If you’re squeamish, don’t worry.
This isn’t that kind of parasite.
And if you’re a movie buff, you should know this has nothing to do with the 2019 South Korean film.
No, this is a different type of parasite.
Arguably, a positive parasite.
One that can support your website in some highly profitable, tempting ways.
And it’s getting more popular.
Because it works.
So let’s dig in and figure this out.
What exactly is parasite SEO?
Should you use parasite SEO for your own website?
And how, pray tell, do you practice it?
Table of Contents
Parasite SEO: An Introduction
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a tried-and-true digital marketing strategy that’s been pursued by small and large businesses alike since search engines first rose to prominence in the late 1990s. The idea goes that by developing great content, optimizing for commonly searched terms, and building your authority with links, you’ll eventually rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs), resulting in much more traffic to your website.
But there are a few problems with this approach in the modern era.
For starters, there are more than 200 Google ranking factors that need to be considered in your SEO strategy. Learning and mastering them takes a considerable amount of time and effort, which you may or may not be able to afford.
On top of that, you’ll have dozens, or even hundreds of top-tier competitors to deal with. These are often companies with well-established authority and expertise, making them difficult to displace in results pages.
Building up your own authority and helping your internal pages rank in search engines is, at times, an unaffordable and impractical premise.
Parasite SEO may be the answer.
As the name suggests, this strategy puts you in the position of a parasite, leeching off the authority of a more established player.
In this strategy, you’re not going to be focused on boosting the authority or organic search rankings of your own pages, per se. Instead, you’re going to place an excellent piece of content on a publishing site that already has a massive amount of authority and traffic.
If you can get this piece to rank highly, which should be easier than getting your own internal content to rank highly, you can benefit from brand visibility, referral traffic, and greatly increased conversions.
Is Parasite SEO Effective?
Is parasite SEO good for your website?
The short answer is absolutely.
Parasite SEO is unlike traditional SEO, since you won’t be focusing on building your own authority or increasing your own ranks. So, if you’re trying to define success as purely organic traffic increases or increases in rankings for your internal pages, parasite SEO is arguably ineffective.
But parasite SEO is highly effective at generating more traffic and more conversions for your website, which is probably the ultimate goal of your traditional SEO strategy already.
If you find the right publisher, produce an excellent piece of content, and get it in front of an audience who actually wants to read it, you could easily multiply your inbound traffic figures and secure more conversions and revenue.
If you can get several pieces published, you’ll be able to multiply these results many times over.
But it’s important to note that parasite SEO is not without its downsides or risks.
Parasite SEO: Strengths and Weaknesses
These are the greatest strengths of parasite SEO:
- Immediate results. Traditional SEO practices are effective, but time consuming. It can take months, or even longer in competitive environments, so if your business needs early momentum, or if you’re operating on a thin budget, traditional SEO is unpalatable on the surface. Parasite SEO has the potential to bring you immediate, or nearly immediate results. Publishers with established authority have already worked for years to solidify that authority, and you can capitalize on it with a single piece. Obviously, this isn’t a guarantee, and you might have to promote and support the piece you publish with them – but this process is certainly much faster than mainstream SEO.
- Authority leverage. Building your own authority is more than consuming; it’s legitimately challenging. Building the wrong links, suffering from search algorithm volatility, or dealing with aggressive competitors can all destabilize even the best authority building practices. But with parasite SEO, you’ll be leveraging authority that already exists. It’s like buying a house and moving in, rather than planning and constructing your own house from scratch.
- Traffic and revenue generation. Many proponents of parasite SEO are especially taken with the potential for traffic and revenue generation. Search optimizers sometimes miss the forest for the trees, tracking metrics like organic search rankings rather than traffic or conversions. But traffic and revenue generation are what really count. Pursuing parasite SEO, instead of or in addition to traditional SEO, gives you a kind of shortcut to these key performance indicators (KPIs).
- Competition mitigation. Practicing parasite SEO may be a valuable way to avoid your biggest and most threatening competitors as well. If you have rivals who have spent the last decade establishing their online presence and publishing excellent content, you’re going to have trouble beating them at their own game, even if you have internal resources to support this approach. But if you can take advantage of publishers who have also spent the last decade establishing their online presence, you’ll have a critical advantage.
- Cost savings. For reasons that should be obvious, parasite SEO isn’t particularly expensive. You’ll have to pay people to help you do outreach, write content, and follow up, but these costs pale in comparison to the costs of establishing your own traditional SEO strategy from scratch. For a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, you can get a piece of traffic-generating content on one of the most important publishing sites for your niche – and be rewarded handsomely for it.
- Risk mitigation. Focusing all your SEO efforts on your own site can be risky. If your content is thin, if your backlinks are weak, or if you otherwise follow black hat practices, you could earn a penalty for your website that sets you back months. But with proper parasite SEO practices, this isn’t really a concern. You’re going to be publishing content on someone else’s site, pushing the risk to them, and because this site is already established as a major authority, you won’t have to worry about potential association problems.
But of course, as with any digital marketing strategy, there are downsides to keep in mind as well:
- Post volatility. Publishing your content on a different platform or a different website always means abandoning some measure of control. Editors may make changes to your content that you don’t fully approve of. They may take internal links and turn them into nofollow links. And of course, they may choose to take your content down entirely if it no longer serves their purposes. The costs to entry are relatively low, but the benefits could vanish instantly on the whim of a publisher that operates independently from you. Parasite SEO is therefore inherently volatile, at least until you have steady, established relationships with major publishers.
- Lack of long-term value. SEO is balanced in a way; it takes a long time to get a strategy going, but once it takes off, it can continue providing momentum for your digital marketing efforts indefinitely. Parasite SEO is similarly balanced, but in the opposite direction; you can get going immediately, but if your pieces are taken down, your momentum will come crashing to a halt. For the most part, this isn’t about building the authority of your own website; it’s about taking advantage of external platforms. And because of that, there isn’t much guaranteed long-term value in this approach.
- Minimal brand visibility. This content is going to exist on an external publisher’s website. While you might be able to promote your business in your author by line, or even mention it in the body of your work, it’s not going to be the central focus of the piece, and people may not immediately associate your brand with it. If you’re trying to build the visibility and reputation of your brand, you can consider this a significant downside.
- Potential nofollow links. Publishers may (and in many cases, will) tag your links as nofollow. Generating authority through link building isn’t the primary purpose of parasite SEO, and nofollow links still generate referral traffic, so this isn’t the worst thing in the world. But in some cases, and for some practitioners, this makes parasite SEO immediately unappealing.
How to Practice Parasite SEO
If you’re interested in practicing parasite SEO, the best course of action is to work with an SEO agency. Agencies have access to major publishers, talented writers, experienced strategists, and other experts who can help you ensure you capitalize on the strengths of parasite SEO without falling victim to the weaknesses.
Of course, it’s also possible to practice parasite SEO yourself.
- Find a high-authority publisher in your niche. There are two major, non-negotiable qualifications for publishers you select in parasite SEO: authority and relevance. You need to choose publishers that are high enough authority to successfully support the organic rankings of the piece you choose to publish (or else your piece won’t rank, thus defeating the purpose). You also need to choose publishers that are relevant to your area of expertise (or else your piece won’t get accepted, published, or lauded by the right audience). Publishers also need to be open to submissions. As you might expect, finding ideal publishers is typically the hardest part of the process.
- Make a pitch (or pay for sponsored content). Reach out to the publisher you’ve chosen and make a pitch for an article to publish on their site. Be prepared that it might take several pitches and several rounds of discussion before you get approval to develop a piece. Alternatively, you can find a high-authority website that accepts sponsored content, and simply pay to have your word promoted.
- Write an excellent piece of content. This isn’t the time to cut corners. If you want your piece to be accepted, received well by readers, ranked highly in search engines, and capable of generating both traffic and conversions, it needs to be high quality. That means you need to support your arguments with research, you need to make original claims, you need to appeal to your target demographics, and you need to write in a clear, comprehensible manner.
- Follow best practices for SEO. You also need to follow best practices for SEO when writing and publishing the content. Consider optimizing for specific keyword phrases (without keyword stuffing), make your piece readable, address common questions, and format the piece appropriately. Your publisher will thank you and you’ll maximize your chances of ranking highly.
- Support the piece. Merely having a piece of content published on a sufficiently high authority website should give you some positive attention, traffic, and conversions. But if you want to see even better results, you need to support the piece further. That means building links to the piece, sharing it on social media, and promoting it through other channels. Many will do so in spurts (think SEO sprints) and iterate after each batch. Just as links and promotion can help you make your internal content rank higher; these supportive strategies can help you make your external content rank higher.
White Hat vs. Black Hat Parasite SEO
As an SEO pro in your own right, you’re probably already familiar with white hat, black hat, and gray hat SEO. White hat practices are accepted, ethical, and reliable, black hat practices are frowned upon, unethical, and volatile, and gray hat practices are somewhere in between.
So is parasite SEO white hat, black hat, or somewhere in between?
It all depends on how you practice it.
Writing genuinely thoughtful, valuable content for a specific target audience, while adhering to publisher guidelines and avoiding excessive self-promotion is inherently white hat.
Spamming irrelevant publishers with thin content for the exclusive purpose of promoting your own brand, even at the expense of user experiences is inherently black hat.
Both of these approaches can be considered parasite SEO. But only one of them is going to work in your favor in the long run.
If you decide to incorporate parasite SEO into your overall digital marketing strategy, make sure you conform to standard white hat practices.
Additional Best Practices for Parasite SEO
These additional best practices for parasite SEO can push your chances of success even higher:
- Work with an agency. Working with an SEO agency will maximize your chances of success. They have access to more resources, they have more experience, and they’ll hold themselves accountable to getting you better results.
- Stick to your niche. There are probably very lucrative publishers outside of your niche that have you drooling at the traffic generation possibilities. But for the most part, it’s better to stick to your niche. Higher relevance and lower authority is better than higher authority and lower relevance, generally.
- Provide genuine value. If you focus on providing genuine value to your readers, you’ll maximize your chances of getting your work accepted, your piece will be less likely to be removed or modified, you’ll cultivate higher rankings, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll generate more traffic. Content quality is an absolute prerequisite.
- Optimize your strategy for your specific goals. There are several different ways that you can practice parasite SEO from a strategic perspective, and you should update your tactics to reflect your high-level goals. For example, some companies are interested in longevity, focusing on evergreen pieces that have the potential to rank highly for years if properly supported. Other companies are more interested in a “churn and burn” type approach, rapidly publishing new pieces on different publishers and not really caring when older pieces are taken down. Both approaches have their merits; it all depends on what you’re after.
- Remain flexible. Because there are so many nuances to parasite SEO, and because there are many different ways to make the strategy work, it’s hard to create a concrete parasite SEO guide that works for every practitioner. Instead, it’s better to remain flexible – and continually adapt your approach as you learn more about this strategy.
Parasite SEO isn’t for every business, but it could be exactly what you need to overcome stiff competition, lower costs, or generate traffic more immediately.
If you’re ready to learn more about whether parasite SEO is a good fit for your business, contact us for a free consultation today!