Google isn’t killing PR, but it may be applying some Weedol

There were two big topics of conversation in the PR world last week. The first was Google’s updated Link scheme guidance on how it treats links with keyword rich anchor text in press releases and Tom Foremski’s resulting post on ZDNet asking if this was the end of PR Agencies. The other was the Channel 4 fakefans investigation showing how some in the PR and Marketing world are buying fake likes and followers to inflate brands’ apparent popularity.

The first issue has particular relevance to us at RealWire. In response to Google’s guidance we have implemented the rel=”nofollow” attribute to all links within releases published from today onwards and will apply it to all links across historic press releases hosted by us over the next few days. We were already planning our response before last week’s “excitement”, however staff absence due to holidays delayed our ability to implement the changes necessary until today (note to self, don’t allow staff holidays!).

We considered limiting the changes to the types of anchor text links Google highlights, as such links are very infrequent in releases our clients ask us to distribute. Ian McKee highlighted this option in his very well thought through post on the whole debate. However given the nature and quality of our client base, we’re confident that any marginal page rank that might accrue from our site for the odd editorially relevant keyword is unlikely to impact materially on their rankings, or feature very highly on their list of reasons for using our service. Taken inconjunction with Google’s apparent preference for all links in press releases to be nofollow, we’ve decided that this approach is both safer for our clients, and avoids any confusion.

It’s also worth noting that a recent report by Searchmetrics (a user of our service) highlighted the increased importance to search rankings of having a mixture of backlinks, including nofollow links, and the reduced importance of links with target keyword anchor text.

So what about the wider questions raised by Tom Foremski’s post? I think these have generally been summed up as follows:

Is this change by Google the end of PR?  No.

Is it the end of PR Agencies? No.

Is it the end of newswire services? No, but it could hurt some, particularly any that are reliant on a client base that has been producing the very keyword rich, link filled, low quality content that Google is out to target.

It’s in this context that I would characterise Google’s action as more like treating a lawn with Weedol. Google is seeking to eliminate poor quality and irrelevant content i.e. spam, from its results, but it doesn’t want to destroy the good stuff.

The fakefans situation is also just another form of spam. The idea that buying fake likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter has any value is just ridiculous. Facebook and Twitter should take a leaf out of Google’s book.

The only thing that professional PR people, and quality distribution services, have to fear from these changes and practices is complacency. We need to make sure that once the weed killer has done its job, the lawn that remains is rich and green.

Finally, on a RealWire note, it may be coincidental but during the same period Google has been making its Penguin and Panda updates our ranking for keywords relevant to our own market has improved. So much so that at the time of writing we are ranked No.1 for “press release distribution” on, when we were rarely in the Top 10 before Google started its clamp down.

Read into that what you will….

Social Media News Releases achieve three times the pickup

In the summer of 2009 we did some analysis looking at whether Social Media News Releases (SMNR) achieved more coverage than “traditional” press releases. The analysis of almost one thousand releases showed that SMNRs distributed by RealWire generated twice the editorial coverage and almost four times the blog coverage.

A few weeks ago whilst discussing the timing of a FIR interview with me on the value of press releases (which is now published here by the way) Shel Holtz asked me if I had any plans to update the research. As it had been over 18 months this seemed a good idea so I booted up Excel and here are the results


1,044 releases were analysed from those distributed in the 6 months from September 2010 to March 2011
Coverage is data is based on RealWire’s Proveit coverage tracking and evaluation service
79 were Social Media News Releases (releases related to 62 different companies, across 21 different industry sectors)
965 were “Traditional” Releases (releases related to 339 different companies, across 28 different industry sectors)

So overall the sample of SMNRs achieved over three times as much editorial/blog coverage on average (15.7 pieces v 5.0 pieces) as the “traditional” releases.

Some examples from different sectors of high performing SMNRs include releases by Panasonic, Alterian, 3M, Warner Bros, Rolls Royce and Aviva.

As with the previous analysis I think one of the primary reasons for the difference in performance is that the additional investment that can often be required to produce an SMNR – multimedia assets, links to background research etc – means that they are used for stories that the sender perceives are potentially high impact and therefore likely to be of interest to a wide audience.

Another reason could be the lower proportion of B2B releases in the SMNR sample. However I am not necessarily convinced this is the case as there are plenty of examples of B2B releases in the traditional sample that performed to a similar level as the best performing B2C SMNRs.

As I indicated in my interview with Shel I think it is more likely that a higher proportion of traditional releases are more informative in nature e.g. new appointment, new customer, financial results, tradeshow attendance etc. These stories are of potential value to relevant publications, but it is likely that the number of such publications will be lower than where the release is around a broader topic of conversation e.g. research, market changes, new products etc. If people would find this of interest then let me know in the comments as further study of the nature of the releases themselves might shed some more light.

In the meantime on a short promotional note it is good to see that our overall pickup stat of 80%+ of releases gaining editorial/blog coverage still compares very favourably with our competition :-)

An Inconvenient PR Truth – a campaign to reduce PR spam

We have launched a campaign today that aims to address the issue of irrelevant press release emails. To learn more watch the video below and then visit the An Inconvenient PR Truth website if you would like to get involved in the debate.

Update: We have posted answers to the main FAQs regarding the animation here. The debate has also moved onto PRWeek UK here.

Irrelevance – the pollution of the Online Media World?

Pollution Protecting the real world from the ravages of pollution and preserving our natural resources was once considered the preserve of environmental activists. Not anymore. Recycling, energy conservation and reducing our carbon footprint are now mainstream activities.

In the Online Media World I would suggest the equivalent to pollution is irrelevance, and the time, and money, that are wasted dealing with it (never mind the frustration caused). Unfortunately the PR industry is one of the culprits in producing this pollution; with the interesting stories it does create often getting lost in the millions of press releases produced each year, many of which are often sent to significant numbers of people for whom they are irrelevant. This means only a small proportion of these messages actually lead to someone talking about a story.

The positive response to our recent Online PR animation suggests that many (all?) people in the PR industry are aware of the importance of remembering that there are real people at the end of each of these messages. Given this, if irrelevance is polluting their environment shouldn’t we all be asking one simple question:

What have we done to improve our relevance today?

For us at RealWire this means making sure the existing things we do to improve our relevance are performed 100 per cent and looking for new ways to reduce our “irrelevance footprint” all the time. Many of these improvements and processes are based on feedback from the receivers of our news themselves. Some things are simple, the equivalent to turning the light off when you leave a room or not leaving your TV on standby, and others take more effort and investment on our part. They all have one end purpose though – to deliver greater relevance to all the receivers of our news and so reduce the amount of pollution we create.

We realise we’re far from perfect, but then how many people recycle 100 per cent of their waste in the real world? Does that mean that we shouldn’t all try and recycle more just because perfection is probably unattainable? That’s why we are always looking to improve. After all it is only through delivering relevance that the PR industry can ever hope to release the influence it desires.

I noticed today that PRNewswire have recently started to provide their content through sector specific Twitter feeds e.g. PRNTech, rather than all through one single feed. RealWire also did this a few months ago as we realised, as PRN would appear to, that people following news content would find this would significantly improve the relevance of the content to them. It’s not rocket science, nor is turning off your TV, and it won’t solve the problem of PR pollution by itself, but as with the environment a lot of small individual measures can make a big difference overall.

So hats off to PRN for also taking this step and perhaps we could all ask ourselves what have we done today to improve the environment in the Online Media World we all inhabit?

Social Media News Releases achieve double the coverage of Traditional Press Releases


RealWire has been offering the Social Media News Release (SMNR) option to our clients for nearly two years now. In that time we have hosted and distributed over 200 SMNRs on behalf of a varied group of organisations including:

3i, Adobe, British Army, Cisco, Comic Relief, Cross Country Trains, Diageo, Durex, First Direct, Ford, HSBC, ITV, Macmillan Cancer Support, Nescafe, NSPCC, Peugeot, Sage, Skoda, Sony Ericsson, Symantec, Talk Talk, Toshiba, Twestival, Vauxhall and Volkswagen. Some are in a narrative style, some follow the original deconstructed format.

Our video about the SMNR (from our webitpr days) has had over 12,000 views and we are currently ranked top of for a search for “social media news release”. Even ahead of Mr Social Media Release himself, Todd Defren. (Of course we don’t manage to repeat the trick on, but the video doesn’t do badly :-) )

So it is on this basis we feel fairly well qualified to provide some analysis on whether Social Media News Releases actually achieve better results than “traditional” press releases.


We analysed 997 releases distributed by RealWire during the period December 2008 to May 2009 for which coverage tracking statistics had been gathered by our Proveit release evaluation service.

Of these 71 releases were Social Media News Releases.

The results are summarised below:

Total coverage includes coverage that is the republishing of the release in its entirety either by selective or non selective publishers.

It is worth noting that all of these results for both SMNRs and traditional releases compare favourably with analysis of competing distribution services suggesting that the combination of our clients, their releases and RealWire’s approach performs strongly for all types of release.

However the results above suggest that Social Media News Releases perform substantially better than traditional releases when it comes to generating editorial and blog coverage with, on average, all of the additional coverage being of this type.

So a big tick in the box for SMNRs then? All we have to do is produce all releases in this format and we will all achieve two or three times as much coverage?

Well not so fast. A simple regression analysis on the data suggests that a release just being an SMNR, as opposed to a traditional release, in itself only explains a small proportion of the variation in the performance of individual releases.

So the majority of the variation would seem to be due to other factors. There are any number of factors that could explain some degree of variation – the hook of the title, timing, number of interested parties etc. Significantly more detailed work would be needed to prove the impact of each.

But I would suggest that the most likely reason for the improvement in performance of SMNRs is that the additional investment needed to produce a SMNR means that clients are more likely to use them for the most interesting stories. It is this investment in quality that then pays dividends with the features of the SMNR allowing the user to enhance that storytelling and so produce the improved results.


Less stories. More creatively told. To the right people.

The first point may seem like a strange thing for a press release distribution company to say – “less stories”, doesn’t that mean less business? As I said earlier, the results of our own distribution actually indicate that releases we distribute for our clients are already of a relatively higher quality and/or are directed to more relevant people and hence our pickup stats compare very favourably to competing services.

However the analysis implies that the discipline of investing more in the telling of a story through a Social Media Release seems to lead senders to focus on the stories that generate the most interest editorially and from bloggers. Surely that is a good thing for all parties?

When 54% of press releases from the big wires apparently never get written about, wouldn’t focussing more on the half that are of interest be a better use of the PR industry’s resources?