When Google released its Panda 4.0 algorithm update in May, the company claimed that it was all about improving search results and eliminating “thin” content from top rankings.
Yet some sensibly asked whether the move was all about punishing newswires. Google’s Matt Cuts had fed speculation in the past by tweeting his disapproval of “very spammy queries” and calling press releases “owned content”–and third-party analysis showed significant SEO drops for the biggest wire services in addition to sites like eBay and Ask.com.
Why did the newswires’ traffic go down?
Updates to their ranking algorithm changed the way sites are ranked in the Google search results, and rankings of wire services like PRWeb and PRNewswire went down significantly. When the rankings go down, people don’t find your site anymore, and you lose traffic.
Disclaimer: the charts might not be 100% correct, but they do show a clear trend.
How much does PR need to worry about it?
That depends on your current service offerings and PR tactics.
If your primary tactic is blasting link-stuffed press releases across those wire services you should be on DEFCON 1.
Does this development downplay the value of wire services?
I’m convinced that the negative usage of wire services strongly exceeds the positive.
It’s an automated system to distribute your press release to as many places as possible.
It gives people the feeling that there are shortcuts to PR: buy a subscription and get guaranteed coverage or SEO benefits. But that’s too good to be true.
Google isn’t the bad guy in this story. On the contrary, Google is a smart company that reminds us time and time again what people want: compelling content.
Do you see this as a temporary blip or a long-term trend?
It definitely is a long-term trend. Google has been rolling out updates like this for a long time and I am confident they will continue to do so in small steps.
And every of those steps in some way rewards people that do great work and punishes those who try to cheat.
What does PR need to do to adjust?
Today we work with hundreds of PR teams of all sizes and flavours. In our client base we have identified two distinct types of agencies which we have labeled based on their approach to kill a mosquito:
- Shotguns. Spray and pray. Teams that send out high volumes of stories to large, often purchased, email lists. Wire services is often a part of their distribution tactic.
- Snipers. Firing only once at wisely chosen targets. Teams that pitch compelling stories to targeted journalists or bloggers. Most of them are data driven and maintain good relations with their influencers.
Needless to say, the results of the snipers are much better. Minimal collateral damage, maximum results.
The fact that wire services (shotgun) were effective in a lot of circumstances isn’t the fault of the PR industry, it’s simply something that worked.
Today those old-skool “spray and pray” tactics no longer work.
The solution ? I believe it all starts by defining good metrics. Reporting on these metrics will demonstrate the limits of mass-emails and encourage your team to find the most effective mode of distribution, fueling continuous innovation. Doing it this way requires effort–but then again, everything that really works takes effort.
Do we agree with Gijs?
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