Here's the PR equivalent of your grandpa's story about walking five miles to school in three-foot snow drifts, uphill both ways... Back in the day, when distribution hinged on fax machines and tracking coverage meant cutting articles out of actual magazines and taping them into physical binders, the press release was a pretty powerful tool. It gave your intermediary audience (reporters) the breaking news and basic information it needed to spread your story to your primary audience (investors, customers, prospects, potential employees, partners, and others). The best way to reach all of those important groups was by informing the editorial gatekeepers, and one of the best ways to inform them was via the press release.
Lots of things have changed since PR pros had to walk uphill both ways to the fax machine. Companies now have many ways to reach their primary audiences: blogs, social media, email newsletters, webinars, and more. PR and marketing leaders know that their job titles today should include "publisher," since they now own multiple platforms from which they can communicate directly with key constituencies.
Google says 'NO!' to optimized press release links
There was a time when all of those publishing platforms threatened the viability of the press release. For years, marketers wondered whether the former workhorse of the public relations industry would go the way of paper press clippings.
But the release rallied, in part because it delivered search engine optimization (SEO) value. All of those optimized links—connecting companies to the keywords they valued most—were like extra votes across the Internet. Press releases helped companies get found online.
Not so much, anymore. Google recently labeled the optimized links in press releases as "link schemes," meaning that the anchor text in your news announcements will no longer help your SEO (according to Google), and excessive links could seriously hurt your SEO efforts. The move is punishing for content mills that churn out releases solely to create "unnatural" links. For those of us who write releases to distribute actual news, however, Google's move raises big questions.
Did Google just ring the death knell for press releases?
No, it did not. Here's why: Legitimate news announcements still serve as tools for market education, and they still contribute to online discoverability via social networks and other channels. But some companies need a wake-up call about what they can really accomplish with an isolated press release, especially at a time when media and content strategies demand deep, broad, high-quality storytelling.