Jan 22, 2013

Do Press Releases Help SEO?

seo factors 5 10

The debate over whether or not press releases distributed over a commercial newswire like PR Newswire have a positive effect on SEO has raged for years, resulting in confusion over whether or not using press releases to build visibility for a web site in search engines is an effective tactic.

Years ago, sending out press releases with embedded anchor text links rewarded the issuer of the press release with dozens – if not hundreds – of backlinks.  In many cases, the associated web site was catapulted to the top of the search engine results pages and voila, a popular tactic was born.

Since then, search engines have become more intelligent, and even more focused on their users.  Google’s updates (especially Panda and Penguin) have focused on winnowing out poor quality content.   Many of the press releases that are created link-building tactics don’t pass muster in the engines’ ongoing evaluation of content.

Google’s Matt Cutts is on record advising that links from press releases are no longer contributing to page rank.  However, a recent test by the SEO Consult blog offers evidence to the contrary.

So what’s the answer?  Do press releases matter when it comes to site SEO?  Yes, they do, but not in the way they used to.

The old days of using press releases as a link-building tool have not gone, the evidence shows it can still be beneficial, but the bar has been significantly raised.

On the other hand, content that is written for the audience and is subsequently valued by the audience fares well, whether or not it’s a press release, article or blog post.

“Our advice is that we should write for our audience first, and then work to make the press release findable,” notes Rod Nicolson, PR Newswire’s vice president of global reporting. “By sharing information that your audience needs, or providing them with something else they want you’ll be using best practice that is as old as press releases themselves.”

“Matt isn’t saying that press releases won’t help,” commented SEO Round Table reader Joshua Butler, in a comment on the post titled “Links in Press Releases Don’t Help Your SEO? This Experiment Proved They Do, where a lively discussion on this subject has ensued.   “What Matt is saying is that press releases that are posted to press release sites without getting picked up by real news sites won’t help. He’s saying:  links from press release sites won’t help your rankings.  So what do you do? Still do press releases, but make them newsworthy enough to get picked up by news sites. Getting links from industry news sites that have a long history (3 or more years old) are great links to get.”

Whether or not a press release (or, for that matter, any other content your organization syndicates or publishes) is effective in terms of building traction in search engines and ultimately becoming  a source of valuable and authoritative inbound link to your web site will depend on a few things, including:

  • The subject matter & content: Is your content germane to your audiences’ interests?  Is it written using language they use and will search for?
  • The competitiveness of the subject matter and associated keywords:  Competing for attention when using extremely popular search terms such as “Michelle Obama” or “Super Bowl 2013” is difficult, because of the sheer volume of information available about popular topics.   A more targeted key phrase will generally deliver better results.
  • Where the content appears:  Newsworthy, well-written content appearing on relevant, high-authority web sites will be noticed by search engines, and the net effect will be positive.   PR Newswire’s web site has been continuously online serving our customers and their audiences since 1995, and our content syndication network  includes some of the web’s largest news outlets, as well as thousands of well-respected, tightly-focused and subject-specific news sites.
  • Whether or not people actually read it (and share it):  Content that is published but not read achieves nothing – both in terms of human impressions and search engine traction, and it’s a waste of resource to boot.  When people read and share content, they generate signals indicating to search engines the value of a particular piece of content.  So generating strong readership has a dual benefit – in addition to spreading your message virally, your search engine visibility is boosted, too.

The take away here is that there is no cookie-cutter formula for using press releases to build web site rank.  However, emphasizing value to readers in all the content published by the organization will ultimately generate lasting visibility in search engines and increased credibility with your brand’s audiences.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

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