Last year, SEO giant SEMrush announced that it would be offering a guest post service, offering a service whose methodology is similar to the white-hat SEO techniques that many link builders use. 

Here’s what the company’s email announcement said:

Are you interested in finding natural, enterprise-level links to your clients’ sites? SEMrush Marketplace knows how to get high volumes of valuable traffic. 

In just a few clicks, you can now order guest blog posts, based on keywords you’re interested in, which are then placed on authoritative blogs in your niche.

No time-consuming research! We take on all the work, including searching for the target blog, manual outreach, generating ideas for writing content, and creating unique, well-written content valuable to your target audience.

Just provide the target URL, anchor text and within 16 working days, we’ll provide a white label report to use yourself or send to a client.

Looks like a great offer? Check out more details right now.

Effectively, they were offering you the chance to save time and effort by outreaching quality websites and then writing you a great guest blog post for their site.

What Does Google Think?

Google was quick to respond to the announcement and share its displeasure. 

Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google John Mueller responded to a tweet about SEMrush’s new service on 3rd June.

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He stated that the link would be unnatural, and therefore would not abide by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

What Did SEMrush Say?

SEMrush was quick to defend its new service, offering a rebuke to the original tweet and others.

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As the company repeatedly states, it was offering a guest posting service that revolved around quality and aimed to create natural links to boost its client’s SEO. 

Such a service wouldn’t be unnatural link building, and it would simply be taking the effort out of finding high-quality guest posting opportunities, pitching to them and then writing the content. 

These services aren’t unheard of, nor are they bad for SEO if they’re done right, but Google was quick to brand this service as unnatural. 

Why Does Google Disagree? 

Google’s states that its mission is: 

Our mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

As such, the search engine needs to indicate to users that it focuses on relevance and quality, and is against anyone who tries to play the system.

That’s despite the fact that Google knows full well that companies are doing this. It doesn’t seriously think that firms with huge budgets are at the top of their target SERPs by accident- it just wants users to see that it is trying to discourage these practices.

The company needs to try and assure users that its search results are as organic and natural as possible, which is why it focuses on trying to shut down services like SEMrush’s. 

Also, link building and trying to get your site to the top of results pages organically takes revenue out of Google’s pocket. Think about it- you’re not going to pay for Google adverts if you can get yourself to the top of SERPs yourself for free or much cheaper.

It was this combination of trying to support users and retain its own revenue stream that led Google to label SEMrush’s guest posting service as unnatural. This is despite the fact that it would have no way of knowing that these links had been paid for, and that SEMrush was only offering to take the hard work out of guest posting, not do it unnaturally by using PBNs and other black hat techniques. 

While Google knows that there are lots of companies out there offering these services, it focused on SEMrush because the firm is a giant in the SEO world. By making an example of SEMrush, the search engine was able to show its distaste for this kind of practice and discourage potential clients from using the service and spending potential Google adverts revenue on it.  

What Happened Next?

After noticing that public opinion had turned against them, SEMrush was quick to act. The company sent out an email cancelling its new service and apologising for any disquiet that it may have caused. 

The email came from Found and CEO Oleg Shchegolev, and read:

Usually, I don’t write emails to customers, which is left to our exceptional marketing team. But, today is an important occasion.

Yesterday we faced a lot of controversy around the Guest Blogging service in our Content Marketplace. I believe it will be better if I personally address this issue and apologise. Several people on twitter and social media accused us of selling links. While this is untrue, we understand that our product launch communication could have been better. We understand what led them to such a conclusion and we only blame ourselves.

After we launched Content Marketplace, we asked our clients what other services they want to see in the Marketplace. Guest blogging was by far the most popular answer. Guest posting is a complicated topic. We flagged it ourselves in our latest research. If done wrong, guest posts can cause manual penalties, but it doesn’t mean that any type of guest blogging is harmful.

Our team made a decision to follow customer feedback and we are proud of them. They found partners who would offer honest, high-quality writing and outreach to ensure our clients get what they have asked for and have it in a transparent, white-hat way.

Earlier this week we audited the first batch of guest posts and came to the conclusion that the quality is not in line with our expectations. In many cases we didn’t like the blogs where content was published. As we were exploring potential solutions, we started seeing negative comments on social media. At the same time as a result of this buzz, we started seeing more and more new orders that we couldn’t properly fulfill. The combination of these three factors led us to the decision to close the Guest Blogging offer and refund all orders.

It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes. I am proud we can react to customer wishes so quickly and I am thankful to each customer who tested the service, regardless of our unclear communication. I am proud that my team tried to find a white hat solution in an area that many marketers have questioned.

We’ll keep asking our customers about their wishes and challenges and we will keep developing the tools they’d love. We will also continue gathering feedback and listening proactively to the marketing community. If we make a mistake, we own it. Despite the fact that we made a mistake in our communication, it was certainly not our intention. Our initial goal was to create a transparent, quality service for writing and outreach.

We encourage customers who enjoyed that service and for those who are interested in backlinks to try our link building tool. This is the safest way to build links.

We apologise for any inconvenience this situation has caused and we will try to be more careful with our experiments next time. As always, we appreciate any feedback.

Conclusion: Google Flexed Its Muscles And Won

At the end of the day, Google proved its exceptional power by speaking out about SEMrush’s new service and helping to get it shut down.

As mentioned earlier, the links that SEMrush planned to build were clearly supposed to be natural, but Google is eager to show everyone that it focuses only on links that were earned and not actively sought out.

It’s obvious to anyone with any knowledge of SEO that companies at the top of their chosen SERPs aren’t getting there by luck alone; they’re ploughing many thousands of hours and pounds into their content strategies. 

However, Google needs to show that it is putting the needs of its users first, and SEMrush needed to run with public opinion.

If you’re working to build links in the same way that SEMrush planned to, then don’t worry; your links aren’t unnatural. Take the time to find relevant link building opportunities and write high-quality content that will ensure that your digital presence grows. 

Avoid using spammy, poor-quality link building services- anything that offers you the chance to reach your target SERPs for very little money. If it seems too good to be true, then, newsflash: it definitely is!

Earning quality backlinks can help you to rank better, so take the time and spend the money to get links that enhance your rankings. Google will always discourage link building, but without it, your website will never get to the coveted first page of your target SERPs. 

I hope this article helps you to understand what happened with SEMrush’s guest posting service and how you can build links in a safe way that benefits your business.  

About the Author: Hannah Stevenson is the Content Marketing Manager at UK Linkology, one of the UK’s highest-ranking link building agencies specialising in technical SEO services including content creation and link building. She’s a former journalist who now runs the firm’s content marketing strategy and manages her own blog, as well as writing informative content that helps the SEO world to grow and evolve.