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There are few companies or organisations that can come close to rivalling the power that Google wields over the internet and search in particular.

So when the search engine updated its rules on unnatural link schemes recently, making specific reference to press releases, it triggered a rather alarmist article from ZDNet asking whether Google had killed PR agencies.

The convergence of PR and SEO is something we’ve covered previously on the blog, with articles focusing on the importance of search optimised PR and suggesting seven SEO tools to improve online PR efficiency.

However the article on ZDNet understandably (and probably intentionally) ruffled a few feathers within the PR industry as it painted them as black hat SEOs, out to flood the internet with dull, keyword loaded press releases just so they could help their clients climb a few places in search rankings.

But in truth Google’s new update hasn’t really changed that much at all, as it’s just taken a few extra steps to clamp down on overly optimised anchor text, which is something Google has been doing for several years.

As a former SEO now working for Dynamo PR, Lexi Mills is probably more versed than most in the intricacies of search so I asked her whether she thought the updates would impact how digital-savvy PRs work.

Mills said it depended on the campaign objective, but she doubted that many PRs spin out press releases across newswires in the hope of gaining an SEO benefit.

I think that generally PRs are quite careful on where they place links. Personally I avoid anchor text, so for example I hyperlink ‘see here’ rather than ‘info on [company name]’. I think that we’ll probably see people writing out URLs a bit more as well.

Google has actually suggested that to be on the safe side, all links within press releases should potentially be made nofollow as standard. This would potentially be a bonus for PRs, as it means they can include important links without fear of being penalised.

For example Mills does a lot of work around Kickstarter campaigns and without hyperlinks it’s unlikely that journalists and, more importantly, consumers would be able to find the relevant webpage.

Is PR just about press releases?

Another problem with ZDNet's article is the suggestion that PR is all about pushing out press releases.

Ketchum's associate director of digital Danny Whatmough argues that it's incorrect to assume that PR is intrinsically linked to journalists and press releases.

PR has always been about building awareness of a brand or a cause and raising, upholding reputations. PRs have used an array of tactics to achieve this of which the media and organic/paid search are one.

In fact, Whatmough said that the new Google updates are actually of benefit to the PR industry as the increased focus on quality content presents an opportunity that plays to the traditional strengths of PRs.

One of the points made by ZDNet is that brands should focus on creating great content that their audience will automatically want to share, and Google should take care of the rest. So again, where's the threat to PR here?

Are all PRs aware of SEO tactics?

Unfortunately not all PRs will be as aware of how SEO works, so there may be some who come undone as a result of the latest Google update.

Mills said that the lines between SEO and PR have begun to blur, and PRs are now competing for part of the same budget as search marketers. Therefore PRs need to be careful not to lose clients as a result of badly executed attempts at SEO.

Having a limited knowledge of SEO is probably more dangerous than having no knowledge at all. If you put links in anchor text because you think it’s the right thing to do, that could harm you and your client. Modern PRs really have a responsibility to know about SEO in order to best serve their clients.

Whatmough agreed with this sentiment, pointing out that if PRs use unsavoury tactics, such as buying links or fans, then they will quickly become unstuck. However he said that's not what modern PR is about and it isn't what the very best PR agencies are focused on in 2013.

The best PR agencies are focused on creating new communication strategies that make the most of the vast array of channels and platforms out there. Yes PR has had to adapt and change to new technological developments just as many other industries have. But the opportunities are there for all to see. It’s why we see agencies from across the marketing sphere hiring PRs and content specialists.

Do you think Google has killed the PR industry? Let us know in the comments.

David Moth

Published 12 August, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1684 more posts from this author

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Chris Lee

Chris Lee, Founder at Silvester & Finch Ltd.

If "PR" were purely sending out press releases then the initial argument might hold some weight. However, as Lexi and Danny highlight, *good* PR agencies look beyond purely gaining positive publicity for their client (by any means, not just firing out press releases) and also focus on great content, and building links from authoritative and diverse websites.

The boundaries are indeed blurring, something I posted about last year on Econsultancy: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/10563-seos-will-slaughter-careless-pr-agencies

PRs, however, traditionally own the relationships with the influencers in the media and blogosphere and SEOs are playing catch-up. Those who work closely together will be in the stronger position.

about 3 years ago

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Joshua Lachkovic

I like many in the PR industry was particularly ruffled by this story when it came out - as pointed out above, for many of the inaccuracies.

As I blogged on Friday (http://interactive.hotwirepr.com/google-didnt-just-kill-pr-agencies-it-helped-them/), I can foresee a time in the not too distant future where newswires will start to nofollow external links by default.

After all, they've got reputations and search rank to protect as well, and as somewhere that has a lot of 'paid' links, it seems that they too will have to introduce a de facto nofollow, else surely they will be penalised as well?

about 3 years ago

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Jonny Rosemont, Managing Director at Rosemont Communications Limited

@Chris Lee your point about the relationship with influencers is key here. Google is putting greater weight behind authoritative sources, and PRs have traditionally been strong here. Add even a little amount of SEO understanding and this can be a potent mix. Perhaps it is more the SEO industry that should be worried - the digital income that the PR industry increasingly receives suggests a tide change.

about 3 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

I agree with the above comments. If anything, PR is now in a stronger position thanks to Google's actions against spammy sites and practices.

Google's greater weighting of authoratitive sources, mass social signals and brands means that PR is a more powerful tool than ever for search marketers.

about 3 years ago

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SB

"However the article on ZDNet understandably (and probably intentionally) ruffled a few feathers within the PR industry as it painted them as black hat SEOs"

Except the reality is that outside a handful of specialist digital houses SEO has been ignored by the vast majority of PR firms in the UK to the point where there is now an ongoing discussion about the "missed opportunity".

about 3 years ago

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David Quaid

By ignoring the internet, particularly Google, you could say that PR companies did a lot to make themselves less relevant,

about 3 years ago

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Greg Jarboe

Back in 2010, I wrote an article for Search Engine Watch entitled, "Rumors of the Press Release's Death have been Greatly Exaggerated." Now, it seems that some think PR is dead. Well, PR is alive and the press release is still kicking -- despite the latest changes to Google's guidelines. Let's be clear about what Google is trying to kill: "Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results." This includes "links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites." Google also says, "You can prevent PageRank from passing in several ways, such as:
-- Adding a rel="nofollow" attribute to the <a> tag,
-- Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file." So, SEO-PR has used links in press releases for more than a decade to drive traffic, generate leads, and increase sales for a variety of clients. If we need to "nofollow" links with optimized anchor text in press releases going forward, that shouldn't decrease traffic, leads or sales for our clients one iota. Oh, by the way, we've also seen press releases increase searches for brand-related terms and get publicity for our clients, too. So, I guess it's time to dust off the old line from Mark Twain again: "The rumors of my death (or the death of press releases and PR) have been greatly exaggerated."

about 3 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

PR was never just about building links, but many site owners treated it as such and in my opinion that's why Google put those changes into effect. When any link building tactic gets pushed too hard it is turned into spam. PR is still a viable marketing tactic and can be used to generate buzz but as a link building tactic site owners have to reel it back in.

about 3 years ago

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Mark Etting

It would require an exceptionally myopic view of the PR industry to believe Google's search algorithm could kill it. If Google was indeed that all powerful, anti-trust rules might come into play.

Google simply is not the sole path to information. Outbound e-mail marketing looms large in Web-based schemes. Trade shows, targeted outreach, media placement, product placement, reputation management all come to mind as strong aspects of public relations.

about 3 years ago

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Morgan

I don't believe Google is killing PR for the simple fact that PR is not strictly building links. I do see that PR and SEO are crossing paths and if PR is unaware of how SEO works then they can take a hit, but killing it is a strong phrase especially when PR has many different avenues it can take.

about 3 years ago

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steveplunkett

SEO advice for PR firms..

From an SEO from a PR firm.

Please be careful with nofollow talk etc..

If you are not 100% sure of your actions. just.. DONT.

If it's blogged about and you got caught because you did it too?
STOP READING BLOGS.

If you are paying someone for SEO.
ASK THEM NOT THE INTERNET.

If you are doing Press Releases for any link building - STOP!!!!
IF you are adding links ANYWHERE in the body copy of the release...
just.. STOP!!!!

If you want to know how to SEO for PR... here it is.. THE ONLY THING YOU NEED TO DO FOR PR SEO.....

seriously.

Post the final version of press release to your client's optimized website press release landing page, using the final approved version of the release. (you know, the one you wrote to get the reporter's attention to try and get COVERAGE for the client?)

Use the url on YOUR CLIENT's WEBSITE for THIS RELEASE for the reference URL in the CLIENT's about section of the release.

It can still display just the www.domain.com for client but ON_mouse/rollover it must display the proper full release URL.

If you do not do this, you are "link cloaking" and using bait and switch tactics on the user.. BAD Karma will ensue.. #justsayin

(note this is for your client stupid, don't put link in a client's release to your pr firms website on the client's release.. greedy.. [that is why you got caught and are reading this, and if you don't have PRSA cert. you aren't a PR, you are just spam. please go jump off nearest high point of your preference.. ] geesh #smh)

That's right i said.. DONT PUT LINKS in body copy.

just.. STOP.. DONT. Let Google do the heavy lifting.. trust me...

don't do any other SEO. period.. go about your normal business.
Tweet, share, etc.. the press release page from client's account as you would with any other content you created for client it the normal course of business.

Let's review...
1. Write a good release. a Primary Release.. not a follow-up but a general one, this is not the same release that you handcrafted for your media contacts book or for a specialty publication.

2. Take Final client approved press release. Make Page on client's website.. Use primary subject of Release as url.

(if you have to ask how many characters to use, please stop reading and link this article to the person that does your PR firm's SEO.)

3. SEO is not about gimmicks or tricks, it is MATH. and no, you won't understand what i just said.. so don't try. Do PR, not SEO.
=)

4. It's not going to hurt if the subject line of the release and the lead-in teaser happen to be related to the keyword(s) you are targeting for the client's website.

5. Place the URL of the the page where you posted the release in the footer, (in the client's about section..) - again for branding purposes, you can use the client's primary URL, but you MUST add an href title statement, (also known as Anchor Text, from modified usage of Anchor Tags) - when the person mouses over the link, the FULL url will show up. NOTE: this is THE ONLY place this is ok to do this. if you link cloak outside of this situation.. Google will vaporize you and your client's website.

So in #5 above an SEO suggested a technique for a specific situation.. that if used could incorrectly could.. RUIN your business. and reputation..

like i said before.. DONT do anything else.. if you listen....and you don't add extra salt/pepper/habanero/visine/windex to the #recipes... Google can eat them.. Google has uniquely relevant tastebuds.. and always follow the recipe.. #whitecoatseo

PR is alive and well.. it's about brand.. it's about voice.. it's about professionalism in message and approach.

SEO.. if you don't know.. don't learn on clients.. please =)

about 3 years ago

Emma North

Emma North, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Press releases that you want plastered about the web really shouldn't contain links any more. As a viable "link building technique" it became spammy long before this.

If you have genuine news-worthy releases, release them for the news, not for the link, and any shares will hold value as brand citations. Actual link value should come naturally from shares of quality content, etc.

I agree with Steve - if you have to think about rel="nofollow" or whether or not the link is unnatural, just don't do it!

about 3 years ago

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Christopher Simmons

Hi, folks
as the first newswire to promote SEO along with PR (public relations), we've been very active the past 13 years in warning folks about not using anchors except in responsible ways, and to try to use "legitimate" newswire services which have high credibility and turn away the junk news or free postings. I've been a member of PRSA forever, and started doing PR in 1981. We've always told clients not to overdue link stuffing, and to use when appropriate (e.g., link on CEO name to his bio on corp. site, or link on brand name to the product info page). Where SEO firms "selling press releases" as an advertising component got a little nuts was overdoing phrases like "best mustard sauce" or "hearts and arrow diamonds" and then doing releases over and over on multiple sites as well as some folks like Narconon doing 42 releases in one week on PRweb. How can that even remotely be called news?

While this affair with Google's new changes will adversely impact the SEOs who began to rely on keyword stuffing with press releases, and will (hopefully) quash the 100+ crap free posting sites and low cost "wires" that popped up, it will actually help those of us who are true wire services who specialize in pushing legitimate news to interested media, and continuing to get coverage for clients with actual news and not content marketing spam.

These moves will not harm traditional PR in the least, and in fact will help APRs and real PR firms to again be able to cut through the noise once these craptastic posting sites and black hat SEOs have to move on to the next fad or gimmick.

Those of us in "real" public relations fields are highly supportive of Google's moves in this area.

Christopher Simmons
member: PRSA, ASCAP
CEO, Neotrope(R) / Send2Press(R)

about 3 years ago

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Lee Odden

Well said Chris and Greg.

It's an (exaggeration or sensationalism) on Tom's part (ZDNet) that SEO in PR is ubiquitous and that the role of press releases are significant enough to have an industry-wide, disruptive impact if no longer used as SEO tactics.

Like in the UK, SEO as a true best practice is not a given in U.S. PR agencies. Many pay lip service to it, but SEO within PR agencies is not the rule.

I think press release distribution services that oversell the SEO benefits of their platforms will have some answering to do if they don't communicate best practices and the updated Google guidelines with their customers.

Any SEO who says they never sent press releases out in the past in the hopes (directly or indirectly) of attracting links is simply puking rainbows to cover. When Google makes a change like this, SEOs that are paying attention will do as they have always done and adjust. Those that over emphasized what is now a direct violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines may recover. Some will not.

The good news is, those who have been "UnGoogling" their online marketing and optimizing performance of content and distribution channels independent of search engines will be unaffected by this kind of change.

Media and influencer relationships, communities, brand thought leadership, and brand publishing entities that rival the popularity of industry media are looking pretty good right now. Much of that is created through PR and has nothing to do with press releases.

about 3 years ago

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Stephen Monaco

Christopher Simmons is spot on with the very salient points he makes in his comment.

Well done, Christopher!

about 3 years ago

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Steven

A couple of challenges I encountered working with PR people

1) PR professionals may not know SEO
2) "Keywords" are missing from their releases
3) Cheap PRs rely too much on bloggers
4) Traditional PR people don't resonate with Online/Internet - it's still about relationship with editors/media owners
5) Mentions are measured & compiled - what are the methodologies for Digital, there's still a lack in this disciplines. Quote from a friend: "Nobody counts the number of mentions you had; they just remember the impression you make"

about 3 years ago

Freia Muehlenbein

Freia Muehlenbein, Head of Content and Online PR at Search Laboratory

I think some of the comments below are spot on: Google is not punishing the PR industry, it's trying to push SEOs to move towards content and online PR and think about the user. In an industry where links are one of the strongest KPIs, it's sometimes hard to forget about the most important person in the mix: The user. Is a user really bothered about a link on exact match or do they want to read a story that is solely created for SEO purposes?

Based on my experience, the best inks come naturally when you don't think about SEO. Those stories that are created without SEO in mind will get you natural links because people want to link to it, not because you syndicate your story, including exact match anchor. The user needs to be the focus, not the link or the keyword.

about 3 years ago

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Mark Riley

We have gone full circle - PRs will now have to dig out their black books and generate meaningful, newsworthy stories for quality newspapers and blogs to publish, and with a bit of luck they might get a back link. Spammy PR carpet bombing days are over.

about 3 years ago

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Wyndham Lewis

If anything the updates have more serious implications for large swathes of the SEO industry.

There are a lot of SEO agencies who lack the creative and communication qualities required and are still peddling SEO1.0. Just as there are a lot of PR agencies that fail to understand how to optimise their clients' online presence.

With the emphasis on content and qualifty referrers the ideal teams are creative, understand communications and can manage digital channels to ensure what they do is optimal for search engines and social platforms.

Effective SEO and PR need to redefine their offerings, but neither skill set or Industry is going to die.

about 3 years ago

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Paul Thewlis

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Blasting out press releases to unqualified prospects simply doesn't get the results people are looking for and good PRs know that.

Blasting out press releases in the hope of gaining the promised links doesn't get the results people are looking for and good SEOs know that too.

Results come from cultivating the right relationships and referrals from valid, influential voices. People who can actually refer people. These types of link *only* come from relationships and conversations with real people.

The sooner clients understand what valid results from SEO and PR campaigns actually look like, the better. How can success be measured purely on a quantity of links or website mentions? With so many automatic harvesting and scraping websites out there who have no hope of sending valid traffic - it's just not where success lies.

It's the equivalent of judging sales performance without considering the cost of sales (i.e. discounts). Anyone can sell £20 for £10 and rack up great sales numbers - but the net benefit is zero. Anyone can harvest lots of weblinks - but is there any benefit to doing so?

Sadly far too many businesses and marketers consider little more than the topline.

about 3 years ago

Anant Swarup

Anant Swarup, Founder & Director at Mediarun

Looking at the various Google updates over the past few months and the general direction of where things are heading there appears to be an increasing need for integration between SEO, Social Media and PR.

So far from being dead, PR has just become hot property. As long as they remain true to their calling of creating content that people want and not get side tracked by some companies into chugging out volume links they will do just fine.

about 3 years ago

Matt Naughton

Matt Naughton, Head of Digital Marketing at Lights4fun

@steveplunkett.
STOP USING CAPS!
We can all read normal, well constructed paragraphs of text.
Yours sincerely,
The rest of the web.

about 3 years ago

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Stefan

There seems to be an assumption that PR is focused on digital ... some of the best PR activity is not digitally based.

For example it is quite possible to send a good media release direct to the media without having to hyperlink anything (why do people call them press releases when you should focus on the media and not just a section of it?)

Many PR events aren't digital .. things like events, exhibitions, etc have little or nothing to do with digital.

I love digital but you need a wider view of the world to be good at PR.

Finally PR is about building a reputation for the business or organisation and needs to use as many tools and techniques as possible. Limit yourself to digital and you prove you aren't really a PR!

about 3 years ago

Christine OKelly

Christine OKelly, Co-Founder at Online PR Media

I believe that in this post Penguin 2.0 landscape, real PR is more important than ever before.

To win in search today is to be talked about (i.e. linked to) by others who cite, reference, and link to your information because it is truly useful or interesting. This creates those natural, diverse links that Google is looking for.

Companies need to have substance, value, and something unique to reap those types of rewards. It's good old fashioned business. "Empty" companies are going to have a more difficult time ranking than in the past when they could just employ the latest SEO tactic.

True PR agencies have the right idea. They work with companies to create and communicate a company's value to the public.

However -- blended with the internet, I feel that what is needed is goes beyond traditional PR. As some have mentioned here in the comments, many PR activities exist solely offline. I know from personal experience that there are PR agencies that have no online component or are only just now starting to offer it.

We need PR 2.0. My business partner Tara and I call it "Publicity Marketing" -- applying many of the core principals of traditional PR with an additional focus of creating online conversation and thus, a digital footprint.

about 3 years ago

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Giorgio Cattaneo

Google is like S&P or Fitch. Financial products/investments need a rating like information society need a content rating scale.I mean I think we need it I don't think we must depend from a value added service I don't think it's a must have. On the other side Google must demonstrate it's credibility to drive the real best content provided from the real best influencer

about 3 years ago

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Edille

Many PR companies including SEO experts abuse the use of it, so it should be killed.

about 3 years ago

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Josh Trenser

Folks, to be honest, I would say that people that distributed Press releases just for the sake of links are going to be sad from this move. Hovewer, people that shared something noteworthy will benefit from press releases in the far future!!!

about 3 years ago

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Asher Elran

I don't think PR industry is dead. If you have some news that you want to deliver fast PR is a good way to go. You just have to be careful with anchor text and put either brand name for an anchor or a website url. If the goal of press release is to stuff it with keywords and see your website rise in SERPS that does not work any more.

about 3 years ago

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