or remember our brand name, and then search on that brand name, and then they might link to it, and that this activity combined helps us rank. Ranking is a side effect of being genuinely interesting.

This is not to say measuring links, or page views, are unimportant. But they can be an oversimplification when taken in isolation.

Demand Media's eHow focused on pageviews rather than engagement. Which is a big part of the reason why the guys who sold them eHow were able to beat them with wikiHow.

Success depends on achieving the underlying business goal. Perhaps high page views are not important if a site is targeting a very specific audience. Perhaps rankings aren't all that important if most of the audience is on social media or repeat business. Sometimes, focusing on the wrong metrics leads to the wrong marketing tactics.

What else can we measure? Some common stuff....

  • Page views
  • Subscriptions
  • Comments
  • Quality of comments
  • Syndication
  • Time on site
  • Videos watched
  • Unique visitors
  • Traffic sent to partner sites
  • Bookmarking activity
  • Search engine exposure
  • Brand searches
  • Offline mentions
  • Online mentions
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Conversion rates
  • Number of inquiries
  • Relationships
  • Sales
  • Reduced costs

The choice of what we measure depends on what we’re trying to achieve. The SEO may say they are trying to achieve a high rank, but why? To get more traffic, perhaps. Why do we want more traffic? In the hope more people will buy our widget.

So, if buying more widgets is the goal, then perhaps more energy needs to be placed into converting the traffic we already have, as opposed to spending the same energy getting more? Perhaps more time needs to be spent on conversion optimization. Perhaps more time needs to be spent refining the offer. Or listening to customers. Hearing their objections. Writing Q&A that addresses those objections. Guest posting somewhere else and addressing industry wide objections. Thinking up products to sell to previous customers. Making them aware of changes via an email list. Optimizing the interest factor of your site to make it more interesting than your competitors, then treat the rankings as a bonus. Link building starts with "being interesting".

When it comes to the guest post, if you’re only doing it to get a link, then you’re almost certainly selling yourself short. A guest post should serve a number of functions, such as building awareness, increasing reach, building brand, and be based on serving your underlying marketing objective. Pick where you post carefully. Deliver real value. If you do guest post, always try and extract way more benefit than just the link.

There was a time when people could put low-quality posts on low-quality sites and enjoy a benefit. But that practice is really just selling a serious web business short.

How Do We Know If We're Interesting?

There are a couple of different types of measurement marketers use. One is an emotional response, where the visitor becomes “positively interested”. This is measured by recall studies, association techniques, customers surveys and questionnaires. However, the type of response on-line marketers focus on, which is somewhat easier to measure, is behavioural interest. When people are really interested, they do something in response.

So, to measure the effectiveness of a guest posting, we might look for increased name or brand searches. More linkedin views. We might look at how many people travel down the links. We look at what they do when they land on the site, and - the most important bit - whether they do whatever that thing is that translates to the bottom line. Was it subscribing? Commenting? Downloading a white paper? Watching a video? Getting in contact? Tweeting? Bookmarking? What was that thing you wanted them to do in order to serve your bottom line?

Measurement should be flexible and will be geared towards achieving business goals. SEOs may worry that if they don’t show rankings and links, then the customer will be dissatisfied. I’d wager the customer will be a lot more dissatisfied if they do get a lot of links and a rankings boost, yet no improvement in the bottom line. We could liken this to companies that have a lot of meetings. There is an air of busyness, but are they achieving anything worthwhile? Maybe. Maybe not. We should be careful not to mistake frenzy for productivity.

Measuring links, like measuring the number of meetings, is reductive. So is measuring engagement just by looking at clicks. The picture needs to be broad and strategic. So, if guest posts help you build your business, measured by business metrics, keep doing them. Don’t worry about what Google may or may not do, because it’s beyond your control, regardless.

Control what you can. Control the quality of information you provide.

Published: January 28, 2014 by A Reader in business


January 28, 2014 - 11:14am

I found this article such a breath of fresh air, thank you. People need to stop thinking of links as "votes" and think about building a business and satisfying their customers. If it is relevant to bring customers into your site with a relevant guest-blogging post, then go ahead and do it. Do it for the traffic/customer acquisition, to get your website or brand name out there, to peak curiosity, to build your own authority etc - but NOT for the link/"vote".

Jon Burnham
January 28, 2014 - 12:55pm

One mantra -

"Control what you can. Control the quality of information you provide."

This is now SEO in a nutshell. Nicely put!

Thanks P. You and Aaron are the fresh, breathable air we need instead of the suffocation of Google sycophants and their misinformation.


January 29, 2014 - 9:40am

Excellent business résumé

Want to rank just for the sake of trafic at all costs is like wanting a store on a famous Boulevard.

If the store is no good, it will quicqly go bankrupt as the charges are far higher than thos of a website.

80% of success of any business is based on the great offer you have to propose.

The rest is just all about getting known

On the web it's all about creating a good offer with good content that demonstrates (not clames) your unique selling proposition.

Do that correctly, and people will naturally link back to you.

Totally agree with this post and where Google is goinig

Satify the user, focus on the user, explain and demonstrate

January 29, 2014 - 5:29pm

Damn, now I have to be interesting too?

Seriously though, this is good stuff. I find it very liberating the more I shift my focus to providing value, defining and targeting a niche, and interacting with actual people. The whole abstraction of links as SEO, and being subject to Google's whims, is dispiriting for me. I know some people dig it, and more power to them.

And, the less I have to care what Matt says the happier I'll be. Filtering propaganda is a full time job these days.

January 31, 2014 - 12:34am

Adsense got hit first. It was easy for competitors to hit your site with spam clicks and get your account banned even costing publishers thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Google said, "too bad".

Then Adwords. "Quality" score! Get banned. Google says, "too bad".

Now organic search. Google says, "too bad".

...and the stock price increases. And the government says, "good work!".

February 3, 2014 - 10:52pm

It's always been thus to add value to your proposition. The difference in 2014 is that I (we?) no longer care about Google. I've found out the joy of truly engaging with my target market once more (in the flesh, in online communities including Facebook), and Google are relegated to "bonus traffic". It's also refreshing to be back in an environment that feels fairer - the cause-and-effect assuredness of putting in effort, and getting reward from that effort, with no rug pulled from under me, no arbitrary and meaningless "rules" to follow.

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