Press releases – they used to be about as close to a sure thing as you could get in SEO. Fresh content, incoming links with solid anchor text, the possibility of being spread all over the web – what’s not to love? Some of us remember the salad days during which you could launch a press release and it would show up in Yahoo News within a hour. Good stuff. Of course, as with anything good and unspoilt, they were soon sullied beyond redemption. It must be difficult to feel good about yourself when you’re using a free distribution service called “free-press-release-service-for-SEO-dot-com” and pushing through a release that’s full of exact anchor text links but is ostensibly about what you had for lunch. (We’ve never done that, btw – just an egregious example – although, unfortunately, not that far from some of the drek we’ve seen out there.)
Still, when you have legitimate news (a new product or service, a new business partnership, etc.), isn’t it a good time to announce said news? And isn’t a press release a good way to do that? Hence, the conundrum – press releases have been overused almost to the point of no return, but they’re still one of the few ways to widely disseminate news. In addition, they provide additional, rich content you can post on your own site’s “News” section.
Despite the fact that Matt Cutts said links from press releases don’t count as ranking factors (and was subsequently proved wrong), press releases can still be an effective tool in your overall plan. As with anything you do, if you are honest with yourself and are only doing what you’re doing for SEO benefit, forget it. They can even potentially hurt you, even if you’re not overly liberal with your anchor text, even if you use branded anchor text. (Which hardly seems fair, but Google’s not well known for judicial restraint.)
While some PR distribution networks are still reasonably legit (PRWeb and PRNewswire come to mind even though they’ve both been referred to in Google Webmaster Central as blatant paid linking schemes), their use is kind of questionable, kind of the equivalent of dropping newsletters from the top of a building. Unless you have news befitting an extremely general audience, an audience that reads newswires, you should also take the time to develop connections with media folk within your industry. Writers are always looking for something to write about, and if you’ve established yourself as a solid industry source they’ll be happy to receive what you send over their transom. (Again, use common sense and decency (the fact that even needs to be said is depressing) – don’t dig up their names and then inundate them with spam. That’s how you get someone to not like you, plus block your email.)
Release news that’s actually news. Use a proper press release format (both PRWeb and PRNewswire have extremely helpful knowledge bases). Write well. Pay attention to grammar. If a link makes sense, then include a link (say to the page that features your new product, or to your home page); just don’t expect it to carry any SEO benefit. For the love of everything holy, don’t jam it full of links (Penguin is a real vicious beast). Host releases on your site and supplement their release with updates via your LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.
So, bottom line: press releases are OK, as long as you use them properly and understand what you’re doing. They’re still a valid form of getting the word out, if you do it right.
The question “what is news?” is, of course, subjective. I’ll have to trust you on that one.