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Can Press Releases Impact SEO Performance?

May
12

TL;DR version: Yes, but…oh, you thought you could just stop there? You should know us better by now. The answer is it’s complicated. Here’s why:

The type of press release that creates SEO benefit is not the one you syndicate, nor the one that you post on your own website about yourself (psst – your blog should not be made up of press releases!), and certainly not the “news” sites that just copy/paste your release onto their site and slap on their own byline.

First, let’s talk a bit about what a press release is supposed to do as a public relations tactic. A press release is a conduit from a company, firm, or an organization to a journalist or news outlet with the intent of gaining coverage for the company, firm, client, or organization. Meaning, if we send off a press release to a news outlet or a reporter, we’d like to net a third party piece written in a journalistic manner regarding the (hopefully) newsworthy item we pitched to them. This would, in turn, create a link on the news outlet’s page with unique content that we could then share anywhere, or it would appear via print somewhere in hardcopy like a magazine or newspaper. The press release is NOT the news article. It’s not written in a storytelling manner, it’s not fit for print as is – it’s meant to entice a reporter with a newsworthy story in order to get them to research, investigate, and then write a story from that release.

Knowing the function of a press release now, the benefit of this is obvious, right? A mention of your company, client, or organization news somewhere else on the web racking up SEO value and linking to your organization in some way online.

However, there is a commoditized form of press netting that PR pros use which is akin to syndication. Using sites like PRweb or pitching through a software like Cision – which then mass-broadcasts the press release to journalists, bloggers, influencers, and key personas that may be interested in it as a potential story – has created an odd side-effect. A link is often created by these pitch companies that is a complete reproduction under a unique URL that essentially appears to be a third party story or use of the press release, but is really just a copy/paste and byline change (and not even this sometimes) in order to attempt to index the site and gain referrals.

You might remember that somewhere in back 2013/2014, commoditized press releases, or “spun” press releases, as they are commonly called (a word that’s the ultimate middle finger to a PR person who values transparency and solid strategy), were penalized by Google and then challenged, with mixed results. Google took on several algorithmic changes to discount the validity and value of these types of publications and URLs, sometimes deeply affecting the source site or originator (company, client, or organization) attempting to “fake” third party links in order to further SEO without PAYING Google for it (via advertising).

In 2014, Authority Labs had a spirited debate among industry leaders regarding the use of press releases, in which about 50% of those surveyed basically commented that they didn’t understand how PR pros USED press releases, so the article left us scratching our heads a little bit, as did some of the commentary in a few online forums. In 2015, Rand from Moz had a Whiteboard Friday posting of a similarly abused tactic for advertising, but didn’t really put to bed whether or not using PRWeb, etc. is a negative tactic for public relations pros to use.

Then in 2016, SEOPressor compiled a great reference guide (minus all the overt selling for a syndication provider) for folks who want to use press releases as the universe intended: to solicit third party news coverage (good for SEO), NOT as the release BEING the news coverage (bad for SEO). That article has strong points about Google’s “philosophy” regarding links and press releases (which is very similar to what we know already…no keyword or link stuffing). Also helpful is the Search Engine Journal discussion of what makes for “good” versus “bad” content creation with the aid of press releases. In general, you have to think about the role of Google as it relates to duplicate (aka verbatim) content, which is a discussion we have had for a few years now regarding platforms like Medium and LinkedIn with syndication or crossover in full reproduction glory.

The skinny is…don’t syndicate it. Press releases in and of themselves AS content are NOT an SEO strategy – we totally agree with Search Engine Watch on this. However, we would like to clarify that the SEO result based on the third party (journalist, blogger, etc.) coverage that a press release can elicit when properly pitched is still pretty great.

So if you work in public relations, work a little harder! If you want to talk about your company, client, or organization through the lens of unique (or even third party) content, don’t be lazy and syndicate. Properly pitch your press release to outlets that will cover it, research the appropriate channel, and use your relationships to create outlets for your newsworthy content. They WILL pick it up if it is newsworthy. If not, repurpose the idea held within the press release. Create unique and relevant content for Facebook, LinkedIn (remember, don’t just cut and paste), Twitter, your company blog, a white paper or editorial, or guest blog for a popular industry site. No matter what it is, create content worth sharing or covering, and Google will not penalize you. Nor will your audience.

At the end of the day, you should be trying to generate as many unique content pieces about your subject (news) as possible. Keep that at the heart of your strategy. Do the right thing, use the right tools, and work to create content worth sharing or picking up by a news outlet, and you stay above the fray.

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