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5 Content Creation ‘Yellow Cards’ Google Issued in 2013

yellow card refIn soccer, the yellow card is the first warning one gets for breaking a rule during the game. If one persists in violating the rules, they will eventually receive a red card, and will be expelled from the field.

Online marketing is a far cry from soccer, but it shares many of its characteristics: It’s competitive, it has rules — and you can get penalized if you don’t follow those rules closely enough.

Hence, it’s important to stay updated on the rules of the marketing game at all times and to take note of the warnings you get.

Google changed the rules big time

While worrying about Google’s rules and regulations could be considered more of an SEO concern, we can’t overlook that, essentially, SEO and content marketing are cousins (rather than step brothers) and often go hand in hand in content creation efforts.

Content marketers often turn to SEO best practices to increase traffic; in turn, content marketing is a tactic frequently used by SEO practitioners to improve a website’s positions in search. So, technically the two are tight, and can either help or hurt each other.

As you may have heard, the SEO industry has been shaken up as of late. This year alone, Google rolled out a series of “jarring and jolting” algorithm updates, has created video content on how not to promote a site on Google, and has issued a countless number of manual penalties to sites that, according to Google, use manipulative SEO techniques.

These spam-fighting measures culminated in the updated version of Google Webmaster Guidelines, which I think every content marketer should become familiar with. For your convenience, here is a short breakdown, with some examples that will provide a deeper understanding of what’s changing in the game of SEO for content marketing.


Nothing seems to be wrong with infographics in and of themselves; but because they are frequently shared and embedded on multiple sites, they have often been used by SEOs to mass-produce some quick back-links to a site. And this is not OK with Google:

“People don’t always realize what they are linking to when they reprint these infographics. Often the link goes to a completely unrelated site, and one that they don’t mean to endorse.”

In the above quoted interview, Google’s Matt Cutts goes on to say that Google could soon begin discounting links from infographics — at least to an extent.

In August 2013, the same Googler followed up on that promise by saying that, to avoid raising suspicion with Google, marketers should consider using nofollow links in the infographics they distribute across a large number of sites. This should be done to signify that your infographics aren’t being shared just to up your Google rankings, but rather they are being shared for educational, promotional, or lead and traffic generation purposes.

For example: According to Google’s new vision of infographics, the links in this Geek vs. Nerd piece by MasterInIt.Org should use the rel=”nofollow” attribute:


nofollow example

Native advertising

Are you creating native advertising content — also known as advertorials — as part of your content marketing efforts? These are paid content offerings that are created specifically for advertising purposes and are placed in online newspapers, magazines, and websites. Frequently, they are marked as paid posts — but not always.

Because companies are technically promoting themselves with this native advertising content, links from these sponsored content pieces cannot serve as reliable “votes,” as per Google’s rules. So, nofollow links should be included in advertorial content links, lest the website it is pointing to suffer the consequences by nosediving in Google’s results pages.

This warning goes out to advertorial publishers, too. This is because, technically, each time you link out to a third-party website that paid you for the advertorial, you are selling the link, which violates Google’s guidelines.

For example: In February of 2013, Google penalized Interflora, an international flower delivery network, for having purchased oodles of advertorials with “dofollow” links (links missing the rel=”nofollow” attribute) right around Valentine’s Day. At the same time, dozens of British newspapers had been slammed by Google, as well — apparently for publishing those advertorials.

Right now it seems that at least some of the newspapers affected in the Interflora case began using rel=”nofollow” in advertorial links.

cheap brochure printing example

As proof, I pressed Ctrl+U to view the code on this post, and this is what I found:

nofollow link-printing

Press releases

Press release distribution is another marketing practice that got caught in the Google vs. SEOs crossfire. Although most online businesses do not count on press release links for SEO (all the press release links I’ve seen in my life were “nofollow”), some SEOs have nevertheless been abusing the tactic by putting over-optimized links in their press releases.

Under the updated Google Quality Guidelines, this is against the rules. So, if you’re preparing a press release and a member of your SEO team asks you to stick a keyword into the link’s anchor text (the visible part of the link), point them to this article.

For example: Our company has been using press releases mostly for publicity and direct traffic purposes. Sometimes they show up on Google news for certain keywords (we’re happy when they do show up for our brand names) or are picked up by major news sites, like this one that was picked up by The Tribune:

press release example-prweb

As you can see, the anchor texts in this release do not contain any generic keywords such as best software for online marketing or similar – which would be something Google considers a manipulative practice.

Mass article submission

Content marketing is often about contributing quality content to third-party sites — i.e., syndicating your own content to high-quality hubs that may be interested in featuring it.

However, despite the best intentions of honest, well-meaning content marketers, this one has been tainted by those who use poor SEO practices, as well. Marketers looking for quick results have been known to build links from low-quality articles (e.g., those that are less than 300 words long, include links with commercial anchor texts, include no formatting, etc.), which they spin and distribute across a variety of sites that accept such “submissions.”

As per the new Google’s guidelines, engaging in “large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links“is considered a shady marketing practice.

For example: Here is a 495-word-long article I found on one of those article sites frequently used by black-hat SEOs. Needless to say, it has no value for the reader whatsoever. (incidentally, I also had a difficult time getting past the first sentence):

iphone wooden cases example

And, check out the links at the end of the article. Do they look like natural “votes” one site casts for another?

wooden cases link example

Guest posts

It’s kind of ironic that I should mention guest blogging among other semi-dangerous SEO practices, since this is exactly what I’m doing at the moment — writing a guest article. But just like many SEO practices, guest bloggers can choose to play on the white-hat side or more on the back-hat side.

There is nothing wrong with writing a guest post to share expertise or establish yourself and your business as an expert on a particular subject. However, creating content for the sole purpose of dropping keyword-rich links into an author byline is another story, altogether.

For example: Search Engine Journal recently removed all links from the bios of its guest authors. Though some people may view the decision as a bit harsh, those who aren’t guest blogging just for SEO purposes should have no concerns. So, as long as social sharing is still enabled, content marketers shouldn’t have a problem with contributing content to sites like this that have taken a hard-line stance.

alesia krush bio example

I’m also aware of some online journals that are considering including “nofollow” in all external site links they include. It’s an understandable practice, though these outlets may be shooting themselves in the foot, as Google also factors in the sites you link out to when estimating how trustworthy your content is.

So, mass guest blogging that involves including keyword-rich links in your bio is now frowned upon by Google. So, if you guest blog, the minimal precaution measure you should take is to be careful with your anchor texts, and to refrain from creating lots of guest posts with lots of links over a short period of time.


So, let me quickly name the practices a content marketer should now be careful with and savvy about:

  • infographic creation
  • advertorial placement
  • press release distribution
  • article submission and guest blogging

Pay attention to how content creation decisions like these may affect your SEO, and your overall content marketing strategy should stay intact and effective.

For more guidance on how to avoid SEO penalties in your content creation efforts, read “Managing Content Marketing” by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi.

Cover image via iStockPhoto by RTimages