Press releases can now harm your SEO rankings.

Let’s say that again, because it’s a big change in mindset for marketers and public relations professionals. Press releases can now harm your SEO rankings. In the past, companies have wanted to stuff their press releases with relevant keywords about their news to pass SEO page rank back to their websites. While the real (non)effects of press release distribution have been discussed and decided among SEO professionals (minimal to no impact), many marketers still want to “play it safe” by relying on outdated SEO information that says, get links and worry about the consequences later.

That has changed for the worse. A week ago, Google very quietly updated documentation on Webmaster Tools to warn marketers against the attempt to manipulate PageRank by optimizing keywords in press release text. Doing so would incur penalties that would harm a website’s search engine rankings.

What Google says the change is

Let’s talk about the example Google made in that documentation regarding unnatural links.

Here are a few common examples of unnatural links that violate our guidelines:…

    • Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites. For example:

There are many wedding rings on the market. If you want to have a wedding, you will have to pick the best ring. You will also need to buy flowers and a wedding dress.

What used to be the norm in linking to a new product repeatedly is now likely to damage your website’s rankings in Google. The penalties for stuffing those unnatural links are far greater than the benefits. Google is advising everyone to stop doing it, and if your business relies on Google in any way, compliance is mandatory.

My rule of thumb is “one link to one domain”. For example, is the a domain and is the same domain. It helps to think of links as references. Those pesky term papers you wrote in college (or in my case, legal briefs) are a good example of this. If you’d link it as a reference to a source it’s a good link, but limit it to one domain.

It would benefit me (and SHIFT) more to link directly to the careers page when I’m talking about jobs at SHIFT. A reference!

What this means to the world of press releases

So, what is a PR professional to do? If your company is gearing up for a press release, educate your colleagues that this change means past tactics like link stuffing in press releases aren’t effective anymore. Point them to the link schemes page linked above and warn them strongly that not only do keyword-stuffed press releases not help SEO, they may cause real, financially quantifiable harm to your company.

I would encourage them to choose to link specifically to the keyword that they want to target for the new product once and only once. If there are other links beyond that, such as a link of their company name to company domain, then add the recommended “nofollow” attribute to the link to comply with Google’s guidelines.

Update: Here’s a Google tutorial on no-follow attributed links, including how to create them:

Michelle Wolverton
Senior Marketing Analyst


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