Revisiting the News Release: ...


Google Equations

This not-so-little recent tweak to Google’s treatment of link schemes certainly caught the attention of the PR industry:

  • “Creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.”

Google goes on to call out “links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites” as an example of such a violation.

Given the commoditization of news releases over the years, particularly product news releases, rationalizing the cost of a news release distribution service has increasingly come down to link building.

Effective immediately, this benefit has been eliminated.

I can’t say I’m surprised.

We distributed a news release last year announcing that Steve Burkhart has taken the reins of our North America operation. Most of the value lay in the syndication which included Reuters:

PR release on Reuters

We viewed the three circled backlinks as SEO gold, no different from landing coverage in Reuters, since search engines size up all content on media properties as editorial. This meant the backlinks gained the clout of Reuters and its mass readership.

But I always wondered when this “free lunch” would come to an end.

When I was asked by Mashable back in 2010 on the future of the news release, I shared:

“Looking beyond five years, I could see the algorithms of search engines becoming smart enough to discern whether a backlink comes from syndicated content, which in turn causes it to greatly reduce the value of the backlink. In other words, even if a news release is syndicated on The Wall Street Journal, with all the “authority” that comes with the site, the search engine figures out that it’s nothing more than a republished news release, so scores the backlink super low. If this happened, we would see the volume of news releases significantly decline.”

Fast forward to today –

Google still hasn’t cracked the code in being able to figure out syndicated content from the editorial product, but they’ve achieved the same end result by going after the news release distribution services with the mandate: all links in content must incorporate the no-follow code. As such, the link still works, but there’s no value in search rank.

Naturally, the news release distribution services are singing the “no big deal” hymn from the same book. While a fan of PR Newswire and its push to support communication professionals in a number of ways, it’s inevitable that the number of news releases distributed through services will decrease. Why would you now shell out $500 to $1500 for a weak announcement that will only generate syndicated coverage in fringe media like “Wrestling for Vegan Baby Boomers.”

Given the importance that Google puts on social signals and natural link building, there’s yet another reason for companies to invest in building owned media. We’ve been pushing clients in this direction for some time.

For example, Malwarebytes recently discovered a new form of Ransomware targeting Apple Mac users. Rather than take the conventional route of a news release, we posted the news on the company’s blog, pushed it out through the company’s social channels and targeted select influencers.

More than 30 media properties covered the story. Zeroing in on The Next Web, you’ll see the publication included two links to as well as embedding the company’s video. Ultimately, we achieved the best of both worlds, the type of media coverage that accentuates the company’s public profile and quality link generation.

Two keys drove the success of this exercise.

The company’s social channels must have enough critical mass. Between Malwarebytes’ blog, FB and Twitter, it has the potential to reach well over 100K people with an important subset of those being influencers. Also, you need to think like a journalist in pulling together information that strives to be useful to the overall industry (not company-centric).

The news release can still be your friend, but its days as a link builder are gone.

Fortunately, other options abound.

Other Posts on This Topic With Different Takes


  • Sarah Skerik

    Good post Lou, and I especially agree with your point about the importance of building owned media for brands. I have to offer a differing view with respect to the ongoing value of press releases, however.

    Fact is, the vast majority of organizations issuing press releases don’t do so with any intention (and in many cases, knowledge of) link building. Google’s change will be very inconvenient for those organizations that were still issuing releases solely for building links.

    There’s still a lot of value in distributing a working link embedded in relevant and interesting content. In my own experience, using press releases to promote blog posts (and NOT for any SEO-oriented outcome) I’ve seen significant increases in not just readership, but also new subscribers and unique visitors. Even more important, I’ve seen follow on benefits from this increase in quality traffic, as the long tail for the blog content has continued to grow. All the while, our click-through rate has held steady, indicating that this influx of new readers is also pretty well qualified. An agency client that followed suit to grow their blog audience saw similar results. A software company using PR Newswire told us that when they added a call to action to a press release, placing it right after the first paragraph, that traffic to the prescribed web site grew by more than 200%. Another client recently told me about a press release issued last September that continues to generate media mentions today.

    Point is, press releases are still a good way to boost the discovery of your brand or message. While obviously we take Google pretty seriously (over the weekend, PR Newswire implemented no-follow links in releases syndicated to third-party web sites) the reason why the newswires (as you put it) are singing the ‘no big deal’ hymn is simply because most of our customers aren’t going to be affected by the change, and in reality, Google has been devaluing juice from press releases for a couple years.

    Readers will still be able to click links in press releases. Search engines will still spider them. They will continue to reach broad audiences and narrow niches. And most press release issuers will see little if anything change.

    Sarah Skerik (@sarahskerik)
    VP Content Marketing & longtime newswire denizen
    PR Newswire

  • hoffman


    Thanks for sharing your perspective.

    I don’t think we’re far apart.

    My point is the move by Google will accelerate companies to use their owned media (channels) to distribute SOME of their news. For major announcements or disclosure announcements, services like PR Newswire will still be the best choice.

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