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High-quality content is involved in generating so many of the signals that tell search engines your site is worth paying attention to. And even ugly competitor’s sites might outperform yours if they publish readable, sought-after content and you aren’t taking editorial control of what gets published on your blog.

Accepting guest blog content has its perks: You’ll receive content for free, boosting the frequency and quantity of new content on your site, which has clear benefits for SEO. And by adding other authoritative authors to your site, your blog can become multi-dimensional, thus building your credibility and expanding your audience. Plus, credible bloggers will be promoting their own writing on your blog and driving traffic to your site.

However, if you don’t institute consistent quality standards, you’ll get spun content or just low-quality junk content slipping past your cursory glances at guest posts that come your way. That’s a recipe, not just for your blog to remain in obscurity, but — ever since Panda elevated content quality in importance — for ruining a site that actually has some authority to start with. If you’re not careful, eager guest bloggers can sabotage much of your otherwise worthwhile SEO effort.

The good news is that most of us know good content when we see it. But good writing can sometimes mask flaws that make a piece boring, shallow or simply not good enough to keep the attention of people who do actually land on your content pages. Here are some red flags to watch for that will hurt your SEO efforts, and should have you sending a blog post back for revision, if not just rejecting it flat out.

SEO Content Deal-Breakers

  • The content is plagiarized. The first thing you should do with any piece of content you receive is check it for originality with a service like Copyscape. Guest writers will often repurpose content, and barely change it at all, if they aren’t scraping someone else’s work altogether. Scraped content is unethical to publish (and puts you at risk of a DMCA notice), and posting duplicate content can actually make your rankings take a hit, too.
  • The topic has been beaten to death. Contrary to popular belief, the Internet doesn’t need any more articles like “Top 10 Movies of 2012.” What it does need (and what your blog needs to build authority) is an original, interesting treatment of a topic that is going to intrigue readers enough to click on your search result, let alone link back to, tweet or share it on Facebook.
  • The subject doesn’t match the title. Some writers just don’t have discipline; their minds wander, or they get sidetracked while writing. In the end, a blog post that started out being about new features of Android smartphones drifts into a screed about why Apple is evil and Tim Cook is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. If the body of the blog post doesn’t deliver what the title promises, people will reach for the “back” button on their browsers and you’ll be contributing to a higher bounce rate. Treat the title like a contract and reject blog posts or articles that don’t honor it.
  • The piece isn’t scannable. Most web readers don’t read; they scan over a piece, jumping between headings and paragraph intro sentences to find what they’re looking for out of a piece. If a guest blogger sends you a giant block of text with no headings, bulleted lists or bolded intros, your reader won’t have any visual signposts with which to navigate your content. If you publish stuff like that, I can hear them fleeing your sight in terror already!
  • The writing is only skin-deep. Some writers are gifted at looking like they’ve written a deep and interesting post, but really they’re just talking in circles. They have no real deep understanding of a topic and are just mixing some pretty sounding phrases together, and they’ll be spotted as a fraud the minute someone who’s searching those keywords actually reads the thing. Make sure the writing is actually giving the topic the attention it deserves or readers and search engines will penalize you for it.
  • Grammar and spelling are beyond saving. Typos and the occasional misplaced comma are to be expected, especially in blog writing, which is less formal. But if the piece requires extensive edits, or it looks suspiciously like it was spit out by some poor translation software, you may be dealing with some spun or translated content that needs to be totally rewritten for you to even consider publishing it.

Content Marketers Need to Take the Long View

My point is that if you’re going to get into the time-intensive and resource-heavy activity of developing and curating content for SEO, don’t make the mistake of cutting corners by accepting horrible, substandard, unreadable content. Sure, not everything you publish needs to be Pulitzer material, but it does need to meet a minimum standard to be of value. Otherwise, the rest of your SEO strategy is going to be fighting against this headwind of bad, duplicate, spammy content.

In the short term, you may have to produce more content yourself and work harder to attract competent writers to your site. Over time, as your work raises your site’s profile and you start to build an active readership, being a little pickier about what you publish will start to pay off with a higher volume of guest blogging requests. Then you can be even choosier, and the quality of writing you get starts to snowball.

Have you had problems attracting high-quality guest blogging content to your site? What are your deal-breakers for writing that you reject?