Google has recently updated their link schemes webmaster guidelines in an effort to deter marketers who over-link press releases as a way of inflating their search engine rankings. Under the new policy, optimized anchor text links in press releases and guest blogs will qualify as “unnatural links”—and therefore will not count in favor of a company’s SEO standing. The change is mainly geared at deterring those in the game of overusing keywords to artificially boost their rankings. If you’re a marketer who’s been following the straight and narrow when it comes to producing newsworthy press releases, then you have little to worry about. Google’s intention is to merely provide the best quality search results to its customers.
How Press Releases Will Be Affected
There’s no question that press releases are an important tool for amplifying a content marketing message to a broader audience who may have never discovered your website. Furthermore, calls to action with links are highly valuable for both earned media and engaging prospects who stumble upon your press release. It’s not that Google is advocating eliminating links in press releases all together, but rather saying that “links with optimized anchor text” (or, unnatural, keyword-rich links) will no longer be recognized. Again, this strategy is not meant to target quality content, just spam. To clarify, an example Google provides of what qualifies an unnatural link is as follows: “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.” Sarah Skerik, Vice President of Content Marketing at PR Newswire, suggests, “There will inevitably be some lag within the news syndication industry in integrating our systems with the new Google mandates. During this period, I advise marketers to err on the side of caution and avoid using anchor text links in press releases. For the time being, incorporate a simple ‘click here for more information’ to direct readers to your desired destination.” Skerik blogged on this Tuesday. You can find it here. Eventually, all the wire services will adjust their platforms to employ the HTML codes that Google recommends. Once that happens, it’s business as usual for press releases, unless you’re one of those spammers using all the optimized links. If you’re using black hat SEO tactics, it’s time to change your business strategy and start publishing quality content.
How Guest Blogging Will Be Affected
Guest blogging is an important content marketing tactic. If you publish valuable content as guest posts on high traffic blogs, you can capture a new audience that might have been unaware of your company prior to discovering your guest post. Unfortunately, some SEO companies abuse this by creating a blog article with lots of optimized links and then submitting it to hundreds of different websites for publishing. This is a form of content spam, and an illegitimate way for businesses to boost their SEO rankings. Google is looking to prevent this illicit practice from influencing search results. So, be careful with your guest blogging campaigns. Instead of relying on these opportunities as a way to improve your page rank, stay focused on offering quality content to your readership. This approach will be more effective in the long run at getting more eyes on your content. When you publish a guest blog post, ask the blog’s technical team to implement “no-follow” links to avoid any Google demerits. Benefits of High Quality Content vs. SEO Tactics When developing new online content, steer clear of the sneaky SEO tactics Google advises against. Truth is, you don’t need them. Instead, your goal should be to offer valuable information that your audience will be compelled to read and share. Engaging content will help you boost awareness of your brand, while naturally driving more traffic to your website. As Hubspot points out, “SEO should really be all about the user experience. Think about it as experience optimization.” Google’s take on the topic is as follows: “The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”
Next Steps for Content Marketers
Over the short-term, as newswire services are getting their systems up to speed with Google’s new standards, avoid using exact match links. For example, if you’re writing about a trading solution, instead of linking the phrase “FX trading platform,” simply use the words “click here” and connect to your relevant content story (i.e. blog post, white paper, microsite, etc.). As for the long-term, eventually wire services will rework their technology so all so all links get a “no follow” tag. At that point, you can start using natural language links again. Bottom line is that you should not be using the broad distribution of press releases as a way of artificially inflating your search rankings. In fact, this is exactly what Google is trying to prevent. As long as you are using press releases with the purpose of getting your message out there and promoting discoverability to your audience, then you’ll be in good shape.