Matt Cutts put out a pretty clear message yesterday – if he catches anyone guest blogging for SEO gains, he will personally hunt them down on horseback and end them with a big Google shaped trident. He will be taking NO prisoners.

Or something along those lines.

If you hadn’t heard, the guest blogging saga took a big turn yesterday when guest blogging network, MyBlogGuest was hit with a manual penalty which wiped its pages from Google’s search listings.

Cutts tweeted:

It’s a pretty clear statement of intent, but doesn’t actually come as a huge surprise. Following Cutts’ blog post in January – The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO (the ‘for SEO’ bit was added more recently) – there was a whole lot of uproar, but ultimately not a lot of action – people have continued to guest blog and blog networks/communities like MyBlogGuest have seemingly continued to operate with little disruption.

It appears to me that the penalty imposed on MyBlogGuest is a warning to all that Google’s webspam team really does mean business. Of course, for Ann Smarty, founder of MyBlogGuest, the situation is not as trivial, and she has been quite open about her feelings towards the penalty:

You can read the full reaction here, but her main defence is this:

“We realize and recognize the problem of many people abusing our community. We have invested lots of effort in educating our community members on how to do guest blogging right.”

“We have been fighting paid links, duplicate content issues, link farms, etc for years.”

“We have had some awesome success stories from our members and we have always believed in adding value to the web.”

Based on this alone I don’t think many of us would question Smarty’s morals and intent (would we?), but the problem is it’s all theoretical, and the physical evidence points to what is essentially a content network which is used primarily for SEO gain.

You can talk about community and value add until the cows come home, but technically speaking the site is actively promoting an activity which Google has specifically stated to be a big no-no, albeit very recently.

But out of all the content networks, guest blogging communities and other slightly dodgy links-in-mass-produced-content channels out there, why is it that MyBlogGuest was hit?

The logical answer is, as explained above, the site violates Google’s webmaster guidelines. The more probable explanation is that MyBlogGuest is arguably the biggest and widely-known site of its kind, and therefore makes the biggest PR splash.

Slapping a penalty on MyBlogGuest was not just a coincidence, it was a very clever and well calculated move by Google. It has caused major shockwaves and made all of us sit up and take note, which is, I suspect exactly what they wanted us to do.

So what next for MyBlogGuest, and guest blogging in general?

The latest from Ann Smarty is that the company has no intention of removing followed links from users’ content. She Tweeted, “We can remove any links from our blog on request but we won’t nofollow any”. Fair play to Ann for sticking to her guns, but it’s the links which have caused the problem, and they’re likely to remain the problem unless this policy is changed.

But what then – if you took away the links, would people still use the service? You have to question the appeal of a service used, I suspect predominantly by online marketers, which has minimal to zero SEO value.

Anyone who is using guest blogging as an SEO tactic really should assess their approach, and if your site has links from MyBlogGuest you should probably think about having them removed sharpish.

If you’re one of the good guys who is guest blogging for the right reasons (brand building, connecting with new audiences and all that jazz) you should still review what you’re doing, because Matt Cutts and his team do not care about your good intentions – they see a followed guest post link, they see an infringement of its guidelines, simple.

The ‘should they/shouldn’t they have been penalised’ debate will rage on over the coming days and weeks I’m sure, but despite your opinion about Google’s guidelines, the fact is Google is king and we all have to abide by its rules. For the likes of Ann Smarty this can be a bitter pill to swallow, but if anything it confirms that there are no prisoners in the war against webspam.

Have an opinion? Do you use MyBlogGuest, or any similar guest blogging sites? Please leave a comment below.