Recently, Reuters discovered that Google quietly changed its algorithm to increase the prevalence of press releases in Google News search results, which presents a tremendous opportunity for organizations to more widely raise awareness for their news.
Less than a year ago, Google’s Panda 4.0 update devalued press releases as a SEO tactic, in response to far too many companies distributing press releases with zero news value to boost search rankings. As a consequence of rooting out spammy content, legitimate announcements were unfairly penalized, and the traffic to most of the major wire services, such as Business Wire, PR Newswire etc., dropped almost overnight.
However, despite numerous bad apples trying to game their site’s search engine optimisation, businesses have continued to utilize press releases for their original purpose, to publicly share important information that their target audiences, stakeholders and industry influencers will care about.
Direct from the Source
Google has decided that there is value in presenting news information from the source rather than filtering it through the lens of the media. This reverses a stance that was articulated several years ago by Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, when he said that its algorithms gave more weight to media outlets because they were how the public would see news on Google.
Some experts treated the change with a healthy dose of skepticism. For example, Reuters quoted anonymous analysts who stated that it “risks misleading users.” While it’s true that corporate announcements tend to portray their own news in the best possible light, it’s no secret that journalists can have biased opinions as well. Plus, in their haste to cover a story in the ever-tightening news cycle, journalists sometimes refer to a company’s official statement as the sole source of information in an article. In the absence of any valuable added insight, wouldn’t readers be better served by getting the information directly from the horse’s mouth?
I think so, and it seems that Google now agrees.
Google’s reasoning behind the change is to provide searchers with more accurate information. As a Google spokesperson mentioned:
“The goal of search is to get users the right answer at any one time as quickly as possible – that may mean returning an article from an established publisher or from a smaller niche publisher or indeed it might be a press release.”
Brand Journalism and Quality Content
The change will further empower brands to become their own publishers. According to PRNewser’s Patrick Coffee: “[It] is good news for PR and bad news for major journalistic institutions like the Times and The Wall Street Journal, because whoever posts the announcement first will get top placement and clicks. It’s a symptom of our digital age, though: new distribution channels allow brands — and, by extension, their PR teams — to become publishers with greater power to drive the narrative.”
In a way, last year’s Panda update was a blessing in disguise because it made organizations refocus on producing quality content. The new change shouldn’t be seen as a signal that businesses can game results again by increasing the volume of press releases produced. Rather, it’s a sign that the quality of the content itself and the story behind it, rather than its source, will increasingly drive its visibility on Google.
How Can Your Brand Capitalize on the Opportunity?
Press releases are but one of many creative vehicles that you can use to tell your story, and should be a component of a larger creative storytelling campaign. Regardless of what the specific piece of news is that you’re planning a press release around, you (or your PR agency) should use it as a central theme for a series of supporting content, such as infographics, videos, bylined articles, e-books and more, and promote your content across all of your marketing channels. Once you’ve established a campaign-based approach to content, you should then turn your attention towards becoming a trusted source of information.
The smart brands are betting big right now on content marketing and brand journalism, and I suspect Google’s algorithm change is partially in response to that. Driven by a confluence of factors, in the near future, the media landscape will be much more fragmented than it is today, and brands will step in to fill in the gaps.
We’ve already seen brands launch top-notch industry news sources, such as Adobe’s CMO and DOMO’s CEO.com, and although advertising revenues for publishers continue to shrink and more publications decrease staff levels, information is more in-demand than ever, so we anticipate the trend of brands launching their own news channels will rapidly accelerate. The flood of content produced by brands shows no signs of decreasing, which means that the competition for your audience’s attention is fierce. If you focus on creating high-quality, in-depth, newsworthy content, your efforts will be rewarded.
Is your brand producing content worth reading?
This post was first published by James Gerber on March Communications’ blog PR Nonsense.