Could SEO Devalue News Releases Even More?

On a recent episode of Marketing Over Coffee, Christopher Penn and John Wall mentioned something that made me stop and think – the idea of people issuing news releases for the Google juice.

Too much jargon

Beware of jargon That idea worried me. To be more specific, the possibility of too much search engine optimization (SEO) in news releases further devaluing the tactic worried me.

The problem: I often hear that we should be inserting keywords into our news releases so that they rank highly in search engines for those keywords.

That sounds great in principle, right?

Right up front: I like the concept of the social media release. I’ve issued them, I worked on moving government news releases towards that format, and I’m a member of the Social Media Release Working Group (although that seems to have gone quiet recently… Bueller?).

SEO sheep

My problem with this, as with many SEO principles in general, is that people will take it to an extreme. They’ll follow the advice like sheep and will force inappropriate keywords (read: jargon) into their writing, and their products (and clients) will suffer.

Sure, these releases may rank highly for some words but so what? People arrive, see a poorly written release or page, fail to find what they want and leave. It’s a cheap tactic – one that’s no better than spamming people with emails. That’s why I heard a well-known marketing personality refer to a recent  SEO conference as “the underbelly of marketing.”

Just write well

Why not just make sure that your release is relevant, well-written and on-topic? A well written release will have plenty of the important words in there as a natural result. With a little extra attention you can optimize your release without compromising its quality.

I don’t want to read a news release front-loaded with every possible keyword under the sun. I want to read about the news.

The problem is bad enough for regular websites, but it’s doubly serious for news releases. News releases as a tactic already have a bad rap after years of abuse by poorly trained or lazy public relations practitioners. We don’t need yet another reason for people to hate them.

Too cynical?

Am I being overly cynical in thinking that people will jump on the extreme SEO bandwagon with news releases? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Look at the trends:

I don’t see the trend changing. As online news releases take off (even more likely given the recent SEC decision), I expect to see even more releases full of jargon. I expect those of us working at more enlightened firms to watch in dismay as the trend continues.

Are SEO-optimized releases a bad thing? No. Of course not. You want people to find your announcements. That’s half of the benefit of online news releases. I appreciate the benefits of genuine, well implemented SEO.

My fear is that, as in the past, poorly trained or careless people will take a good idea way too far. We’ll see even more releases loaded-up with popular keywords and we’ll all get dragged through the muck as a result.

The only solution I see (apart from the trend reversing, of course) is for agencies and corporations to train their PR people well so they don’t think this is a good idea. Will that happen? Again, history shows mixed results.

What do you think?

15 Responses toCould SEO Devalue News Releases Even More?

  • Thanks for sharing. Search engine optimization is indeed one of the most crucial areas in Internet marketing, it is a perfect bridge between technology and business.

  • Well i agree with this article .. that press releases have to be well written … else it is just a waste of time for visitors. Something like spam..
    It is definitely necessary for agencies to train their PR people in this regard..

  • While I think you’re right that some will go down this route, I think that the evolution of marketeers’ understanding of the web will hold that in check. Right now, most people – or at least those who’ve even heard of SEO PR – think in terms of pure visibility. But the smarter ones already realise that it is really about brand too – there’s no point in having a shabby online news presence that cheapens your expensive brand investments elsewhere. Therefore, if there’s a short-term move towards illiterate press releases or articles in some quarters, it won’t be for long.

    Search isn’t going away, it’s going to become more valued as vertical and mobile offerings emerge. Therefore, SEO techniques have to be mastered by the PR industry, but must remain balanced against the human desire to read informative, well written copy.

  • Dave – you make some excellent points, as always, but i feel i should jump in and say something vis-a-vis the “key word stuffing” aspect of news-releases-for-SEO.

    quite simply, stuffing your content with key words that none of your customers use is a waste of time and effort. one of the first things we do when approaching an SEO programme is to try and bridge the gap between the key words the client gives us and the key words that its audience actually uses.

    and, funnily enough, we’ve found that the audience almost never uses the same internal jargon that the client does. i know, i was shocked too.

    so while you can SEO your releases for your keywords up the wazoo, you need to step back and make sure you’re SEOing for the right terms.


  • thanks for the post… I cannot stand it when I see spam filled blogged posts, articles or press releases. Business can get high in the SERPs by just writing good, informative, interesting information. It may take longer.. but so what!

    thank you again.

  • Ed – you need to try harder to disagree with me buddy! 🙂 I agree – it basically looks like you’re saying that we need to write in plain language. 100% with you on that one.

  • patrice cloutier
    ago12 years

    First, you should only issue a release if it’s relevant or necessary …

    Second, make it to the point and as useful to reporters/stakeholders as possible …

    Load it with useful info/links and don’t make it message-heavy …

    If people have to use a search engine to find you … you’re already behind anyways …

  • Patrice – good to see you on here! Thanks for your comment. I agree with all of your points except the last one. I think it’s more a case of providing people with another way to find you than forcing people to use a search engine.

    The challenge (and my worry) is going about it the right way and not destroying the quality of your written product at the same time.

  • Hi Dave,

    I agree – to be properly optimized content has to read naturally and be authentic. (Copy that is stuffed with keyword phrases is absolutely horrid: It does nothing for the people who have the unpleasant experience of reading it and can damage a company’s brand.) Sure, sometimes people who try to cheat the system rank well, but do they convert well? I’d say no.

    It’s one thing to place in the Top 10, but it is quite another to have an enjoyable visitor experience.

    Optimization is a means through which companies can ensure their websites (and press releases) are search-engine friendly through on- and off-page factors but it should also include “people optimization” – great content, intuitive navigation, everything geared to the visitor.

    As Ed points out, keyword research is invaluable, because it can reveal keyword permutations and frequency. But it can also offer insights into what is really important to your audience….what they are interested in. That can be the ultimate act of listening to your market.

  • Dave, this is a really important subtopic of the whole demise of writing because of SEO. The same “keyword stuffing” is happening on web pages, blog posts, etc. If done incorrectly it really destroys the flow of writing, whatever form or delivery mechanism. However, there are some pretty simple ways to optimize writing for news releases and web pages, while not killing your message. In terms of news releases we’ve found using our wire distributor we can have keywords and appropriate links show up in a sidebar, thus no need to kill the writing AND we optimize to be found for the topic. Also, many times, your search keywords should already be part of your messaging so highlighting those words with links will help optimize news. Finally, we often times use the boilerplate to help optimize a release so that we aren’t messing around with any writing in the body proper of the news.

    As with anything, we learn new things everyday on how to best mix SEO and PR. Some work, some don’t. But my hard and fast rule is that I will NOT hurt the overall writing simply to optimize a news release or blog post.


  • It seems to me that there are two kinds of creatures inhabiting the PR space:

    1) The tool box addicts – these are technicians – before you’ve finished telling them what you think you need, they’re already pulling out brochure templates and talking font size and colour. They’re easy to recognize because, despite billing themselves as PR specialists, they don’t follow the news and couldn’t discuss the day’s big event to save their lives.

    2) Strategists – those of this ilk actually stop a client who says ‘I need a press conference’ or ‘I want a blog’ and dare ask the question : Why? They look to gain a clear understanding of business (or other) objectives before launching into a campaign.

    I believe that the ones you fear are the technicians.

    Strategists will understand how and when to use any tool – including SEO tactics – appropriately.

    Hopefully the strategists will win out and will be the saviours of us all. Would I put money on it? Hmmm … not sure ..

    Am I bitter? Have I lost faith? No .. not really. Just not always particularly impressed.

  • Dave, this is a fantastic anchor to what could ultimately be a very long and ongoing debate. (Similar to what we’ve witnessed with the debate over Social Media releases.)

    I work for Marketwire and do my best to take on a consultative role and educate clients on the value of SEO’ing their press releases. Too often, when I mention to clients that we can SEO a press release, they see it as the answer to their prayers. Unfortunately what ends up happening is they live-link every other word and choose HTML META keywords that will never give them a chance at any Google juice whatsoever!

    While I agree spamming can be a negative drawback to the values of SEO, there is real value to live-linking keywords in your release – especially because many downstream partners like Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, etc. are now able to receive and re-post these live keywords. Driving traffic back to your site is never a bad thing, particularly when you have the power to select the words you want to use to drive potential customers, media, stakeholders, and others to specific pages on your site.

    Marketwire’s platform is based on both ASCII text and HTML, allowing us to feed news-aggregating websites with the proper HTML coding to maintain those live-linked words. We can also help clients place their keywords in the HTML coding of their news release in the Meta tags. But as you mentioned, it certainly can be abused. Used properly, this can be a very responsible and effective SEO strategy.

    Ultimately, content is king. Keeping your releases relevant and consistent is key. We do our best not to simply “sell” SEO, but consult ( on best practices when utilizing what can ultimately be a very valuable PR tool. For example, matching your Meta tag keywords from your own website with the same keywords in your news release can be extremely effective. Choose relevant keywords that should and would be associated with your company, services or products.

    Thanks for including me in the conversation.


  • Thanks for nice post. If an article is well written and properly optimized then it can do very well. Also need to consider while writing an article is that it should be informative and for the end users not for the search engines.

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