The Evolution of SEO Press Releases

We previously looked at the purpose of press releases, and how they’ve gone from strictly serving as media relations tools to taking on search engine optimization (SEO) goals too. Some companies use news releases only for SEO. But many that try go about it all wrong.

Let’s look at the evolution of SEO press releases and how you can use them to build high quality backlinks without sacrificing your credibility.

The Early Days of SEO Press Releases

Press releases have taken an interesting, though predictable, trajectory over the last decade or so. I was fortunate to be in a position to watch SEO press releases go through a pretty complete lifecycle, from the spammy bastardization of traditional news releases to the hybrid style you’ll often find today.

Early on, SEO press releases weren’t often written by experienced PR professionals. They were a PR tool hijacked by SEO service providers.


A big part of getting SEO clients to rank well in Google was building backlinks (still is). And early on, big press release distribution sites (like PRWeb) had what are known as “dofollow” links in them. This means SEO folks could use press releases on these distribution sites to manipulate their position in search engine rankings. It became the equivalent of buying links (a no-no in Google’s eyes).

I won’t bore you with more details on this here. You can read more about this background and what Google did to turn things around in my earlier post, Why Serious Press Release Writers Don’t Stress About SEO.

The Real Purpose of SEO Press Releases

Here’s the thing…

This old school kind of SEO press release was always a bad idea. And I made my sure my clients knew it. While I couldn’t control whether distribution sites made links “dofollow” or “nofollow,” I did give my clients this advice:

  • Never distribute a news release solely for the backlinks. Have legitimate news to share or an otherwise timely angle. Submit spammy press releases, and you risk damaging your reputation permanently with media outlets. And then you’re screwed when you do have news you want them to amplify.
  • Don’t overload your press release with too many links, and don’t make them all anchor text links (definitely not the same anchor text in multiple links).
  • Stop thinking of press release distribution sites themselves as SEO link sources. That is not where the truly valuable links for SEO purposes come from anyway.

This put my clients ahead of the curve (and didn’t leave them with a bad link profile to clean up to “fix” their Google rankings later). And this is where SEO press releases eventually went.

In other words, the real purpose of SEO press releases went back to a focus on getting press. The most valuable backlinks no longer came from the distribution sites. They came from the media outlets and bloggers picking up a company’s story. And that meant companies had to put out higher quality news releases again with genuine newsworthy angles.

It took time, and there was a transition period.

  • First, distribution sites nofollowed their links. This helped weed out the worst of the worst offenders. When they couldn’t buy links anymore, they stopped using press releases.
  • Then distribution sites started cracking down on links a bit more, such as limiting the number of them or at least limiting how many anchor text links customers could include (those are when you link keyword phrases).
  • Google started its own crackdown, on sites with “unnatural” links (links that are bought or otherwise unearned).

Has all of this completely gotten rid of spammy old school SEO press releases? No. But it did decrease their frequency. And that makes it just a little bit easier for your quality releases to get the coverage they deserve.

3 Tips for Writing Modern SEO Press Releases

None of this is to say press releases themselves don’t have SEO value anymore.

For example, your press releases will often be distributed online. That means they, themselves, will be indexed by Google. And that means customers searching for news about your company or your industry will find your release first if you make sure they’re well-optimized for search engine rankings.

Here are some ways you can do that:

  1. Use relevant keyword phrases in your press release, especially in your headline. These should be keywords your target customers (or media outlets you hope to land coverage from) are likely to use when searching Google.
  2. Include links in your press release, but focus on “natural” links. In other words, don’t link your keywords. Link your company name. Or if you need to highlight an internal page on your website, include the full URL (the web page address). This makes it possible for readers to access that page even if your news release is republished without a live, clickable link.
  3. Add social media links to your press release if distribution sites allow. Make it easy for readers to not only find you on social media but also to share your press release. This helps you build backlinks and traffic to the release itself — good for SEO on its own, but it can also help you secure more media and blog pick-ups for your story.

That’s the gist of how SEO press releases began, where they are today, and how you can get SEO benefits from your news releases without spamming press release distribution sites in the process.

Need help writing an SEO-friendly press release of your own? I’d be happy to do that. Get in touch, and let’s talk about your company’s upcoming news.

Jennifer Mattern is a freelance business writer, professional blogger, consultant, and publisher.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and more than 20 years' experience in marketing and PR, specializing in digital PR and new media (with significant experience in social media, online marketing, SEO, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience, including web development, mostly in the WordPress environment.

In addition to offering client services, Jenn also developed and runs numerous online publications including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

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