Google: Links In Press Releases Should Use Nofollow Like Paid Links

newsFriday we broke the news that Google updated their link schemes webmaster guidelines. Now that the dust has settled, I aimed at getting more clarification on what Google meant by the new example around keyword-rich anchor text links within articles or press releases.

The specific line in the link schemes document is:

Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.

John Mueller, one of Google’s lead Webmaster Trends Analyst, was kind enough to answer some of my questions around this documentation change in a video hangout. The questions from SEOs and myself around the new link schemes documentation change are in the first ten minutes, the outcome was to nofollow links within press releases.

Throughout the video, John Mueller equated press releases to advertisements. It was specifically asked if all links in press releases need to be nofollowed or just “links with optimized anchor text” in press releases need to be nofollowed. While John said it would be somewhat okay to have direct URLs linked within press releases that are followed, he did say to be safe, he’d recommend nofollowing even those links (i.e. the links that are not even optimized anchor text).

Google’s John Mueller did add that there is still great value to using press releases. The goal of the press release is to get the word out to the press about your new service or product. When the press hears about what you have to offer and if/when they decide to write about it on their own sites, those links do not need to be nofollowed. In fact, those stories written editorially are the links that Google values the most.

Google’s Matt Cutts has said that links within press releases do not pass value. Although SEOs have proof that this is not true, it does seem that Google is taking even more direct action against abuse of links within articles and press releases that are paid.

Here is the video (again, watch the first ten minutes or so):

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • http://everything-everywhere.com Gary Arndt

    Google’s linking rules are becoming more confusing than the tax code.

  • Colin Guidi

    Looove the Hangout snapshot above, literally looks like he wants to choke Google out of link scheme wording frustrations

  • daveintheuk

    Rough translation “We can’t work out what is a Press Release and what isn’t — so we’re going to threaten you with some terrible penalty so you do the hard work for us”.

  • lorenbaker

    Woah! How often are these hangouts?

  • Chris Koszo

    Yeah even if you don’t intend to, you’re probably breaking the rules somewhere. Penguin is the new tax man lol

  • Durant Imboden

    Worthless, SEO-driven “press releases” are the new worthless, SEO-driven “articles.” I think the subtext in Google’s statements about linking is: “The abusers know who they are, and they can’t say they haven’t been warned.”

  • Jason E Sutherland

    Seems to me that the suggestion / recommendation of backlinking content creation in press release as nofollow for your own website is just that a suggestion. While I know there are great benefits to stories being picked up by news sources you can best believe that when and if the story goes further I won’t be advising their webmaster or content creator to nofollow our domain.

    Our forbes story (http://www.forbes.com/sites/briancaulfield/2012/05/18/whats-better-than-facebook-advertising-how-about-free-advertising/) garnered some of the greatest traffic for us and yes I asked the writer to ensure our site link was there.

  • suresh kumar

    This how Google becomes unique guys, Keep up going Google.

  • Dustin Williams

    With the direction that Google is going I see a new headline in the future that reads “Google: All Links Should Use Nofollow”.

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    Hi, it must be done in the CMS as we do here at Send2Press; we implemented this fully on Monday in response to the new “rules.” I’m sure all of the top 15 wires that matter will respond in kind. The crappy free posting junk news sites are likely all going to die to this change (thank the giant puppy in the sky, er… Google). We are allowing links in press releases which link to their home page, or their company name as a link to their home page, or a link to the CEO’s bio on his name, as I believe this is still an acceptable practice, and should NOT be biased as spamming search. An anchor lin a CEO name to his bio is the main purpose of having anchors in HTML. Spammy links on things like “best mustard sauce” should always have been nofollowed anyway, for being spammy and we support this move 100%.

  • Kamal

    Why google is rolling out the update fr every 10 days..?Can anybody specify a valid bullet points..and ma 2nd ques is weather to do press release for sites hereaftr? Share your good reviews asap.

  • http://www.fluxresearch.com/ Clyde Smith

    So now they’re deciding the meaning of press releases even though the web has changed that meaning. If they think they’re so valuable for getting news coverage, why did they downgrade them in their News search while still featuring branded outlets that simple rewrite the press release?

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    Absolutely! The articles we’ve had with Entrepreneur and other places have resulted in tons of traffic when it’s a real pick-up of news with byline and not dumb news cloning, as is common with all us wire service folk these days (syndicators dump stuff on 500 sites, but it’s just cloned copies, not pickups, and that stuff has always been no-followed by us anyway, as we never want to poison the well, so to speak..)

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    You should only do press releases when you actually have NEWS to announce. Anybody who has been doing frequent releases just to embed anchor links really should have re-thought that idea more than a year back with the second, third rounds of search changes at Googleland. The main purpose of a press release is to raise awareness for a new product, service, brand, company award, partnership, sales/earnings report, software version updates, and the like. Reasons for doing press release in an ancillary way are having content to link to for social media, search engine placement, syndication, Google News, etc. — and a visible/naked URL to your home page when places on quality sites with “authority” do help your page. Spammy sites, spammy links, and crappy content only hurt you.

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    I suspect they will start whacking the sites that simply “content market” releases for duplicate content. This is the value of the “syndication source” meta tags, and other aspects of news meta that Google has been adding. Sites which don’t do meaningful articles from the press release will likely be culled as duplicate content, and the content farms overseas (meaning outside US) pulling US content and revising it as fake articles, will still have to deal with authority and credibility at some point. Google is getting better at finding sock puppets in social media links, and on bylined sites (a teenager in india with all his friends being at content farms, even if he’s a Google+ “author” at some point won’t get the same juice as somebody who writes for diversity of “known” magazine portals, has actual bio, backgrounders, and interviews, etc.). CREDIBILITY (“author rank”) is going to be a VERY BIG THING in near future.

  • Kamal

    Ya..Thanks Christopher.Stay in touch..

  • Kamal

    Can we do article submission? till now, I have got mixed reviews about that and more over,Tel me what i shud do to overcome this 10 days roll ??I’m focusing on the Orginal content.Kindly share ur reviews Christopher!

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    Wellllllllll…. as a journalist since 1984 (my first paycheck with that hat on), I’m not a big believer in the “user generated articles” sites or “guest posting” … I personally think guest articles should be things the site owner invites. Somebody offered to write an article on the medical industry for one of our magazine sites, and I asked him why we would do that if he has no background in the medical field? And yes, he had a link to some medical services site in there which was not quoted, or cited in any meaningful way. That stuff is crap, just like news spam. Fake articles serve no useful purpose (in my humble opinion). If you have a story to tell, setup your own blog. The people who are successful writing articles make money at it by covering something they love, whether that’s sci-fi, robots, cosplay, makerbot, being a mommy, or feral cat rescue — write about what you love and an audience will follow. If you want to write for a magazine, guess what — most legitimate magazine sites have an author guidelines for submission page… how to submit an article or pitch a story idea. But this presumes you’re qualified to write on the topic you wish to speak about. If you’re trying to make a living just filling space with “content” I still don’t think that is worthwhile. Have you seen the 5,000 next day “recap of last night’s True Blood” where they just read off what happened, and 400 of those sites copied somebody else without actually watching it. How useful is that to anyone. Sorry didn’t mean to rant. For original content, I still think you should start your own site (I did fanzines as a teen, including a fairly famous one for ST:TNG called “Galaxy Class” in my early 20s) … this was a launching point for other stuff. Today, I’m still the sort who would start my own site (oh wait, I have done that!), vs posting on other sites. I guess, sorry, to answer your question, it would depend on what kind of article, and what site you’re trying to submit to. (Most “real” sites don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, btw.) — If you’re trying to submit an SEO article for a client with anchor links in it, forget about it. Doomed. :-)

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    For those who care about this type of thing … this whole topic has been such a “on the nail” issue for my business, it’s why I suddenly started posting on SEL this past week after being pretty much a lurker for years. Sorry if I seem to be dominating this topic anyone. It really impacts me on a lot of levels, hence my input. :-)

  • http://www.affilorama.com/ Mary Tordecilla

    Agreed! It can be very taxing (pun intended :D) to ensure that you are playing by Google’s rules – especially when those rules are almost constantly changing.

    Mary,
    Customer Support Manager for Affilorama.com

  • Rey

    What about penalising press release sites that allow themselves to be abused by black hat SEO practitioners who drive backlinks to take advantage of high PR press release sites and rank their press releases which contain affiliate links?

  • Rey

    Agree with you. However the problem with crappy PR sites is not just about backlinking on the press releases to gain SEO benefit, but also taking advantage of the high PageRank of these sites to rank press releases full of affiliate links high on SERPs. Crappy sites like PRlog dot org should be penalised for allowing thousands of press releases full of affiliate links to be published, and subsequently allowing their publishers to rank those PR pages using blackhat links.

  • Hiren Ponkia

    Thank you Barry for sharing details and video. I think now one should do press releases only when he have solid news worthy material to announce and stay away from using keyword focused anchor text links.

  • Jawad Latif

    The whole stuff is getting messy day by day

  • http://www.skiusainc.com/ SKI USA

    @disqus_8PZ4vFIi36:disqus these hangouts usually take place spacing between 1-2 weeks. For the full list, you need to check out the Webmaster Office Central >> https://sites.google.com/site/webmasterhelpforum/en/office-hours

  • http://www.skiusainc.com/ SKI USA

    Try telling these to promoters who use press releases as a brand awareness vehicle and that aren’t even aware of what is no follow and do follow. It is puzzling how Google can differentiate between paid promotions and plain old marketing.

  • http://www.viralseoservices.com/ MOS SEO Services

    Sounds like Google is working to eliminate self-manufactured back links.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    That’s funny. Seriously, I jotted that down independently for a future column I’ll likely do.

  • http://www.eemes.com/ Jack SEO Consultant – Eemes

    Good point Kevin. There should be a broad discussion about natural links and high quality links.

  • atentat

    What exactly is real about Press Releases? Do you ever wake up in the morning and say “I wonder whats new on PRweb today…” No you don’t, because you don’t read spam for breakfast, you rather read a newspaper or something written for humans. Nobody reads press releases. Journalists DO NOT read press releases. Thats a huge myth.

  • http://www.spinxdigital.com/ Stephen Moyers

    I also agree that anchor text with money keywords can raise flag for your site. We can definitely use brand anchor text or naked URL in to the press release as it’s a very viral way to promote your content to the outer world.

    Stephen.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    I noticed there was no advice given as to how to remove links or add nofollow to links that are already out there in syndicated press releases. This is something I am struggling with for a client right now. They spammed press releases for years just like everyone else, and now they want to stop, but how can we remove those links now? Google says we have to, to be reconsidered.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Any advice for removing links or adding nofollow to links in press releases that have already gone out and been syndicated to millions of sites?

  • http://www.ce.org/blog Jamie Carracher

    Can anyone clarify for me the change around guest blogging? At the Consumer Electronics Association, we manage a blog that features guest posters from across the tech industry. We do it because the info shared is actually of interest to our industry. It’s not primary an SEO engine, but it is certainly a benefit. It sounds like with this change, we are being advised to nofollow link to our guest poster’s websites. Am I interpreting that correctly?

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    I agree with Ted. PR is still a viable marketing tactic provide people use it the right way. It’s not about submitting a press release every week and getting as many links in there as you can. You are trying to tell a story and get it in front of an audience. The problem is, like many link building tactics, people abused the system and now we are all paying for it.

  • Durant Imboden

    I get (and give) “|natural” links every day.

  • Durant Imboden

    ” It is puzzling how Google can differentiate between paid promotions and plain old marketing.”

    I’m not sure that Google has to. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, is anyone (other than the source of the quacking) going to care if it’s perceived as–and treated like–a duck?

  • Frank Seidel

    Hi Barry,

    It seems to me that John Müller insists on “press releases where you control the content” which is why Google considers them as similar to ads or advertorials. This control is certainly only a reality for press release distribution sites that don’t provide other added value than disseminating the release. Let’s call this kind of release “link release”.

    Yet, you don’t have such control if you send a REAL press release to your list of journalists and bloggers. Some (lazy) writers might simply do a copy-and-paste (incl. link formatting), but most will do some kind of editing. In our day and age, it would also seem very natural to include links in your press release, because that’s what journalists expect. And an ordinary PR person, who doesn’t know anything about SEO, would never have the idea to mark such links as nofollow.

    So, given that Google always emphasizes “Act as if Google didn’t exist.”, I’d say: if you send a real press release to a list of journalists it doesn’t matter if you include a reasonable number of dofollow links that are reasonably optimised, as that’s what a SEO-ignorant PR person would do. You only risk penalties if you send link releases.

    Would you agree to this kind of interpretation?

  • Durant Imboden

    Addendum: The main problem with “natural” links these days (at least for us) is that links are often nofollowed by default. We get a number of unsolicited links every week from TripAdvisor, but because they’re nofollowed, they don’t pass “link juice.” And there’s a lot of paranoia floating around these days: The owners of an online business recently asked us to nofollow our links to their site, presumably because they were afraid Google might think they’d bought the links.

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    I have a hunch sites like that which are “dumping grounds” for posting anything and everything are one reason Google is now trying to classify all of that as “advertising” — we’ve never allowed affiliate links, tracking links (sometimes funny to explain to a marketing co that a press release is NOT a reader response card but is intended for the media!), and with redirects (myeventsitenameCOM >> mycorpsite/event) we’ve often put an insert (link redirects to corporate event page) on our main site for clarity. We’ve never allowed any anchors in text copies sent to media by email, as we always push media copies as UTF-8 plain text for compatibility and ease of use. But of course the junk posting sites are only there to game Google for page rank and SERPS and not actually interact with the media. So, really, calling those folks out as advertising is really not crazy.

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    Likely you should look at the site source and see if it’s not already nofollowed as many syndicators, including one of the main ones used by us, PRN, BW, PRW, 247, etc., has always done that anyway (e.g., if your news got cloned onto CBS MoneyWatch or Boston.com, check the source, you will see it’s already nofollow). I’m pretty sure existing content will have to be grandfathered in, as it would not make sense to penalize a company that did one press release for their new line of holistic pet food, having an anchor link on “holistic pet food” to their landing page. I think (guessing) Google will likely have some kind of “key phrase threshold” — this is why jewelry likely was used as example on the new guidelines. Years back we were inundated with links for “hearts and arrow diamonds” for example. That might be an abuse trigger (I’m something of a statistics nut, as my dad was a PhD in sociology and statistics and taught at major univs) — so, a site which has one inbound link from a dozen sites and some responsible hilltops in social media likely would be fine. Somebody who put out a release a month for five years with 10 anchors per, on 5 different wires each time, created duplicate content on some syndicators, and used the same five phrases … that might trigger an issue, which it might have done already (hence jewelry websites freaking out right now if they hadn’t already been “warned” by Google — I use this as ref, as I had gotten notes from couple of these folks asking to nofollow stuff .. which I pointed out we’d already done for their spammy links anyway). I personally am not going to worry about anchors from 3 years ago. But, you might check your Google Webmaster tools and see if they have any “warnings” or concerns about inbound link quality. THAT is when you have to do something about it, methinks.

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    Most press releases have a standard industry format, arguably invented by AP (Associated Press), which has a headline, dateline (city,state,date), and no byline. Junk press releases and sites which don’t understand the traditional PR business may use “lazy datelines” like Los Angeles, CA – July 31 (WIRE) — but, a more experience release from a real PR person, true wire service (AP), or experienced newswire service (PRN, Send2Press, etc.) will have AP style datelines, like LOS ANGELES, Calif., July 31, 2013 (WIRE) — most legitimate sites cloning a release under license will have a link back to the originating wire service who issued the release, or identify who issued the announcement. Many will also have a line at top or bottom NEWS SOURCE: Company Name. An “article” would typically have a byline from an editor/author on the site whose name also appears on the masthead (staff page). Legitimate press release sites also code META data for Google News, have an XML news sitemap, etc. Most “real” article sites would have open graph tags these days identifying the content as being either an article or blog, but that article might be a press release. Still, Google has been sorting out what is what for 15 years about, so they are pretty good at it — and they keep coming up with new methods to identify content (e.g., on our “press releases” we have a Google meta tag for news sites with “news keywords” specific to Google News). Hope that helped :-) If it’s in Google News they also classify sites as either (Press Release) or other (look at results in Google News and you can see they identify sites running press releases as such).

  • Kamal

    Stephen,Press releases are to promote your brand and not to submit our URL’s ter..!!Tat’s not a good White hat SEO.

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    — yeah, I was talking to a fellow at one of my competitors last night, and we were wondering the same thing. I think Google would be able to figure that out, or if that happened to me, I would contact them and let them know we were “under attack” — but the “lack of quality” of the free site vs the domain rank and quality rank of the site being attacked would likely over ride such spammy stuff.

  • Kamal

    Awesome.! thanks for sharing ur views buddy..

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    On our magazine sites (totally unrelated to our newswire service; but owned by the same parent co), when we have a contributor who writes for us regularly and has his own site where he doesn’t repost the articles he does exclusively for us, we leave that as a dofollow as it’s relevant to see what else the guy/gal is up to, full bio, photos, other thoughts on unrelated topics, etc. This seems appropriate and is really sort of fair payment for the work done. And we never accept “syndicated” articles posted elsewhere as that has always gotten folks in trouble with Google News, in particular. Sounds like in your example those should be okay; and frankly if not then Google has gone off the deep end. I think common sense has to come into play somewhere — if the link is “contextually relevant” and provides value to the user to learn more, or explore additional information, then it should be okay. I did an article years back about my cateract surgery at age 45 (thanks genetics!); and I linked to a page on Wikipedia about that as they had some nice graphics of the eyeball, and I used the eye graphic in the article too. That link would not be nofollowed as it’s a link to relevant content. I think blog articles which are REALLY articles and NOT self-promotional pap (crap), won’t run into issues. “Quality content” comes back into play over “paid content.” Which is where press releases fall — if you pay somebody to put out a press release, it’s always technically been paid content and not organic.

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    “Google Enrolled Agents” .. let us help you get that Google Panda Refund for pennies on the dollar!

  • http://www.ce.org/blog Jamie Carracher

    Thanks for the great comment, Christopher!

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    This particular issue has to do with Google’s mission to “betterfy” User Experience (UX), not to manage traffic or bandwidth.

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    UPDATE FOR THOSE INTERESTED:

    Today, Send2Press® Newswire sent a memo to selected clients and posted notice on site last night regarding this issue:

    Dear (name)
    As of July 26, Google announced a change in how they treat anchor links (links on words/phrases) found in press releases. Due to the abuse by many SEOs (not us!) and all the junk news posting sites that have popped up the last 3 years in particular, Google now treats anchors in press releases as paid content/advertising and they want them to be “rel=nofollow” or the links may get treated as negative links to a client site (where the links point), which is very bad for SEO/SERPS.

    So, effective immediately, Send2Press (a service of Neotrope) will now limit anchor text to no more than 3 links and they can only be as so: 1) link on company name to company site; 2) link on CEO or quoted person name to their company site’s bio page; 3) link on product brand name to that brand landing page on company site, but not an ecommerce system. Any other links must be naked links (visible URLs).

    Most syndication partners will now either a) auto no-follow all links, b) and/or strip out all anchors on words; which has actually always been the policy of some sites anyway. Our feeling after doing links for almost 20 years is that the above (3) anchor link types on our main site (Send2Press-com) will remain do-follow.

    HOWEVER: we highly recommend, as we have the past 10+ years, that you only use visible URLs to your site in a press release, and we will dofollow those. Please inquire if you need clarification.

    WE NO LONGER ALLOW “OVER OPTIMIZED” ANCHOR LINKS AS DEFINED BY GOOGLE’S NEW GUIDELINES.

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

    ## AND
    PR NEWSWIRE POSTED THIS TO THEIR BLOG:

    PR Newswire is aware of the new webmaster guidelines issued by Google last
    week, and we are currently evaluating our distribution network . Adherence
    to search engine best practices is something we take seriously, and PR
    Newswire will soon be changing the structure of the links in the content
    we syndicate to comply with Google’s new guidelines, implementing nofollow
    links in our press release feed.

    We believe the value of press release distribution lies in driving message
    discovery, not generating direct inbound links. Delivering messages
    deep into relevant, influential audiences and generating authentic audience
    interactions, such as click-throughs and social shares, is where press
    releases continue to add value to digital campaigns. The new guidelines
    affect only linkbuilding for SEO, not the ongoing value of press releases.

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