The quick answer to the question is not so much anymore. These days press releases are branding, validation, and credibility tools for companies, not SEO tools. Quite simply it means PR firms are shifting the focus of how they utilize press releases for their clients.
Companies have been utilizing press releases for over 100 years. Initially a press release was a way to get information to the news media. They were rarely seen by the public and were not created to be an advertisement. The point was to get the media’s attention about a story or news worthy event gets them to write about it. To accomplish this, organizations had to write a release that had real news value.
The Internet, along with media channels, blogs and social networks, has changed the press release landscape. Company branding, pushing content, infographics and press releases became a tool in the SEO arsenal. This shift led to a glut of releases that were no longer “real news,” but promotional content stuffed with keywords and hyperlinks to affiliated sites and networks designed to ‘game the system’ and put the content on page one of the search engines.
Google, the appointed keeper and indexer of web content had enough, and listed press releases as a link scheme, stating that a release is basically an advertisement.
As a PR specialist, it’s my job to keep up with the latest advice and best practices in order to optimize the value I can offer. While I’m certainly no SEO expert myself, I have assembled some best practices from SEO experts that I thought would be useful.
Here are a few tips that should help increase the effective reach and value of your press releases:
- Use reputable press release distribution sites – When Google rolled out Panda, press release sites took a hit -- and none were hit harder than the many free press release sites in existence. The simple fact that they are free lead many companies to distribute press releases as an SEO strategy. The practice was to fill these releases with tons of backlinks to their websites, hoping for increased traffic. In the past this worked, but not anymore. While the new algorithm also hit reputable sites such as PR Newswire, they weren’t hit as hard. These sites also immediately worked with Google and revised site policies to prevent further damage. While free press release sites are tempting, I’d advise not to use them for distribution. Google has labeled many of them as spam. If you have a good news release that is worth getting out, spend the money and distribute it through a reputable site such as BusinessWire, PRNewswire or Marketwire.
- Don’t rely solely on a newswire -- build your contact list – Public relations is by its very nature a relations business. There is so much news out there that if you just send it out on a newswire, unless it is very big news, the chances of it actually appearing in your target publications are really quite small.I was recently at a press conference at NADA with literally no one in attendance. A very green new PR person had spent about $1,200 to send out the press conference announcement on PR Newswire. But she had no one turn up at the press conference – why? At a very hot news time such as NADA, it can be very hard to get eyeballs on a newswire release, especially if it is not from a company that is known to the editors and reporters. It is therefore important to establish contacts with the editors of the key publications in your industry. Talk to them.Stay in regular contact with them so you know the type of news they are looking for. Send them your press releases with a personal note. And, if appropriate, follow up with a phone call. Also, editors can frequently change at publications, so make sure your list is up to date.
- How many links can you put in a press release before triggering the “link police?” One of the primary reasons that press release sites were penalized was that people were using them inappropriately. The general rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t include more than 2-3 links for every 500 words of text.
Google does not give credit for links created by press release authors. Their algorithm is based on third-party endorsement links, what they call editorial links. Earned media had always been regarded as more valuable than owned or paid, precisely because it is third-party endorsement from a source that has no vested interest.
Google only penalizes links that are there for the express purpose of juicing up the SEO values. Write press releases with links that lead naturally to other content, making it beneficial to the reader– be it the public or the media. Work with your IT team and learn what a “no-follow” link is. Make all links in your releases no-follow to avoid being penalized by Google. PRNewswire already automatically tags all links in press releases with these tags. So, if you’re unclear on how to do this, you might consider using them. These links should be different and relevant. If you’re going to include multiple links, it’s acceptable to include one to your home page. But, if you are going to include more, make sure they are to relevant pages within your site, rather than to your home page. Ensure that any anchor text contains the keywords you are targeting in your release. And that the primary keyword target in your anchor text is the first link, as it carries the most weight.
According to Google, “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. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”
- Be newsworthy – Too many press releases are self-promotional and aren’t really newsworthy. Don’t use press releases simply to say “something,” if what you are saying has no value and would be of no interest to your audience. And please, please, please don’t send out your sales and marketing materials as a press release. By avoiding flooding the Internet with irrelevant press releases, chances are your target audience will pay more attention when they see your release. Post too many that are not newsworthy and you may cause a journalist or industry site to ignore future releases under the assumption they are simply self-promotional pieces.
- Format your releases correctly – According to PRNewsOnline, press releases should have catchy headlines that are under 22 characters and should contain 2-3 of your targeted keywords in the headline, subhead and first paragraph. They should be no more than about 750 words long. It is also a good practice to include your company’s logo in every release, as well as rich media such as pictures and video.
- Don’t post them on your website – This one was a surprise to me but it is good to keep in mind and makes sense -- SEO authority Kissmetrics advises that businesses not post their press releases on their own websites. They explain that this action “denigrate(s) your content authenticity and page-score ranking with Google and other search engines.” They do, however, offer a solution and advise that businesses “write a unique teaser paragraph or two, then link out to the release on the host site that distributed it or one of the major media outlets that picked it up.”
Is there such a thing as a well optimized press release? Yes, but proceed with caution. An optimized release needs to be relevant, speak in a natural voice and avoid the keyword stuffing that triggers the Google red flags. Maintain editorial integrity, keep content newsworthy, craft a headline with your targeted audience in mind, and put key phrases in the first paragraph, so they will be indexed properly.
Press releases are still a very valuable way for businesses to gain brand exposure and share relevant company information with their target audiences. However, due to the changes in search engine algorithms, you should no longer think of press releases as a form of SEO, but rather as a means of sharing company news. When press releases are picked up by industry news sites and publications, those mentions, re-publications, links and citations do help your website and company through increased exposure.
While there are certainly more intricacies involved when it comes to the SEO value of press releases, I hope that abiding by these 6 tips helps you accomplish the main goal of all press releases – namely getting your message out to the people that need to hear it.