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Are Parasite SEO’s Days Numbered?

Close up of a Mosquito

Ever heard of “Parasite SEO”? It’s currently on Google’s chopping block.

Parasite SEO is a term that’s buzzed around the SEO community for a while, gaining traction for its clever, if not controversial, tactics. In essence, Parasite SEO involves piggybacking on the authority of established websites. A nifty shortcut to the top, but here’s the twist…

Google’s eyes are now firmly fixed on this strategy and its days are numbered.

While the tech giant hasn’t cracked down on Parasite SEO yet, it’s definitely on their radar. Read on as we delve into this strategy, the recent change in focus from Google and what it all means for the future of SEO. But first…

What the heck is Parasite SEO?

Parasite SEO might sound sinister, but it’s a staple in many a digital marketer’s toolkit. Imagine a small plant latching onto a giant tree, drawing nutrients and thriving in the shadow of its host. In the digital world, Parasite SEO works in a similar way.

Coined back in 2006, Parasite SEO involves publishing an article on a well-established, authoritative external website. This can be for free or a fee. Thanks to the site’s high authority, your content then has a high chance of ranking well on Google. When this is achieved, you can siphon off traffic, increase your brand’s visibility and build links to your own site.

Let’s say you’re just starting out as an SEO agency and have launched a new website. Firstly – congrats! Secondly, commiserations – it will take months for Google to take your website seriously. And even then, your best chance of ranking on Google is to target longtail keyphrases and zero volume keywords.

However, with Parasite SEO, you can simply publish an article on a site like HubPages, Medium or Quora – and your content can rank top in next to no time. Thousands of eyeballs reading your content, just like that! Easy-peasy.

For example, the page that ranks 1st for “best websites for Parasite SEO” is a LinkedIn Pulse article 🤣 The irony is palpable.

best websites for Parasite SEO

Historically, this tactic does work. However, as with most shortcuts, there’s a catch. The reliance on another site’s authority means that you’re playing by their rules, and your success is hitched to their wagon. You are a mosquito, searching for a tasty human. You could be swatted at any moment!

If you’re ready to take a chance and jump straight into the world of Parasite SEO, there’s something you need to know first…

Google is on the case!

Google recently rolled out the September 2023 helpful content (GHC) update and it has rocked the SEO industry.

Essentially, Google wants content that’s written for humans and not search engines. Sounds easy enough. However, SEO practitioners are often caught in a paradox – they want to please Google to rank well, but the best way to do this is to not think about Google at all.

Confused yet?

There has been a large backlash in the community, with Spencer Haws, founder of Niche Pursuits, going as far as saying that Google is actually killing blogging:

With the dust now settling following the update, the complaints are flooding in. One re-occurring gripe is that well-established sites are gaining more dominance and can seemingly blog about any topic, while smaller, niche websites are being ground down.

Happily, we can report that Google is listening and taking the feedback on board. Danny Sullivan, Google’s Search Liaison, plays a pivotal role here. He’s the bridge between the SEO community and Google’s search teams, funnelling insights and concerns from experts to the decision-makers.

Danny recently shared the feedback he has gathered on X:

There’s a lot to work through. One pertinent piece of feedback is:

“Over and over, people noted large publishers that seem like they can write about anything and get rewarded. A compilation of such complaints is here.

One key tweet in part is this:

Related is the idea that “parasite SEO” sites win, sites that lease themselves out to third-parties and then content ranks on these sites that would never succeed on a different site. This is different from big sites winning for original (but not necessarily people-first) content, but the two get conflated.”

Sullivan’s collection of feedback and its presentation to Google is more than just a bureaucratic exercise. It’s a real-time pulse of the industry’s reaction to Google’s evolving stance. This feedback, especially on Parasite SEO, is crucial. It shows Google how its guidelines resonate with the community and where adjustments might be needed.

Although mentioned in his feedback, parasite SEO isn’t actually a phrase used internally by Google. 

“That’s not the term we’d use internally, by the way,” said Danny, in a forum discussion on Mastodon. “I was referencing how some people externally talk about it.”

While we can see that Parasite SEO is a key topic of consideration for Google, it doesn’t end there…
Google’s stance on Parasite SEO is more than just a footnote on a feedback list…

The end for hosted-third party content?

When the September 2023 GHC update came out, Google added new information to its documentation around this update. One thing specific to this documentation change was around hosted third-party content. However, this has not yet been implemented into the actual algorithm and is just a recommendation according to Gary Illyes, an Analyst on the Google Search team (or the ‘House Elf and Chief of Sunshine and Happiness at Google’ according to his X bio 🤷).

Kenichi Suzuki was at a recent event with Gary, and quotes his input on low-quality, hosted-third party content, saying…

Here’s the crux. While Google has expressed concerns, they haven’t yet incorporated these into their actual algorithm. Currently, this remains a documentation change and is not yet a part of Google’s helpful content system. It’s a recommendation, not an implementation.

Why is this significant? It shows Google’s intent. The search giant is hinting a warning for those relying on Parasite SEO. It’s a heads-up that the rules of the game may be about to change.

However, these is still scepticism is the SEO industry, with many claiming that this is just hot air. “They’ve been promising to do something about parasite SEO for 10+ years now”, said Steve Brownlie from Confuse The Machine.” The clever folks doing it will just find ways to make their contributed content look less contributed. I’m sure for some of them writing 50 genuine articles with an author account in order to just sneak one in that is ‘for parasite’ purposes is still +EV financially.”

For Daniel Foley Carter, the founder of SEO-stack.io, low-quality Parasite SEO is the issue, while the strategy itself will continue to provide value. “Third party content still offers a great way of generating traffic if the quality of content is good it warrants ranking. But spam for the sake of traffic by leveraging the hosting domains authority is clearly where the issue persists, no doubt over time they’ll improve detection and removal like they would any normal hosted content.”

Implications on Parasite SEO and future outlook

The message from Google seems clear. Focus on creating high-quality, original content that provides genuine value to users. As search algorithms become more sophisticated, the ability to discern the intent and value of content will only increase. For marketers and SEO strategists, this means adapting and evolving strategies to stay ahead.

As Google’s stance on Parasite SEO becomes clearer, it’s essential to consider the broader implications for the SEO landscape. The current situation, where Google’s documentation advises against Parasite SEO without yet encoding this into the algorithm, creates a unique moment for reflection and anticipation.

The implications are two-fold:

  1. First, for those currently employing Parasite SEO tactics, this is a wake-up call. It’s a moment to assess the sustainability of these strategies. Given Google’s history of algorithm updates, it’s probably only a matter of time before recommendations turn into concrete algorithmic changes. The warning is clear – strategies that rely heavily on exploiting third-party site authority may soon become ineffective.
  2. Secondly, there’s an opportunity here for forward-thinking SEO practitioners. It’s a chance to innovate and pivot towards strategies that align with Google’s evolving focus on high-quality, user-first content. This shift could herald a new era of SEO, where the emphasis is on creating genuinely helpful and informative content, rather than finding loopholes in the system.

As Google continues to refine its algorithms and guidelines, it’s crucial for SEO professionals to stay agile, informed and ready to adapt. As we move forward, the emphasis on ethical and sustainable SEO practices will only grow stronger.

What are you going to do? Are you going to hunt down your next Parasite SEO victim or play it straight? For many the strategy still provides great value, if done carefully and with quality in mind. If you’re looking for futureproof SEO tactics, give this a try: Boost Your Traffic With Content Velocity.