I’ve been tweeting a fair bit lately about Google’s recent change to their Quality Guidelines regarding link schemes and the consequences for backlinks in press releases. Put simply, if part of your SEO strategy is building backlinks by spamming the world with press releases pointing back to your Web properties, it’s time to stop that and start investing in building quality content instead. If you use press releases as a tool to get your message out, you can continue doing this…but all the links in press releases that point back to your site should use the nofollow attribute.
What’s a nofollow link?
A nofollow link is just a hyperlink with a special tag included in it that tells search engines not to follow it. Readers can still click on nofollow links and visit the destination page, but search engines will either not follow the link, or if they do follow the link, they will not pass page rank along to the destination page. In either case, use of the nofollow link combats link spam and link schemes.
Let’s compare a regular hyperlink and a nofollow hyperlink link to illustrate the difference between the two. First, here’s a regular hyperlink:
<a href="http://example.com">Regular hyperlink to example.com</a>
It’s pretty much what we expect: destination, anchor text, and so forth.
Now, let’s look at a nofollow hyperlink:
<a href="http://example.com" rel="nofollow">Nofollow hyperlink to example.com</a>
rel="nofollow" code in the latter? That’s what instructs Google (and other search engines, spiders and indexing agents) not to follow the link (or not to pass page rank).
You want links in your press releases to use this attribute going forward (more on this in a moment).
Three recommendations in the wake of Google’s nofollow guidance for press releases
It’s important to understand that these recommendations come from Google, not me. In addition to their revised quality guidelines, John Mueller of Google addresses press releases and nofollow in his Webmaster Central interview from July 29, 2013. At first he speaks mostly in terms of overoptimized anchor text, but concludes with the clear advice to nofollow all backlinks in press releases.
This new guidance should not be a surprise to anyone. We’ve been living in a post-Penguin world for some time now, and we already know that Google is taking an increasingly-close look at all backlinks in an effort to separate the link spam from the legitimate links.
In the wake of this changing landscape, I’m passing along the following three recommendations:
From this point forward, always use nofollow links in your press releases.
Check out the new Manual Actions report in Google Webmaster Tools to see if you have any manual penalties already levied against your site.
Start including backlink analysis as a routine part of your Web maintenance strategy.
The only exception to this is for copies of press releases you host on your own site, with links that point back to your own site. There is some indication that this is OK. But stay tuned, as this can change as clarified guidance becomes available.
Given the recency of Google’s policy on nofollow and press releases, I would be surprised if you have already received a manual action related to links in press releases, but you should check anyways…and make it a weekly habit. This new feature is how Google notifies webmasters of manual penalties imposed on their websites (for this, or other reasons).
If you’ve not seen the Manual Actions report before, it’s available in Google Webmaster Tools-> Search Traffic-> Manual Actions.
If you’ve never audited your backlinks before, it’s probably time to start in order to get a sense of the current situation. You may find that you have some work to do removing spammy backlinks. As Google starts to pay more and more attention to the quality of backlinks, and penalize sites involved in link schemes, the ability to perform a backlink audit will become an increasingly important component of basic webmaster literacy.
Should I still use press releases?
If press releases have helped your organization get its story out in the past, don’t stop using them! In the grand scheme of things, use of
rel="nofollow" is a relatively small change to your press releases. The intent behind the new guidance is essentially to prevent people from purchasing backlinks for specific keywords by flooding the world with their press releases.
Press release agencies respond
Popular press release agencies have taken notice of Google’s latest guidance, and are offering the following responses:
- PRWeb – Building the Press Release of the Future
Claims to have “already added rel=nofollow attributes to all distribution links from PRWeb.com.”
- Business Wire – Is SEO Useless for Press Releases?
Claims to have “taken care of the technical issues – adding ‘nofollow’ to their links and redirecting through a robots.txt page.” I’m unclear about what they mean by “redirecting through a robots.txt page.”
- PR Newswire – 5 Ways Press Release Writers Can Offer More Content & Guidance to Readers & Journalists
Claims to have implemented “updates to our content syndication network and on www.prnewswire.com to meet Google’s new guidelines regarding links in press releases.” There is no explicit mention of “nofollow” in the blog post, but a comment below from a PR Newswire representative indicates that they have added this attribution to links in their press releases.
Web guidance evolves quickly, and it can be difficult to stay up to speed on the latest trends and techniques. If you have questions, or need assistance with this or other aspects of managing your brand online, Geonetric can help.