It’s been time-honored advice for about a decade. A staple of press releases in the modern media age is to hyperlink key words in the body of the release, otherwise known as optimized anchor text.
That is, until now.
Last week, Search Engine Land reported that Google had begun 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:
Don’t freak out about guest posts; be wary of press releases
There’s a lot of concern about guest posts in the blogosphere, and much of the advice is to avoid writing them and, if you host a blog, to avoid publishing them. This, in my opinion, is nonsense—with two major caveats: Write good content, and include only 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 often, 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; its business model is centered on indexing valuable content to return in exchange for searches.
Syndication isn’t a bad thing, either. So, if your 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. Here again, 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 key words provided by an SEO. To be clear, I don’t force-fit them into the press release, but where they make sense, I have added them.
The links to these words often go to deep product pages on a website. This has been a best practice for as long as I can remember. All that has changed now—and PR pros must be aware of the new landscape or they could find themselves creating serious problems for their employer’s or client’s Web properties.
Tips for press releases under the 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 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 OK. If you have a product or brand name that you’re linking to deep pages on your site, you’ll probably be OK. You should link to it once and not more. There really is no need to do it more than once, and doing so might only confuse search engines anyway.
3. Do not link to key words in anchor text. That list of key words your SEO advisor 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 high-quality content, and you won’t go wrong
What constitutes high-quality content varies greatly from pundit to pundit. Here’s the key: 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 key words into content for the purposes of hyperlinking, then you’re headed into uncharted water.
A version of this article first appeared on The Sword & The Script.