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Is Google Cracking Down on Bad Press Releases?

Dave Parro

As Google continues penalizing websites using manipulative tactics to artificially boost their search rankings, PR pros should be jumping for joy. After all, the whole point of the year-old Penguin algorithm update is to reward websites that are producing valuable content on a regular basis by making them easier to find.

And that’s what we do for a living, right? Not so fast.

Ideally, the public relations industry should benefit from Google’s push for quality content. Instead of turning to manipulative SEO tactics to drive web traffic, more businesses will turn to PR and marketing agencies for well-written website copy, blog posts and other forms of content marketing. That’s the logical next step for companies that have been relying on keyword stuffing or spam link schemes to build their web presence.

But in order to benefit, public relations firms have to know how search works and make sure they’re not unwittingly contributing to the problem and getting their clients bumped down in results in the process. This SEO stuff isn’t just for web geeks; it’s incumbent upon PR pros to understand the evolving search ecosystem.

Look no further than the ubiquitous online press release as a case in point.

While it’s easy to dump a bunch of links into a web release and tell a client it’s good for SEO, there’s growing evidence that overly optimized press releases could be factoring into search penalties. In other words, you could be hurting your client’s rankings – not helping them – by distributing press releases overstuffed with links and keywords.

That’s not to say good press releases can’t help with SEO. They can still boost online visibility and help pages on your website rank higher. But they have to be written, optimized and packaged in a way that respects Google’s recent changes.

Here are some tips PR professionals should follow in order to keep their press releases from being classified as spam by Google:

  1. Use links sparingly: Linking to another piece of useful content such as a video or study is a good practice, but linking from a popular keyword to a product page looks like spam. Ask yourself whether the link really provides value to the reader. If you’re adding a link just to boost search results, it probably shouldn’t be there.
  2. Earn links, don’t build them: Create interesting and meaningful content that people want to find and share, and the links will come naturally. Stay away from an SEO strategy built around aggressive link acquisition.
  3. Choose a reputable wire service: It’s important to use a distributor that pushes your press releases out to all the major search engines and news outlets, but be wary of services that get your content posted on hundreds of random websites.
  4. Be newsworthy: While the Internet has allowed companies to communicate directly with their target audiences via search, even consumer-facing releases should have news value. Don’t jump to a press release as the default PR vehicle for everything, and be willing to take a stand and tell a client when something isn’t newsworthy.
  5. Write well: This one should be obvious, but it’s worth repeating. Google’s algorithm has gotten really good at separating quality press releases with real news value from drivel being churned out just to manipulate search results. Structure, grammar and spelling matter to Google.
  6. Focus on quality over quantity: While building links en masse used to be a good SEO strategy, it’s now far more important to earn a handful of high-value links from very relevant and authoritative websites. It’s much more difficult and time-consuming, but Google will reward the effort.

According to the SEO team at Walker Sands, press releases have always been discounted by a certain degree by the major search engines because they are considered “created” rather than organic content. When Penguin came along, however, Google introduced an element of risk that didn’t exist before.

It all comes down to this: We should be writing press releases for reporters and readers – not search engines. Focus on quality content, avoid shortcuts, and the rest will take care of itself.