Can PR Newswire overcome its major Google penalty?

July 14, 2014 10:02 am Published by

PR Newswire, which was hit by Panda 4.0, is taking steps to improve its SEO by purging “low-quality” press releases and implementing new policies regarding user uploads of new ones. The new guidelines require each press release to be 100% original, of an acceptable length and not stuffed with keywords. These announcements must contain “insightful analysis and original content” in order to be accepted by the new regulations.

Many search industry commentators have noted that several press release sites appear to have suffered from the latest Panda update. Long abused by marketers as easy venues for posting links to their own sites, even premium press release depositories had become overrun by “spammy” content. Over the years, they had simply built up archives with too much duplicate content and too many links to low-quality sites, and it seems that Google has finally decided to drastically lower their rankings for this.

Google is in the business of providing users with relevant and useful content. Press releases are in some cases extremely spammy with the main reason of posting them being link building, as opposed to providing a real news alert that journalists might be interested in. Google doesn’t want these sites populating the top positions for search queries; instead, it prefers rich, informative content that will be closest to what their users searched for. That’s why PR Newswire is seeing a downturn in their search traffic since Panda 4.0.

Like other press release websites, PR Newswire relies quite heavily on search engine traffic. Over 60% of its traffic comes from search, with direct referrals coming in a distant second at 22%. Referrals only account for 11%, and social and email are totally negligible.

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Share of visits from PR Newswire’s traffic sources over the past six months

SimilarWeb PRO stats also show that PR Newswire’s overall traffic has dropped dramatically, starting in April 2014. The downward trend in search traffic started slowly in April, but searches dropped significantly in May, and were continued decreasing all through June.

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SimilarWeb PRO’s data on volume of visits to PR Newswire over the past six months, broken down according to source

The site received about 8.7 million desktop visits in March, dropping to approximately 4.2 million in June. That’s a drop of over 48%.

To gain still more context into what the situation was leading up to the penalty, consider the keywords that were driving so much traffic to the site. PR Newswire’s number one non-branded keyword over the past six months is “garcinia cambogia,” an Indonesian berry that is notoriously touted by creatively conniving spammers for its supposed weight loss properties.

In fact, PR Newswire’s list of top keywords is brimming with various permutations of the berry’s name and its attributes – no wonder Google took note!

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Top ten “garcinia cambogia”-related search queries that have historically driven a large share of PR Newswire’s traffic, according to SimilarWeb PRO

With management at PR Newswire becoming concerned about this drop in traffic, announcing its new guidelines in efforts to bring them back into the search engine game. In a highly “meta” move, the company’s announcement took the form of a press release published on its own site, which included a comment from CEO Ninan Chacko that reads like exactly what he’d think Google wants to hear:

PR Newswire is committed to continuously improving the quality of the content distributed via our network, website, and other digital channels in order to better serve the millions of journalists, bloggers and members of the public who read press releases each month…. By reviewing each piece of content to ensure message quality, and deleting releases we find to be of low quality, we will increase the value of our content and website for our audiences, and limit the exploitation of content distribution for questionable SEO tactics.

In the same post, Jason Edelboim, the company’s senior VP of global product, commented that Google is using technology to judge content quality, so PR Newswire needs to align their processes accordingly, in order to ensure their content is both high in quality and properly authenticated. They will be checking press releases to see that they contain analysis, research and useful information. Releases that are too short and serve primarily as vehicles for links will be deleted.

Are these steps going to help PR Newswire out of the dog house? To what extent will Google take note of these policy changes and allow PR Newswire to rise again on search result pages? It’s far too early to tell – Edelboim, Chacko and crew only initiated this great purge about two weeks ago, so it’s unlikely they’ve made significant progress yet, and Google bots can sometimes take several weeks, or even months, to re-index a site – especially a low-ranking one.

Here at SimilarWeb, we’ll be keeping an eye on PR Newswire over the months ahead, in order to see whether these new policies succeed at improving the site’s SEO and bringing its traffic back up.

Natalie Halimi

Natalie Halimi is the Head of Online Marketing at SimilarWeb.com. Her fields of expertise include: SEO, SMO, media buying, mobile marketing, content marketing and affiliate management.
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