Google’s Recent Update Not the End of Press Releases

Patrick Brightman - 02/04/2014

Growing up, there were only two certainties, at least that was how the old saying went. “Death and taxes.” In today’s digital world, a third certainty has arisen – Google will change its SEO criteria.

Such was the case back in the summer when the search giant updated the Link Schemes in its Webmaster Guidelines. Basically, Google stated that links in press releases are “unnatural” and that a no follow should be included in links for optimized anchor text. Subsequently, some folks at Google said that to play it safe all links in a press release should have a no follow.

In the few months since that posting people have opined on the importance – or lack thereof – of press releases when it comes to SEO. Some have even said that, perhaps, Google’s action was a death knell for the press release. Well, in the immortal words of Mark Twain, “the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” If press releases could talk, they would say the same thing.

It’s important to understand what the folks at Google are stating and why. They are not sayGoogle and press releasing press releases are bad. They are simply categorizing releases as advertising because they are created by companies as a means of promotion and to drive traffic to their website. According to Google and its algorithms, that is unnatural, and therefore should not influence SEO results. (As a personal aside, I find it somewhat humorous that an algorithm finds something unnatural; but that’s a different story).

Why did they do it? Well, since Google keeps its reasons more secretive than a classified military operation, we can only speculate. However, it is fairly obvious it is to maintain the integrity of its organic search results, ensuring that what appears atop the results are truly the most relevant for the respective search term. Since press releases are written by companies trying to create interest on themselves, they should not have the same value third-party generated content.

If anything, this update has a more detrimental effect on wire services than on press releases and only enhances the true value of public relations as a whole. How so, you ask? Think about the purpose of a release for a moment. The primary role is to generate editorial coverage. Some news sites will simply post a release as is. That definitely has value, as visitors to the news site will be able to read the announcement and learn about the company. The Google update reduces the effectiveness of this type of coverage for SEO, though.

Now, think about the secondary role of a release. It’s to generate interest amongst editors. A good PR person will do effective targeted media outreach to peak that interest. Once that is achieved, the editor will want to talk to a company spokesperson and write his/her own story. That editorial coverage will have links in it. And guess what? Google places a very high value on those links.

Personally, I found another sentence on the Google Link Schemes page most interesting:

The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community.

Given all the scuttlebutt about optimized anchor text and third-party links, it’s easy to forget why content is written. It’s not just for the SEO robots; it’s for humans, too. We need to remember that content must be riveting and educational, so that people will share it and return to a website regularly. In other words, content remains king. I guess that’s another constant in today’s digital world.

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