How Google’s Panda Algorithm Affected the PR Industry

Jayson DeMers
How Google’s Panda Algorithm Affected the PR Industry

Google is constantly changing its algorithms. We all know about Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, but what people often forget is that each one is periodically updated, often without any confirmation or announcement by Google.

The latest known Panda update is Google Panda 4.1, according to the Moz Google algorithm change history log, which has had a profound effect on PR agencies.

The Panda algorithm, in particular, has made huge waves across the PR industry. According to the article ‘Did Google Panda 4.0 Go after Press Release Sites?,’ industry expert Barry Schwartz launched a study which revealed prominent PR agencies like PR Newswire, BusinessWire, and PRWeb lost up to 85% of their visibility within a matter of days.

Studies like this demonstrate that PR agencies are intertwined with the SEO industry, and must adapt or perish in a changing environment.

What is Google Panda?

The point of Google Panda was originally to attack scraper sites and while rewarding sites with great quality content, and this goal hasn’t changed. We can assume Google purposely targeted PR sites because of the high number of pointless press releases nobody was reading. Press release sites had begun to become used as link building tools, while producing hundreds of duplicate copies of content across the web. This made Google’s job to identify and surface quality content harder amidst the garbage, so Google made a significant change. It’s a part of the SEO industry that escaped notice previously, and this left it toxic.

Most press release sites have since switched to “nofollow” external links, which, in theory, prevents the links from passing PageRank value. This eliminated their usefulness for link building purposes, but left many with questions about the validity of the nofollow attribute.

In short, Google Panda was designed to catch and suppress low-quality content, and it has overwhelmingly succeeded at that goal, changing various industries, including the PR industry, along with it.

Are Press Releases Worth it Anymore?

These changes don’t mean press releases have no use; it just means they have to change the way they work, as I explained in “Where Press Releases Fit In Your 2015 SEO Strategy.”

Google has greatly reduced their organic reach. You won’t see them at the top of the Google search results unless they have genuine audience interest attached to them.

When we think about it, this is nothing new.

Press Release Dumps

PR agencies have often relied on press release dumps. It’s common to see them claiming they’ll get your news posted on lots of prestigious PR websites everyone reads. They commonly claim journalists use these websites to discover news about interesting new companies. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

Google sees PR dumps as glorified article directories, which were massacred with previous Panda and Penguin updates. Google Panda has done is hurt these PR directories by diminishing their SEO viability.

One of the reasons we can see for this is the desire to move closer to social media. Google ranking correlation studies have shown significant evidence of Google’s shift toward brand signals and social media. This represents a move towards community-driven SEO and away from the legacy technical aspects of it.

What Can PR Agencies Do?

With Google destroying a common tool used by PR agencies, they’re left in a difficult situation. They need to come up with new ways of appealing to clients. Google is clearly moving towards social media-driven SEO, so they have to produce content people want to share on social media. Enter the golden age of content marketing.

In many cases, formal press releases aren’t appealing to a wider audience, unless they’re coming from a major brand. PR agencies are better off posting more content that is casual. The formal press release is often accused of being bland due to pointless quotes and the usual tripe about ‘improving the customer experience.’

An article or a blog can get rid of much of this pointlessness. PR agencies need to review their content policies and come up with a process they can use as a form of quality control.

Will this Increase the Cost of PR?

Cheap PR will have problems competing now that there’s a true necessity for quality content. Low-quality SEO services charging low prices have disappeared quickly, and this same process is happening to cheap PR services.

Similarly, the cost of PR may increase due to the demand for quality content. In many cases, PR agencies are facing a challenge of educating their clients on the importance of quality content, especially if they’re supplying the content to be published.


PR agencies must stay up to date with current trends so they provide their clients with desired results.

The Message of Google Panda

Google Panda is just one of the many algorithm updates in a long line of changes made by Google in recent years, and it has had a profound impact on PR firms.

First, PR firms have learned that their industry is intertwined with the SEO industry, and that they need to understand Google and be able to explain it to their clients.

Next, they have to change their processes to focus on high-quality content. Social media is the way forward and PR agencies can only be successful by appealing directly to relevant audiences with great content through strategic content marketing.

It’s no longer about the amount of content out in the open. It’s about how an audience reacts to it.

Have you been impacted by Panda's effect on PR? Let us know in the comments.

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Jayson DeMers is the founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing and social media agency. He’s also a contributor to Forbes, Huffington Post, and other major media publications. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+ or Twitter.
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