It's true: the world's largest search engine called links in press releases "unnatural" and is mandating nofollowing them. What does this mean to organizations using press releases to gain digital visibility in search and social?
For brands publishing a press release or an article on your site and distributing it through a paid wire service, such as PR Newswire, Business Wire, Marketwire or through an article site, you must first make sure to nofollow the links if those links are "optimized anchor text."
Is This a Big SEO Deal? Yes. No. Maybe.
Google has been slowly squeezing the SEO life out of press releases for a while now.
"In 2006 online press releases were amazing for SEO. In 2013? Not so much," said Joe Laratro, SEO expert and PubCon lead moderator "Online press releases have had very little value in terms of links and content over the past few years – I would say it had been steadily declining. However, I still thought it was a good part of a large organic link building strategy until the new guideline changes."
But what about the anchor text links in past press releases? Will the ghost of Google past haunt companies with surprising penalties in the future? Will brands have to back track to older press releases to protect themselves.
"The real concern for the SEO industry right now should be backdated enforcement. If this is now considered a 'penalizable' tactic, how are companies that have been using this tactic for over a decade going to deal with the old content and links?" Laratro asked. "How quickly can the online newswires update their systems to support the rel nofollow? In my opinion this will have a fairly large effect on the online paid newswire release business."
Many more SEO industry experts agree. The clean up work with old press release content that's been spinning links across the web for years is a big SEO issue.
"There are press releases archived across the web that you will have no control over – how do you clean that up?" asked Bruce Clay, president of Bruce Clay Inc. "Even if press release distribution companies do something to address their archives, like noindexing old pages (and this is a big if), you're still looking at the larger problem of pruning links on the many sites that have republished those press releases."
Don't Optimize Links, Do... What?
Organizations are now left wondering what they can do with press releases past, present, and future.
"If a client has real newsworthy content, an online press release is worth doing, but I would be very careful with the links at the moment, at least until the rel=nofollow options are live," Laratro said. "Companies should still include one or two links in order to get the reader over to the website or blog. This may cause a shift back to more traditional types of PR work – not necessarily a bad thing."
The Ghost of Press Release Past
The first press release was written in 1906 by Ivy Lee and actually published verbatim in the New York Times. It wasn't until the mid-1990s that wire services began releasing news direct to consumers vis the Internet. Since then, journalists have relied on press releases to help track company news and come up with story angles and sources.
Today the digital press release reaches beyond the journalist and carries company news direct to customers, prospects, bloggers, and more. The press release lifeline streams through the veins of search engines and flows into social media.
Google might have killed the link juice, but press releases are still alive and kicking according to media experts.
"While most of the companies using PR Newswire (and our competitors) are doing so to build awareness of their messages, garner media pick up and to deliver their messaging straight to their target audiences, there is a contingent that are issuing press releases for the sole purpose of generating inbound links, and this is the practice Google is discouraging," said Sarah Skerik, vice president, content marketing, PR Newswire//MultiVu. "This is not an indictment of PR."
The Digital Path of a Press Release: It's About Content Discovery
Press releases are more than a simple SEO tool. Press release content helps reach journalists, influencers, and consumers.
The AP, Dow Jones, Reuters, Bloomberg, and thousands of other major newsrooms worldwide have feeds of press releases piped directly into their editorial systems. And almost 8,000 websites, including some of the world's largest news sites, publish stories as a result of wire services such as PR Newswire.
Let's not forget the social media intersection of press releases. They help fuel the content fire and drive social interaction, sharing, and engagement – and are the launching pad for company news. Taking a drive off main street, press releases are part of the Wall Street creed, meeting financial disclosure.
In 140 characters or less: Press releases drive broad discovery of your news message in search and social.
"None of this has anything to do with link building and SEO," Skerik said. "We believe the value press release distribution provides is in discovery, not links. Driving messages deep into audiences and generating authentic reads, clicks and visibility among relevant audiences and social shares – that's where press releases add value."
Hybrid search industry vet Greg Jarboe, president and founder of SEO-PR, specializes in both PR and SEO and zeroed in on the fact that the PR industry still hasn't fully embraced the concept of public relations optimization, so they might not realize the missing link.
"This is a big SEO deal," Jarboe said. "And it would also be a big deal for PR, if more public relations people were optimizing their press releases. But most of them still aren't."
Less than 15 percent of press releases in corporate newsrooms and posted on the wire services are optimized for search, according to a PressFeed Online Newsroom Survey.
12 Things You Can Do With Digital Press Releases
- Adding links still helps drive traffic to a website. "Driving traffic is one of the primary objectives of website SEO, according to the SEMPO State of Search Report, published by Econsultancy. It can be one of the important objectives of press release SEO, too," Jarboe said.
- Improve the user experience.
- Increase visibility in search and social.
- Use press releases as inroads to more information and details on a blog or website.
- Spark a story idea and attract a journalist or blogger to do a larger story that might gain a natural link.
- Educate and inform your audience.
- Build relationships.
- Report company news or industry data.
- Use images and video to increase pageviews and attention.
- Embed video and multimedia.
- Create an infographic version of press release tell your story.
- Broaden your distribution and use social networks to report news – both paid and organic.
5 Things You Can't Do With Press Releases
- Generate inbound links.
- Add link juice to your SEO campaign.
- Use press releases as part of your link building strategy.
- Optimized anchor text links, Google now says this equates to unnatural links.
- Keyword stuffing.
Google may have taken away the anchor text links in press releases (and guest posts and articles), but there is still room for press release optimization opportunities like in any other digital content using:
- Optimized keywords.
- Social media messaging.
Gaming the system is yesterday's news. Today's press releases still work the natural, social, and mobile way of tomorrow.
Image Credit: PR Newswire