Are Press Release Backlinks Still Good For SEO?

By Rudi Davis Published: 10 June, 2020 Last updated: February 17th, 2022 at 2:05 pm

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If there’s one thing that gets me riled up, it’s SEO marketeers proclaiming that backlinks earned through press releases have zero SEO benefit. 

This, I’m afraid to say, shows they probably don’t understand the PR world anywhere near as well as they understand the SEO world.

The idea that press releases don’t work for SEO originates from a time when black hat SEO was all the range, until Google put a stop to anyone meddling in the backlink dark arts. From that point, it became the common misconception that the press release and SEO were like oil and water. 

However, as I’m going to get into, this isn’t quite the whole story. 

So before I explain why this is a myth that needs quashing, and how backlinks earned through press release can be good for SEO, let me provide a bit of press release backlink history.

Google Pagerank and press release backlinks

Backlinks are fundamental to SEO. 

Google’s Pagerank algorithm has been at the heart of its search ranking calculations from literally day one. In a nutshell, the more sites that link to your site, the more authority your site is awarded by Google. It essentially uses backlinks as a proxy for authority, as more popular and authoritative sites will naturally have more sites linking into them. Just think of the millions of links going into Wikipedia or BBC, compared to some less authoritative sites that I won’t name.

However, site owners and SEOs quickly cottoned onto the fact that if you grew your site’s backlinks, then your search rankings would quickly improve. A backlink arms race then started, where search marketers focused on growing sites’ backlink profiles. Some of this activity was perfectly ethical and abided by Google’s rules on what they considered to be legitimately earned backlinks. But at the same time, some of it definitely wasn’t ethical.    

Enter the press release into the SEO crosshairs. For decades, press releases were syndicated to hundreds of media and newspaper companies, via newswire services. As with everything else, these went from being offline services operated within a closed system, to online platforms open to the masses (e.g. PR Newswire). This meant that anyone could now draft a press release and publish it on one of these online newswire services.

Black hat SEO and press release penalties

Can you see where this is headed? 

Lots of people started writing pretty lousy press releases, then publishing these on newswire services. And of course they all included a nice keyword optimised backlink strategically placed into the press release. So rather than publishing a press release because they had something important to announce, they were simply gaming these platforms to generate backlinks. In effect, a once legitimate source of backlinks quickly became viewed as illegitimate.  

To put a stop to this nonsense, Google started penalising sites who were openly exploiting press release newswire services as a way of growing their backlink profile. The newswire sites also wised up quickly to this and put measures in place to stop their platforms turning into spammy link farms. They did this by making all links within press releases ‘nofollow’, which means Google can’t crawl these, so there is zero ‘link equity’ passed onto the site. In other words, it’s SEO neutral.

It’s at this point in the story that a lot of people in the SEO industry declared press releases were no longer an effective way to gain backlinks. But this is really missing the point!

How press releases can still work for SEO 

There’s still plenty of life (and SEO value) left in the press release.

A press release, particularly when managed by a PR company, is so much more than simply writing up a bit of company news and publishing it on a newswire service. If this was all there is to it, then I too would say they no longer have any SEO value.

Press releases, when done correctly, are one element of a well balanced PR and media strategy. A PR company will align a client’s PR strategy with their commercial, operational and business strategies. This then enables them to plan what they’re going to release to the media, and when. If a client has an amazing new product launch coming up, or has just won a really cool award, a good PR strategy will develop a really interesting angle on this, and then turn it into an intriguing and original press release.

Yes, a PR company will then usually publish this onto newswire services, with no SEO benefit. But they will also use their knowledge of the media, along with their journalist contacts and relationships, to get it picked up by journalists as a new story in its own right. This is known in the PR world as outreach. And this is where the real value is.

Through effective outreach work, a good PR company can turn a press release form something they wrote that’s syndicated on newswire services, to an actual piece of news written up by journalists.

When this happens, this is no longer a press release. It now becomes an article in a publication. And journalists will often include a backlink in these articles. After all, they’re talking about a piece of news involving a company, so it makes sense, from an editorial perspective, to include a backlink to that company’s website.

What’s more, these backlinks are usually ‘follow’ (i.e. they pass on link equity to the site). This is because there’s no reason to make them ‘nofollow’. Think about it, the article has had to go through an editorial process to get published, this means it’s definitely not low quality link spam. And when this happens, the client’s site gets a direct SEO benefit (albeit there are plenty of other factors at play, such as the authority of the site the article is on, the relevancy of the site, etc). This is unquestionably good for SEO and is a great example of PR and SEO working together.

Of course, not every press release that gets picked up by a journalist and written into an article includes a backlink, and when there is a backlink, sometimes it will be ‘nofollow’. However, speaking from experience of the PR world, you get backlinks more times than you don’t in these instances.

So I hope this post has helped to explain how, when managed effectively through a PR service, press releases can still provide plenty of SEO benefit.

To learn more ways how to use PR to grow your business, take a look at our PR for Growth Playbook.

How to increase your chances of earning high value backlinks from press release outreach

  • Resist the urge to write a press release just for the sake of SEO, it should always be about a newsworthy announcement, that publications would be interested in writing about. Our Startup Press Release Toolkit provides everything you need to know to write a killer press release. And to avoid making some common mistakes, read our 5 common reasons why my press releases aren’t getting coverage.  
  • Include a natural backlink to your site, within your Word or Google Doc file that contains the press release. Don’t stuff loads of keywords into the backlink. A good rule is to write up the piece first, then insert a backlink where it’s natural to do so. A journalist will often copy-and-paste sections of your press release, if they write an article based on it, so this increases your chance of getting a backlink.
  • Remember, the SEO value only happens if publications pick up a press release and write it up into an article, so once you’ve written the piece, focus your efforts on identifying publications that would be interested in the story
  • Pitch your story to the journalists you’ve identified, put as much effort into the pitch email as you did the actual press release, as a poor quality pitch will often mean they don’t bother to read your press release 
  • You can still upload your press release to submission sites, as journalists will often scour these platforms for stories. We’ve compiled a list of the best free and paid-for press release submission websites that you can try. 
  • And remember, sometimes there are alternatives to a press release which may work better.