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Google to Clamp Down on Press Release Anchor Text


It’s been time-honored advice for the better part of a decade, and maybe a little longer.  A staple of press releases in the modern media age is to hyperlink keywords in the body of the release, otherwise known as optimized anchor text.

That is until now.

On Friday, Search Engine Land reported Google was cracking down on guest posts, advertorials and press releases. That the search giant has bucketed these three items together is not accidental.

This is one of the big changes that may have not been so clear for many webmasters. Google said, “links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites,” is an example of an unnatural link that violate their guidelines. The key are the examples given and the phrase “distributed on other sites.” If you are publishing a press release or an article on your site and distribute it through a wire or through an article site, you must make sure to nofollow the links if those links are “optimized anchor text.”

Here’s how you create a nofollow link.

Google’s Link Schemes page, which Search Engine Land also cites in its article, provides this example and illustration:

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.

Don’t Freak Out about Guest Posts

There’s a whole lot of concern about guest posts in blogosphere and much of the advice is to avoid writing them, and if you host a blog, to avoid publishing them. This is nonsense in my opinion, with two major caveats: write good content and only include relevant links.

If you are writing only to optimize anchor text, it may well come back to bite you and your publisher. Guest posting, which I do a lot of, isn’t such a concern in my opinion, but then, I always save my best ideas for guest posts.

Google will never have a problem with high-quality content.  In fact, its very business model is centered on indexing quality content to return in exchange for searches.

Syndication isn’t a bad thing either.  So if you blog is syndicated on Social Media Today or Business 2 Community or someplace similar, it probably won’t be a problem. Google likes a variety of sources, but it also likes to know where the content originated.  This is another place where Authorship plays a key role.

Press releases, however, are another story. I can’t remember the last time I’ve written a press release without first reviewing a short list of keywords provided by an SEO. To be clear, I don’t force fit them into the press release, but where they make sense, I have most definitely added them.

The links to these words often go to deep product pages on a website.  This has been best practice for about as long as I can remember.  All that has changed now – and PR pros need to be aware of them or they could find themselves creating serious problems for their employer’s or client’s web properties.

Tips for Press Releases Under Google’s New Rules

There’s no doubt that the example Google provides on its Link Schemes page is an egregious example. In other words, you almost have to try to be breaking Google’s guidelines and there’s no purpose for that except gaming. Even so, I’d strongly recommend being very cautious. After discussions with a several SEOs and reading up on the topic, this is where my PR thinking lies:

1. Use links sparingly. The general rule of thumb is one link for every hundred words. More than that tends to be an indication of spammy content. In my own blog posts, I link to whatever I feel is relevant without regard for counting words or links, but with press releases (and guest posts) I follow the guidelines closely.

2. Product anchor text is probably okay.  If you have a product or brand name that you’re linking to deep pages on your site, you’ll probably be okay.  You should only link to it once and not more. There really is no need to do it more than once, and besides doing so might only confuse search engines anyway.

3. Do not link to keywords in anchor text. That list of keywords your SEO gave you? I would not link from them in a press release from this point forward. If you do, you are rolling the dice. Are you feeling lucky?  As a PR pro, I don’t want to be responsible for incurring a Google penalty and I’m pretty sure you don’t either.

Focus on Quality Content and You Won’t Go Wrong

What constitutes quality content varies greatly from pundit to pundit.  Here’s the key in my opinion: if you are writing about what’s on your mind, or about what moves you, or answering customer questions, you’ll probably be just fine.  If you are spending your time in a spreadsheet looking for ways to force keywords into content for the purposes of hyperlinking, then you’re headed into unchartered water. Good luck with that.

Good luck with that.

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14 Responses

  1. It’s interesting – the practice for guest post was to always link anchor text instead of your company name in guest posts. I’m guessing that practice needs to change. It makes me wonder how Google’s algorithm will work if they want people to be careful about linking anchor text. I get it – the mass article marketing efforts will really suffer from this I just hope the folks doing content marketing right don’t get hung up with this change in the process.

    1. lauraclick My take on what they are trying to do is level the playing field for “the idea.”  In other words, that one idea doesn’t spread faster or farther on the web than another as a result of a technicality, rather than merit.

      1. Frank_Strong It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I think it makes sense I just hope that the good stuff doesn’t get swept up with the bad. Time will tell.

        1. So just read a post that’s pretty interesting.  Set some time aside and come back to this; it flips things over. https://www.viperchill.com/new-seo/

        2. Frank_Strong Ah. Gotta love ViperChill. It’s been awhile since I’ve read his stuff. After you read that, it makes you want to say the heck to quality content and just start creating tons of spammy backlinks. Sheesh!

        3. annelizhannan  That’s great!  Thank you.  However, if you dove in there’s no doubt you’d tackle it.  You’re line of work is inherently more complex and we all need you as the interpreter for that!

        4. LouHoffman

          Frank_Strong One message I took away from the treatise is the inordinate emphasis Google puts on fresh content. I have noticed this but didn’t put any thought into it until now. I thought my blog moving up from searches like [storytelling techniques] was a byproduct of gaining “authority” over time. In retrospect, it seems to be a benefit from new stuff.

        5. LouHoffman  I think it’s a combination of both.  Google loves fresh content. A common gray-hat SEO, maybe even black hat, is to tweak content and republish it.  Do that to a post that’s a year old and it might be indexed as fresh today.  I see  with bona fide newspapers all the time with updates to breaking news.  But certainly time and pages help too. Pull out that old post and link to it in a newer post.  Search tends to see that as us saying “hey, that piece of content is older, but its still relevant!”

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  4. I think I might mosey on over to Google’s PR zone and see how the links, anchors and keywords are playing out in it’s press releases. Does Yahoo or Bing rule the roost in the same manor?

    1. joeldon Oh, I’ve been looking at releases — from all the services — there’s quite a few PR folks and publications primed to get slammed.  I do not know about Bing, which powers Yahoo, but I’d bet they’ll follow a similar suit. If the leader does it, you have to as well.

  5. Frank_Strong You are probably correct. Google will set a standard and the other engines will line up behind. I think when we see how this plays out (and if the algorithm is onerous to commerce), tweaks may be in order.  Or releases will just return to the good old pre-pixelated days.

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