Why Serious Press Release Writers Don’t Stress About SEO

You might have heard about “SEO press releases” and that issuing releases is an easy way to improve your search engine rankings.

There’s some truth to that. But chances are good any SEO advice you’ve read about press release writing or distribution is either sorely outdated or flat-out wrong. So before you follow all those little SEO “rules” you’ve heard about, let’s set the record straight.

First, for those of you new to the concept of SEO press releases, let’s take a quick look at what SEO actually means.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” Simply put, SEO is everything you do to make your website (or a particular web page) rank highly in search engines when people search for keyword phrases relevant to your site.

For example, if your company sells gourmet coffee online, when a potential customer Googles something like “gourmet coffee,” you want your website to be one of the first they see in their search results.

Everything you do to make that happen naturally (as opposed to paying for placement with ads) is SEO.

Why Should Press Release Writers Worry About SEO?

Well, they shouldn’t. But…

The main reason people tell business owners to focus on SEO in their press releases is to build easy links to their website. But that advice is simply out of date.

A bit of background…

I’ve been involved in public relations for around 18 years now. And I’ve specialized in online PR during most of that time. More importantly, there was a time when I was the only PR pro active in some major webmaster communities, teaching and consulting with that market about press releases, which were still a brand new concept to most of them.

I’ve also been an active web publisher for 16 years. In addition to running my own network of websites in that time, I’ve also worked as a contributor and editor for major online publications. I’ve consulted with well over a dozen SEO firms (in addition to online marketing agencies and non-agency clients). So I’m more in touch with SEO trends and avoiding “algorithm chasing” than many press release writers.

That’s where this advice is coming from — someone who’s been there, done that, and who knows what she’s talking about.

Now, back to using press releases for easy links for SEO…

Years ago, this was a good strategy (not “good” as in smart, but “good” as in it worked).

Press release distribution sites had a lot of “link juice” (the value of their links in improving your website’s rankings). Basically, press releases became seen as a good way to build links to your website.

But, as they often do, marketers used and abused this strategy until they pretty much destroyed it.

That was a good thing though.

Because of this abuse, in 2013 Google (AKA “the internet police”) went after links coming from press release distribution sites.

In response to those actions from Google, press release distribution sites — at least the respectable ones — started using the “nofollow” attribute on all links in press releases.

You don’t need to worry about what that means from a technical perspective. Just know it tells Google not to pass that same “link juice” to your site that we talked about earlier. Basically, links in press releases were devalued for SEO purposes because too many people were trying to use them to manipulate Google’s search rankings.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. SEO still has a role when it comes to news releases. But that role is much smaller than it once was. It shouldn’t be your primary concern.

What to Focus On Instead

Rather than worry about using press releases to directly influence your website’s search engine rankings, you should do what I’ve been telling clients for almost as long as I’ve been in business (funny how the good advice never goes out of style or incites the wrath of Google):

Focus on the media first. 

That’s what press releases are after all — media relations tools.

The real value of press releases has never been about links in press releases themselves (or keywords, or clickbait headlines, for that matter).

The real value of press releases has always been in the resulting coverage your company earns. 

These are the pick-ups on industry blogs, in trade publications, and in major media outlets. They’re the stories that result from a successful press release — not the press release content and distribution site links themselves.

Why then did so many people focus on SEO first?

It was easier.

Using press releases properly isn’t always easy. You don’t fully control results (you have no idea what news stories you’ll compete with on any given day).

Calling a news release a “success” because some SEO newbie submitted it to a hundred free distribution sites for quick links became far too common. Clients considered it a huge investment to submit releases to even cheaper press release distribution sites because they didn’t see the real potential; they just saw it as buying links.

A truly successful press release is one that gets more relevant eyes on your news — and, yes, more visitors to your website in many cases — with legitimate coverage. And really, it’s links from those media outlets and relevant blogs that think you deserve coverage that have the most SEO value anyway.

How do you earn that media coverage? 

  • You do something genuinely newsworthy.
  • You put together a well-written press release that won’t make journalists’ eyes bleed.
  • You get your press release into the hands of relevant journalists, bloggers, and other interested parties.

Yikes. That sounds like real work, doesn’t it? No wonder so many people tried to take the easy way out, spamming the web with low quality “news” releases for quick links.

You’re better than that though. And you do deserve real coverage for your company’s news. That’s why you won’t make some of these common mistakes.

Ignore These “Rules” for SEO Press Releases

If you want to follow press release best practices rather than joining the ranks of SEO spammers, here are some SEO press release writing “rules” you can, and should gleefully, break.

1. Your press release headline should be keyword-rich.

No. Your press release headline should grab attention and get your news across clearly. You’re writing for people, not search engines.

Do This Instead:

One thing you should keep in mind when writing press release headlines that will appear online is that they’ll show up in search engine results. While you shouldn’t stuff them full of keyword phrases, you should make sure the entire headline displays.

If your release comes up in search results, you want people to click it to read your news and decide if it’s worth covering in their own outlet. If your headline gets cut off because it’s too long to display in Google, you risk them browsing right past your press release in favor of a competing listing.

While Google changes the amount of a page title they’ll display periodically, I find that around 60 characters is pretty safe.

2. You should link keyword-rich anchor text to your website.

No. Just no.

This is a seriously old school SEO tactic that some PR and marketing folks are still pushing for press release writing.

A couple of problems:

  • Not all distribution sites will even let you do this any more. (And if they’re charging extra for the ability to post these as “dofollow” links in any way, they’re basically selling links for SEO purposes which could get them — and you — penalized by Google.)
  • Your press release won’t only appear the way you post it to a distribution site. It can be published elsewhere via a feed from that site, or manually picked up (and sites will follow their own editorial guidelines regarding links). And it may even appear in print, where that link is worthless even though the coverage may be far more valuable.

Remember this: once you put a press release with spammy keyword-rich links on a distribution site, it might be there indefinitely. And the next time Google gets themselves in a tizzy and your old link-building habits come back to haunt you, you might be stuck. So never post anything you wouldn’t want to still have on the web five or ten years from now.

Do This Instead:

Your full URL should be visible. And you should be using links sparingly — direct people where you want them to click, and don’t give them too many options.

(Oh, and Google doesn’t like you over-using anchor text links for keyword phrases you want to rank for nearly as much as they used to. In fact, keyword-rich anchor text links in press releases are outright labeled a “link scheme” in Google’s quality guidelines. So get over this old “rule.” Move on. And put actual readers first.)

3. You should post to as many press release distribution sites as possible.

This advice goes back to the “easy linkbuilding” strategy where SEO people and some marketers thought the real value of releases was the number of immediate backlinks they could build. So they would post news releases to dozens, if not hundreds, of free distribution sites.

Don’t do this.

This has always been incredibly bad advice. Most of the free sites never offered much link value to begin with. And it put you at risk of being seen as a spammer — not the way you land legitimate coverage and the truly high value links that can come with.

Do This Instead: 

If you want to distribute your release online, do it through just one premium distribution service. Use industry targeting there. Or choose an industry-specific wire to distribute your release through.

Then, more importantly, focus on manual press release distribution. This is when you send your release directly to key editors with key publications (or other media outlets) you hope will pick up your news. Don’t rely on them seeing your more widely-posted release. If you want someone’s attention, ask for it.

So, should you stress over SEO when it comes to your company’s (or your clients’) press releases? Not unless you’re stuck in the past. But press releases do still have SEO value when they’re used to land legitimate, and earned, media coverage. So above all else, focus on making your company one members of the media actually want to talk about.

Do you need help writing your next press release? Contact me, an experienced PR professional, to talk about your project when you’re ready.

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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