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Overoptimized Links and Press Release SEO: A New Controversy

Everyone who takes my classes on SEO understands that I am quite a proponent of SEO-friendly press releases using either a free service like or a paid service like (Vocus). Issuing frequent press releases can help your site climb to the top of Google in these ways:

  • Fresh Content. Press releases create "fresh content" on your site, thereby signalling Google that your site is alive and well. It's akin to the sign on the door of a restaurant saying, "Here are today's specials!" Press releases and blog content create fresh, new content that tells Google (and humans) that you have new and exciting information to share.
  • Inbound Links. In many cases, you can "embed" an "optimized link" into your press release, and many additional sites will run your press release exactly as it is written, including not using the "nofollow" attribute to Google... In SEO lingo, what this means is that many of your press releases will generate links to your site, thereby helping with link building and SEO. (Impacting what Google calls your PageRank, or Web Authority).  (This is the controversial aspect).
  • Social Mentions. Many press releases are picked up by Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ often automatically generating social buzz, something effective for both search engines and humans.

Post Penguin: The Controversy over Press Release SEO

Overoptimized Links and Press Releases
Google's Matt Cutts and others have indicated that they are unhappy with the SEO use of press releases, specifically the use of overoptimized links.  (For an interesting article about whether Google does, or does not, value press release links (do what they say or watch what they do), click here.)

Optimized Links: Explained
What is an optimized link? Let's assume, for example, that you want to be the No. 1 vendor for agricultural fans, and so you release a press release that has a sentence like:

Jason's Fan Company, the top industrial fan for agriculture vendor, is proud to announce some shameless news.

And the text in blue is an HTML link from the press release (and all the syndication sites) back to your website. That strategy generates inbound links to your site, Google counts those as votes, and your site rises to the top of the Google search for "industrial fans for agriculture." That's Press Release SEO in a nutshell.

However, Google sees this as manipulative and is threatening to penalize websites that enjoys these "optimized" links from Google. It's another salvo in the post-Penguin war on link manipulation by Google.  Or is it?  It's not clear how aggressively Google will, or can, go after this strategy.

Responses to Google's Anti-Press Release Initiative

There is a lot of complexity in SEO, not the least of which distinguishing between what Google threatens it might do, what it actually is capable of doing, and what it actually does. It's not at all clear that Google can effectively combat Press Release SEO in the same way that it has combated more clumsy tactics such as article spinning.  The jury's still out on this one.

I'll leave aside the reasons why I think that they may have a lot more trouble than people believe in combating press release SEO, and just give some recommendations.

If you generate press releases and if you want to use them for link building:

  1. Quality over quantity. Don't overdo it!  Don't generate thirty press releases per month and overoptimize again and again and again over the same keyword phrase.  The clearest signal to Google and easiest for them to penalize is if your site has hundreds of press release links (and other links) around the same, unnatural phrase (e.g., industrial fans for agriculture).  This unnatural, overoptimized link profile is the easiest target for Google.
  2. Writing quality. Write good quality English, write for both humans and Google in your press releases.  Subject, verb, object.  Stay on topic - all the things your High School English teach taught.  Don't outsource your writing to non-native English speakers!  Don't article spin!
  3. Be careful with overoptimized links. This is the No. 1 No-No that occurs many times in the Google information on this: they are sensitive to (over)optimized links (links that contain your keyword), so I recommend -
    1. 1/3 of your press releases link to your branded keyword (company name)
    2. 1/3 of your press releases link to just http:// links ("naked links")
    3. Only (!) 1/3 of your press releases contain optimized links, and vary these across your keyword targets.

Don't Overdo Press Release SEO!

As is so often true in SEO, the main people who will get slammed here are people who OVERDO it.  The art of SEO is staying a bit under the radar here, creating content that is truly useful for humans and yet still talks to Google.

The optimized link has always been a vulnerability in Google's algorithm as it is an unnatural way of building Web content.  Most people simply do not write clear HTML / keyword heavy links but rather prefer to link to things like images, http:// links, or even the dreaded "click here." The fact that Google pays so much attention to optimized link is a legacy of 1999 when the Web was run by Webmasters. It's time for Google to update this part of the algorithm, and where this is all going is going to be LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing), meaning the keywords BEFORE and AFTER a link may become increasingly important.

In sum, I still think press releases have their place in SEO as a link building tactic, and I still believe that they are legitimate. Just be judicious!

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