Google’s latest advice about press releases, SEO, and web spam

Can of SPAMLast week in Las Vegas, Matt Cutts, the web spam team leader at Google, spoke to the Pubcon crowd about a variety of things including SEO, PageRank and the future of search. He also mentioned during the Q&A about how Google is handling press releases. We recently wrote about Google’s link schemes change in which warned against stuffing linked keywords in press releases and how it could harm your search rankings and SEO.

As a follow up to that, we’re refining our advice based on Cutts’ statements about Google’s handling of press releases. Here’s what he had to say at Pubcon:

“…Google identified the sites that were press release syndication sites and simply discounted them…”

“…press release links weren’t penalized, because press release sites do have value for press and marketing reasons, but those links won’t pass PageRank.”

What does this mean for public relations professionals and marketers? Google understands that press releases are still good for regulatory requirements and for notifying journalists of legitimately important news, and legitimate press release sites such as SHIFT partner MarketWired play an important role in the public relations and marketing space. That said, Google will not give PageRank because pushing out a press release and then giving it a boost via syndication is gaming the ranking system. If you rely on multiple sites republishing your press release for a boost in SEO or link building, that strategy is dead and has been dead for some time.


While Google says press sites are just not passing rank, a recent Search Engine Watch article has documented proof that webmasters are receiving manual penalties (meaning your website has been made to rank lower by Google) imposed by Google for press releases in the real world.

What are you to believe?

The evidence suggests that while top tier press release services are not impacted, many of the super low budget, “free press release” sites have been flagged by Google not as press release services, but as web spam sites, and thus sending a press release from a low quality “free PR” site is seen by Google as web spam.

Your best bet for sending a press release is to use a reputable wire service like MarketWired. They understand their business and are paying attention to the changes by Google to ensure that their services aren’t harmful to customers. Google has already vetted these top tier services and judged them to be neutral, neither helpful nor harmful to your SEO.

There are some questions that remain about how to best use press releases. What will harm your brand? What will help your brand’s rankings?  What about the links inside the releases?

What will harm companies are spammy press releases filled with links, so avoid them. Our advice about them hasn’t changed, but I will say this much: Make sure that you are linking not to random keywords for SEO purposes, but to your business name or the product name that is the focus of the release.

Here’s a simple test to use: what would your press release look like in a world without Google? What would you create and send if search and SEO didn’t exist? Chances are you’d focus on the value of the message and making it compelling for a journalist to read and report on. Do that instead of trying to game Google.

To the bigger question of what will help your brand’s search rankings? The absolute bottom line is better content on your website. Make content that people really want, then create press releases for the purpose of informing journalists about the legitimately great content you’ve made. The same advice applies above: what would you create in a world without Google or search engines, where all you had to rely on was word of mouth about your content? Do that!


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