Last week, Google sparked a loud conversation in the PR community when it issued new guidelines for something called Link Schemes. In the days that followed, some, including Tom Foremski, a former Financial Times journalist who reports on the intersection of technology and media, suggested that Google is forcing a reinvention of PR agencies. I’d suggest that the need for PR agencies to reinvent themselves came about a good number of years ago – it’s why we founded InkHouse. What Google actually did is kill off the SEO press release, which has no place in an authentic PR program.
The new Google guidelines are important though. All links in Web content have the ability to boost search – or at least they did. Google wants spammy links to be tagged “nofollow,” so they don’t boost SEO.
Search marketing firm WordStream explains what this means: “The nofollow tag is basically a notice sign for search engines saying 'don’t count this.'" See Megan Marrs’ full post for a helpful overview of follow and nofollow tags and how they work. As she notes, “…ours is an imperfect world, and…some self-proclaimed SEO ‘experts’ scheme to trick search engines and inflate their rankings using black-hat, unethical methods.”
As you can see, the hubbub is all about spammers, an easy common enemy. In fact, at InkHouse, we believe that spam anything is the antithesis of PR and were founded on the principle that the only path to connecting with your target audience is through authentic conversations.
We agree with Google, which wrote, “The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”
So how should you proceed? Google says to use no follow links for those that were not “editorially placed.” This means that a sharper lens will be applied to content that is widely distributed – press releases. However, the wire services are already taking care of converting the links to no follow links, so no action is required. PR Newswire’s Sarah Skerik said it well, “We believe the value press release distribution provides is in discovery, not links.” (See her full post on generating awareness, not links.)
We believe Google’s move is a positive one that helps bring us back to the tenets of good PR. PR has changed dramatically every single year since we started InkHouse, and it will undoubtedly continue as the news media works toward new business models and social media continues to redefine the way we interact with one another. Earlier this year I wrote about The Re-imagining of PR, which included an infographic that ends with the time-tested tenets of good PR: credibility, authenticity, relationships, facts and storytelling.
If you are concerned about the no follow tag guidelines, ask yourself one important question: is the purpose of this link to engage or game the system? Robo-commenting that goes heavy on the anchor text has no place in PR, nor does content spamming through syndication.
Bottom line: if you create quality content and engage thoughtfully, don’t sweat it.
Footnote: How Do You Create Nofollow links? In the end, the Google guidelines are actually for webmasters. Wordpress has a number of plug-ins that enable you to apply nofollow links to various scenarios. The other platforms do as well.