Should you issue press releases to win at Google News?
Last week, Reuters reported the following:
A little-noticed change in the way Google selects search results has allowed company statements to top the list of news links shown when users search for information on businesses. The measure may cost news publishers web traffic and risks misleading users, analysts said. “The goal of search is to get users the right answer at any one time as quickly as possible — that may mean returning an article from an established publisher or from a smaller niche publisher or indeed it might be a press release,” the Google spokeswoman said.
In the wake of this revelation, many people began asking how to take advantage of this unannounced feature? Should you suddenly start cranking out press releases?
Our recommendation to all is: tread very cautiously. Google’s commentary indicates that this feature comes into play only for the part of their news algorithm that deals with freshness. If you’ve got a legitimate piece of breaking news that’s search-worthy, then sending out a press release would be a logical choice. Don’t send out press releases for the sake of trying to game an algorithm.
Google’s commentary also does not mention SEO. Based on this, Google’s previous guidance that press releases can harm your SEO still stands. This change doesn’t alter what Google thinks of your site; in fact, overdoing it may be counterproductive, because you’re helping to send web searchers to wire service websites rather than your site.
Finally, lest we forget recent history, people who gamed press releases in the short term got massively penalized by Google when it changed its algorithm a few years later. To this day, sites that tried to game SEO with press releases are still cleaning up the mess, paying consultants now to remove or disavow old press releases. Now that this algorithm has been revealed, there’s no guarantee it will remain operational.
How impactful is this change? Recall that a user who finds one of your press releases still has to click on a link to your website. They still must take additional action. Let’s see how you might measure this change’s impact on your marketing communications and see if this change has in any way benefitted you. Open up your company’s Google Analytics (or other web analytics software) reports.
Set the date to 9/1/2014 to the present day and set up comparison to the previous period:
Set up a segment to examine traffic from wire services. Shown below is an example of a segment that looks for traffic from MarketWired, PR Newswire, Business Wire, and PR Web:
Compare the two periods. Did you see a substantial increase in the new period? If so, you benefitted from the algorithm change. In this example, we see a 54% decrease in traffic from press release sites and services, shown below at :
This indicates that our press releases did not drive new audiences to our website.
It’s also worth pointing out the little percentage number at , which indicates how much of your website’s traffic this segment represents. We see above that wire services account for less than 1/10th of 1% of all traffic to the SHIFT website, despite issuing multiple press releases through the year. The algorithm change is highly unlikely to substantially change our business.
Try this out and compare the amount of traffic you’ve received from wire services as a percentage of all your website traffic. If you’re consistently getting 10% or more of your traffic from the wire service releases, then you’ve got a winning press release strategy for driving real traffic. Keep it up. For the vast majority of companies, wire service traffic results in less than 1% of website traffic; trying to game Google News with even more press releases is likely to hit diminishing returns very quickly.
Our general mantra holds true: There is no quick, easy, cheap way to beat Google. Trying to hijack any of Google’s algorithms is a fool’s errand. Focus your efforts on creating quality content and distributing it effectively instead. Create something truly unique and newsworthy, then send out a press release as part of an integrated outreach strategy. That’s the best, most viable long-term strategy we can recommend.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology