Press Releases Still an SEO Strategy? The Experts Speak

Lately I have been surprised at how many times I have seen people/companies with “Press Releases” listed as one of their main SEO strategies. I thought this was an older strategy that was no longer used for “SEO purposes”, but I don’t know everything. So, I thought I would reach out to some of the best of the best in our industry and get their opinions. I asked one simple question:

Can you tell me what you think about press releases as an SEO strategy?

I think the answers can be quite helpful to many in our industry. I want to say thank you to everyone that contributed to this article; your thoughts are so appreciated.

Julie Joyce – @JulieJoyce

Julie-joyceI don’t use press releases and never have, and I don’t plan to. I think they are a good way to get more visibility and draw attention to something but I’d rather use social media to get the word out. After Google changed the rules on press releases and warned against using optimized anchor text, I was extra happy that I’d never used them.

I think that people can use them wisely but a lot of the time you see utter crap being done as a press release. If it’s truly notable (like you’ve found a cure for Ebola) then do it. If you’re just announcing that you painted your office door red in order to increase productivity and it made one person show up for work on time 2 days in a row, no one gives a damn.

LinkFishMedia.com

Rand Fishkin – @Randfish

Rand-FishkinMy view on press releases is similar to my view on a lot of marketing & content channels – be the exception and you can stand out in a remarkable way. We’ve done this at Moz with our funding press releases and acquisition announcements, all of which did really well in the tech media.

Co-founder and Wizard of Moz

Rae Hoffman – @Sugarrae

Rae-HoffmanPress releases haven’t been an effective direct strategy “for SEO” in a direct way for almost a decade now. Matt long ago stated as much” – meaning the links from the actual press release site itself has had no direct value for a long time now.

Then in 2013, Google officially added press releases with followed links (especially those with keyword rich anchors) here.

That said, they still have indirect value to your SEO efforts, assuming you’ve done something WORTH sending out a press release about. If having to nofollow links within the press releases makes you second guess doing a press release then you’re doing it for the wrong reason. The only way a press release will help your SEO in 2014 and beyond is if the press release is merely to put something a-freaking-mazing that you’ve done in front of people who can feature, talk about and highlight you to your target audience – and if you’re lucky, some will do so with followed links.

Rae Hoffman, AKA Sugarrae, CEO of PushFire

Barry Schwartz – @RustyBrick

Barry-Schwartz-the-StudI don’t think press releases should be used with the intention of an SEO strategy.

Is that short enough? ;-)

RustyBrick.com

Marty Weintraub – @AimClear

Marty-Weintraub-aimclearPress releases probably have little SEO value on their face to support your website’s content. Behind the scenes, however, writers still subscribe to press releases. Midsize and small publications still use press releases to auto-populate sites. Think of press releases as reverse targeting, where potentially influential users request feeds by category, keyword, and topic, etc.

Whereas a press release may not garner much page-building punch in the SERPs, when a writer for a newspaper, publisher, media outlet or blog consumes a release, picks up your story and covers your news, THAT mention, citation, Google+ post, link and and associated buzz may well help your business. Potential customers are often impacted by content created by writers that pick it up. News, SERPs and buzz, can easily stimulate sales.

So, press releases can be valuable for SEO, when thought of as stimulating third parties to champion your news. It’s the content third parties create we should aim for. The major caveat is that press releases better cover meaningful business developments well steeped in actual notarially. You can’t wrap a turd up in a bow and expect anyone to give a crap.

Eric Enge – @StoneTemple

Eric-EngeA few thoughts on this:

Press releases should, in principle, have no direct SEO value. They come under the heading of the following principle I like to talk about for links: “You Can’t Vote For Yourself”. Links are really supposed to represent academic citation level endorsements.

I think that the primary (well, only) SEO benefit of press releases is captured by the attached image I did for an article I wrote a while back. This is an indirect value. If someone picks up the press release and chooses to write about it, then that can work really well for you.

eric-enge-press-releases

Pete Meyers – @Dr_Pete

Dr. PeteMost of my experiences with press releases for search have been with SMBs, and, unfortunately, what that often means is people becoming over-reliant on blasting out every tiny announcement they have and calling it “news”. I think it’s pretty clear at this point that Google frowns on that practice. At best, it’s a problem of diminishing returns. Having 500 links from FreePRPlace.net (invented to protect the innocent) isn’t really going to accomplish more than having 5 links from a site like that, even if those links are never penalized.

Plus, at some point you have to ask – what’s the message I’m putting out to people? If you write a press release every time you successfully order a latte, people aren’t going to take you seriously. At some point, you’ll damage your reputation with mediocrity.

Marketing Scientist at Moz

Andy Beal – @AndyBeal

Andy-BealIf you have an established, respected brand then you should only issue a press release if you can honestly say that you have something newsworthy to share. If so, your focus should be on attracting the attention of a journalist first, with any SEO benefits a distant concern.

If you’re a new company–or a very small fish in a big pond–then issuing a press release solely for SEO purposes is acceptable. While you really won’t see an SEO benefit from the release itself, it may still get picked up by an aggregator or blogger that has some “Google juice” to pass on.

CEO of Trackur

Arnie Kuenn – @ArnieK

Arnie-KuennWe don’t view press releases as an SEO strategy at all anymore. However, we do view them as a marketing strategy, which we believe SEO has really become anyway. We frequently work with clients to create press releases promoting a single piece of content.

So, instead of focusing on the latest “company news”, we will announce a brand new (and sometimes not so brand new) resource that our client has developed. It could be as simple as an infographic or a free 200 page ebook or maybe a new microsite. If the content has a significant value to a specific audience, we target that audience and announce it via a press release. Bloggers and editors seem to really like this approach and we get some nice pickups from them.

CEO of Vertical Measures

Cyrus Shepard – CyrusShepard

Cyrus-shepardShould you send press releases when you have a big story to share? Yes

Should your press release contain a followed link? No

Press releases, when done right, are an effective way to reach corners of the media you wouldn’t normally have access to. The sad truth is 98% of people who spend money on press release distribution throw their money away because they’ve:

  • Not presented a compelling story
  • Not targeted the right channels
  • Expect the reporter to do all the work

The simple question I ask myself when crafting a press release is this: if my press release was printed in a magazine as a story, would I take the time to read it and share it with my friends?

The challenge is often finding a “hook” in your story that’s bigger than your immediate problem. Nobody cares that your company just released a new type of scissors that reduces paper cuts! But people would be interested in a story about the hidden everyday dangers of children’s’ school supplies.

The success of your press release is directly proportional to the interest level of you story. However interesting you think your story is, cut your estimate in half and brainstorm more ideas.

That’s how you do a press release.

SEO & Content Astronaut at Moz

So, What Do You Think?

Do you think press releases are a part of an SEO strategy? We would love to know your thoughts and experiences.

About Melissa Fach

AuthorityLabs Community Jedi - Melissa Fach is the owner of SEOAware, LLC that specializes in consulting and training businesses. She is also the Community Jedi at AuthorityLabs, an associate on the Community Team at Moz, a past Editor of Search Engine Journal and a big cat volunteer. You can find her on Twitter @SEOAware.

Filed under: Featured, Strategy, Tips

21 Comments

Nabeel

I think PR for the sake of exposure is acceptable but over-doing it by changing links in every other PR copy is spam.

A quick question: PR can be duplicate or not? If not, how can one make it differ knowing the news is same?

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Dan Leibson

I think this is a great case of when best practices aren’t. I HOPE that most of the quotes dismissing press releases are talking about just using press releases to get those PRweb/PRnewswire links. Of course, that is probably not a great practice. However, I just had a client that spent a couple million dollars in a green infrastructure upgrade. We made a press release about it and got ~30 relevant local links for the business. If I would have abided by “best practices” I would have failed my client.

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Eric Enge

Hi Dan – if you look at my comments, you will see that I specifically talk about the indirect value of guest posts, and provided a graphic of how that works. The example you gave is a perfect example of what I was illustrating there.

You published a press release, other people saw the press release, and as a result they chose to link to it.

I believe several of the people above said that.

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Dan Leibson

Eric,

Absolutely, I’m only referring to the interviewees outright dismissing press releases entirely. I think you, Marty & Rand and others are all on point in your defenses of the practice. Give an SEO a tool and they will exploit it. That doesn’t mean the tool is inherently bad or worthless.

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Nick @lookingforNoble

A bunch of really bright people right here!

Wait… you guy are telling me I shouldn’t buy links and create press releases with hundreds of keyword focused anchor text links? Well, how are we suppose to get links? lol

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Andre

PR should be used for exactly that, a Press Release of important information relating to the topic which cannot be syndicated properly on a blog or news section of a website.

For spam, it doesnt work…..anymore.

Reply
Matt

Since most of the press release links are going to be no-follow (at least on the reputable distribution services) then they still can be deemed somewhat valuable as part of a “tiered structure”. The main reason is for mixing up the link profile between do-follow and no-follow links.

For local small businesses, when they have a legitimate piece of news (e.g. a new helpful service being added, a new CEO, or a change in store/office location) then a PRWeb or other respectable service can be valuable. Make the anchor text about the “brand” or company name (or an executive’s name) and get the keyword in the release’s title. This way, your other keyword-optimized links (e.g. private blog network links, guest post links, earned links, etc.) represent a much smaller percentage of the anchor text profile since you now have so many more brand/company/generic anchor text links. This diversification, like a stock portfolio, should be beneficial to your intent of generating free traffic to the desired web property via the search engines.

From there, consider the main distribution point (e.g. the actual URL on PRWeb.com) as a good Tier 1 link (even if no-follow) because of the authority that the domain possesses. A tiny amount of that authority will trickle to the actual page URL with your content on it. Use quality link building, social signals, and other methods to boost the authority of the actual page URL. This has worked for 5 clients in a major metropolitan area (top 10 U.S. city + largest nearby suburb) for a high-margin keyword where there is some online competition.

Yes, the actual press release URL still has first page rankings for at least one each clients’ relevant keywords… even as of this morning!

Also, in order to attract guest posts, sending the PRWeb release URL at least shows the authority website/blogger that you were serious enough to stand behind the “news” by putting money into its distribution. Is this the only way to attract the authority websites/bloggers to consider you (or your client) above all of the other requests received each day? No, but it at least shows that you/your client is willing to put out the content publicly and not solely hide behind anonymous SEO tactics.

Hope that this at least gives some hope to salvage the online press release as a decent tactic in the SEO portfolio. It just has to be modified and altered in terms of its priority in the order of what is done for your or your clients’ web properties. Three years ago it may have been in the top 5 things you did. Today, it may drop down lower in the top 10-20 list, plus you have modify your expectations. You then may say that there is not enough ROI for the time involved and the cost of the release distribution service. If so, at least you made an artful, thought-out strategic decision instead of just dismissing it outright without some investigation.

Thank you for letting me contribute to the conversation!

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Gerd Meissner

All good points, should be required reading for self-proclaimed “SEO strategists.”

As any (former) journalist knows, most press releases were of poor quality before the press release was discovered for “SEO strategy.”

Guess it wasn’t much of a strategy after all. More a tactical move that backfired.

I tell my clients not to listen to SEO consultants when it comes to press releases. They are better off finding a communications professional with journalism and/or pro blogger background.

Thus, they’ll get real help with distilling what’s really “newsworthy” for a given community / target audience / media segment,. They’ll also get noticed (and linked to!) in ways that at least don’t damage their search rankings.

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Justin Kofron

I agree, Matt above made a lot of good points. Where I would disagree with you Gerd, is that most of the problems I have run into are with pr/journalism folks. They want to stick with the old ways and send out press releases for this and that. They were not interested in what the SEO people were saying.

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Eric Enge

Hi Matt – yes, a press release itself can rank. That can be of value. I believe most of our responses focused on the value of links within press releases to other content. Several of us also discussed the value of the visibility and exposure value that press releases can bring.

But, you added a new dimension, which is that press releases if they are of high value and newsworthy, can themselves rank, so great job!

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Matt

Eric and Justin:

Thank you for your comments. What also is of interest is how do the no-follow links permitted by a service like PRWeb benefit one’s Tier 1 properties like the company’s Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn company pages. For example, if the link to the Facebook URL with each PRWeb release can enhance the possibility that the Facebook page could rank. Same for Google+, Twitter, etc.

Additionally, with YouTube videos being permitted inside the press releases now, I would like to know if you have come across any good studies about the video’s being embedded on multiple pages after the release distribution can benefit a properly-optimized YouTube video.

If you have any solid, reputable data on whether or not an embedded YouTube video increases the odds of the press release URL ranking for low/mid-competition keywords, especially if the video has ads enabled on videos embedded outside of YouTube, then such studies would be welcome. It would be especially great if someone has done reputable studies on the ranking effects with good detail going into nuances such as press releases which have embedded videos and comparing the effects:

* between local keywords vs. national (generic) keywords
* between the videos with ads enabled vs. disabled (to determine how much Google is wanting to push the limits on opportunities for extra revenues!)
* embedded videos vs. press releases which just link to the videos
* of those releases which link to other YouTube properties like the company’s channel page and/or a playlist

Should anything like this exist then please consider sharing on this page, your respective blogs or any other web property you would like. Many thanks!

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Ronell Smith

The former biz journalist in me wouldn’t allow me to stay away from this topic. As
@aimclear seems to point out, a press release CAN have SEO value, provided the release itself has merit. That’s where the problems arise, however. Well over 90 percent of the press releases I see/receive each day should never have been written. Either they have zero value to anyone beyond the company/individual sending the release or they are not written very well.

As someone who has written hundreds of press releases (sad to say) and who has read and/or edited thousands more, I advise companies to ask themselves two very important questions before sending any release:

1. Is what we’re sharing newsworthy (e.g., does it merit notice from anyone outside the company)?
2. Is a press release the best vehicle for sharing that information?

If they’re honest, the majority of businesses never get past No. 1.

If it is newsworthy AND well-written, the information from the release CAN result in enhancement of the brand, website traffic. links, etc. But that’s a big if that extends well beyond the press release itself.

To my mind, the real question is “Why aren’t (most) PR firms adopting more of a link building/outreach mindset?”

RS

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Ronell Smith

One dimension we don’t see talked about very often is the edutainment value of a press release. I read a release from Clorox in 2007 that sticks out to this very day. It was flawless in execution: anecdotal lede containing numbers; perfect transitions; compelling, useful information; and it was all about the user, not the new product. The information made it worthwhile; the way it was written made it worth my time.

Unfortunately, as you make plain, those are few and far between. Still love to hear PR pros weigh in on this. They are always quietly…typing away, working on their releases.

RS

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Justin Kofron

Press Releases can have value, but most of the time when I see a press release I won’t read it because they now have that stigma as being spam. The strategy of issuing press releases should be put out pasture right next to social bookmarking.

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Julia McCoy

I’m the owner of a copywriting agency and have about 5 years experience in SEO. Not as much as some of you gurus. :-) But my team of about 50 writers now handles several press releases per week. It took us a long time to get to the level of quality we are at. I’ve employed only expert journalists and have given them training in SEO. Our press releases, when distributed, are very successful for our clients.

I agree in general that press release links should not be counted as valuable anymore. This is especially true since almost all quality press release distribution changed to no-follow links (PRWeb, PRNewswire). However, PRs are still absolutely valuable for any online strategy, whether content marketing or SEO. The exposure you get and also the subsequent ranking just for your press release content and its general keywords can be ROI… if you use a high-quality distributor like PRWeb (who has great domain rank). We had a Buddha doll company, the first of its kind, rank for Buddha doll keywords the first page of Google right away after our written press release was distributed on PRWeb. The PRWeb piece was picked up by Reddit and the Reddit link was ranking well.

So, distributor quality, and the quality of the written press release, can all translate to excellent top-notch results. And like Fishkin said, a superior niche appearance – be the exception and you can stand out. And, just like with all online content, the better the quality the better the results.

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Thomas Zickell

Honestly I agree with a lot of what is being said. But Rand put it in the easiest simplest manner. If you are going to do it make sure it is awesome
“be the exception and you can stand out in a remarkable way.”

I have a client to as a particularly awesome product. in addition has another newsworthy product coming down the pipe.

Now when I say this I mean I got them in GQ, time magazine, Fox and friends, ABC news, CBS news, Maxim, Rob Report, and I know I am missing quite a bit more but I hope you guys get the idea.

If it is newsworthy than put out a press release when I say newsworthy I mean people are going to love to hear about this they want to know about it they are going to send it to their friends it is going to get linked to organically.

There is no point in putting out a press release that says “your company thinks that their new gizmo is the next widget”
Unless it is super interesting but if you ask your friends that are not in your industry would you think about what this and they literally want to share it or talk to endlessly about it fire off a “high-quality” press release.
Just make sure it is going to be something the end-user really wants to hear about or else it is going to be nothing so………….. boring.

check out what goes viral I know this is tough to tell people that some things are not as exciting as others. Finance can be exciting when you get to a certain level is news for other people that they need.

All the best,
Tom

Reply

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