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July 30, 2013 // 4:40 PM

Optimized Links in Press Releases & Guest Posts Can Harm Your SEO, Says Google

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anchorDo those search engine optimized press releases you're sending actually boost your search rankings? What about those guest blog posts you're writing? While the question of whether anchor text links in press releases ever actually pass search value has always been debatable, a recent update from Google seems to shed some more light on these issues.

On Friday, Search Engine Land reported that Google had sneakily updated its Webmaster Guidelines' Link Schemes document. If you're not hip to the SEO lingo, link schemes are "any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results ... [including] any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site." This, according to Google, includes what are called unnatural links -- "links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page." And this, my friends, is where press releases factor in. 

Google Says Optimized Anchor Text Links in Press Releases Qualify as 'Unnatural Links'

One of the examples Google provides for what qualifies as an unnatural link is as follows:

"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."
 
So according to Google, search engine optimizing your press releases violates its Webmaster Guidelines. 
 
Well, there you go. 
 
What's unclear from Google's Link Schemes document, however, is whether Google passes any search value to any anchor text links in your press releases. Clearly, the above example is a blatant example of keyword stuffing and should absolutely be avoided. But what about a few anchor text links sprinkled throughout your press release? 
 
If you consider this example from Search Engine Land, it appears that Google may actually pass search value to anchor text links in press releases. So ... what gives?
 
"It's like my favorite analogy about diet pills," said HubSpot SEO Manager Rebecca Churt. "Sure, they are popular, and they may work. But they aren't really that healthy, and they won't have any good long-term results."
 
Good point. Even if Google does pass value to anchor text links in press releases, press releases have a very short shelf life. Sites that syndicate your release usually take them down after a certain amount of time. So while you might benefit from some short-term wins, using press releases as part of your SEO strategy isn't the most scalable or long-term solution. It can also get pretty darn expensive, considering the cost of press release distribution/wire services ain't cheap.

Not to Mention Guest Blogging ... 

Unfortunately, the same appears to hold true for guest blogging. Google indicates that "large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links" can also negatively impact a site's search rankings. Ouch.

So, Google Is Putting Muscle Behind PageRank Again?

"I actually think the most interesting thing about Google's recent update is the fact that Google appears to be putting more muscle behind PageRank again, which was sort of MIA for a while," says Churt. 

If it's been a while since you've heard the term, PageRank is a link analysis algorithm that determines the value of inbound links. You might also know it as link juice. PageRank is a number (from 0 to 10) that Google assigns each page on the internet based on how "powerful" a web page is in terms of the number and quality of links coming into that page.

In fact, a few years ago we blogged about why PageRank is irrelevant. So is it now making a comeback? The thought is intriguing, and it's something we marketers should be mindful of.

Again, SEO All Comes Back to User Experience 

We've said it before and we'll say it again: SEO should really all be about user experience. Think of it as search experience optimization rather than search engine optimization. It's not simply about getting found in search engines; it's about optimizing for users so they actually click through to your content. In this case, think about user experience as the goal of your link strategy in external content such as press releases and guest blog content. Here's what I mean ...

The Right Way to Use Links in Press Releases

We're not saying you can't include any links in your press releases. What Google advises against is "links with optimized anchor text" -- optimized being the key word here. In other words, keyword-rich, as you saw in that earlier example.

There's no denying that links are important in press releases. But rather than using them for SEO purposes, you should be using them to drive awareness, and drive traffic back to your website. In fact, the only true potential SEO benefit of press releases is if a journalist or blogger thinks the content of the release is compelling enough to write about and links back to you naturally. This also means that, as I said, the content of the release needs to actually be compelling. 

So instead of using the links in your press releases for "link juice," use them simply as inroads to your website for more information about the content of the release. Think of the links you use as resources for the readers of your press release, not as ways to move up in search rankings. So if you were writing a press release to help promote your awesome new product launch, include links back to a page on your site that provides more information about that new product -- whether it be a product page, landing page to sign up for a demo of that product, or a blog post.

It's All About the Anchor Text

Furthermore, steer clear of using keyword-optimized anchor text for your links, as Google warns against. As an example, if we were writing a press release about our new Social Inbox tool, we'd do something like this:

Click here to learn more about our new social media monitoring tool, Social Inbox.

Instead of something like this:

Read more about our new social media monitoring tool, Social Inbox.

And considering Google also qualifies keyword-optimized anchor text links in guest blogging content as a link scheme, you might also want to take this advice for your external guest blog content, as well. Although Google does include the term "large-scale" in reference to the guest blogging campaigns that violate its guidelines, it's unclear whether guest blogging in moderation and using optimized anchor text links is okay. To play it safe, use guest blogging opportunities not as a way to generate lots of inbound links through a ton of mediocre content, but rather as a way to establish thought leadership and get your high-quality content in front of new audiences. 

What do you think about Google's quiet update? Does this change your approach to press releases ... or guest blogging?

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