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With Little SEO Value Left in Them, Are Press Releases Still Worthwhile?

by Rebecca Joyner  |  
September 27, 2013

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.

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Rebecca Joyner is director of content services at Metis Communications, where she drives content-creation efforts to help clients get found online, convert leads, and establish themselves as voices of authority in their industries.

LinkedIn: Rebecca Joyner

Twitter @rebeccamjoyner

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  • by Randy Milanovic Fri Sep 27, 2013 via iphone

    If you are writing a press release for link juice, you've got it very, very wrong.

  • by Steven Fri Sep 27, 2013 via web

    Great post! I admit I was a bit worried you were going to tell folks that PRs are no longer valid because of Google's changes. In fact, they are a valuable tool and you point out the key things: Images, Video, and WHY is news is important. Thanks for the post!

  • by 121mcv SEO Fri Sep 27, 2013 via web

    I wont be using press releases (PR) as a backlinking strategy anymore. PR have lost their value in my opinion as the traffic it directs towards a URL is temporary. PR has its place in SEO but is slow expensive and limited.

  • by tb Mon Sep 30, 2013 via web

    Good story.There's more to press releases than just SEO.
    Particularly for a public company and in the context of new product introductions, the press release tends to be the first communication piece out the gate. Therefore, in some companies the press release is what often drives the final positioning and messaging (unfortunately - you would think that positioning is clear long before the product, but this is often not reality) serving as an important tool, aligning all forces from top down. Maybe we should change the name to something else, because the fact that we call them press release can drive a certain behavior, which is not necessarily aligned with how the way communication works today

  • by Matthew Stotts Tue Oct 1, 2013 via web

    A well written press release while rare, remains a useful communications tool for companies and organizations. However, the news wire is what Google is rendering pointless. For public companies, however, press releases remain an essential part of their communications process for fair disclosure rules, SEC filings and the fact that public, often means large and many PRs from large companies are used by legitimate media as sources for stories. For private companies, I'm all for writing press releases, just send them to the key people who will care to read them, have a discussion about your news with them and then post the PR on your website.

  • by Marie Sun Oct 6, 2013 via web

    I agree that PRs don't carry the weight or value of the past. However, do feel that they still serve a purpose if used correctly and communicated to the right audience. We are not a large public company that needs to adhere to SEC rules. However, a small private company with a limited marketing and ad budget, it is a nice tool to have in the kit.

  • by Anandhi Wed Nov 6, 2013 via web

    Information about the press release is useful. Is the press release get the short time result or not?

  • by Abhijit Gupta Mon Dec 30, 2013 via web

    Really it is a nice blog; I would like to tell you that you have given me much information about it. Your post is extremely helpful. I will keep following. Thank you for sharing this information.

  • by Sam Mudra Mon Jul 7, 2014 via web

    You can optimize your press release but not for search engines but for your audience or prospective customers. Otherwise it can be dangerous in present SEO scenario.

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