Is News Release Distribution for SEO Dead?

The days of pseudo-news releases that are purely SEO tools are dead and should be buried.

The public relations and SEO PR worlds are still reeling a bit after the big changes that came in Google’s latest algorithm update, dubbed Penguin 2.0.   Simply put, they have changed the role of the news release, or at least altered it once again.

google-seoFor years, many (including myself) have advocated the use of news release distribution as a search engine optimization (SEO) tool.  The strategy was that by embedding links and sending releases out via distribution networks like PRWeb, Businesswire and OnlinePRMedia, you could increase the number of inbound links to your website and thus increase its search rankings.  A secondary, but also very important, benefit of this release distribution was discovery.  By having your release available in multiple locations, you increased the chance of someone finding it.

Penguin 2.0 has changed all of that.  There are two new and important rules from Google that relate to news release distribution:

  • Press releases will be treated as a paid placement by Google.
  • Optimized anchor text links in a press release distribution will be considered “unnatural” and will not pass PageRank in Google search results.

Essentially what this means is that those links in news releases won’t help you anymore.  In fact, they could hurt you.

So, does this kill news release distribution for SEO?  I don’t believe so.  However, it does change it and perhaps reduces its impact. I checked into what some of the distribution firms are doing.  A quick survey of Businesswire, OnlinePRMedia and PRLeap shows that they all made the change to give outbound links from their news releases a “no-follow” attribute.  This means that Google will ignore them, and thus not “ding” your website for having a paid or unnatural link.

What this change in Google also means is that quality content is even more critical. In an email discussion with Christine O’Kelly from OnlinePRMedia, she agreed:

“To win in search today is to have substance — not just a good SEO company. There are companies with substance that have seen a drop — but from what I’ve experienced, it’s because they aren’t doing a great job of conveying that substance, getting others to talk about them, and making a presence for themselves. That’s what a PR firm does — and press releases are one of the tools that PR firms use.”

A blog post from Fred Godlash and John Leung at Businesswire echos that sentiment:

For example, if the Associated Press picked up your press release and did a national story, you would not gain links simply from having your story on AP, but from the subsequent results of that story. The benefit happens when millions of readers discover your story and engage with your company or brand. They may choose to link to you or share that information on their social networks.

So, what do you do?  Should you stop paying for online distribution?  No .. you shouldn’t.  However, while content has been king for a while, it’s now the grand high emperor for life.  Well thought-out and well written and executed content that is interesting to your audience will be retweeted, posted on Facebook, and even posted on Google+ (if you do that sort of thing).  It will also be blogged about (like the Businesswire post I quoted above) and news organizations will write about it.  That’s how you gain links in the current Google environment.  Using online release distribution will increase the number of people who can potentially find your content, and thus is a tool you should consider using.

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