There was a time when PR pros regularly heard the following from SEO experts: “Press releases are AMAZING for SEO, we need to issue lots of press releases.” Press release SEO was a game changer for PR. PR teams were suddenly considered major players in digital marketing, we issued a lot of press releases and we were told the press release was the new SEO gold. Like a flash those days were gone. So, who killed press release SEO? Was it Google? I say no…


Before we dive into what changed, a quick overview of the press release SEO glory days

On a very high level, here’s how it worked:

  • Either PR or the person charged with SEO wrote a press release that satisfied a keyword strategy. Often times this release didn’t announce news at all, but was rather a was a vehicle for keywords and links
  • PR posted the release over one of the many news wires
  • The release, once out over the wire, was picked up by news syndicators, such and Wall Street Journal, Yahoo News, and more (read more about news syndication), resulting in many online postings of press release across the web.
  • As Google crawled the web, it found instances of the releases, on very respectable news websites, recognized the keywords and links and gave the posting company ranking based on those posts.
  • The company’s SEO ranking for the terms and links went up

Pretty powerful stuff, right?

We flooded the market with press releases in the name of SEO

With great power comes great responsibility…*  Right?

After PR and SEO experts figured out this formula, the Internet was suddenly flooded with non-newsworthy press releases, and new wire services were popping up like weeds across the web. Suddenly EVERYONE was issuing press releases – in fact, they began issuing tens-of thousands of press releases per day. Now, this may not seem like a problem on the surface: after all, the Internet is like the universe.  It is ever expanding and has no limits, right?

Actually, yes: the Internet Universe is unlimited, and it will most likely grow and expand forever. The flood of press releases was not a problem of space, it did, however, sacrifice the true purpose of a press release.

A press release is meant to inform the public of news – it’s pretty straightforward. During this SEO-driven period, the release was simply not used for its intended purpose. Too often releases stopped being used to inform and became a vehicle to market and drive traffic by corporations.

The Impact on Journalists

This is where I begin to feel sad. All of a sudden press releases were being used as marketing tools, which became a problem for journalists. During this time, as thousands of non-newsworthy releases were passing by a journalist’s desk something bad happened, they stopped being a useful journalistic tool.

One could argue that the release was already in danger of becoming irrelevant to journalists, what with the amount of information that the Internet made available the release was simply not as important. If a journalist can easily research on the web, do they need a press release?

However, even with the Internet as a research tool, releases, assuming they are newsworthy, have a journalistic purpose. As soon as they stopped being about news, and the legitimate releases were like the proverbial needle in the haystack, journalists all but stopped looking at them.

What’s more, today PR pros outnumber journalists, so there simply weren’t enough eyes to read all of the releases being issued!

Then, last year, something changed…

What Changed?

The simple answer is that Google changed their search algorithm. While the reviews of the algorithm change and its impact on the noble press release are varied, there seems to be one consistent theme: Google had figured out that SEO experts were gaming the system by writing press releases that were less about news, and more about key word stuffing and back links.

As reported by Shift Communications, Matt Cutts – web SPAM leader at Google – was quoted as saying,”…Google identified the sites that were press release syndication sites and simply discounted them…” and ““…press release links weren’t penalized, because press release sites do have value for press and marketing reasons, but those links won’t pass PageRank.”

In other words, Google was smart. They realized that PR pros were in cahoots with SEO experts to game the system.

The Impact of Press Release SEO on PR

When I began writing this article I, like many others, was of the opinion that Google had just killed the press release. And had as a result killed a long standing aspect of PR.

Then I began to think that, perhaps, it was the practices of PR and SEO pros that have killed the press release.  After all, before SEO experts and PR pros started using releases as marketing tools, they still had a journalistic value.

My theory is that Press Release SEO practices – not Google – killed the press release.  I tested the theory on my colleagues, Leslie (Social Media pro), Tom (digital and social media marketing pro) and Chas (Meltwater CMO and marketing pro) here’s how they responded:

Leslie Nuccio:

“There is a difference between content marketing and SEO: while the first can service the second, and certainly a good SEO strategy will necessitate content, the primary goal of content marketing as a discipline is to engage your community. The press release is one of the earliest forms of content marketing as we know it – and as such – any press release that is done primarily for SEO purposes is just bad PR. I agree, Google did the press release a favor.”

Tom Treanor:

“Like “content farms” and “comment spam” (which both worked for awhile), Google has made adjustments to limit the value of “press release SEO”. These types of actions help limit the junk (although some people never learn) and steers press releases back towards the direction of newsworthy items versus keyword-optimized spam – although it’s clear that the value of a press release will never again be as high as it was in the pre-Google era.”

Chas Cooper:

“Google’s Penguin update may have saved the press release from death-by-SEO, but only time will tell how the press release adapts to survive death-by-Twitter.”

So… What happens now? A Theory!

Now that press releases hold little SEO value, I believe that the number of non-news press releases being issued will decline. As we see the quantity of press releases decline and an increase in quality newsworthy content, will journalists rediscover their intended value? Will the release become the glorious PR tool it once was?

It’s likely too early to tell. So far I see few indications of things going this direction, other than the fact that most SEO and PR folks acknowledge that press release SEO value has declined.

If things do head this way, will PR Pros one day be celebrating Google as the savior of the press release? It’s quite possible.

Where can I read more about Press Release SEO?

*Great Spiderman quote, right?