Google's recent changes to its search engine crawler algorithms mean that it no longer gives quality ranking to backlinks that are generated via digital press releases and other article publishing platforms. Headlines over the last few days have been asking if "Google Killed PR Agencies?" The short and simple answer is: No, Google did not kill PR agencies. In fact, the polar opposite is true. Let's talk about the how and the why, and how your organization can utilize this recent change for the better.
To understand what the Google algorithm shift means we have to first look at the nature of a backlink. A backlink is a link from any other site on the Internet that links back to your own site. For example, if you're running a non-profit organization in New York City and local blogger writes a story about you and your mission, he might include a link back to your website in his article. This is the most basic of backlinks. Think of it as a popularity contest: More backlinks equal higher ranking of your website on search results.
An even higher quality backlink is one that has strong anchor text embedded. Anchor text is the "anchored" words that are highlighted in the actual link. For example, if the blogger from the previous example were to highlight the text, "non-profit in New York City," and use those words to link back to you, Google's algorithm would rank you higher for those specific keywords. In digital media strategy development, high quality backlinks are the holy grail of content marketing because having multiple websites link to you means that Google may potentially rank your site higher than your competition for a specific search.
A HIGH QUALITY BACKLINK INCLUDES ANCHOR TEXT THAT RELATES DIRECTLY TO THE PRODUCTS, SERVICES, OR MISSION OF YOUR ORGANIZATION
In practice, this means that when your audience fires up its web browser and searches for a phrase that relates to your company, Google is more likely to display your website if you have a significant number of external sites linking back to you. In the highly aggressive, fast-paced digital marketplace of today, high search engine placement is a coveted thing. More and more organizations are dedicating significant portions of their marketing dollars in an attempt to rank highly in search engine results. As a result, many consultants create backlinks by embedding them in press releases and indiscriminately pushing them into content farms that churn out articles with no regard to quality, and Google has noticed.
Today, Google is no longer giving credit for utilizing the above strategies, because the consultants who do so are aiming for quantity over quality. You can quickly and carelessly build a house with 50 bales of hay and pieces of wood, or you can carefully and laboriously build a strong foundation and a framework out of concrete and steel; the choice is obvious. Firms that approach a digital strategy with the understanding that a strong campaign requires honest time and effort won't be harmed by the algorithm shift. In fact, organic digital media and public relations outreach efforts will find that their ongoing campaigns are even more effective than before.
To address the algorithm shift on a broader level, a PressFeed Online Newsroom Survey in 2012 showed that only 14% of press releases were properly optimized with embedded anchor links and phrases. This means that even if Google were executing a vendetta against PR firms at large, only 14% of the press release efforts from these firms would be "killed." What the algorithm shift really means is that press releases can no longer be used for the generation of high quality inbound links. However, organic strategies in which links from legitimate websites are generated — such as media hits from accredited sources and links from campaign partners — will have a higher value and weight than they did before.
EVEN IF GOOGLE HAD A VENDETTA AGAINST PR FIRMS (THEY DON'T), LESS THAN 1/5 OF PRESS RELEASES WOULD BE AFFECTED AT ALL
Nobody has been killed by Google, especially PR firms. In fact, PR firms that build and execute top-level, well-planned strategies will only see an increase in success. Press release are still an outlet to generate audience awareness, notify press and media of new product launches, and highlight company milestones. They are still an excellent way to build relationships and drive traffic to your website from people who are interested in what you do.
Ashtan Moore is the Digital Media Specialist at the DC-based firm McBee Strategic; he helps to leverage digital platforms for the greatest gain, manages internal and external search engine optimization and content development strategies, serves as project manager for all bespoke design and web development, and is the director of technology infrastructure.