Why your press releases are getting you penalised

From time to time, members of the SEO community will publicly ask: “does X tactic still work?”

Cue people from all ends of the colour spectrum (that’s black to white) throwing their hat into the ring and proclaiming that Google has no right to do this; they’re still getting results from that; they expect everything to be less valuable in future and you should be on Google+ just to be safe, like that little red +1 on your website’s door will make Penguin walk on by like some sort of SEO Passover.

The question that gets asked far too rarely is: “should this tactic still work?” and, in the case of press releases, I’m not sure that answer is in the affirmative.

Do press releases still work?

To answer all those questions above, many people are still getting reasonable returns from press releases, there are currently some relatively safe ways to do it and some of the big press release distribution sites such as PRWeb and PR Newswire haven’t been penalised yet.

Earlier this year, Branded3 received a response to a reconsideration request that highlighted a brand anchor text link in a press release as an unnatural link. We questioned Google about it and they decided the site was acceptable, but it seems that it’s sitting right on the borderline.

That should tell you pretty much everything you need to know about how Google considers press releases nowadays (either that, or everyone with an exact match domain should probably consider purchasing a new domain as you’ll never be able to build links again) – if not, this should.

Should press releases have ever been an SEO tactic?

Linkbuilding has changed fundamentally over the past year and the way outreach has performed has changed along with it. Regardless of whether online PR is replacing linkbuilding (it probably is), PR has completely replaced press releases and quite rightly, too.

If your client/company is doing something newsworthy, that’s a linkworthy asset…and the easiest way to waste that asset is to write 300-400 words that are blatantly self-promotional (don’t pretend you’ve NEVER put out a press release that reads “the leading X company in X…”) and squeeze in links to that service.

This doesn’t work for a couple of reasons:

1. News is coming from the company itself, so it becomes less trustworthy and fewer people care

2. Your news is now out there, published. What’s the incentive for a big site to break your story?

Fewer and fewer people are browsing press release sites, whereas plenty of people are reading The Verge/Guardian/*insert site you actually read here*. Where would you want your news to be published?

The sad fact is that a press release is all about your company and if you’re promoting your services in that news item, it flows so much better if the links are exact match anchor text to the correct pages on your site. Trying to batter brand terms into your sentences screams “I know about SEO and that’s why I’m doing this” and Google will hate you for it.

Where SHOULD I be publishing my news?

When deciding where to publish your news story, think about who it’s most relevant to. If you’re a tech company, why not head over to The Verge and see if you can get featured there? If you do debt, or deal with money, try the FT. Put your news into a press release, put it into the public domain and you’re just hoping that someone finds it relevant to them.

Placing your products and/or services in front of the people that will convert is a no brainer, and you need to understand what medium your target audience operates in. The readership of press releases, for the most part, is the press itself – by putting out a press release you’re just giving the raw facts so that journalists can make it work for their readers. Not many people can get hundreds of links from raw facts, so why would you put your news out like this in a press release?

Build a relationship with someone who has a great, relevant blog, and you’ll land an awesome link with an article in front of an audience that will actually buy into what you’re selling. Try the scattergun approach with a press release and you’ll get thousands of terrible links you can’t remove AND a penalty you’ll have to explain to your client.

Publish on your own site if you have to

You can do so much more with a news story. Even if you only put it on your company’s blog, you’re at least sure that you’re not going to get penalised, you might get some long tail traffic and you can use that link in your outreach if you want to talk to bloggers about what your company is up to. Bloggers are part of the press now and it’s a fairly safe bet that whatever your niche, the bloggers who will help you to sell your products won’t be browsing PR Newswire.

This is the tactic that Matt Cutts seems to advocate – check out an interview on this topic published on Linkbuildr last month. Combine this with some awesome outreach and it could work. If you have something genuinely newsworthy, though, you might want to think about publishing it on a news site that your audience will read instead of wasting it on a press release site.

(Throughout this post, I’ve been referring to press releases as “news stories”. If these things aren’t synonymous for you, please don’t ever write a press release.)

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