Stop Putting Keywords in Press Releases

There’s another blow from the Google Gods that’s created a need for the rest of us to re-evaluate one of the “oldest tricks in the book”… using press releases for SEO.

For years, embedding backlinks into a press release was a great way to give a page a boost in the search engines without being considered “spamming”. Content publishers like PRWeb knew it, and even charged extra for the ability to include links in the body.  I think it’s time to re-consider this strategy; Not just for SEO purposes, but whether links should be included in press releases at all due to the potential damage it could cause to your site.

In a discussion yesterday, I came across a frustrated individual asking for help with Google’s disavow tool (for those who don’t know, the Disavow Tool is a utility in Google Webmasters that lets you tell Google about bad inbound links so they don’t count them against you).  Apparently the Penguin update had smacked him with a penalty for having roughly 20,000 “low quality backlinks” to his site for a particular keyword and removed his site from the search results. Yikes!

Like most people who are in this situation, he swore he had no idea how it happened and that some competitor must be targeting him with negative SEO.  Honestly I usually chuckle to myself when I read stories like this, because 9 times out of 10 it’s a user who tried to boost their site by using blog comment spam and now they’re facing the penalty of their actions. But that wasn’t the case this time… this was something different. And it freaked me the heck out, because it’s something that could have happened to any of us.

He wasn’t the victim of negative SEO. He was the victim of press content scrapers.

Ever since Google started moving towards content relevance as a factor in their algorithm, search engine spammers who build “Made for AdSense” sites that are designed to feed content to Google so people find their sites and click their ads have been using press releases as a source of written relevant content.  The basic strategy is to pull news articles from an RSS feed, run the content through a “content spinner”, and post it to their site.  For those who aren’t familiar, a content spinner is a tool that replaces certain words in a paragraph with a synonym to give the illusion of it being unique content.  For example, if the original sentence was:

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

The “spun” version might read:

The fast brown fox leaped above the unmotivated dog.

See what just happened? You created “unique” content, at least as far as Google is concerned, and scraper sites do this automatically all day long using press releases as content sources. If you’ve ever come across a site where the words made sense, but it just seemed a little off because “people don’t talk like that”, chances are you were reading someone else’s scraped and spun content. There are literally millions of pages like this out there cluttering up the web.

In the case of our victim here, all he had done was created a press release that happened to contain a keyword link back to his site in the body.  The scraper sites took that press release, spun the content, and distributed it to their own websites – and when the Penguin update identified those sites as search engine spam, their outbound links negatively affected everyone they linked to.  In short, Google thought our victim was trying to trick the the search engines by flooding it with low quality backlinks for a keyword and kicked his site out.  Now he has to deal with the aftermath, and at this point he’s considering just getting a new domain and starting over.

As of right now, I don’t recommend embedding any keywords in press releases until Google decides to stop allowing sites to be affected by third party links they have no control over.  It’s an unfair penalty that all of us have to spend our own time asking site owners to remove links we never asked for, or blocking them one by one with the Google disavow tool. A better approach on Google’s part would be to simply “not count” those links, but in the meantime the rest of us just have to live with it.

7 replies
  1. Glenn Bearsky
    Glenn Bearsky says:

    I have two press releases currently driving a lot of steady, daily traffic for some of my top money keywords because they’re both in the Top 5 positions of Google search. And these press releases are several months old — with surprising staying power!

    “Stop putting keywords (anchored/links) in press releases?” Well, while you’re worrying about ‘potential damage’ – I’m making money in the mean time. I’ve got better things to do with my life than worrying about what Google *might* do, maybe, someday, eventually – or not.

    • Ron Rule
      Ron Rule says:

      I hear ya man, I’ve been doing the same thing for years – it’s one of my favorite ranking tricks. The problem is this isn’t a “some day google might” thing, it’s happening now. If your releases haven’t been targeted by scrapers you’ll be OK, but you’re in a commonly-scraped niche (weight loss, dating, all of the spammer favorites) this can hit pretty hard. It certainly did with the guy I was talking to.

  2. Shabbir
    Shabbir says:

    Hey Ron,

    I’m totally with you on this one – avoiding over optimizing anchor text is one of the smartest things you can do for your SEO.

    Besides, its really easy to link to your site from a press release even without using your keyword. If you sold “blue widgets” used by model car enthusiasts, you can simply put the link into something like [model car enthusiasts will be happy to see “the large selection carried by them.”]


  3. Oli
    Oli says:

    Honestly I stopped doing press releases years ago because most of them syndicated to sites I did not want to be associated with, nor did I want associated with my clients. Even PR Web can give you way more ‘spammy’ backlinks than good press action (Even more true when people who don’t know how to attract the eyes of the big press sites write the press releases.).

    To me it was a game of pot luck sometimes I’d get a hit with a major news publisher, most of the time it was paying for poor quality distribution.

    Of course there are still some PR firms who will get your article listed and referenced incredibly well, but it is hard to find those people.

  4. Efren Pfeffer
    Efren Pfeffer says:

    You obviously know how to keep a reader amused. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than
    that, how you presented it.

  5. Callie Evergara
    Callie Evergara says:

    Appreciating the dedication you put into your website and in depth information you offer.
    It’s great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed information.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Jake says:

    also a good idea not to use keywords in your press releases to save yourself from an anchor text penalty from Google, just in case scrapers pick up your news

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