Google, Press Releases, and SEO: The Game Has Changed

I recently read with great interest an e-mail from BusinessWire describing a major change in the way Google ranks pages vis-a-vis press releases. You can read their blog on the subject here:

Discovery, Not Link Building, is the Objective of Your Press Release

You see, up til now, you could write as flimsy a press release as you liked, then send it to a major press release service (PRNewswire, BusinessWire, PRWeb, etc.) for “distribution.”  Yep, for a couple hundred bucks, you could sit back and watch as web-only “news outlets” propagated your key-word laden advertisement press release all over the web.  Did it get picked up by any real media outlets?  Did any reporters ever call you?  Did anybody, anywhere, actually READ it?  It mattered not, because as the link-backs grew, your search-marketing got a hefty boost.

Now, it appears those days are over.  Basically, Google will now start treating online press releases as paid placements. And let’s face it, that’s what they were. In this new world wide web order, the art of a well-written press release was lost, only to be replaced by chunks of jargony keywords strung together with little regard for the sense they made or didn’t make. Likewise, there was little regard for grammar, capitalization, spelling, etc., because Google doesn’t care about such things, so why should we?

Once was a time when a professional publicity agent — one who simultaneously understood the client, their industry vertical, and the appropriate media — would craft a quality mini-story carefully designed to entice reporters and potential customers alike to learn more about your company, product, or service. But with the Internet came SEO, then SEO became king, and the press release became a prettified doorway page.

Worse, earned media — the original raison d’etre of the press release — became so unimportant that PR agencies were let go, in-house PR staffers were cut, and in extreme cases some marketing functions were moved to the IT department. [shudder]

I asked my buddy Ryan Roskilly of Tidal Media for some perspective from the SEO side of things.

DSC.  Google is putting a stop to “unnatural link building” that online distributed press releases would typically provide. As an SEO professional, what do you make of this?

RR: Since the beginning of Google, inbound links have been a very large part of their algorithm to determine rank. Over the years, Google has been pretty good about lowering the worthiness of inbound links from certain press release websites. So yes, those links from press releases don’t count as much as they once did.

DSC:  Google is using a nofollow tag for these “press releases.” How does that work?

RR: The nofollow attribute is used in the HTML code of a hyperlink to tell search engine not to crawl that link.  In effect, it gives no influence over the target’s ranking within the search engine index.

DSC:  Google is actively looking for “link schemes?” Presumably GOOG will penalize sites that use them?

RR: Google has been looking for these for some years now. If they believe they have found a link scheme, they will certainly delist or devalue the rank of the websites accordingly.

As you can see, this news is a real game changer.  But the way I see it, as a PR guy who remembers life before Google, it merely hits the reset button on the game.

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