30 day challenge for March: no external email

In January, my 30 day challenge was to limit my social media. That was a productive month.

In February, my 30 day challenge was to eat more slowly. I did that by counting to ten between chewing bites of my food. I tend to wolf down my food, which doesn’t give my stomach time to say “Hey, I’m full enough to stop.” I was also raised to finish everything on my plate, but sometimes it’s better to stop eating and leave leftovers on the plate. It’s actually been a really great challenge, and one I hope to keep doing in some form.

For March, my 30 day challenge will be not to reply to external emails. Email continues to be my nemesis. It’s so hard to prioritize important things over the pelting of lots of emails that claim to be urgent. Answering emails provides the illusion of progress, but it’s one of the least scalable ways to communicate. When you answer an external email, you’re usually helping one person in private, as opposed to helping many people at once like with a video. And of course when you’re answering emails, you’re usually reacting rather than plotting an active course forward.

Last night I got the chance to hear Fred Brooks talk about different aspects of software engineering and management. He told a story about the IBM System/360. Apparently a few months before the public launch, a smart manager concluded that the team need to focus on work with no distractions. So the manager decreed: no meetings with sales people or other non-related internal staff. What the team needed was to “just be mean” and buckle down and focus on the most important goal, which was meeting their launch deadline.

March is a great month to do some deep thinking about the future and various work and personal projects. So I’m going to try to do more of that and less answering email. Sorry in advance if you write but don’t get a reply from me.

The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO

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.

Back in the day, guest blogging used to be a respectable thing, much like getting a coveted, respected author to write the introduction of your book. It’s not that way any more. Here’s an example unsolicited, spam email that I recently received:

My name is XXXXXXX XXXXXXXX and I work as a content marketer for a high end digital marketing agency in [a city halfway around the world]. I have been promoting high quality content in select niches for our clients.

We are always on the lookout for professional, high class sites to further promote our clients and when I came across your blog I was very impressed with the fan following that you have established.I [sic] would love to speak to you regarding the possibility of posting some guest articles on your blog. Should you be open to the idea, we can consider making suitable contribution, befitting to high standard of services that your blog offers to larger audience.

On my part, I assure you a high quality article that is-
- 100% original
- Well written
- Relevant to your audience and
- Exclusive to you

We can also explore including internal links to related articles across your site to help keep your readers engaged with other content on your blog.
All I ask in return is a dofollow link or two in the article body that will be relevant to your audience and the article. We understand that you will want to approve the article, and I can assure you that we work with a team of highly talented writers, so we can guarantee that the article would be insightful and professionally written. We aim to write content that will benefit your loyal readers. We are also happy to write on any topic, you suggest for us.

If you ignore the bad spacing and read the parts that I bolded, someone sent me a spam email offering money to get links that pass PageRank. That’s a clear violation of Google’s quality guidelines. Moreover, we’ve been seeing more and more reports of “guest blogging” that are really “paying for PageRank” or worse, “we’ll insert some spammy links on your blog without you realizing it.”

Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things in the SEO space: a trend starts out as authentic. Then more and more people pile on until only the barest trace of legitimate behavior remains. We’ve reached the point in the downward spiral where people are hawking “guest post outsourcing” and writing articles about “how to automate guest blogging.”

So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.

For historical reference, I’ll list a few videos and links to trace the decline of guest articles. Even back in 2012, I tried to draw a distinction between high-quality guest posts vs. spammier guest blogs:

Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t seem to hear me say to steer away from low-quality guest blog posting, so I did a follow-up video to warn folks away from spammy guest articles:

In mid-2013, John Mueller gave spot on advice about nofollowing links in guest blog posts. I think by mid-2013, a ton of people saw the clear trend towards guest blogging being overused by a bunch of low-quality, spammy sites.

Then a few months ago, I took a question about how to be a guest blogger without it looking like paying for links (even the question is a clue that guest blog posting has been getting spammier and spammier). I tried to find a sliver of daylight to talk about high-quality guest blog posts, but if you read the transcript you’ll notice that I ended up spending most of the time talking about low-quality/spam guest posting and guest articles.

And then in this video that we posted last month, even the question itself predicted that Google would take stronger action and asked about “guest blogging as spam”:

So there you have it: the decay of a once-authentic way to reach people. Given how spammy it’s become, I’d expect Google’s webspam team to take a pretty dim view of guest blogging going forward.

Added: It seems like most people are getting the spirit of what I was trying to say, but I’ll add a bit more context. I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there. I changed the title of this post to make it more clear that I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.

I’m also not talking about multi-author blogs. High-quality multi-author blogs like Boing Boing have been around since the beginning of the web, and they can be compelling, wonderful, and useful.

I just want to highlight that a bunch of low-quality or spam sites have latched on to “guest blogging” as their link-building strategy, and we see a lot more spammy attempts to do guest blogging. Because of that, I’d recommend skepticism (or at least caution) when someone reaches out and offers you a guest blog article.

Bluetooth garage door opener

Today I made a Bluetooth garage door opener. Now I can open my garage from my Android phone. There’s a short how-to YouTube video from Lou Prado. Lou also made a website btmate.com that has more information, and you can watch an earlier howto video as well.

The project itself was pretty simple:
- Acquire a Samsung HM1100 bluetooth headset (the Samsung HM1800 also works). You can buy these cheap from Fry’s or eBay. I got mine on eBay for $10-$15.
- Crack open the earpiece on the Bluetooth headset and solder one of the earpiece wires to the base pin of a transistor. Solder red and black wires to the other pins of the transistor.
- Connect the red and black wires to the garage door opener. It turns out that most garage door openers are built to allow easy insertion of wires, which is nice.

That’s more or less it. My soldering was ugly as sin–too ugly for me to even post a picture. And rather than leave the house for some heat shrink tubing, I just left bare wires on the transistor, but everything works fine.

Lou wrote a nice Android app that’s free to install and then pay-what-you-want for a license. Then it’s just a single button to open or close the garage door. In theory, I could use Tasker to open the garage door automatically when I get home.

It’s not quite as sexy as Brad Fitzpatrick’s Android garage door opener, but it was a fun little project for a day.

I’m matching funds for cancer research!

I’ll keep it short: this week when you donate for cancer research, I’ll match your donation (up to a limit of $5000 total for all donations). We’ve already raised almost $8,000 dollars to help stop cancer, but I’d love to get to $10,000 or even higher.

If anyone has ever wanted to take money out of my pocket, now’s your chance! Donate for a great cause and I’ll match you dollar for dollar. :)

Thanks in advance if you can donate to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute this week. And if you do donate, remember that many employers will match charitable donations! I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has donated, and I’ll be thinking of you on my multiple-hours run in Boston this spring.

Donate to cancer research!

30 day challenge update: stretching!

I like to set myself different challenges every 30 days. In October 2013, I tried to eat better and exercise more. I did alright on that, but without a specific daily goal, I had a hard time deciding how well I did. I mostly got back into the habit of exercising daily, so that was helpful.

For November 2013, I tried to do a “no work November.” I had enough vacation days built up that I was hitting the upper limit for work, so I took a bunch of vacation in November. My in-laws visited one week, then it was a family member’s birthday, so we took some time off at a resort in Arizona. Then it was back home for a week before spending the week before Thanksgiving in Kentucky with my family.

I learned a few things in my month off:
- I still enjoy reading tech and Google news for fun. It’s amazing (or problematic?) how much time you can spend just surfing the web each day and reading what other people are writing.
- My initial goal was to not read work email at all, but I had to give up on that. There were a few urgent things I genuinely had to weigh in on. I eventually settled for reading work email but trying really hard not to reply unless it was an emergency. I probably ended up writing 20-30 replies over the month, along with passing on spam reports that people emailed to me.
- I realized that I’d gotten in the bad habit of giving friends my work email address, as well as forwarding my personal email address to my work email. Takeaway: keep your work email separate from your personal email. Seems like common sense, but after almost 14 years at Google, things had gotten tangled together.
- A couple good pieces of advice that I failed to heed: 1) remove your work account from your phone, so you can’t check work email or docs on your phone. 2) if you have an “email tab” that you keep pinned on your browser, unpin and close that tab. I didn’t take either of those steps, but I should have.
- I didn’t feel the need to start any big projects, or write any Android apps, or blog a lot. I have a newer Linux computer that has configuration issues; I didn’t tackle that. Mostly I enjoyed reading a few books.
- I’m incredibly proud of the whole webspam team at Google. Things ran like clockwork while I was gone. I’m really grateful to the phenomenal people that fight spam for Google’s users every day.

Which brings us to December 2013. Back in September, I threw my back out. I can still move around fine, but it sometimes hurts if I bend in various ways. So my goal for December 2013 is to do 15-20 minutes of stretching–things like cat and camel–each day to help my back recuperate.

How about you? Are you doing any 30 day challenges?

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