Press releases were once the golden strategy for SEO. They were relatively easy to create, plentiful, cheap, and yet they packed a powerful boost to your domain authority when you submitted and published one.
Furthermore, PR was also much less risky, especially compared to more manual link building services.
But as we’ve all experienced firsthand, the world of SEO changes quickly, often without warning, and sometimes so subtly that the differences are almost impossible to discern for any but the most attuned to algorithm changes. In today’s world, where mobile dominates, the content market is oversaturated, and link building is evolving in strange new ways, are press releases still important?
The main wonder of press releases is the fact that they have so many advantages. With a well-written press release, you can theoretically achieve the following:
In exchange, all you have to do is write up a story that’s newsworthy and relevant for your brand. The submission process typically requires a third party service (or hours of work to track down individual publishers and submit manually), but the whole process shouldn’t take more than 25 hours of work or $500 (unless you’re going very high profile).
All of these qualities are still relevant to press releases, but they have gone through some changes over the last few years.
Submitting a press release today will actually get you exposure to even more channels. But there’s a problem that’s arisen from the oversaturation of press releases (and content in general). Because there are so many sources publishing so many things, the overall value of each publisher has gone down. The publishers who pick up your press release for publication generally won’t pass that much authority to your site anymore. The really high profile publishers who hold all the authority have, as a result of this oversaturation, gotten far pickier when it comes to content to syndicate—meaning even if you have a well-written release, your chances of making it in aren’t good.
Similarly, you’re bound to get a bit of referral traffic from any press release that gets picked up on more than one outlet. People will see it, read it, and click through. But the publishers most likely to pick up your release are probably picking up dozens to hundreds of releases a day. It won’t be long before yours gets buried, giving you only a momentary blip of extra traffic, albeit small compared to the most common sources of traffic:
Brand visibility is an intangible asset, but press releases are still good for it. They can’t take your name out of the headline, so even people who don’t read your entire article will experience some level of exposure. The problem with this is the same as with referral traffic—in a matter of days, and sometimes hours, your brand will be buried in a pit of white noise and you will never be able to outrank the web’s largest brands.
Press releases are just as powerful as ever for publicity, and for one reason: press releases are shareable. If you publicize an event that gets the public excited about something, you’ll easily earn hundreds if not thousands of shares. Posting on social media just isn’t enough to generate this level of attention.
The pickier a publisher is, the more traffic and authority you’ll stand to generate from it. That means it’s more important today to write a press release that’s truly worth publishing. It needs to be relevant, concise, valuable, appealing, and interesting all at once, and well-written and well-formatted to boot. Achieving that level of quality makes writing an effective press release more difficult now than it was even five years ago. Keep this in mind when you consider including press releases as a part of your strategy; the time and money you invest in them must increase if you want to reap the same rewards.
For a long time, SEO professionals regarded press releases as little golden nuggets that could be added into pretty much any SEO campaign for a boost.
Do press releases still offer the same amount of value as they once did, or did that get squashed under big Penguin feet? As with everything in SEO, there will probably never be a 100% iron-clad guarantee that it works or it doesn’t. But let’s explore the matter.
Why would Google devalue press releases?
If you’re a business owner, you may regard press releases simply as they “should” be seen: They’re something you carefully craft, or pay good money to have crafted for you, in order to gain publicity for your news. Right? Right.
Wrong. Kinda. I know… bear with me here.
Yes, some people and businesses use press releases for the right reasons, as described above. But there are other people who use them solely for the sake of SEO. This is where they start to swim in troubled water.
Low-quality sites, SPAM sites, and even scam sites were using press release syndication to create lots of backlinks. Since backlinks are a vital part of the ranking algorithm, it worked well for a while. Press release syndication sites and services popped up in droves, offering to spread your press release all over the web—often for free, or at very low rates.
We aren’t talking about the true PR professionals and big companies that have been doing this for many, many years. Naturally, Google noticed the game eventually and realized they had to do something about it.
A well-known person in the SEO industry decided to give PR a test. He released a very poorly put-together press release to try and rank Matt Cutt’s blog for a silly, seemingly made-up word.
And it worked. It showed that some kind of weight is still awarded for links from press releases. While that may make you think it’s still easy-peasy to use PR syndication to get better search results, you have to look at this another way too. If there’s nothing, or not much, to be found online about that word he used, then of course it would be easy to rank something for it. What else would they show?
So does that mean you shouldn’t waste your time on press releases? Would you be treading on dangerous ground if you released one online? Can it help your rankings or not?
Should you use online press releases?
The short answer is yes. The medium answer is yes, but not merely for backlinks and SEO. The long answer? There are several factors you need to keep in mind if you’re going to post press releases.
First of all, it needs to be a good press release written about something that deserves having a PR circulated about it.
Finding a worthy topic
Believe it or not, you probably have some amazing topics to base a PR around, even when you think you got nothin’. You could focus a PR on plenty of things, but here are just a few ideas:
If there truly just isn’t a thing going on or coming up, don’t fret. Put on your thinking cap and get creative. There are many ways you could devise something strategic that would serve as the basis for a rockin’ press release.
Here are a few ideas to get your juices flowing:
Once your release is completed, what do you do with it?
First let me tell you not to do with it. Don’t give it to someone who says they’ll publish your PR to 300 different sites for $10. Don’t go plaster it everywhere and anywhere you can.
You want to stick with the bigger, well-respected PR authority sites. Yes, you’re going to pay more. But it’s worth it.
Getting blogged …
One of the best things that can happen is to have your PR get noticed by respected bloggers who write about and link to it. How do you do that? Your PR not only has to be well written and deserving of the attention, but it has to get noticed in the first place.
Something to think about: targeted traffic from a PR itself
The other day, I spent a couple of hours looking at press releases and who’s using them, and tried to assess what’s happening right now in general. What trend do I see? Using the authority of PR sites and ranking your PR highly, instead of the traditional (SEO-minded) focus of ranking your site.
I’ve seen it being talked about on forums and I’ve seen it in action. Here are just a couple of examples. Keep in mind, though, that I only found this happening with “long tail” keywords.
Remember that a good, well-written PR that’s crafted correctly, newsworthy, and geared toward your audience will always get the best results. Don’t write one solely to try and rank for a keyword. It should capture the heart and mind of the blogger, customer, or journalist that runs across it.
It should trigger an emotion of some sort. Keep these things in mind and your PRs will attract attention, as well as more business.
It doesn’t matter how hard you try to avoid one or mitigate the effects of a questionable incident. Eventually, your company will likely face some type of public relations disaster.
It could be something monumental, like a major product defect that’s caused significant accidents and damages, or something almost innocent, like a misquote on social media. PR disasters are rarely predictable and often destructive, but the way you respond to a disaster can completely mold its eventual outcome. Depending on the severity of the event, there may be irreparable lasting damage to your brand, but if you treat it cautiously and view it as an opportunity, you can harness it for its potential benefits.
PR disasters generate lots of negative attention, which isn’t ideal, but it’s still a lot of attention. If you can use that influx of attention to improve your company’s relevance, you could potentially neutralize the brand-damaging effects of the situation with a significant ranking boost.
First, I want to set the context for the modern world of public relations. There was a time when PR disasters were best addressed by limiting their range of influence. Withholding details, speaking ambiguously, and decreasing the number of publications covering the story were all important strategies that could limit the number of eyes and ears on the incident in question.
Today, everything is immediately and easily available. Even if you take an article off the web within minutes of its publication, there’s a chance it could have already been shared and re-shared by a thousand online readers. There is a perpetual nature to everything posted online, and since almost everything is posted online, there is virtually nothing you can effectively silence. Companies that try to hide facts or delete posts are often called out on their secretive efforts, generating more negative attention and an even harsher blow to their brand’s reputation.
Knowing this, it’s almost always better to openly acknowledge a company mistake. People are going to learn about it no matter what, so they might as well hear it from you. If you take the time to address the problem and have the courtesy to allow the inevitable negative comments to exist, you’ll be seen as more trustworthy and more human than if you simply try to cover up everything.
That being said, there are a handful of strategies you can use to boost your SEO ranks while the PR disaster hits.
It’s unfortunate, but more people want to read about disasters than positive announcements. It’s a natural, yet morbid, human curiosity. Think about that in terms of your press release potential during a PR disaster. If you publish a piece of content announcing or responding to some negative event, it’s incredibly likely you’ll be picked up by a variety of syndication channels. Once published on those channels, you’ll get ample attention (even if it’s negative attention), which will only lead to more web traffic from building more links.
The negative public reaction to the event will eventually fade, as long as you handle it properly, but the backlinks you generate from the newsworthy announcement are permanent. You may not like the fact that the information will remain on the web forever, but it’s probably going to be there no matter what, so you might as well enjoy the boost in domain authority you get from all the extra links.
Linkless brand mentions will also be prevalent during the incident, especially in the form of user comments to press releases or references on external blogs. These brand mentions are also valuable for building your authority, and serve as a complement to traditional backlinks.
Submitting a press release about the event also gives you an opportunity to proactively and publicly respond. Your readers will see that you acknowledge and care about the event, and depending on what you say, you could easily turn their opinions around. Simply admitting an error and apologizing for it is sometimes enough to make up for whatever happened. Plus, whenever someone searches for the incident, it’s better to see a title like “X Corporation Apologies for Grievous Error” rather than something like “X Corporation Has Yet to Respond to Grievous Error,” especially early on in the response cycle.
You can make a handful of onsite posts about the event as well. Doing so will give you the opportunity to address the incident directly, and since you’ll be seen as the primary authority on the subject, you’ll naturally attract dozens (if not hundreds) of new backlinks to those onsite posts. It’s a free opportunity to create more, relevant, newsworthy content, and at the same time, you’ll have an easy link magnet that can boost your domain authority even more.
PR disasters are the perfect chance to show your true colors on social media. Some disasters have gotten worse when companies try to delete social media posts from other users, or respond in a robotic and formulaic way. On the other hand, some disasters have gotten better when companies acknowledge each responder personally, and do what they can to explain the situation and make it better.
Depending on the severity of your disaster and the size of your company, you may benefit from having a dedicated employee monitoring your social media profiles on a near-constant basis, responding to every comment that comes up and posting updates as appropriate. The extra social media juice won’t just improve your reputation in the eyes of your current followers; it will also make you seem more authoritative and more conversational in the eyes of Google. It’s not entirely clear how social media activity is measured or incorporated into Google rankings, but more followers and more activity are definitely a plus.
It may seem like a risky move, but if you encourage people to respond to your disaster, you’ll get a lot more attention on the web. In your onsite content, press releases, and social media posts, ask your readers to tell you how they feel about the incident, and ask what you can do to make it up to them. It will show that you care about your audience enough to value their opinions, and it might give you the chance to learn how to ameliorate the situation. Plus, depending on how they choose to respond, the additional responses will serve as additional content for your SEO campaign.
PR disasters are something every company dreads, and by all means, you should avoid them whenever possible. But not everything is preventable or predictable, so when disaster does hit, it pays to be prepared with a secondary strategy that can make the most of a bad situation. Undoubtedly, you’ll lose a percentage of your customers as a result, but if you can spin the situation in your favor, you’ll increase the loyalty of the customers who remain, and you’ll make your brand more visible to an audience of potential new followers. If you use your PR disaster to improve your SEO standings, you’ll be poised to benefit from the incident once the initial blowback begins to die down.
If you’re looking for a quick answer, here it is: press releases are still good for SEO, and worth the effort you put into them, but they’re not the authoritative juggernauts they used to be. They’re going to cost you more time and money, they’re not going to be as credible or as visible as they used to be, they aren’t going to pass as much authority to your site, and they aren’t going to generate as much overall traffic.
As a balanced part of a well-rounded and diverse SEO strategy, press releases are perfect. But don’t make them a fundamental pillar of your approach, and don’t let yourself believe that a single press release can turn your campaign around. Use them judiciously and in moderation, and you should have no trouble making them a valuable part of your content arsenal.