What Do You Know About Your Wire Service's SEO Practices?
There's nothing like a couple of New York Times features to move a large company like Google to act. After one article on bullying tactics by an online eyewear seller to prompt negative online reviews that actually helped its standing in search results, and another on how JC Penney benefited from content farms to dominate results for thousands of terms, the company had to do something.
On February 24th, it did, as it announced major changes to its search algorithm. Its focus was on content farms. Google stated at the time that the change would impact nearly 12 percent of queries. It also said that the changes were "subtle." The emphasis was on low quality content, meaning sites that "copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful."
What was more interesting was the research done by German SEO house Sistrix, as it sought to identify specific sites that were most impacted by the changes. Sites like eZine Articles, which are commonly used to republish existing information, were high on the list, which should change how these sites are used as part of a link building effort. This is a welcome improvement.
Impact on wire services?
As reported in two blog posts (on Read/Write Web and on IR Web Report), however, there were other sites impacted that hit pretty close to home, including two I often weave in as part of a content strategy (PR Newswire and Slideshare). In particular, Sistrix's analysis showed that prnewswire.com was in the top 50 for sites with the greatest loss of keyword rankings (a 70 percent loss overall). What this presumably means is that press releases issued through PR Newswire prior to the algorithm change that appeared on the first page of search results may have dropped in search rank.
No other wire services have been mentioned in any blogs or Twitter chatter I've seen about the Google algorithm changes. I've also found it interesting that none of the major services have taken the opportunity to speak through their blogs or Twitter to these changes and how they might be impacted (if at all). I've even tweeted a few times about the issue in the last week, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
All of the wire services tout the SEO boost they provide to companies that use their services and provide tips and tools for optimizing press releases for search. But this raises the question in my mind for how they go about providing that boost once we press the order button.
PR folks have rethought the press release over the last several years, playing by the new rules and considering SEO along with traditional news value. Many of my clients are now executing primarily against inbound marketing strategies and look at press releases in the same way. Most of them rely on me and my colleagues for advice about the best wire service to use to get the most out of their limited budgets.
This means that all PR people need to understand more than just the SEO tools and tips each wire service provides by pressing their providers for specifics about their SEO practices and how they are staying in the good graces of Google and its algorithms. I hope and trust that we'll hear more from the services about their perspectives on Google's latest changes and what it means for them.
Beyond the wires, what you can do
One implication is clear, however. Google is rewarding those who create high-quality, original content that is created with a specific audience in mind, which then makes it inherently more shareable and linkable and is good in the eyes of Google search quality engineers. It's not easy and takes a dedicated effort.
UPDATE 3/8: PR Newswire's Rod Nicolson, who heads up its user experience, which includes SEO, published a blog post a short while ago commenting on "Farmer", Google's algorithm changes. It is a very useful view into how these impacted PR Newswire as well as what Google has been doing since first announcing the changes.
UPDATE 3/16: BusinessWire published its commentary on Google's Panda (aka Farmer) yesterday on its blog. In a post by Matt Albers, BusinessWire's Director of Software Engineering, the service reported that it has seen an improvement in rankings for press releases it distributes since the changes, which it attributes to its "white hat SEO" practices.