Press Releases and Their Impact on SEO

I got an email yesterday, and this was the gist of it:

“Most of the literature I’m reading about SEO say Google has been penalizing press release syndication since the Panda update[…]I’m going to need to be convinced that there isn’t a chance that this could actually do more harm than good.”

Until about a year ago, I was under the impression that press release syndication had absolutely zero value for SEO. Not that there was really a penalty risk, but just that there wasn’t any value. However, over the last year, as I’ve worked with more clients that haven’t had a foundation, a good, solid base for their backlink profile, I’ve seen more value in the press release.

There are other benefits that come from press releases-namely brand recognition-but this article will focus entirely on how press releases affect SEO in 2019.

Press Releases and Google Penalties

History of Press Releases and SEO

There was a time, years ago, when press releases were being leveraged for ill-gotten game and riddled with spam, passing on a lot of link equity. In a matter of one week, with a good press release, someone could get valuable, keyword-rich links from hundreds of websites with high [insert preferred metric used to measure websites].

As shown in the example by Google in their guidelines of how not to do press releases, the way that press releases were being abused is that they were keyword stuffed and were passing a lot of juice to multiple pages across a single domain.

Here is an excerpt from Search Engine Land where they talk about abuse and over-optimization of anchor text in press releases (from 2013):

So, if you are reading an article that talks about “press release penalties,” more than likely, it is an article from three to four years ago, as the reality of a penalty based on press releases hasn’t been an issue since press release standards have been significantly increased. But more on that later.

What Does Google Actually Say About Press Releases?

When looking at the actual language, Google says the following is against their guidelines: “links with optimized anchor text in[…]press releases distributed on other sites.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with press releases. It is press releases with “optimized anchor text” that they have a problem with. Remember the example from above…5 optimized anchor texts in 2 sentences. That is what Google has a problem with.

If you watch the first eight minutes of this Webmaster Hangout from 2013, Google’s John Mueller says that he thinks press releases are good for businesses, but it is his opinion that all press releases should be nofollow. Then, if journalists, bloggers, or visitors to your site want to write about your site and give you links that pass link equity, then that is where your site would see SEO impact. In his opinion, press releases should be seen as an advertisement.

In 2012, Matt Cutts says that press releases don’t help with rankings. Although, there have been plenty of people that have proven that ranks have been improved with press releases. In fact, one search engine optimizer intentionally improved keyword rankings for Matt Cutts’ own blog with press releases.

So there is a discussion of whether or not they actually do pass any juice, but let’s just assume they don’t and move on for the purposes of this article.

The Benefits of a Press Release for SEO

“If press releases are nofollow and do not pass juice, then what’s the point?” It is a fairly common question that I see in SEO forums.

If you are optimizing a brand new website or you are trying to get diversify for your backlink portfolio, this is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to do it.

Using Press Releases to Get Out of the Sandbox

If you have a brand new domain, one of the quickest ways to help get your website of the sandbox is to drive real traffic to it. By syndicating a compelling press release, it will drive visitors to your website, which will tell search engines that your site is worth surface up for air, and it will help get you out of the sandbox.

Using Press Releases to Optimize a Newer Site with Few Links

When optimizing a website with few links, it is important that you quickly build up a fortress of branded, high quality links. Local directories, your social fortress, and press releases are a good way to do this.

Something else to consider is that if you have a new site, you’ll be building a lot of links, and you won’t want to spend a lot of time building out branded anchor text. If you are a small business owner that is doing SEO for him or herself or working on a budget, you want to spend your time building optimized links, not naked URL or branded links.

Using Press Releases to Diversify a Backlink Profile

If you have an affiliate site and your home page is your main conversion page that you are optimizing with keywords, or if you have just been overzealous and built too many links that are keyword rich and have over-optimized your anchor text, using a press release is a good way to dilute your anchor text ratios.

When looking at some suggested anchor text percentages, Ahrefs has a good list.

Although, personally, I believe that 10% is a little conservative for LSI anchor text. And in this day and age, I believe that people aren’t using naked URLs as much, so 25% seems overly-ambitious to me.

Another way that press releases help diversify your portfolio is that as they are nofollow, so that helps build up that aspect of your link portfolio if you don’t have any nofollow links. It is not natural to have an entire backlink portfolio that is passing juice, and no one wants to build links that don’t pass juice, so a press release is a good way to make your link portfolio look more natural to search engines.

How to Protect Yourself from Bad Press Releases

Knowing the Standards of Press Releases in 2019

If you look at any of the articles regarding avoiding penalties from press releases, their recommendations are all the same. When I googled “press release syndication google penalty,” the first result was How To Avoid Google Penalty From SEO-Friendly Press Release and the second was How to Optimize Your Press Releases and Avoid Google Penalties. Here are their list on how to avoid penalties from press releases:

Press Releases and SEO Best Practices for 2019

StandardsHow To Avoid Google Penalty From SEO-Friendly Press ReleaseHow to Optimize Your Press Releases and Avoid Google Penalties
Have Something NewsworthyYesNo
Include Fewer LinksYesYes
Vary Anchor TestYesYes
Use NoFollow LinksYesYes
Work With Reputable Press Release VendorYesYes
Remove Old Spammy Press ReleasesYesYes

So as you can see, the list are almost identical. And if you look at any further list online, they are all the same: have something newsworthy, make sure that links are nofollow, don’t over-optimize link anchor text, and work with a reputable press release syndication company.

Partnering Smart for SEO Press Releases

You can pick any number of press release services for SEO. I’ve used three over the last year. All the press releases are pretty much syndicated the same way; however, I’ve been most pleased with Press Synergy.

There isn’t anything special about their syndication process in regards to benefits for SEO, but they make me more involved in the content creation process and the editorial process. So, not an affiliate link, but if you’re looking for a press release company, that’s who I recommend.

Knowing Who or What to Avoid in Press Release Syndication for SEO

I won’t mention any specific brands-it’s not my style. But here’s an example of some literature that I’ve been sent from some brands, and why to avoid it.

When press release services start offering you more than two or three links per publication, the option of more than nofollow, and “customized distribution” (whatever that entails), those are the ones you want to steer clear from.

So What’s the Point of a Press Release for SEO in 2019?

Will Press Releases Impact Your Organic Traffic?

So to be perfectly clear, unless your press release contains amazing news that a journalist or niche blogger deems worthy of covering, you won’t get any link juice from a press release-although that’s why it pays to work with an amazing content writer. BUT if you look in Google Search Console, you’ll see that Google is clearly tracking these links. They do affect your anchor text ratios; they do affect you follow to nofollow ratios; they can send some traffic (Google loves traffic signals!), and they are great for creating general awareness and branding.

Should I use Press Releases as Part of My Linkbuilding Strategy?

Fortune 500 companies release press releases all the time-last I checked, their SEO team isn’t bemoaning every time their PR team writes a check to PR Newswire. They don’t run to Search Console after every quarterly earnings update and disavow the 400-500 links they get from the press release. If done correctly, press releases are not bad for SEO-they have their place, especially for sites with immature link profiles.

It is my expert opinion that press releases should be used in the following situations:

  1. If a site is new and you want to get it out of the sandbox quickly. I’m looking at you e-commerce and affiliate sites.
  2. If you have a site that is aged and has less than 100 referring domains. More than likely you don’t have enough of the aforementioned ratios (follow vs nofollow, and the suggested anchor text).
  3. If in your linkbuilding efforts you’ve over optimized some of your pages and they can’t rank.
  4. If you generally have something awesome and newsworthy

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