Why Press Releases Still Matter to SEO and How to Write a Press Release That Entices Media
A lot has changed since the days SEOs used press releases for stuffing keyword-rich links to their websites. Today, issuing a press release takes a lot of care. You have to keep in mind both SEO and media best practices if you want it to be effective. I’ll explain how in the following sections:
- Brief history of press releases and SEO
- Why press releases still matter
- Press releases: SEO best practices
- How to write a press release that entices media
Brief History of Press Releases and SEO
For a while, press releases stuffed with keyword-rich links were the norm. Writing a press release was one way to try to boost SEO value to the URLs on your own website. But of course, those links were self-serving and not natural.
Google spoke about this tactic on several occasions. Back in 2011, former Google representative Matt Cutts said 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 websites to benefit your rankings.”
Then, in a Google Webmaster Help video from 2012, Cutts went into detail about the difference in value between a press release (at the low end) and an article in the New York Times (at the high end) of the “continuum of content and the quality of that content and what defines the value add for a user.”
However, there was some evidence to suggest that a link from a press release could pass some value as a ranking factor. So SEOs pressed on.
For example, SEOPressor conducted an experiment where they issued a press release. In it, nonsensical anchor text — “leasreepressmm” — linked to Matt Cutts’ blog, and the Matt Cutts blog ranked No. 4 for “leasreepressmm.”
This suggested that the links in a press release had some noticeable affect, especially for noncompetitive and infrequently used search terms.
Google realized keyword-stuffed links in press releases were a problem. So in 2013, Google devalued links coming from press releases. In a Google Webmaster Central Hangout, Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz asked Googler John Mueller for more details about the update of the Webmaster Guidelines to include link schemes related to 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.”
Today, this policy holds. Certain links in press releases are considered spam . According to Google, these are the links that violate their guidelines:
Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.
Why Press Releases Still Matter
Press releases have been around forever, and they are still good for what they were originally created for: increasing your visibility. If you have something newsworthy to announce, writing a press release still makes sense.
In terms of results, press releases can lead to increased traffic and branding.
Press releases have strong branding value, especially if a journalist turns your press release into an article that will reach the masses and live online.
Plus, press releases can contribute to your business’s and website’s perceived expertise, authority and trustworthiness (E-A-T) — which are quality metrics from Google.
If a business is getting a lot of mentions, especially in the press, it can help with the authority factor. I wrote about this more in my guide on the basics of E-A-T.
Press Releases: SEO Best Practices
In the grand scheme of press releases, links do come into play since companies naturally point back to themselves. For example, “For more information, visit www.Macys.com.”
Here, it’s important to make a distinction between navigational links and transactional links. (Skip this part if you’re well versed in SEO jargon already.)
- Navigational links use a domain name, a company name or “click here” as the anchor text. They point to an entity, and usually take a person to the homepage of a website.
- Transactional links use keywords in the anchor text. This passes some additional information in the link about why a person would click it, such as “best ski blog” or “buy snowboards here.”
As an SEO best practice, it’s OK to have one navigational link in a press release pointing to your website. But steer clear of transactional links, or at least make sure their link tag includes a specific attribute such as rel=”nofollow” or rel=”sponsored.” This makes it clear to search engines that the link is not trying to pass PageRank value for SEO ranking purposes.
I’ll note that some press release distribution services still tout the “link-building benefits” of press releases. Some even encourage the use of “keyword-rich anchor text” in those links. But don’t be fooled.
If you have previously used press releases as a link building tactic to try to influence rankings (with followed links), then you might want to start the process of disavowing potentially harmful links. Google requires that paid links include the proper attribution; see Qualify your outbound links to Google for more details.
Tips for Press Release SEO
Here are some SEO best practices to follow when it comes to press releases:
- Research keywords: Perform keyword research on the topic you are writing about. Include those keywords in your press release, making sure they show up in the headline and first 250 words.
- Make it unique: 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.
- Limit links: As I stated above, use only navigational links in your press releases. In most cases, there will be only one link. There are some exceptions, such as if a press release is announcing a merger, for example, then it would make sense to link to both companies’ websites. Be sure to use the company name or domain as the anchor text.
- Nofollow links: Make sure your press release distribution service uses “nofollow” or an equivalent attribute on your links. If they don’t, then it’s time to get a new press release distribution service.
- Distribute it, then post and share: Use a reputable press release distribution service to send out your article, and they should provide statistics on media outlets that picked it up. Once it’s out in the world, you can share it in your social media channels and also post it (or a summary, if you choose) on your own website with a link to the main PR post. For an example, check out our press page.
How to Write a Press Release That Entices Media
When a press release gets picked up, it’s not by chance. Press releases that get turned into stories are often written with the publication’s editor and the journalist in mind. They’re relevant, concise, engaging and error-free.
If you want your own press release to stand out, make sure that you:
- Create original, engaging content
- Issue newsworthy press releases
- Follow formatting best practices
- Make it engaging
Let’s look at each of these in more detail …
Create Original, Engaging Content
Press release distribution sites send out thousands of press releases per day. So you can imagine that journalists experience some sort of press release fatigue. Translation: You need to stand out.
Step 1 is writing original content about something people would want to read. Don’t think of it as just an ad for your company or product.
Issue Newsworthy Press Releases
Press releases often serve a dual purpose: inform your own audience and get media exposure. You want to issue news about your company and have it on your website to keep your target audience and visitors up to speed on your business. Beyond that though, you would love to spread the word to new audiences through media coverage.
Not every press release topic is going to fulfill both goals. So you might surrender to the fact that a press release about an award might be good for your website’s news room, but it might not be the stuff of media headlines.
That said, if you are trying to entice the media to pick up your story, make sure it’s newsworthy. Keep in mind that a company that continuously issues press releases that aren’t newsworthy may be more quickly dismissed by journalists when the company puts real news out.
So what are some newsworthy topics?
- Proprietary research findings
- Crises and how you manage them
- A new product or service
- A grand opening or company event worth highlighting
- A donation or volunteer effort
- A merger or acquisition
- VIP hires or departures
- A partnership announcement
As you are writing the press release, think about the angle too. In its guide to writing a great press release, Cision says the press release should be written like a news article itself with “a clear news angle.”
An angle is the story’s main theme or perspective. This can make the press release more appealing and more of a story. For example, the angle could be meant to invoke an emotion, address a conflict, or highlight progress in some way.
Follow Formatting Best Practices
Journalists answer the who, what, where, when, why and sometimes, how, as quickly as possible in their news stories — usually within the first paragraph. So you should too.
Make it very clear what the story is right away in your press release. Check out the inverted pyramid style of writing for more tips on how to do this.
You’ll want to consider length too. Conventional wisdom says to keep press releases between 300 and 500 words (or roughly one page).
Another thing you want to be diligent about is spelling and grammar. If you want to lose credibility fast, then having a press release with spelling and grammatical errors is one way to do it.
Furthermore, make sure the press release has the proper press release structure, including writing it in Associated Press (AP) style.
In its guide to writing a great press release (linked to earlier), Cision offers the following tips and more:
- Keep headlines and subheadlines brief and shareable — and include your company name.
- Start with a dateline.
- Make your call to action obvious (the sooner, the better!) if you have one for this story.
- Use headers and lists to segment your release, especially if it’s long.
- Limit paragraphs to four sentences or fewer when possible, and vary sentence length and structure.
- End with contact information.
Make It Engaging
As mentioned earlier, you want to write a press release as if it were a news story. So think about what sort of engaging information you can include to grab the reader’s (aka the journalist’s) interest.
This includes things like:
- Quotes from key stakeholders
All of these things can be reused by the journalist when they pick up the story, and it makes their life easier to have these included.
I’ll come back to the question I opened with: Can press releases help with SEO? The answer is yes, but indirectly.
There’s a lot that goes into writing a press release. You need to make it stand out in hopes of getting media coverage, and you also need to follow SEO best practices. Done right, a press release can turn into a valuable asset for your brand, raising awareness, driving traffic and contributing to your brand’s authority.
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