Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

PR in the Age of Google - 'Unnatural' Promotion Of Content Is Penalized

Posted by Tom Foremski - August 8, 2013

Google has updated its webmaster rules on the use of links and keywords in press releases and it doesn't look good for PR agencies and their current suite of services. The details on the changes are here: Link schemes - Webmaster Tools Help

Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.

If you repeat the use of a word in a press release, Google will think you are trying to stuff it with keywords and try to trick its index. Repeated words are a big red flag (I've put them in italics to explain what Google means by "optimized anchor text.")

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."

Most press releases are posted on numerous sites to get attention and to promote the client. This is now against the rules. Google doesn't want to see any unnatural boost to the popularity of a piece of content. 

You must, "Create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community."

Here's a question I found on Internet marketing forum WebmasterWorld (Penguin is Google's latest search algorithm):

Are press releases considered spam now? I want to know as I have one planned for a UK news event about to break but I don't want to risk my already penguin hit site. If they are considered dangerous now. Any thoughts please? 

Foremski's Take: I've been trying to get PR firms to put links into press releases for many years because it makes my job as a journalist easier. I can quickly find background materials such as photos, information on founders, and prior news releases.

My 2006 post: Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die! -SVW is used by universities and colleges in teaching PR. I argued for links and for a modular approach to the information so that I can more easily decide what to put into my story.

Under the new webmaster rules, Google could penalize a PR firm's client web site because it could view the links in a press release as an attempt to unnaturally promote the site! Only "natural" growth in the popularity of a web page is allowed. 

All forms of promotional content are suspect...

It's not just press releases. PR agencies increasingly create a lot of content for their clients ranging from guest posts, guest columns, to feature length articles. These are published in many different places, they contain links, and are designed to promote the client company. 

Any actions designed to improve a company's PageRank is automatically flagged by Google and can result in a penalty.

Lots of links, lots of repeated key words, and multiple postings of a press release to different sites, are all red flags to Google under the new rules. Such actions are viewed by Google as blatant attempts to trick its algorithm into ranking a site higher than its allotted position. 

Yet these have all become standard practices at PR agencies. Did Google just kill the PR business?

The fact of the matter is that Google and PR agencies earn their money in the same way: promoting businesses. Google does it by selling ads on its AdWords or AdSense networks, and in return it directs lots of traffic to the site. 

They don't see themselves in this way, but PR agencies are essentially engaged in a form of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Google is at war with SEO companies and is trying to wipe them out.

Except for the most basic aspects, it sees all SEO as blatant attempts to game its algorithm. Only scammers would want to do that, is its thinking, therefore those businesses that paid for SEO services must be penalized as scammers.

Plus: Google wants the money businesses pay for promotional services because organic or not, it's all Google's traffic. 

If a business is caught violating Google's webmaster rules it can be a very serious matter. It can result in a penalty that sinks its rank deep within the Google index. Most people don't click past the first page of search results. If a business can't be found easily through Google, it can kill it stone dead.

A huge archive of transgressions...

Google can change its webmaster rules at any time. There is never any mention by Google of grandfathering-in of prior practices.

All the previous promotional PR practices on behalf of clients will be judged by the new rules. The damage is done and it will be near impossible to undo.

PR agencies face three big problems:

- Their current and former clients could become very upset with them because of perfectly acceptable prior PR practices designed to promote their business -- instead of the viral, organic growth based on happy customers, which is what Google now wants to see. 

- PR agencies could be held liable for the damage they caused to the online reputation of client businesses through the execution of normal practices. It could lead to legal action and compensation claims on millions of dollars in lost sales. 

- PR agencies have to wake up to the fact that Google is now their competitor. How do they promote a client when Google punishes any form of paid online promotion? Good luck with that one.

- - -

Please see: Google is forcing a reinvention of PR | ZDNet

SEOBook: Google: Press Release Links

Improving Web Site Quality Could Sink Your Google Rank -SVW

Any SEO -- White Hat Or Black -- Could Flag You As A Spammer - SVW

Is Search Broken? Does Google Trick SEOs With Random SERP Ranking Changes?

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