A bit of a debate is raging across Internet land as to whether press releases (PRs) serve any kind of search engine optimization (SEO) value or not. For example, a leading manager of Google shot out his own opinion that PR statement are essentially useless for SEO result and goals, causing all sorts of consternation among businesses as to whether they should continue with related activities. Marketers large and small have responded and argued vociferously the opposite, probably to protect their own interests as much as to keep using a favorite marketing tool.
Part of understanding the debate better, and more importantly, whether it applies to a business involves understanding the SEO value of modern PR. Presumably, a release is designed with SEO to create a virtual fishing net. People read the PR, find the information useful, click on the links involved or tied to keywords, and go to the business for more information. However, the PR is also intended to increase the company’s presence on the Internet and potentially the ranking of the business’ presence on search engines. This is where things get complicated.
Google’s algorithm-makers have essentially changed the field rules of how SEO provides value to a web page. As a result, when Google managers say PR has no SEO value, what they are really saying is that PR pages are going to be ignored under Google’s page-ranking formula because they are generally deemed "cheap content." So, naturally, the question of whether PRs should be used anymore for any kind of SEO campaign is a valid one.
The answer is, yes, PRs are still useful, but they require far more work now to be useful in SEO terms. For a search engines like Google to apply any kind of value to a PR today, it needs to be far more than an obvious announcement of "buy me" or "visit my website." Instead, PRs need to be improved both in terms of context and content. The following tips explain how:
- The PR needs to use the same language level and topic material that a target audience already, automatically uses. In other words, if a PR is aimed at getting 20-somethings to pay attention, it needs to be written to them, not Baby Boomers.
- Keyword use needs to be far more specific now. General terms that are relied on a large, categorical catch-all SEO triggers don’t work anymore. Instead, a PR needs to use far more detailed, specific keywords associated with the product, service or idea being marketed. So if a company is putting out a press release about a new truck model, it needs to use keywords that focus on model’s name, new truck-driving advantages, and specific model features. Just using terms like "pickup truck," "SUV," or "off-road" won’t score much because the tags are too generic.
- Marketers need to proactively get their PRs read. This means marketing the marketing, in essence. Use of social media, networking, email blasts, newsletters, backlinking and more need to be regularly used to drive traffic to the PR page. As the page itself sees more traffic, the more it will be considered useful and worth ranking by Google’s formulas.
- Pick a good newswire for a PR release and stick with it. Instead of trying to spam every PR newswire that exists, marketers need to find the most effective one for their needs and utilize it in high concentration.
- Provide PRs that actually have valuable, good content. Some of the best PRs today with Google’s changes can now double as mini-white papers. They address a specific topic, provide useful information, and seamlessly contain company or product information in the material without being obvious about the marketing intent. People visit the page because it has value, similar to how topic articles are used to generate traffic for a professional’s website.
Press releases still have a place in modern, Internet marketing, but the days of just slapping material together and spamming the Internet with releases are over. It’s probably a good thing too. By forcing marketers to have to generate quality material for a change, it improves the content available searched for in the aggregate.