Teach PR Writing? You Need to Know about Google’s Updated Link Schemes

Google recently updated its link schemes and it means an important change to how we teach students to write press releases for the web. This is because the change directly targets articles or press releases distributed on other websites, like an online wire service.

I’ve written a lot on this blog about teaching students to write for the web. And this is the biggest change I’ve seen to what we should teach since starting this blog.

Google wants links to your site to emerge naturally, that is organically via its popularity on the web because others like it and link to it via Tweets, blog posts, etc. That doesn’t include a press release, because essentially a press release is seen by Google as an advertisement you are putting out to drive traffic to your site. Google calls this “unnatural.”

“Lots of links, lots of repeated key words, and multiple postings of a press release to different sites, are all red flags to Google under the new rules. Such actions are viewed by Google as blatant attempts to trick its algorithm into ranking a site higher than its allotted position,” writes Tom Foremski.

When Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable asked Google Switzerland’s john Mueller “Why were press releases called out?” during the July 29 Webmaster Central Google Hangout, Mueller replied: “It is something that a lot of people are doing to try to promote the website. That’s something that we want to make clear, that we essentially see this as an unnatural link…” Later in the hangout, Mueller likened a press release to an advertisement. He is saying this in the sense, again, that the purpose of the press release distributed on the web is to drive traffic to a client’s site, the way an online advertisement does. I.e., an “unnatural” link. Of course, the purpose of a press release is to do more than drive traffic to your site, but not in Google’s eyes.

You can see this exchange by watching the first 10 minutes or so of the below video:

So what to do?

Having keywords be linked has been Best Practices for press releases over the past several years (in fact, if you have old press releases up it is best to go change them to the new format or risk hurting your client’s PageRank). I was planning to go into my Writing Across Platforms class (See syllabus. See other blog posts about the class) this fall with the advice to optimize keywords with links in the Social Media News Release assignment. As a result of this change by Google, this is what I’ll be telling my students:

Be safe:

Link Sparingly

nofollow all URLs in press releases and distributed articles on web.

Code for no-following:
nofollow-google-linkschemes
Why I’m telling them this:

I spent a great deal of time researching this new change and reading through varying opinions and reactions to the new link scheme update. While opinions differed slightly, Mueller’s own advice seems to be to no-follow all URLs just to be safe.

The penalty for upsetting Google? Possibly having your client’s site drop in ranking on Google search results – and no one wants that! In fact, in an article with the alarmist title “Did Google just kill PR agencies?” Tom Foremski warns ” PR agencies could be held liable for the damage they caused to the online reputation of client businesses through the execution of normal practices. It could lead to legal action and compensation claims on millions of dollars in lost sales. ”

So it seems best to me to not risk it.

Some great articles to learn more about this change and see what others are advising (note: I got many of these from a great podcast on For Immediate Release last week – listed below):

image CC Schmector

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One thought on “Teach PR Writing? You Need to Know about Google’s Updated Link Schemes

  1. Pingback: More on Google and News Releases; New Google Tools; The Death of iGoogle | Social Media Syllabus

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