Press release marketing has come under a lot more scrutiny for the kind of links that can look "unnatural" in a link profile. The issues that can arise from some press release networks are the mass-scale duplicate content and redundant anchor text links across numerous sites with little real value.
So yeah, there may have been some misuse of press releases along the way as a "fast" way to pick up some "easy" links. But the press release is still a valuable tool for online marketing in a number of ways. Using press releases effectively can still help get links, in a real way.
1. Keep Your Press Release About Real News
The real shame of the press release for links trend was all the sad attempts to drum up "news" or keyword stuff a headline. That's done. Press releases won't do anything for you in that respect.
But if you have an exciting acquisition, or are truly leading the way with a new idea, process or partnership that could affect others in a significant way, that's worth it.
2. Don't Over Optimize Your Press Release
Safe syndication practices would encourage you to go easy on the optimization in a press release. Brand names and URLs are pretty innocuous or a keyword that is more company than product related may also be a natural fit. But use an easy hand.
If you followed rule number one, and your news is really that good, you can get picked up by bloggers and other journalists that will re-write and re-reference your site in a different way. But if you rely solely on the duplicate prints, over-optimization could hurt later on.
3. Send Readers to Other Interesting Assets
Use the press release and the news as a draw to bring readers further into your site. Whatever it is you are announcing accompany the release with additional, in-depth information or a related asset on the site.
When you offer something to accompany the press release, an extra reason to engage the visitor you create a deeper user experience and create additional assets for linking and sharing.
4. Send Your Press Release to Specific Sources
Choose some individuals or local institutions to send your news to before you release it to the public at large. It will give these sources an opportunity to break the news which could be advantageous to them, and helps to form a relationship with your news source.
Strong press contacts can make for valuable assets. In addition to mainstream channels for news distribution, you can also become a go-to source for expert quotes on subjects within your industry which leads to links and potentially more exposure in the future.
5. Time it Right
I remember the first time I used a press release, the nice guy I talked to on the phone actually gave me the tip. He said that I'd be better off releasing my news on a Tuesday instead of a Monday morning. Now that may or may not be true or anecdotal, but it did make me think about when my target audience would be most inclined to be catching up on the news, writing about it and sharing it.
On a larger scale, month, time of year, or proximity to a huge event in your market are other factors that could mitigate your choice of release date. But weigh them all and find the time that is going to be most advantageous in terms of interest.
Like anything, don't shoot down press releases all around as a way to build links simply because there is a bad way to do it. Just learn how to distinguish between doing it right and abusing the system.
Choose wisely, not every press source is legit. If it's too easy, it's probably not that useful. And if it's hard to accomplish and requires a lot of planning and synergy on your end, then you're probably doing it right.