Google: Press Release Links

So, Google have updated their Webmaster Guidelines.

Here are a few common examples of unnatural links that violate our guidelines:....Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.

For example: There are many wedding rings on the market. If you want to have a wedding, you will have to pick the best ring. You will also need to buy flowers and a wedding dress.

In particular, they have focused on links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites. Google being Google, these rules are somewhat ambiguous. “Optimized anchor text”? The example they provide includes keywords in the anchor text, so keywords in the anchor text is “optimized” and therefore a violation of Google’s guidelines.

Ambiguously speaking, of course.

To put the press release change in context, Google’s guidelines state:

Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site

So, links gained, for SEO purposes - intended to manipulate ranking - are against Google Guidelines.

Google vs Webmasters

Here’s a chat...

In this chat, Google’s John Muller says that, if the webmaster initiated it, then it isn't a natural link. If you want to be on the safe side, John suggests to use no-follow on links.

Google are being consistent, but what’s amusing is the complete disconnect on display from a few of the webmasters. Google have no problem with press releases, but if a webmaster wants to be on the safe side in terms of Google’s guidelines, the webmaster should no-follow the link.

Simple, right. If it really is a press release, and not an attempt to link build for SEO purposes, then why would a webmaster have any issue with adding a no-follow to a link?

He/she wouldn't.

But because some webmasters appear to lack self-awareness about what it is they are actually doing, they persist with their line of questioning. I suspect what they really want to hear is “keyword links in press releases are okay." Then, webmasters can continue to issue pretend press releases as a link building exercise.

They're missing the point.

Am I Taking Google’s Side?

Not taking sides.

Just hoping to shine some light on a wider issue.

If webmasters continue to let themselves be defined by Google, they are going to get defined out of the game entirely. It should be an obvious truth - but sadly lacking in much SEO punditry - that Google is not on the webmasters side. Google is on Google’s side. Google often say they are on the users side, and there is certainly some truth in that.

However,when it comes to the webmaster, the webmaster is a dime-a-dozen content supplier who must be managed, weeded out, sorted and categorized. When it comes to the more “aggressive” webmasters, Google’s behaviour could be characterized as “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”.

This is because some webmasters, namely SEOs, don’t just publish content for users, they compete with Google’s revenue stream. SEOs offer a competing service to click based advertising that provides exactly the same benefit as Google's golden goose, namely qualified click traffic.

If SEOs get too good at what they do, then why would people pay Google so much money per click? They wouldn’t - they would pay it to SEOs, instead. So, if I were Google, I would see SEO as a business threat, and manage it - down - accordingly. In practice, I’d be trying to redefine SEO as “quality content provision”.

Why don't Google simply ignore press release links? Easy enough to do. Why go this route of making it public? After all, Google are typically very secret about algorithmic topics, unless the topic is something they want you to hear. And why do they want you to hear this? An obvious guess would be that it is done to undermine link building, and SEOs.

Big missiles heading your way.

Guideline Followers

The problem in letting Google define the rules of engagement is they can define you out of the SEO game, if you let them.

If an SEO is not following the guidelines - guidelines that are always shifting - yet claim they do, then they may be opening themselves up to legal liability. In one recent example, a case is underway alleging lack of performance:

Last week, the legal marketing industry was aTwitter (and aFacebook and even aPlus) with news that law firm Seikaly & Stewart had filed a lawsuit against The Rainmaker Institute seeking a return of their $49,000 in SEO fees and punitive damages under civil RICO

.....but it’s not unreasonable to expect a somewhat easier route for litigants in the future might be “not complying with Google’s guidelines”, unless the SEO agency disclosed it.

SEO is not the easiest career choice, huh.

One group that is likely to be happy about this latest Google push is legitimate PR agencies, media-relations departments, and publicists. As a commenter on WMW pointed out:

I suspect that most legitimate PR agencies, media-relations departments, and publicists will be happy to comply with Google's guidelines. Why? Because, if the term "press release" becomes a synonym for "SEO spam," one of the important tools in their toolboxes will become useless.

Just as real advertisers don't expect their ads to pass PageRank, real PR people don't expect their press releases to pass PageRank. Public relations is about planting a message in the media, not about manipulating search results

However, I’m not sure that will mean press releases are seen as any more credible, as press releases have never enjoyed a stellar reputation pre-SEO, but it may thin the crowd somewhat, which increases an agencies chances of getting their client seen.

Guidelines Honing In On Target

One resource referred to in the video above was this article, written by Amit Singhal, who is head of Google’s core ranking team. Note that it was written in 2011, so it’s nothing new. Here’s how Google say they determine quality:

we aren't disclosing the actual ranking signals used in our algorithms because we don't want folks to game our search results; but if you want to step into Google's mindset, the questions below provide some guidance on how we've been looking at the issue:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?

….and so on. Google’s rhetoric is almost always about “producing high quality content”, because this is what Google’s users want, and what Google’s users want, Google’s shareholders want.

It’s not a bad thing to want, of course. Who would want poor quality content? But as most of us know, producing high quality content is no guarantee of anything. Great for Google, great for users, but often not so good for publishers as the publisher carries all the risk.

Take a look at the Boston Globe, sold along with a boatload of content for a 93% decline. Quality content sure, but is it a profitable business? Emphasis on content without adequate marketing is not a sure-fire strategy. Bezos has just bought the Washington Post, of course, and we're pretty sure that isn't a content play, either.

High quality content often has a high upfront production cost attached to it, and given measly web advertising rates, the high possibility of invisibility, getting content scrapped and ripped off, then it is no wonder webmasters also push their high quality content in order to ensure it ranks. What other choice have they got?

To not do so is also risky.

Even eHow, well known for cheap factory line content, is moving toward subscription membership revenues.

The Somewhat Bigger Question

Google can move the goal- posts whenever they like. What you’re doing today might be frowned upon tomorrow. One day, your content may be made invisible, and there will be nothing you can do about it, other than start again.

Do you have a contingency plan for such an eventuality?

Johnon puts it well:

The only thing that matters is how much traffic you are getting from search engines today, and how prepared you are for when some (insert adjective here) Googler shuts off that flow of traffic"

To ask about the minuate of Google’s policies and guidelines is to miss the point. The real question is how prepared are you when Google shuts off you flow of traffic because they’ve reset the goal posts?

Focusing on the minuate of Google's policies is, indeed, to miss the point.

This is a question of risk management. What happens if your main site, or your clients site, runs foul of a Google policy change and gets trashed? Do you run multiple sites? Run one site with no SEO strategy at all, whilst you run other sites that push hard? Do you stay well within the guidelines and trust that will always be good enough? If you stay well within the guidelines, but don’t rank, isn’t that effectively the same as a ban i.e. you’re invisible? Do you treat search traffic as a bonus, rather than the main course?

Be careful about putting Google’s needs before your own. And manage your risk, on your own terms.

Published: August 7, 2013 by A Reader in google


August 7, 2013 - 7:48pm

Right on, and thanks for the mention. That awkwardness when Google gets smugly obtuse with the professionals they monetize is only going to increase until there is some new blood leading Google.

Google is already a second generation entity, where those who rose up are now disconnected from the realities of the marketplace that supported them. Google will be irrelevant if they don't either control the marketplace, or stop being such a collective ass.

One day it will make sense to advertise that your site and it's information are "Not Available on!" like products advertise "As seen on TV". Not yet, but someday it will have enough meaning to have an impact on the marketplace. A great call to action for bookmarking, once we have a decent bookmarking system from someone other than Google.

August 7, 2013 - 10:53pm

Right, SerpSleuth.

"One day it will make sense to advertise that your site and it's information are "Not Available on!""

I wonder if that's already happening as a lot more content disappears behind paywalls, particularly in the education space. That space is not being funded by advertising, but by course fees, and readers are all too willing to pay, which indicates the alternative - free content on the web - isn't cutting it.

August 7, 2013 - 11:49pm

I was under the impression that "press releases" were self-promotional in the first place? Evidently I've failed to fully grasp that by distributing a press release for my to promote my business I'm "initiating" said press release.

I guess I'm too stupid to be a webmaster anymore. The nuances elude me too often it seems.

August 11, 2013 - 3:56pm

I am surprised that there are not more lawsuits. With the reports we've seen about Penguin killing e-commerce sites because of bad Seo practices, I expected more lawsuits.
There are a large number of "Seo firms" who have not used industry best practices. In fact the bad reputation we SEO's have today, is because of these people.

Some websites have lost an enormous amount of money because of these bad practices. Maybe there are more lawsuits that are not being publicized. But most of us have worked on websites, where the previous "Seo firm" has used worst practices. I don't advocate lawsuits. It's just surprising to me that there aren't more.

It would be great if we could figure out how to clean up this industry.

August 12, 2013 - 2:04am

There are a large number of "Seo firms" who have not used industry best practices. In fact the bad reputation we SEO's have today, is because of these people.

The problem is that activities get redefined after the fact. Some of the "best practices" that were both effective & touted by industry experts as the proper path later fall out of favor. Why do they fall out of favor? The promotion of them makes them more popular & they become widespread. As they become widespread they have enough of an impact that Google decides that it is time to shift the ROI curve by adding FUD, adding cost & adding risk.

As Google drops hints that they are going to crush a particular technique, those same exact techniques & strategies which were promoted as best practices are then overnight highlighted by those same experts as being spam.

Search the archives of the sites that are warning about press releases or guest posts today & see what those sites were promoting 2 or 3 years ago - the same stuff.

What's hit smaller ecommerce sites more than anything wasn't SEO incompetence, but rather Google deciding that they would insert themselves as the thin spam layer & nuke anything/anyone who can't afford their prices.

Read the section of their remote rater guidelines that state HELPFUL affiliate hotel sites should be labeled as spam. If it takes Google over a hundred pages to quantify good vs bad & then they still say "oh yeah, they are a direct competitor without lawyers. so torch them" it's pretty damn transparent.

It would be great if we could figure out how to clean up this industry.

The first spot to start would probably be here.

August 12, 2013 - 4:45am

I think we can agree that hiring an Asian firm to create 20,000 links on spam forums, or article spinners, or hidden text, have always been bad practices.

Some "SEO people" would get a contract from the client, and then go on freelancer sites to find these type of services. For a fraction of their contract, they would have these people work their magic.

These are the people that I expected to be sued.

August 13, 2013 - 11:19am

most the people who buy total trash

  • are receptive to scams pitched via spam emails; or
  • find such scams advertised in AdWords
  • etc.

Once again, the core entity which deserves blame on that front is Google. By making SEO so convoluted, complex & obfuscated (along with allowing ads for total scams to run in their AdWords ads) they make it harder for people to sort out legitimate offers from the scams.

If Google didn't so routinely change guidelines & punish companies ex-post-facto for things that were done years ago, perhaps it would be easier for businesses to distinguish between scams & real solid offers. But that Google punishes people for sharing actionable information while running ads for known scams indicates that they don't really mind the scamming so long as they get their AdWords cut on it.

August 13, 2013 - 8:45pm

Google will be irrelevant if they don't either control the marketplace, or stop being such a collective ass.

Great point, SerpSleuth. Google have to exercise an ever-increasing level of control to maintain their trajectory. We're being boiled - the temperature gets raised ever so slightly with every Google guidelines update. Can you imagine if you could somehow send a message back to 2010 and tell webmasters back then that Google were advising us to manage our backlink profiles - we'd need to ask other webmasters for links to be removed and we also upload text files to say which links we don't like......quite unbelievable. Now webmasters coolly talk about how it's best to try 2 or 3 TIMES to have a single link removed, because it will show Google you've made some serious efforts - that's "sound advice" in 2013! What's next year going to be like?

Webasters are also Google's paymasters - how long before their paymasters get truly fed up with Google?

August 15, 2013 - 8:23am

Since when has submitting to a newswire been just about SEO? Not since 2007 in my opinion!

PRWEB sucks, its been on googles radar as a spam hub for years, our company switched to a UK comp Pressat with great change. The difference between submitting something which is newsworthy in comparison with a sh**e bit of text masked as news for seo is huge!

October 4, 2013 - 1:17pm

So, it used to be that you could get links and get up on Google, and the same is true today.

What's changed however is that now when your site pops onto the first page, your link-profile will be reviewed and you'll likely get a slap or manual penalty. The terms of the webmaster contract that effectively you enter into now with Google is retroactive, meaning that what was considered a viable link-building strategy in the past, is something that can come back to haunt you in the future.

I've seen sites pulled for a penalty on links created 4 years ago, and which were then subsequently cleared. I've had links cited in WMT for websites that have undergone complete facelifts and the links don't exist on the website anymore.

Even John M struggled to give a decent explanation of how to no-follow stuff and talk about creating a receipe book for performing negative SEO on a client. please do have a read of this post,, because frankly this is all getting a little bit crazy. But whatever the fall-from penalties and holier than thou link profiles, there is always a paycheque for Google.

I think that the healthiest approach is to kiss goodbye to free traffic, write it off in your mind, and to then develop your business outisde of Google. It will all be paid anyway, and when we get down to it, all this dialogue is really about getting something for free isn't it.....let go and move on.


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