Is the press release still an effective SEO tool?

As the next Google Penguin update creeps ever closer, search engine optimisation experts are starting to perspire. Nobody really knows what Penguin 2.0 will bring, although Matt Cutts has hinted at a few likely changes over on his blog. But one thing is for sure: if previous algorithm updates are anything to go by, we can expect a sea change in the way links and anchor text are analysed – and, potentially, penalised. And if you look at past performance, the press release is a prime target for reform.

One of the many SEO shortcuts favoured by experts is the mass distribution of a newsworthy story: the press release. Press release documents are now distributed electronically to hundreds of websites all over the world. And, most of the time, a typical press release just so happens to have a few convenient anchor text links embedded within it. The humble press release has become a symptom of an industry that’s fast evolving to incorporate new strategies like link building.

Over the last couple of years, press release distribution has become an easy way to generate links, providing you have the cash for a decent wire service. These wire services have reaped the financial rewards. To issue a press release, a website barely even needs to have a story: it simply needs to make a comment on something that’ll draw traffic.

But with Penguin 2.0, all of that could change.

The Problem With Press Releases

It all comes down to anchor text and natural linking practice.

In an article, it’s fairly easy to link something naturally from well-written content; keyword linking is definitely old hat (or black hat, depending on your viewpoint). In a press release, the normal tactic is to link brands to websites, or keywords to landing pages. Google could well be about to penalise this linking practice.

Why? It’s technically manipulation. By using wire services to flood the web with new links, PR companies could be seen to be playing the system. Up until now, it’s been a relatively safe bet. But from summer 2013, it might become a quirk of SEO history.

Google’s Next Move

For Google, natural content and genuine links are the only way to go. It will continually tweak and revise its ranking software to make sure manipulation becomes more and more difficult. The end result depends on just how manipulative Google thinks you’re being.

We probably won’t see a raft of sites being penalised for using press releases, but Google could adjust the weight of these links. Most PR companies pay for wire services anyway, and may well continue to use them without any real harm. For SEO companies, PR wire memberships only really exist to generate links. It’s unlikely to be cost-effective if Penguin 2.0 adjusts the weight they’re given.

If the worst case scenario hits, SEOs and PR companies everywhere are going to be thrown into panic when mass penalties hit their sites. Public relations jobs are almost certain to change as the industry adapts to yet another strategic shift.

Sam Wright is a freelance writer interested in SEO and marketing.

Author: Muzi Mohale

Hi there, am your host and I blog about the tourism industry in South Africa. You're also welcome to contribute your expert content on matters affecting the industry. You can reach me on muzi[at]tourismedition.com

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