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4 Experts Weigh In After Google Calls Foul on ‘Optimized Anchor Text’ in Press Releases

At the end of July, Google updated the Link Schemes section of its Webmaster Guidelines. The new addition states that “links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites” are an example of unnatural links that are in violation of Google’s guidelines.

press release screenshot

In order to better understand the relationship between press releases, links, and SEO, I’ve turned to the experts for advice on …

How to use press releases for traffic and brand awareness now:

  • Bruce Clay on how to approach press releases and understanding the difference between navigational and transactional links. (Go here)
  • Learn how SEOs and search marketers can take action in light of the Webmaster Guidelines update. (Go here)

The treatment of press release links as told by Google reps and PR insiders:

  • Understand why, according to Google Webmaster John Mueller, this update should come as no surprise. (Go here)
  • Recall what Google’s Head of Spam Matt Cutts has said about press releases in the past. (Go here)
  • Discover why the owner of press release distribution service eReleases says the company is unaffected. (Go here)

Bruce Clay: navigational links vs. transactional links — and what that means for press releases

Press releases have been around forever and they are still good for what they were originally created for: traffic and branding,” Clay said.

In the grand scheme of traffic and branding, however, links do come into play as companies naturally point back to themselves, i.e. “for more information, visit” Here, it’s important to make a distinction between navigational links and transactional links.

Navigational links use anchor text of a domain name or a company name or ‘click here.’ They point to an entity. Transactional links use keywords in the anchor text, passing some additional information in the link,” Clay explained.

Transactional links with follow, then, are the links that Google is frowning upon. But navigational links? They aren’t being used to deliver SEO link value. Those links are all right, with or without nofollow.

When your goal is to get traffic and branding, like it is with a press release, then you use navigational links in moderation and it doesn’t matter if it has nofollow,” said Clay.

SEOs, take action

  • Make sure your press release distribution service uses nofollow tags on their links. If they don’t, then it’s time to get a new press release distribution service.
  • If you were using press releases as a link building tactic, then this type of paid link must be treated like an advertisement. Google requires that paid links include nofollow tags.
  • Focus on creating unique content. Press releases are no exception to this general rule. If you create a compelling press release, then it is more likely to get picked up for an article, and that article may earn you quality links.
  • Only use navigational links in your press release, which means in most cases, there will be only one link. There are some exceptions — if a press release is announcing a merger, for example, then it would make sense for there to be a link to each company.
  • If your company hasn’t used nofollow tags on transactional links in press releases, then it’s time to start the disavow process, just as you would with any potentially harmful link.

Google’s John Mueller: This update should come as no surprise

barjohnIn a recent Google Webmaster Central Hangout, Search Engine Land News Editor Barry Schwartz asked Google Webmaster John Mueller for more details about the update of the Webmaster Guidelines: Link Schemes to include links in press releases.

This (update is) just following up with other changes that we’ve made in the past,” Mueller said. “These are links that were essentially placed by the webmasters themselves; that’s something that we would consider … unnatural. A lot of these (press releases) cases kind of fall into that, where essentially … the webmaster is generally creating a bunch of links.”

Links in a press release aren’t “something that an external person is … recommending,” Mueller continued. “It’s more something that webmasters are creating themselves to promote their websites.”

Mueller concluded that “Generally speaking, promoting your website is perfectly fine and a reasonable thing to do, but (press release links aren’t considered) natural.”

Press release link value according to Google’s Head of Spam Matt Cutts

During SMX West 2011, Matt Cutts clarified that “the links in the press releases themselves don’t count for PageRank value, but if a journalist reads the release and then writes about the site, any links in that news article will then count.” Cutts reinforced this in a 2012 Google Webmaster Help Forum when he wrote “I wouldn’t expect links from press release web sites to benefit your rankings.”

mcIn a Google Webmaster Help video from 2012, Cutts went into detail about the difference in value between a press release (and the extremely low end) and an article in the New York Times (at the extremely high end) of the “continuum of content and the quality of that content and what defines the value add for a user.”

However, there is evidence to suggest that a link from a press release can pass some value as a ranking factor. SEOPressor conducted an experiment wherein they issued a press release. In it, obscure anchor text —  “leasreepressmm” (and an anagram for Press Release MM) — linked to Matt Cutts’ blog and the Matt Cutts blog ranks at number four for “leasreepressmm.” This suggests that the signal passed in a press release link (yay) have some noticeable affect, especially for a highly uncompetitive and infrequently used search term such as “leasreepressmm.”

Founder of, Mickie Kennedy, isn’t worried

In an interview, Mickie Kennedy, the founder of eReleases, reports that his 15-year-old company isn’t worried.

Google will never, ever – mark my words – penalize those people for using a paid service to get a press release issued to their investors (and) key journalists … It’s just not going to happen. They would alienate too many people and really affect their customers and their revenue based in advertising if they were to do something like that,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy asserts that those at risk for penalties are companies who have practiced black hat “SEO voodoo” and who have simply worked to get their releases syndicated to as many sites as possible.  “I think that’s largely what we’re seeing here. Google is bumping up against so much syndication of press releases,” he said.

Press releases are not meant to be syndicated ad infinitum — press releases are meant to attract media attention, not links.

“The goal of press releases has always been … to get (the releases) turned into articles — which do not resemble the press release at all,” Kennedy explained. “Our service is a true newswire and actually engages with the media, and the media doesn’t generally post a press release; they generally develop an article based on the press release. And if (the links within the article) are do follow, that’s a good thing, because it’s an actual article, not a press release.”

How will the update to the Webmaster Guidelines affect your press release strategy? Share any thoughts or questions in the comments.

Kristi Kellogg is a journalist, news hound, professional copywriter, and social (media) butterfly. Currently, she is a senior SEO content writer for Conde Nast. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines, across the Internet and in books such as "Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals" and "The Media Relations Guidebook." Formerly, she was the social media editor at Bruce Clay Inc.

See Kristi's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (7)
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7 Replies to “4 Experts Weigh In After Google Calls Foul on ‘Optimized Anchor Text’ in Press Releases”

How will it change how I use press releases? It won’t. At my firm we have always looked at the majority of marketing tools we use for clients as multipurpose. I feel having multiple reasons for anything we do for a client is a key way to increase ROI. As result, SEO is only one reason. As far as SEO goes, I still believe it will have value. Small amount of value in most cases, but when part of a larger strategic plan and used as actual announcements related to a client’s business, I think the value is easily justified. But, if anybody is doing online PR syndication for only SEO, stop. It was never a good idea and is even less a good idea now.

Hi Michael,

We totally agree. SEO is only one benefit of press releases. We see the main benefit of a press release is that it can potentially turn into a news story. It’s like Mickie Kennedy writes in The Beginner’s Guide to Writing Powerful Press Releases — a news story has “three times more credibility and six times more readership than paid advertising.” The most valuable link you can acquire comes from a developed story.

We think that a press release’s focus should be to inform and engage media professionals, so a press release should be crafted, like everything else, with the journalist (user) in mind. Regular, relevant press releases also enable businesses to “build relationships with the media” (Kennedy), so even if they don’t create a story based on one press release, it doesn’t mean they won’t in the future as you build trust and recognition with the media through consistent releases.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


It’s been long since I stopped using PR as I anticipated “the slap” on PR would come very soon. I think PR with naked URL or brand keyword would still work.

Engaged social media is what really works now.


So, should companies with new information use sites like PRweb or not?

I was looking for information on this topic. Thanks for reading my mind :)

Hi Marvin,

Glad to help! Whatever press release distribution service you’re considering using — PRweb or otherwise — determine whether they use nofollow tags or not. Find out by checking the company site or through a phone call.

Based on the Webmaster Guidelines update, if the company does not use nofollow tags, you shouldn’t use them — unless you’re not concerned with rankings :)

Thanks for reading!

@Gary Chesnut:’re right. If people can provide valuable information for readers Google will love their websites. However, it will take time to let Google know whether your site is valuable or not.

I think once again it all boils down to the same thing. Give the website visitor a good reason for visiting. Don’t trick them into going to a website.
Unnecessary links (as well as other black hat tactics) are going by the wayside.
I believe if people would start writing relevant, great, unique content that provides quality information then they wouldn’t have to worry about what Google is doing.
Write for people, not search engines and you will be fine.


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