Press Release Syndication: For PR, SEO or Neither?


On the first day of Journalism 595: Media Relations, the professor forewarned that she disliked press releases. It was apparent that we would get along quite nicely.

The professor believed that press releases too often served as a finished product: write, publish, distribute, done. Good publicists, she explained, understand that a release is only one instrument that must be used with every other piece of the press kit to accomplish its goals and objectives.

The same is true in SEO. I have watched so many organizations publish and distribute press releases as an individual link building campaign, spending thousands from their SEO budget. As is the case in PR, we must learn to use press releases as the first step, not the final one.

There are many great resources floating around on SEO press release preparation and strategy
so I would like to focus on syndication and why it might not be a worthy recipient of your SEO or PR budget.

Syndication Shortcomings

I reviewed published press releases on three usual syndication suspects: Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle and CBS News. All had three qualities that should make you reconsider your distribution service (and if it’s worth $200+).

NoFollow, No Cry. Most PR people don’t know what rel=”nofollow” means, and that’s fair; it hasn’t been their job to understand HTML. But it is now. I could rant and ramble about how nofollow links are the forgettable stepchild of SEO link building, but a journalism professor once instructed to use a quote when someone else can say it better. This is one of those times. Matt Cutts, head of web spam at Google, spoke about the rel=”nofollow” attribute in a 2007 interview. “For Google, nofollow’ed links are dropped out of our link graph; we don’t even use such links for discovery,” Cutts said.

That’s important for publicists to understand because most links from news media are nofollow and do not pass direct SEO value. The same is true with most syndicated news media sites. Press release distributors love to promote syndication as guaranteed links, which they are able to provide, but those links do not exist in the eyes of Google. Need a little proof? This is the source code of a link from a press release posted on CBS News.

Nofollow press release screen shot

That rel=”nofollow” attribute on each link passes no SEO credit, or link juice, to the recipient page. But what about people who find the page through a search engine? That would still have a redeeming value. Well, it’s going to be tough to find.

Canoncial press release screen shot

Canoniwhat? The Boston Globe, CBS News and many more pull their press releases from one source and use a rel=”canonical” attribute that points back to it. The canonical tag keeps the Boston Globe article from being indexed by search engines so no one will ever be able to find that article through Google. That means the link is only coming from one site, not 10 syndication sites, and that one site uses rel=”nofollow”. Due to either the nofollow attribute or canonical tag (or both) none of the links have SEO value.

The previous two syndication woes, nofollow and canonicalization, should not be a huge surprise. New media sites have used them as long as each has existed. The last one is more interesting, though, hardly shocking.

Domo Arigato Mr. Robots.txt. “No! Seriously?! I paid a lot of money for press release distribution and syndication. The San Francisco Chronicle knows that and wouldn’t be so cruel as to deindex the entire subdirectory.” Well, there’s no easy way to say this so I’m just going to say it. Yes, they would.

Prweb syndication screen shot

Placing a page or subdirectory in the robots.txt file essentially tells search engines not to look at it. Every syndicated press release from PR Web goes in the /prweb/ subdirectory, which is deindexed, and other distribution services, like PR Leap, have a canonical tag pointing off page, accomplishing the same goal: zero link love for your site.

No Shortcuts in PR or SEO

The journalism professor and I agree that press releases are overvalued. But both of us still write them and you should, too. Journalists like to reference press releases for more information and they can still have SEO value–either as a link to your site from a free publisher or a piece of link bait on your site. Just don’t one-and-done and expect it to be worth the time or money.

Did you learn anything new or was this just a refresher course in PR for SEO? Please let me know in the comments below.

Andrew Garberson is the Director of the Digital Marketing Strategy department. He has led digital marketing efforts in a variety of settings, including agency, entrepreneurial and nonprofit environments, and has master's degrees in business administration and mass communications. An Iowan at heart and Pittsburgher in spirit, Andrew commutes on his 10-speed most days between March and December -- after all, he's only human.

  • This is quite insightful. I was looking to use PR more but now I’m left thinking which PR sites to use. Any ideas?

    Carl Duncker, Digital Marketing Consultant

  • Well, you provided a piece of article that is very useful for SEO’s who are over using PR site’s just for SEO. Well, I read an article last week that links from Press Release websites have no value with your SE ranking, Matt Cutts said. This is also because PR sites are the place where spammers can easily hang out.

  • Andrew

    @Carl Publishing on a free site might have similar SEO results. Try a freebie like prlog and monitor the difference with Open Site Explorer.

    @inhome Your biggest concern is who ranks in search engines for the content. If other people are appearing in Google with your work, it is time to contact webmasters.

    @Ron I don’t agree that press releases are worthless for SEO. Instead, I’d say that they aren’t worth the time if they’re JUST for SEO. Like you pointed out, the major search engines have devalued links from some distribution sites.

  • Hi Andrew – I appreciate the technical angle you’ve taken to researching press release syndication networks. I’m a big fan of the LunaMetrics blog, and I found this post in my Google Reader feed.

    I actually manage SEO and analytics for Vocus Inc., the parent company of PRWeb, and was hoping I could comment on your research.

    Your research is well thought out; however it assumes press releases are used as a direct SEO link building tactic. Not only is that an antiquated SEO tactic, it is in direct contrast to the role PRWeb serves. Your last comment responding to @Ron is more in-line with the current landscape of press releases for SEO.

    PRWeb’s stance has long been focused on the “down-the-stream” value of news releases, and our distribution network actively supports this effort. News releases should be used to attract the attention of the media, bloggers and the general public. Jiyan Wei, PRWeb’s Director of Product Management wrote a great post outlining the real SEO value of news releases.

    Again, I love the technical SEO approach you took in your research, but when you consider the proper use and intent of a news release it’s not a primary consideration. PRWeb supports the decisions of our syndication partners in regards to what they choose to nofollow or which version they consider to be the Canonical. The nofollow link attribute is likely unnecessary. As Cutts points out, those links won’t benefit the client’s site anyway, and Google’s well equipped to identify these links are the result of content syndication, not any paid link program. The extreme caution displayed in the CBS News source code should be appreciated by online marketers, though again, it’s likely not needed.

    Moving on to the use of the Canonical link element is a bit trickier. It is completely at the discretion of publishers to determine which of their versions is canonical, or which they prefer to display in search results. This is where content syndication becomes interesting. The real Canonical version of the content in a press release resides on the distribution companies’ site, and the search engines do a pretty good job at displaying that version when people search for the content topic of the release. Marketers and PR Pro’s should refer back to the goal of a news release – to attract attention from the media and general public – and understand these syndicated versions are displayed on highly trafficked sites, increasing their overall online visibility. It’s up to those marketing professionals to publish well-written, timely content that encourages the media to publish a new write-up on their company.

    Admittedly, content syndication is a tricky SEO topic that’s very difficult to “get right”, and news releases distribution companies are no exception. PRWeb has always worked with our distribution partners to ensure we’re collectively preserving the quality of our customers’ releases. It’s an ongoing effort.

    The conversation was echoed again recently when Matt Cutts commented in the Google Webmaster forums. Here’s the recap from Search Engine Journal ( I encourage your readers to check out this post as well.

    Please respond with any questions you might have. I believe an ongoing discussion is a great way to dispel some of the “press release seo” myths that are rampant online these days.

    Scott Benson
    Sr. SEO Manager
    Vocus, Inc.

  • Nathan – Internet Marketing NZ

    Press releases work great as part of an overall online marketing and link building strategy. They are a great way to generate buzz for your business and depending on where they are picked up can usually rank well within Google which helps to drive strong referral traffic back to your site.

  • Andrew

    @Scott Tossing together a release just for the sake of SEO is, like you put it, an antiquated approach. I also think that “Let’s send out a press release and call it PR” is outdated too. Hopefully we can both agree on that. PR (and SEO and media relations, etc) is what happens after the release is published. And that said, I still believe that paid distribution, like that of the fine folks at PRWeb, is still valuable. However, the value of syndication, meaning paying for placement is certainly in queation, for both PR and SEO. It is an add-on service that isn’t worth the $200 (or whatever) in my opinion. It can be nice to say to clients or supervisors that “Hey we made it in The Globe,” and maybe that’s worth something, but not on paper or to search engines. I have to disagree that syndication benefits overall publicity because, despite being high-traffic sites, no one finds the content through (for the reasons in the article above) and few people troll the bowels of these sites looking for news in the subdirectory /press-releases/prweb/january but you might have access to some data to disprove that theory. Again, just so we are sure the record caught it, I think press release distribution can be a valuable service (and recommend it to some clients) but urge not to write, publish, distribute and syndicate press releases out of habit. Always ask: what are my goals with this PR (or SEO) campaign?

  • Andrew

    @ Scott P.S. Thanks for contributing so much to the conversation. Your insight is invaluable and the entire SEO and PR community appreciates your time.

  • Hi Andrew, thanks for publishing my comment and for responding. It sounds like the overall community (SEO & PR) is on board with using releases to publish newsworthy content, and that’s the discussion we’re trying to facilitate.

    I have seen the syndication network work well as a long-tail referral network of sorts. Again, starting with newsworthy content is absolutely key. Then those syndication sites can send referral traffic either to the release, or directly through to a site (depending on how much of the release is re-published). I do think there’s an obstacle in measuring the effectiveness of the network for many companies. Like you said, making it in “The Globe” is nice.. but invariably the follow up question is; “what did that placement do for traffic, engagement and sales?” (Like I need to tell you guys!? 🙂 )

    I look forward to more great content from Luna! Thanks,

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