Recently Google updated their guidelines on links specifically calling out press releases. The update has caused some confusion among PR professionals. We asked SEO pro, Jon Rognerud to help explain the changes.
Keywords, content, and links are paramount to success in search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines live (and die) by following links, then storing and indexing information into their vast server networks.
For website owners, links contribute to how pages are ranked. External links create a trust/authority indicator for Google, which may lead to higher rankings and traffic. Links are the voting mechanism that still is central to what Google built into their search engine dating back to 1998.
Why Pick on Press Releases?
A common way to create brand visibility is to leverage national press release services. The approach has been, and still is – to use PR services to also get traffic and links back to the brand in question. This is nothing new, as we all create content to be placed and syndicated on the Internet.
Over the last several years, however, many people began using press releases as a way to gain links and increase site popularity. This abuse has resulted in press releases and their links being viewed as nothing more than a paid link, which is a model highly discouraged by Google.
Over time, Google and other search engines have taken measures to combat any “gaming of the system” and recently announced that Press Releases that contain links back to the brand should include a no-follow link attribute. A no-follow link is a hyperlink that has a special code – “rel=nofollow” – attached to it. A no-follow attribute essentially tells search engine spiders how to treat that link. Search engine spiders will not follow these links to the new site (or page) and the link is not included in your relevancy score for keywords, nor does it count towards your popularity in search engine rankings. In effect, you serve readers by providing the information but demonstrate to Google that you are not abusing links for SEO.
Recently, Google updated their webmaster guidelines igniting a wave of questions from PR professionals across the globe.
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.” (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66356?hl=en)
If you scroll down on the page, you’ll see that the concept of unnatural links violate guidelines, and is even called out with an example. “Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.” — is specifically mentioned.
To Link or Not to Link?
So what has really changed? The types of links that have drawn Google’s ire are “optimized links.” Optimized links are keyword rich links designed to impact SEO. Let’s look at an example. You write a press release announcing a client’s new software product, ABC Software that is a press release distribution tool.
Click here to learn more about our new product, ABC Software, a press release distribution tool. In this version “click here” is linked to the product page.
Click here to learn more about our new product, ABC Software, a press release distribution tool. In this version “press release distribution tool” is linked to the product page.
The first example is a navigational link and remains a good practice. You are directing resources to where they can find out more information. In the second version you have optimized the link with keywords, and this is a practice Google calls into question. Going forward, it is best to steer clear of using optimized links, in your press releases or add the no-follow attribute to these types of links,
Remember, the search engines still want the best search results for their users. By focusing on generating quality content and relevant links, you will ensure that you and your clients remain in Google’s good graces.
7 suggested rules when using a press release strategy going forward:
- Always think about the user first, search engines second.
- Don’t use press releases as a primary SEO tool. One of the best ways to drive traffic to your clients’ websites is with good quality content relevant to their publics. Use releases to announce relevant news rather than as “link juice.”
- Use navigational links in your release. For example if you are announcing a strategic partnership it is it is fine to link to company names. Don’t overdo using these links, stick to one or two per release.
- Create a targeted outreach list and follow up directly. Do your research and send releases to journalists that may not find your press release on their own and share it with them.
- Think long term and mix up your marketing tactics. Google will also continue to update their policies and algorithms — often overnight. Over reliance on any one strategy is not good.
- Consider adding a modified, updated copy of the release on your own website. Link to the original release from within your own website. Build content on your own domains.
- Review and understand what Google thinks about “quality content”: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.nz/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html. Also remember that quality content doesn’t mean you automatically become #1 in the search engine results.
Create a high-value, user focused and valuable approach to brand mentions and press release efforts. Press releases still work to get the word out, and the possible follow-up will create value for, and links from, relevant websites. Your PR/SEO will get leverage over time this way.
When you follow these rules and understand the background, you’ll have nothing to worry about. Legitimate PR pros, agencies, publicists and others should be fine with these changes. Press Releases are not an SEO spam tool, and you should never use them in that way.
Jon Rognerud is the author of the popular SEO book, “The Ultimate Guide to Search Engine Optimization” (Entrepreneur/Mcgraw-Hill). He runs his own search marketing firm at Chaosmap.com and writes about search engine marketing, online business strategies and the entrepreneurial mindset. He speaks, trains and consults with organizations in the US and abroad on how to build and run their Internet Marketing Strategies for increased profits — using SEO, Social Media, Pay Per Click and more. For a Free strategy call, contact him at www.chaosmap.com/contact