With the Google Panda release last year, many pundits declared “Article Marketing is Dead” with a vocal (and invested) minority countering that Article Marketing was alive and well; it was just that writers needed to make some adjustments in this post Panda world.
So does Article Marketing still work or not?
As usual the answer is not black and white. It certainly doesn’t work as well as an SEO tactic as it used to. Panda devalued most if not all article marketing directories, so consequently they don’t rank as well and for fewer keywords. Most SEO firms will tell you that guest posting is the new article marketing and to not bother with article marketing at all. But is Article Marketing completely dead? No, depending on your competition and your keyword it’s still an easy way to get some exact match anchor text links to your site, and for some narrow niches that can be enough. It’s certainly better than buying links.
The seamy underside of Article Marketing
But before you rush out and create a bunch of articles and upload them to every article directory you can find, you might want to read through a case study I recently did exposing article marketing’s dirty little secret. When I was recently studying a client’s backlink profile who had lost traffic due to Google’s Penguin I started noticing what people had done with articles from these directories. So I took it one step further and did a small case study on what happens to the articles once they are published.
The idea behind article marketing is that not only do you get a backlink back from the article directories themselves, but if other people like your article, they will publish on their website as well, creating more backlinks to your site. It’s this second part that was the subject of my case study. What I found is that, many times, your article gets published on other website – but often without the bio box that contains the link back to your site. Which is of course why you wrote the article in the first place.
Now some caveats. My little case study focused on articles in a certain niche and is probably not big enough to be statistically conclusive. However I did spot check articles in other niches and found similar patterns. I would love it if someone did the same study on another set of articles, controlling for how many article directories were published in, the type of niche …etc.
How I did my case study
Here’s the methodology I used:
- Given three articles, I selected a contiguous phrase from each article consisting of 7 to 15 words. The goal was to have a unique string of content that wasn’t likely to be replicated in content elsewhere. For the longer phrases I included sentence breaks – and for two of the phrases I selected them from paragraphs lower in the article body to avoid looking at excerpts of the article.
- For each phrase from the article, I put the string in double quotes and Google’d it. I then selected 10 to 13 results each to look, mostly avoiding article directories – assuming that the article had been submitted to these as well (which was not a completely valid assumption as we will see).
What happens to articles that are published into the wild?
Ready? Here we go. Of the 35 results I looked at:
- 21 published the article but removed the bio with the backlink.
- 8 kept the bio but removed the link (2 even added a different link in the bio)
- Whether they kept the stripped bio or not, 15 of the 29 above added links to different sites. I even found one case of an article that had an updated bio with a new link that had been published to another article directory!
- 2 had published the article per the guidelines (keeping the bio and original link), however 1 of those 2 had changed the link to be a nofollow.
- 4 had scraped part of the article and often added new links to different sites.
- If you are going to do article marketing, make sure your link is not at the end of a sentence and/or paragraph, put it in the middle of one. The article that had a link at the end (for example “Vist www.foo.com”) lost the link the most.
- In my spot checks, some niches were better behaved (less occurrences of adding new links), but I always could find blogs that published the article with the bio and link completely removed.
- My searches on the strings I pulled from the articles always yielded the supplemental results message from Google. So many of the republished articles were considered duplicate content and not part of the primary result set. So you would be counting on Google and Bing to keep the desired articles with the right links out of the supplemental index.
- And yes there are original articles out there that don’t have a bio or a link! I saw this mostly at ezinearticles.com.
So article marketing is not completely dead. In a small uncompetitive niche it can be a backlink that helps. But given the dirty little secret I uncovered and the Google devaluation of these directories; it seems like your efforts could be better spent elsewhere.
Update: August 1, 2013: It’s been a year since I wrote this post and I’ve now done a number of Penguin recoveries. Yes, people scrape articles without giving you credit, but worse yet; we now know for sure that Google penalizes article directory backlinks. For a successful recovery from a manual penalty or from one of the Penguin algorithm releases, you need to remove or disavow all links from article directories. In this searchenginewatch article, Eric Enge (towards the end of the post) gives an example of a site that recovered 100% after removing article directory links.