By Scott Thomas, Search Marketing Manager
Recently, there have been several articles about changing Google has made to their systems and how those changes will affect where press releases fall within Google searches. Lots of alarms have been sounded and hands wrung in concern. In an attempt to figure out what’s really going on, I asked my friends at Apokrisis to tell me. After all, they’re the experts in this type of thing.
Recently, Google updated their link schemes documentation within their content guidelines of Webmaster Tools. One of the examples they provided was optimized Anchor Text in Press Releases or articles distributed on other websites. While some have proclaimed that Google is trying to kill SEOs and PR Agencies, I believe that such statements are overblown and not true. The devil is in the details and Google is targeting some tactics that are being abused.
What is Anchor Text?
Anchor Text refers to the text used in a hyper link (example: Alaska Regional Office of the National Weather Service). Ideally, this is an indication what the linked-to webpage is about. In my example, it’s pretty obvious that I’m linking to the National Weather Service in Alaska. Anchor Text, when used appropriately, provides a signal to the search engines that “this link is about X.”
When Anchor Text optimization is abused (i.e. overdone), it can be interpreted as an attempt at over-optimization and be considered Spam. Most sites have a diverse set of anchor text links pointing to them: including their brand name, website domain, and the infamous “click here” links that many people use as anchor text. If your site suddenly has hundreds or thousands of brand-new, links with well-optimized Anchor Text through article syndication or press release distribution, it’s a pretty obvious signal for the search engines to penalize (or at least not reward such activities).
In the Google Link scheme documentation, they provide this example of what not to do (note that the links below are “dummy/empty” links that don’t go anywhere):
See the problem? Just a bit over the top…
So What is the Best Practice for Press Releases?
Shortly after the update, Search Engine Land reported a Google representative recommended that all links within press releases be given the rel=”nofollow” attribute, since press releases are equivalent to advertisements. If in doubt, or if you want to play it safe and be 100% in line with these new guidelines, I recommend using the rel=”nofollow”.
Of course, another issue is that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to instruct others to make use of the nofollow attribute for links within the press release. This may become a new standard that is forced upon the PR industry and Press Release distribution services.
I suspect that using the brand name or the domain name as the anchor text, and only doing it once in the Press Release, is a pretty safe bet. Earlier this year, Matt Cutts of Google stated that press release links carry no value (or “link juice” as SEOs sometimes call it), but SEO Consult tested this were able to get a site to rank for a nonsensical phrase. The algorithms evolve constantly, so I would not trust one test/demonstration. It’s also important to point out that the initial distribution may not provide any value, but if a journalist or other trusted source picks up and uses the content of the press release, that secondary effect of getting a link from a trusted source may provide value.
So in the end, it’s a judgment call. Given that many press release links decay over time and Google likely discounts or passes limited trust and authority for such links, I think it comes down to a matter of scale. If your press releases include many optimized anchor text links and the distribution is wide, you are likely looking for trouble if you do not add the rel=”nofollow” to those links. If there is one link per press release, and you are supporting the brand through brand name anchor text or using the domain name for the anchor text, I think your tactics are sound and defensible (again, you have to weigh the scale of the press release effort).
Apokrisis is a full-service, strategically-focused interactive marketing agency. We offer a holistic approach to web development and Internet development, from strategy to web site design to comprehensive online marketing services.
About Scott Thomas:
Scott has taken a rather circuitous route to his current profession in Internet marketing and position at Apokrisis. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia in Biology, and has had a passion for science and learning about the natural world from an early age. After designing a summer jobs website, he quickly became fascinated with the challenge of getting the site’s pages to rank well in the search engines (and out-ranking larger sites!). From there, he often became the point person on website projects for his employers. Contact Scott