Press Releases Are Not an SEO Strategy

I’ve written more press releases in 2014 than any year since Google rolled out the first Penguin algorithm update – but I haven’t used a press release site. Not because they don’t still work (I’ll take other marketers at their word that they do), but because I can get better results contacting journalists directly.

In the months post-Penguin (mid 2012), Greg Habermann published a great article on Search Engine Watch telling marketers to stop syndicating press releases without having a newsworthy reason for doing so. Fast-forward two years and it’s past time that press release syndication was stopped entirely.

Press release sites have never been subject to the same measures of QA that have been applied blogs, etc. – a criticism I’ve often heard levelled at parenting bloggers is that they’ll write about absolutely anything. I can hardly imagine that letting absolutely anyone write about absolutely anything on a website is going to make it a good target to acquire links from. Bloggers have a vested interest in maintaining the quality of their sites – marketers publishing press releases are guests in several other people’s websites, often several times per week.

The readability of press releases is also up for debate. Many businesses I’ve worked with publish each press release they put out in a “press center” section of their website, which is not a particularly good way to break a new story, for three reasons:

  1. A press center has a very niche audience and therefore has to be buried in the site – there’s no point linking to it in the top nav, for example – as a result it’s extremely unlikely anyone will see it. Certainly not in a timely manner.
  2. One TechCrunch journalist recently said he gets about 80 pitches each day to his personal email account and several hundred forwarded to him from the tips@techcrunch.com account. With such a high pressure job, there’s no time to waste trawling PR sites, and even less time to visit yours. If you’re going to syndicate something in the hopes it will get on TechCrunch.com, you’d have more success submitting it to Hacker News and TechMeme.
  3. It’s duplicate content. Even if you publish it before you syndicate it.

In the last point lies an opportunity – because you absolutely should be publishing your news on your own website. You’ve just got to remember to write for your audience, not just for journalists.

If you’re pitching a journalist and want them to link to your site, you have to provide additional value. That doesn’t mean keeping key facts back because journalists won’t appreciate it – but you do have to consider what their readers will appreciate. If they click through to your website what will they find?

Provide a journalist with a key passage from an interview along with your relevant stats and facts, and publish the full, unedited interview on your website…transcribe a video interview on your website (the guys at Moz always do press releases well, for example)…make sure you have a profile page if you’re using an expert to offer an opinion. In my experience journalists are more likely to link to an author page from a quote than to link to a business’ homepage. Make sure you give them the option.

Should You Disavow Links From Press Releases?

You absolutely should be adding press release sites to your disavow file. Google stated in 2012 that links from press releases won’t help your rankings, so there should be no danger in disavowing old press releases.

In the two years since Google basically outed press release sites, not much has changed. They’re still getting used because they do still potentially provide small, incremental returns.

I first saw a press release with domain anchor text returned as a bad link in May 2013, and it has been the first of many. We’re not talking about anything keyword rich, literally domain.com anchor text. I’ve learned from experience that there should be absolutely no links included in syndicated press releases unless they are tagged with the “nofollow” attribute.

The most prevalent press release sites experienced substantial negative effects from the Panda 4.0 update in May this year, which should give you a pretty strong indicator of the quality of content you’re publishing alongside.

prnewswire-seo-visibility

PR Newswire responded with “revised editorial guidelines” and has seen a strong recovery despite relatively little cleanup. The site had previously been affected by Panda in 2011 and again had taken little action, with a recovery largely down to Google’s temperamental algorithm. It’s therefore pretty likely that the site will be affected again in the future.

prnewswire-seo-visibility-2

Links from PR Newswire are tagged as “nofollow,” which means that they should not provide any benefit to search rankings anyway. In my opinion the measure of a good link is taken by how much traffic it drives, so I would recommend that anyone making use of press release distribution services up to this point takes a look in their analytics platform – I think it’s unreasonable to judge links from press releases in the same light as other links because they simply will not drive relevant traffic to your site. As sites like PR Web and Business Wire continue to suffer the effects of Panda, there will be less and less traffic to refer to your website.

Consumers are not the target audience of press release sites – journalists are – so the key performance indicator (KPI) to measure the success of an SEO strategy led by press releases is the amount of coverage driven through distribution and press release syndication cannot be tied back to rankings. As PR and SEO converge, we can learn a great deal on how to format and distribute press releases successfully from our PR counterparts. Sites like PR Web are a means to an end and it’s time the SEO industry remembered that.

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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