Avoid Google’s wrath

SEO for releases — what works (and what doesn’t) now?

PR pros to Google: Do you love us? Or hate us?

How Google algorithms affect news release ranking

Don’t get struck by Google Avoid spammy SEO techniques that might cause Google to fry your site’s search rankings. Image by Jeremy Thomas

In March 2015, Google News sent PR pros a belated valentine when the search giant announced that news releases would top the “in the news” section of its search results page. But not just any release. Product recalls? Yes. A release hyping your groundbreaking new doodad? Not so much.

That came on the heels of a Google move — is that a moogle? — that many saw as targeting releases, when Google took on inbound linking schemes and keyword stuffing.

Inbound links count for 75% of a website’s page rank results. When other sites posted press releases linking back to the organization’s Web page, those inbound links boosted the organization’s ranking on search engine results pages.

Now, Google sees that as gaming the system. The penalty: lower rankings.

What does Google want?

So what’s Google looking for in releases? This algorithm review can help us target the right tactics:

Meet the Google zoo

Meet the Google zoo

1. PageRank: more relevant search results

In an effort to make search results more relevant, Google introduced PageRank, its first algorithm, in 1998.

Named after Google founder Larry Page, PageRank counted the number of links to a webpage to help determine the importance of that page or content. Under PageRank, inbound links counted for 75% of a website’s page rank results.

Under PageRank, keyword stuffing also became commonplace. This now-discredited practice focused on inserting keywords and links throughout copy, often with little or no relevance, with the goal of manipulating search results.

These days, Google regularly refines PageRank, which now uses more than 200 indicators — including social media interactions and quality of content — in its criteria to provide more relevant search results.

2. Panda: relevancy, not links

Google introduced the Panda algorithm in February 2011 after websites began “content farming,” or building vast websites filled with pages designed to fool Google algorithms, not to provide a good user experience. So Panda lowers PageRank for bad practices like:

  • Duplicate pages
  • Content farms
  • Irrelevant material
  • An overall poor user experience

The Panda algorithm marked a clear change in the way Google ranks content: by promoting it based on relevancy and not the number of times it appears or is linked to from sites.

3. Penguin: taking on black hat SEO practices

The Penguin algorithm, introduced in April 2012, takes on Black Hat SEO practices.

Black Hat approaches, a term borrowed from the bad guys in Western movies, manipulate search algorithms with tactics like:

SEO back

1998 called. It wants its SEO back! Keyword stuffing is so very PageRank. …

Stop doing this!

Stop doing this! … But the Panda algorithm dings this practice.

  • Unnatural links, unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links; participating in link schemes
  • Keyword stuffing, or loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. For instance: We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at custom.cigar.humidors@XYZ.com
  • Link schemes, including buying, selling and trading links to manipulate
  • Cloaking, where the webpage content differs from the description displayed on search engine results pages

Penguin also dives deep into internal pages on a website and penalizes spam sites for:

  • Comment spam, or posting unsolicited ads in comment forums
  • Spam directories, or “built-for-SEO-and-links” directories that do not provide any benefit to users, putting them under the category of non-content spam
  • Blogroll links, or using automated programs or services to create links to your site
  • Link networks, aka, “You link to me, and I’ll link to you.”

This change drastically improved the search experience.

4. Hummingbird: long-tail search, semantic search

Google got smarter, as well as tougher, when it introduced the Hummingbird algorithm in 2013. Hummingbird supports:

A. Long-tail search. With Hummingbird, Google acknowledges that people don’t search for “tacos.” They search for “cheap tacos in Tucson.”

That’s a long-tail search, or a three- to four-keyword phrase that’s very specific about what the searcher wants.

With Hummingbird, Google provides more highly targeted results based on the meaning of the entire search phrase, not each individual keyword.

B. Semantic search, which seeks to improve search accuracy and generate more relevant results by understanding the meaning behind the search phrase. Which means that if you offer cheap tacos in Tucson, and people search for “cheap tacos in Tucson,” Google will help them find you, even if the words “cheap” “tacos” and “Tucson” don’t appear on your site.

“As search queries get more complicated, traditional ‘Boolean’ or keyword-based systems begin deteriorating because of the need to match concepts and meanings in addition to words,” says Amit Singhal, Google’s senior vice president of search. With Hummingbird, Google is “trying to keep pace with the evolution of internet usage.”

Bottom line: Hummingbird rewards good writing. No longer is the algorithm pecking at individual keywords. Instead, it rewards your content, its meaning and the value to visitors.

Learn more about Google algorithms.

So now what?

All of this means that today, the best way to boost your search engine results page rankings is to:

  • Stop keyword stuffing. Did you like stuffing your wedding ring release with the phrase wedding ring 500 times? Neither did I. Your readers didn’t like it either, so Google now penalizes the practice. Bottom line: Keyword stuffing can’t help, might hurt. So stop.
  • Write for readers. If your readers like it, these days, Google is likely to like it too.
  • Write for sharing. Google rewards social sharing. If your friends, fans and followers like and share your release (or webpage), it will rise higher in search engine results.

So stop worrying — start writing. Craft a release that people want to read, and Google will help them find you.


Source: Business Wire, A Guide to Press Release Optimization, 2015

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