Google’s Matt Cutts Says Press Releases Don’t Have SEO Value; Or Do They?

Until recently, press releases were regarded as one of the best ways to build credible links to a business website. Companies commonly chose press releases over article marketing due to the multiple benefits of press release distribution, including branding and media exposure, in addition to inbound links which provided SEO ranking value.

But on December 26th, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, announced that press releases have no value for SEO rankings. In the aftermath of this announcement, business owners and SEO professionals are wondering whether press releases have really lost this aspect of their value. Is Cutts’ announcement true? Let’s take a look at the data.

THE EXPLOITATION OF PR

In the early days, search engines indexed press releases and this helped build links to companies’ websites. Over time, though, as has happened with every other tool that SEO experts discover or invent, this strategy got exploited.

People took advantage of it, and today we have thousands of worthless press-release syndication websites that simply duplicate content across a wide spectrum of channels… and that only adds more noise to an already cluttered Web.

Could this be the reason for Cutts’ announcement?

POST-PANDA EFFECT ON PR

Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have wreaked havoc on many SEO tactics and tools. Any knowledgeable member of the SEO industry recognizes that Google is aware of the “noise” that over-exploited SEO strategies like PRs create.

While the true effects of Google’s Panda update and Cutts’ announcement on press release websites are not yet clear, some SEO specialists continue to report a decent performance on ranking, visibility, and traffic through the use of PR. Others claim no benefit.

But taking a cue from the success stories makes more sense than heeding the advice of nay-sayers. In the long run, PR works in a variety of other ways.

DOES PR WORK?

An effective strategy can produce good results from press releases. Most companies put a weak effort into it, however, so they get lackluster results, and conclude that further press release strategies would only be a waste. However, in certain cases, PR has turned out to be very successful. It all depends on good, thorough knowledge of how PR works these days and what it takes to create successful strategies.

THE SYNDICATION ADVANTAGE

The real advantage with a PR, especially today, is not “anchor text” or keyword density or the page rank of the PR to which you publish. The real advantage lies in the fact that a good PR gets syndicated to other highly regarded sites. That is when keywords and keyword density matter and play a role in winning you higher ranking in search results.

Reputed PR websites like PRWeb and PRNewswire syndicate to solidly curated news-gathering websites. That kind of syndication results in higher ranking in Google searches as well as on Google News.

The press release is not a document that our algorithms will deem trustworthy in and of itself.  If a press release is announcing something truly helpful, useful, unique, etc., then there is a higher likelihood that someone somewhere online may see it and blog about it, write about it, link to it.  And it is from these secondary link sources where the potential exists for you to attract additional links that could help your organic search rank. The mistake people make is in their belief that the press release document is any different than any other document. And the syndication of press releases makes it quite easy to spot press releases, and ignore them from a linking standpoint. It’s what happens after the release, over time, that matters.  Eric Ward, link strategist (Ericward.com)

FREE vs. PAID PRESS RELEASES

So now that you understand that PRs can still be useful, where should you syndicate your press release?

Free PR websites like PR.com and PRFire.co.uk provide good pagerank and service; paid PR websites like PRWeb need no introduction. A survey from 2011 suggests that free PR works well with a few websites — but post-Panda, one must tread carefully.

It should be self-evident that one paid PR from a reputed website like PRWeb counts for far more than one from a free PR website. Still, websites like PR Fire and News Wire Today can be good places to launch your PR strategies.

PR OPTIMIZATION: THE FOCUS OF A SUCCESSFUL PR

Of course, the reputation of a PR website doesn’t constitute the whole story. What’s even more important is the inherent value of the PR. It takes a well-crafted PR to make it through various syndicates, attract traffic, and help in conversion.

A well-researched and wonderfully crafted PR has:

  • Something truly relevant and new to announce about the company / business
  • No obvious sales material or appeal, but it subtly guides the reader to want more
  • Valuable and arresting information, which may include images and videos
  • Very few keywords in focus (1-2, rather than loads of keyword phrases)
  • An authoritative, yet pleasant voice
  • A professional, “journalistic” style, reflecting a knowledgeable reporter’s point of view

Although SEO efforts often veer into the highly technical, don’t forget that humans read what you write. Trying to craft a PR with a focus on keywords and densities alone does not add value or appeal for most readers.

Keep the reader in mind when you create a PR. One has to think like a journalist when writing a PR.  No wonder people hire professional PR writers.

FURTHER READING & RESOURCES

PR analysis In 2011:

http://www.vitispr.com/blog/free-press-release-sites/

Age-old but time-tested tips on writing a good SEO-focused PR:

http://www.prnewswire.com/knowledge-center/online-public-relations/Press-Release-SEO–Writing-Press-Releases-Effectively-for-Search-Engines.html

On getting more value out of your PR:

http://www.30minutepr.com/7-actions-to-amp-the-roi-of-every-online-press-release/

Social PR: (this is the future of PR)

http://www.pitchengine.com/

6 Comments

Michael Iwasaki

Jason, excellent information that you have provided. It has been interesting to see how the press release content has & had changed over the years. At 24-7PressRelease (nearly 10 years in the business), when we first opened our doors, there were nearly zero links that could be found within a press release. Then, as you mentioned, people saw this as “an easy opportunity” to receive back links. We really try to encourage people to write something that is useful to media, as this is where your press release is going. They can then contact you to follow up and FURTHER your story. Like you mentioned, people really need to go back to this strategy and get people engaged with what they are saying which will THEN give the results they may be looking for.

Michael.

Mark

Very useful information Jayson, I am unsure whether to use press release through PRWEB as they are offering a package of press releases a month and also advice for seo and other marketing ideas where I would learn everything, But I am unsure if this is beneficial for me or I should just get a seo company who can do all this for me. Our main aim is to get more traffic and sales online and do well but unsure on what is the right move for my site and not to costly. If you can please advice me. Thanks

Clark Heintz Tools & Equipment LLC

Thanks, Jayson for addressing this questionable means of marketing and incorporating Matt Cutts’ statements into it, as well (I’m an avid follower of Matt!). I use PRs religiously, though I do wonder about their effectiveness. According to Google analytics, we get a few bites from them, but not a significant amount. We follow the guidelines you suggest above. As the new Penguin 2.0 as rolled out, I am unsure as to what is considered poor tactics and what is not. Our traffic has declined a bit (not a lot but a definite decrease since mid-May) and it’s all become very confusing as to what to focus on? Perhaps a new topic for your blog? Thanks again for your insights. We will keep trying with PRs, hopefully just whittle it down to the ones that are being indexed. That seems to make the most sense.

Mark Spratley

Great article Jayson. There are quite a few quality press release syndication sites you can use like pressreleasemonkey. I’ve found the harm itself doesn’t come from the press release but rather from over exposure on main anchor terms. For this reason I mainly use press releases in a white hat sense and use the anchors for branded diversity.

Trace Cohen

I’m not sure how Google can determine the difference between a press release and a blog post these days but if anyone can. it’s them. The only real way I can think of is from the wires, who template and blast our your press release to sites with deep links that no one will ever read. I think Matt is referring to these press releases specifically as they are labeled as ‘press releases.’

I have never used a PRWeb, PRNewswire or Businesswire service as I see no value in paying for something, someone is paying me to do. And with the recent Panda update, auto-posting to numerous syndicated “partners” is getting cracked down on.

The real use of a press release was meant to be sent to the press who would then write an informed story using the press release but NOT copying and pasting it word for word. Times have definitely changed.

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