When brands realized that press releases are content that could be found and read online – by both journalists and the public alike – links in press releases became valuable.
For many years inbound links on optimized anchor text words and phrases have been a major part of the Google search ranking algorithm. SEO firms were quick to see the value of press releases with optimized links in them. After all, releases distributed on the wire appear on many other sites and blogs. So they started using press releases as an SEO tactic. These releases are not always the best quality press releases mind, but they are labeled press releases nonetheless.
The low-quality, spammy press releases stuffed with links that have proliferated in the last couple of years have caught the attention of the Google search spam team. In a recent video interview Matt Cutts, head of this team at Google, made it clear that these links are not counted towards ranking. Not only that, but this practice could get you penalized.
And bad news for us PR practitioners: The use of press releases as an SEO tactic has led Google to regard a press release as an advertisement with “unnatural” links. And indeed, many SEO press releases are more of an advertisement than a press release.
So what’s a smart digital PR person to do? Stop writing press releases? Never add a link?
Let’s examine what Google regards as important. Google’s main goal is to provide the best quality content on a subject to a searcher. All their recent updates have been in the direction of increasing the quality of the content they index and rank.
A link is supposed to be an editorial vote of confidence for the content it links to. It should occur naturally. Someone sees your content and thinks it is worthy of mention. They want to share it with others, so they link to it.
In Matt Cutt’s words:
“The goal should really be to make a fantastic website that people love and tell their friends about and link to and want to experience. As a result, your website starts to become stronger and stronger in the rankings.”
In PR we don’t put links in our press releases for SEO reasons. Digital journalists and bloggers ask for links to additional or supporting material. We link to our newsroom for more information. We send people to content, images or videos. We use links to track outcomes from a press release, so links have become an essential part of PR measurement. And although we don’t build or control websites, we do have online newsrooms, So for “fantastic website” read “fantastic online newsroom.”
Syndication of News
A press release is often posted on the wire so it gets distributed to many other websites. According to Cutts:
“Syndication can be a valid way to either increase your reputation or to drive traffic and potentially get more links. The main caution that I would add is that there are some mechanical things that you should pay attention to and try to make sure that you get right.”
This is where it gets a little technical. Always post your content to your own website or newsroom first and tag it with a rel=canonical tag. (Ask your webmaster about that part.) That shows Google that you are the origin and author of the content.
Here’s what Cutts has to say about guest blogging:
“Posts like that can be a great way to get your name out there, to build your reputation, to make yourself known, potentially build links or traffic or help with your SEO. The problem is that if we look at the overall volume of guest posting we see a large number of people who are offering guest blogs or guest blog articles where they are writing the same article and producing multiple copies of it and emailing out of the blue and they will create the same low quality types of articles that people used to put on article directory or article bank sites.”
So once again it’s about the quality of the content. If you write for another website or blog, and you produce original, interesting content, it will be seen as such by Google. And when others like it, share it and link to it, it will be counted as that all-important editorial vote of confidence.
Google’s stance is that when a company places a link in a piece of content themselves and then attempts to get it seen as a link from another site, Google sees that as a no-no. They require those links to have a “no-follow” tag. (again speak to your IT folk.)
That does not mean the release won’t be found in search, it just means Google won’t give weight to the link for SEO purposes.
So genuine press releases with links that make sense for the reader are totally fine. If you place links in the release purely for SEO value, Google will regard it as unnatural.
This is the example in the updated Google guidelines for bad links in press releases.
Good press releases are written to raise awareness, bring new ideas to the attention of the media and the public and make your news content discoverable by the right audiences. Treat them as such.
For more information on writing press releases that get results read
SMART News: how to write press releases that get found and shared online.
Available on Amazon from August 5, 2013.