SEO specialists may be envisaged wearing black or white hats, but there is nothing black and white about the industry; even the most informed of experts operate between the lines and in the shadows. So when Matt Cutts, previous head of webspam at Google, suggested that press releases provide very little SEO value, the experts knew not to take his comments too seriously. But should they?Value.
The meaning of value is often distorted when it refers to SEO. Cutts did not actually use the term when he discussed press releases in his blog. Instead, he wrote: "I wouldn't expect links from press release websites to benefit your rankings".
Taken at face value, the comment merely expresses a personal opinion held by Cutts; however, the Google figurehead was a leading authority in the SEO industry, so when he makes a point others are compelled to pay attention. And they did.
One SEO commentator tested and subsequently disproved Cutts' assertion by linking to his blog from a press release using a nonsensical term ('sreppleasers') as anchor text. Not long afterwards, Google indexed the press release, which appeared one place above Cutts' blog for the nonsensical term. As a matter of interest, Google found only four results for sreppleasers soon after the test was carried out. The term now generates almost 900 results.
Of course, 'sreppleasers' is an unusual term, as it had to be to ensure that other factors did not influence the results, so Cutts' belief that links from press releases do little to benefit search rankings cannot be dismissed completely. That is because never-before-used terms do not play by the same rules as competitive keywords. It is clearly wrong to make a blanket assumption that links from press releases have little SEO value, but whether such links benefit rankings in competitive search sectors remains questionable.Valuable, Not Value.
Perhaps the main reason why Cutts questioned the value of links in press releases is that a large proportion of press releases are worthless. The Panda updates released by Google changed how SEO specialists were able to promote websites. In the old days, any content would be indexed and ranked by Google; today, content must pass through a series of filters that aim to remove spam from the database. In other words, press releases must be valuable to readers if they are to provide value to website owners. That means content must be original, informative, engaging and well-written. Links from spam-filled press releases are indeed worthless, but links from relevant, unique articles are not.
Unfortunately, press releases have been abused in the past to such an extent that Google added to its Webmaster guidelines on Link Schemes in 2013, stating that links with optimised anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites may violate linking guidelines and harm search engine rankings for businesses. Consider limiting links to one or two CTA's only and using the no follow flag for links.
John Mueller a Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, did state that there is still great value to using press releases. The press release goal is to get the word out to the press about your new service or product. The press then hears about what you have to offer and if or when they decide to write about it on their own sites, those links do not need to be nofollowed. Those stories written editorially are the links that Google values the most. In essence indirect value is the biggest SEO benefit of a press release, aiding natual links, brand visibility, recognition and referral traffic.
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