When Google says “jump”, we ask, “how high?” Google recently announced changes designed to prevent manipulation of search engine rankings via over-optimized press release links and text. Specifically, Google says that they will no longer tolerate “any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results.” Google also doesn’t want to see “links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.”
It was only a matter of time.
Press releases were originally designed to let the press know about potential stories. They were traditionally factual but enticing, designed to get the attention of a member of the press and get the story covered.
Several years ago some clever marketers realized that stuffing a press release full of highly optimized text and backlinks (links that point back to your website) was an effective way to boost search engine rankings. As word got out that this practice was effective many inbound marketing experts advised marketers to pump out press releases full of backlinks and optimized text.
For some time now it’s been common to see press releases churned out exclusively for their SEO value with little to no intention of informing actual members of the press or gaining press coverage at all. Well, guess what folks! Google got smarter and decided to do something about the sad state of the press release world.
Now, despite the title of this post, we don’t really think press releases are dead. They just have to be high quality now. Hey, thanks Google.

The Basics

Here’s a breakdown of the essential elements to this announcement:
Google isn’t hating on all links. There are 2 basic kinds: Navigational Links and Transactional links. Navigational links are used to navigate. If you say “find it here” and link on “here”, you’re alright. If you say, “here’s a link to our homepage www.homepage.com“, then you’re all right. If you say, “our company, Net-Results, sells marketing automation software” and link on your company’s name, then you’re alright. Navigational links are still OK to use in press releases, the key is to use them in moderation.
Transactional links are what Google doesn’t want to see in press releases anymore. They are used to link all over the place and they tend to be promotional as opposed to navigational. Google has a good example of one in the announcement they made, you can read it here. (See that nice navigational link?). If you don’t feel like reading it, it looks a lot like this:
“If you enjoy grass fed beef, ethically raised chicken and wild caught fish, come to our restaurant and try a free sample on us.”
“Beef” “Chicken” and “Fish” are all linked to their site and their primary purpose is to generate inbound links for SEO, not to show people where to find those items. This is what Google doesn’t want to see in press releases. Previously, transactional links were a technique for building inbound links and creating better SEO.
The other kind of linking Google doesn’t want to see in press releases is optimized anchor text. Google calls this “unnatural”. Anchor text is what you see, as a reader, when you click on a link.
Example: “Flamingos are the most popular type of yard ornament”. The word “flamingos” is the anchor text for the link, which goes to a Wikipedia article about flamingos.
Optimized anchor text is when anchor text is crafted together very carefully (and sometimes weirdly) to be a word or phrase that is comprised of valuable keywords for a site. This is a way to boost SEO by ranking for a specific phrase.
Example: “Plastic pink flamingo decorations” instead of just “Flamingos”.
Plastic pink flamingo decorations are the most popular type of yard ornament”.
It sounds a bit awkward and forced because it is. This could be used to artificially generate inbound links for high-value keyword strings and could improve a website’s SEO effectively but it isn’t allowed anymore. In fact, it’s downright “unnatural”.

Now What?

This isn’t the end of the world or even press releases. It’s just the end of bad press releases. Tweet This! Personally, I’m OK with that. You can still direct traffic to your website with navigational links. Becoming mindful of the quality of press release content and how you link it is a skill that should be part of every marketer’s repertoire already anyway.
Google did offer a few ways to include links without incurring SEO penalties. Writers and publishers of press releases should take note of these solutions and learn how to implement them:

  • Add a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the <a> tag
  • Redirect links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file

In a nutshell, press releases need to be high quality. They can no longer be relied upon as an inbound link strategy to increase SEO.
Are press releases dead? No. If you think they are then you may be the type of person who killed them in the first place.
How do you plan to use press releases going forward? Leave a comment and let us know.

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