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By Phil Murphy

Google’s Panda 4.0 and why we need to rethink press releases

On 24, Jul 2014 | No Comments | In Blog, SEO | By Phil Murphy

Panda 4.0 has been an active Google algorithm since its initial rollout on May 10th of 2014, and already we’ve seen dozens of minor tweaks and changes to the way it works.
However, Google’s main focus with the new Panda update has remained content centricity, meaning that simply having dozens of websites linking back to your post is no longer enough to get it to the top of Google search.

Despite that, many business owners are still using link based SEO techniques, and foremost among those is the ever-popular press release. With dozens of sites like PR Newswire and NPR offering nearly unlimited backlinks to websites who post articles with ‘news’ on their sites, many see the press release as an easy link generator, rather than as a way to share news with journalists. And Google is taking notice.

The Decline of PR Backlinks
One post by Seer Interactive highlights this change with a graphic depicting the traffic to PRWeb, a popular press release site, before and after May 26th, which showed a nearly 70 per cent drop in traffic, with similar results for other major press release sites. In fact, PRNewswire dropped to their lowest traffic in over 5 years, loosing some 63 per cent of traffic, and BusinessWire lost some 60 per cent of traffic, all literally over night.

“Google’s recent action targeting low-quality content in the Panda 4.0 update affirms the importance of ensuring press releases and other content distributed via PR Newswire’s network are of real utility and interest to journalists and bloggers, as well as the general public.” Jason Edelboim Senior Vice President of Global Product at PR Newswire(Link)

The first change came with Panda 3.0, which penalized various news sites for thin, low quality ‘spam’ posts, but then re-adjusted to allow for them. Panda 4.0 has had no such adjustment, and PR sites are being penalized. Now, various news sites are taking steps to improve their ranking by eliminating those spam posts. New rules include stricter content regulations and the use of nofollow tags in their links, which means that outbound links from press release sites might not affect your PR in any way.

Essentially, simply posting a press release on a website is no longer good enough for SEO.

But while the press release may be short lived in terms of SEO links, it’s not entirely an outdated concept. Many in the SEO industry are now pushing the idea that press releases are irrelevant, but this isn’t quite true in terms of marketing.

Press Releases Aren’t Dead Yet
The press release is actually for aggregating journalistic interest rather than backlinks. While the majority of today’s news releases are not highly relevant or interesting to those journalists, a return to quality, content centric posts would begin to draw them back. In fact, several websites have a community over 30,000 journalists looking for content.
“The key aspect here is that newswires are about speed of news delivery and reach, the benefit does not lie in the syndicated release. Equally some businesses that can not get a press release up on their own website benefit from being able to direct journalists to the release on the PR newswire site.” – Lexi Mills, Head of Digital at Dynamo PR (Link)

The result of having journalists cover a press release is two-fold, starting with increased exposure from another website, and leading up to natural backlinks from other sites as they cover you and write about you. This holds true for press releases on your own website, as well as on

Content Centric Press Releases Offer Value to Businesses

Specific news sites like PR Newswire have even begun to release guidelines for creating quality centric press releases for their site with rules guarding against common spam topics like Keyword stuffing, spinning, and overly repetitive content. Adding helpful metrics and analytics, keeping content entirely business and news-worthy, and focusing on quality over quantity is a sure way to ensure that your press releases are beneficial to your site.

“Press releases are about earned media, building awareness and acquiring audience” – Sarah Skerik Vice President of Strategic Communications at PR Newswire (Link)

Several press release websites have also indicated that they will be reviewing press release submissions on an individual basis in order to ensure quality for the future.

Essentially, by investing in quality press releases for your business, you not only ensure that you get value from them, but also potentially get a great deal more value than from the spam method. 
A few basic rules to follow include:

• Focus on valuable content
• Include metrics, analytics, and real business insights
• Nofollow any outbound links in your PR
• Create content that journalists might be interested in
• Avoid shortform content that offers little value.
• Follow these guidelines for onsite and offsite press releases

Press releases are no longer a good method for creating backlinks, but they are still practical to businesses with valuable content to share. Creating a content sharing strategy based on actual information and real news, and then creating a short series of informative posts around that data is immeasurably more valuable to your business than a dozen spam posts. Backing those press releases up with related onsite information improves their value, although links should be used with care.

Image creative commons: Ritwik Raj

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