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How to Write a Press Release (+ Free Template)

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How to Write a Press Release (+ Free Template)


A well-crafted press release can help relationship-building, manage a brand’s image, and improve SEO.

Here’s everything you need to know about press releases, including a step-by-step guide to writing a good one:

Press release template

Do note our template is only a guide. Be sure to consult the style guide your company uses and tweak the template accordingly. Get the template here.

What’s a press release?

A press release is an official statement delivered to members of the media. It’s commonly used to share something newsworthy that a company has done with the aim of securing media coverage.

It’s typically written:

  • In-house by the company’s communications team.
  • By a third-party vendor, such as a hired PR agency.

When is a press release used?

Press releases are versatile and are often used to announce:

  • The launch of a product, service, campaign, event, or business.
  • Major updates to a company, such as its rebranding, restructuring, or new hires (normally at the exec level).
  • Information about a crisis.

This one’s entirely up to you. In general, there are three ways of distributing a press release: manually, through a syndication service, or by way of a mailing list.

Let’s take a closer look at how it is distributed:

Manually

We’re all for manually distributing your press release. While it may be time-consuming, sending a personalized email (along with the press release) can increase your chances of getting media coverage.

Our CMO, Tim Soulo, can vouch for this, having manually sent out over 100 personalized outreach emails as part of a link outreach experiment.

At the risk of sounding stalkerish, it’s also possible to find anyone’s email address today.

Try tailoring your email with these suggestions. You can:

  • Use an eye-catching email subject line. Editors and journalists receive scores of press releases daily. So make yours stand out with selling points, such as “Interview opportunity with Apple CEO Tim Cook.”
  • Address your recipient by name.
  • Briefly tell them why you’re writing.
  • Tie your message to their publication or business. (Why would this piece of news suit their publication?)
  • Where relevant, suggest one to two story angles for their consideration. Include available interviewees’ names and designations.

For the last point, use your discretion to decide if it’s worth pitching story angles in your introductory email.

This really depends on the nature of the news in your press release.

For instance, the launch of a SaaS platform in Southeast Asia may capture the interest of multiple tech publications. To increase your chances of securing coverage, consider preparing one to two story pitches to go along with your email and press release. 

Via a syndication service

Syndication services act on your behalf to distribute press releases and have an extensive network of media contacts.

PR Newswire is one widely used option. It can be used to schedule or disseminate news to thousands of news agencies, media publishers, editors, and journalists instantly.

Via your media contacts list

A press release can also be broadcast via a mailing list, maintained by either a company’s communications team or a hired third-party agency.

In these media contacts lists, you’ll often find members of the media categorized by the publications they write for and the beats they specialize in—such as tech, food and drinks, personal finance, entertainment, and so on.

This ensures only relevant press releases are sent their way. It’s a worthy distribution option if you’re short on time and have amassed a considerable network of contacts.

What to avoid in a press release

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Writing a press release is relatively easy once you get the hang of it. But it can also go very wrong, so take heed of the following:

Not having a clear point of focus

We can’t emphasize this enough: A press release should have just one newsworthy idea, whether you’re talking about a product, campaign, service, or event.

The rest of your press release should then complement this piece of information.

If you’re unsure, go back to the drawing board and ask yourself: “Would I be interested in reading this and covering it as a news story?”

Being too wordy

Keep your press release around 400 words.

If it runs far longer than that, do a reread to cut out the fluff. Do you really need a whole paragraph detailing your company’s mission and why it ties in with the product’s launch? Is there jargon that may not be easily understood by the layman reader?

Expressing opinions or sounding too promotional

The subtle sell can be tricky to achieve, but you’ll be in good stead once you find this balance.

To do this, avoid using promotional words and statements—such as “world’s best,” “best in class,” “groundbreaking,” and “one of a kind,” to name several.

Unless you can back these up or are a leading business in your industry, such phrases could work against you by reducing your credibility.

Using too many quotes

We recommend using no more than two quality quotes. What defines a quality quote, then? This brings us to the next point.

Boring, clunky, or manufactured quotes

Choosing quotes is tricky business. As The Guardian puts it, your quotes should offer insight, not information.

In essence, they should complement the facts—rather than reiterate what’s been said in the rest of the press release.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes a poorly written quote:

  • A boring quote is one that adds no value to the press release, either by stating the obvious or repeating what’s been said in the rest of the release.
  • A clunky quote may use run-on sentences, take too long to get to the point, or use sweeping statements.
  • Manufactured quotes fall in the same camp as sounding too promotional.

Here’s one that checks all the boxes on this front:

Clunky Apple quote

Groundbreaking, incredible, magical—followed by a loaded, information-heavy quote that should have been paraphrased.

Thankfully, Apple gets away with it because the tech major’s success speaks for itself. In any other press release, though, you’d likely cast doubt over the bold claims made.

How to craft a press release in 14 steps

Now that we’ve laid out the foundational must-knows, use this step-by-step guide to craft a good press release.

1. Understand the AP Style guidelines

The Associated Press (AP) is one of the world’s largest news agencies, and its stylebook is used as a reference point by journalists globally. It ensures consistency in your press release content.

However, AP doesn’t provide guidelines for formatting press releases. So we’ve put together some general conventions you can use:

Use a common font

Stick to one commonly used font in your press release, such as Times New Roman or Arial.

Style your font

You can vary how your font is stylized throughout the press release—such as bolding your headings and subheadings or italicizing text for image captions. We recommend using the following:

  • Header: 14 pt
  • Subheader: 12 pt
  • Body: 12 pt
  • Image captions: 10 pt

Write in third person

Write in the third person—as in he, she, they, etc. This applies to both brand mentions and quotes.

  • Brand mentions
    Apple mentions itself in the third person in all of its press releases, including this one. So instead of saying, “We have launched the third generation of AirPods,” the company phrases itself like so:
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Quote where Apple mentions itself

  • In quotes
    Another thing to note is, ideally, any featured persons should be quoted in the past tense—so said, shared, noted, etc.

Quote by Tim Cook

2. Choose your format

The structure of a press release doesn’t deviate all that much, as you’ll see from our downloadable template.

But there are different ways of hosting a press release, and you’ll want to decide on this before getting to the actual writing. Here are three common ways of doing so:

In pdf format

The pdf is typically attached to your introductory email—which we covered under distribution methods above—as well as hosted on the company’s website (usually under a “Press” or “Newsroom” section).

Newsroom section on Apple's webpage

In interactive format

An interactive press release—or multimedia press release—is one that’s hosted on a company’s site as an article. You’re able to copy and share its elements (e.g., text, images) easily or click on links to visit related pages.

Here’s an example of a multimedia press release featuring Apple’s new AirPods. In addition to hyperlinked text, there are downloadable images located throughout.

Image of girl running with AirPods. Download button at bottom-left corner

You’ll also find these buttons located at the bottom of the press release:

Buttons to share article, copy text, and download images

In email

If you’re opting to manually distribute your press release, another commonly used alternative is to simply paste your formatted press release in the body copy of your email.

This is especially effective for shorter press releases and eliminates the additional step of scrolling to the bottom to retrieve the pdf.

However, editors and journalists generally prefer being able to copy text and download images easily. So do consider hosting your “in email” press release on your website too. (It’ll also help you track your backlinks and mentions more easily.)

3. Pick a newsworthy angle

To identify a newsworthy angle, start by thinking about the main idea you want to sell. Could it be the launch of an ecommerce campaign or an announcement of your company’s restructuring exercise?

What’s special about it, and why should readers care?

This angle should be summarized in one sentence for inclusion in your opening paragraph.

4. Add your release date

Now let’s get to the writing. Start by indicating whether the information contained in the press release can be published immediately or embargoed until a certain date.

It should look like this (delete accordingly):

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE or 
EMBARGOED UNTIL [DATE AND TIME + TIMEZONE] 

5. Leave filler text for your headline and summary

We’ll get back to this shortly.

For now, leave several line breaks between your release date and opening paragraph so that you can fill in your headline and summary later.

6. Write a strong opening paragraph

The most important information should be at the very beginning of your release. To identify what those key facts are, use the inverted pyramid:

Inverted pyramid with 3 levels: "need to know" at top and "nice to know" at bottom

Think of this in terms of how news articles are structured.

The headline features the most important, eye-catching information of your press release, and the opening paragraph of the release should answer the five Ws and one H (who, what, when, where, why, how). 

  • Who: The name of the company releasing the information.
  • What: The piece of information you’re disseminating. What’s the press release about?
  • When: The date of this event, whether a campaign launch or new hire.
  • Where: Where can your readers find out more? You can choose to include a location or links to more information here.
  • Why: Why this information matters, and why it’s a story worth being told.
  • How: How the information adds value to the company, its users, or the industry.
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7. Body paragraphs

Here, you should elaborate on your introductory paragraphs with supporting details.

Let’s return to our earlier example of this Apple press release.

It opens by announcing the launch of its updated AirPods. The succeeding paragraphs then discuss the product’s design, audio features, and battery life—each under its own bolded subheading.

Excerpt of Apple press release about AirPods' new design

8. Add relevant quotes

Your press release is taking shape! Review your write-up and beef it up with no more than two quality quotes—and from no more than two people.

These quotes should only come from reputable figures in the company or industry, such as C‑level executives or industry representatives.

The first quote is normally added immediately after your opening paragraph; if absolutely necessary, another one may be added further down in the press release.

Pro tip

Generally, formal titles of people quoted should be:

  • Capitalized if you plan to mention the title before the name. 
    • According to Ahrefs Chief Marketing Officer Tim Soulo, “Quote lorem ipsum.”
  • Lowercased if you plan to mention the title after the name. 
    • Quote lorem ipsum,” said Tim Soulo, Ahrefs’ chief marketing officer.

9. Add images

Adding images (along with image descriptions and/or captions) is optional. But research has shown that a press release with images is seven times more likely to be read than skimmed.

If you’re launching a product, including hi-res images in your body copy makes for easier reading and paints a stronger visual of what you have to offer.

Remember to include a link to downloadable assets (try using a URL shortener tool like bit.ly) at the bottom of your press release.

10. Craft a compelling headline and summary

Now it’s time to return to your headline and summary.

While it mostly makes sense to write your press release in chronological order, we reckon these two elements should be written only after you’re done with the main copy. 

Given you would have toiled at the press release to identify the most important information, you would now be able to comfortably craft a headline that’s clean, factual, and fresh.

Below your headline, add a one-sentence summary of what the entire press release is about.

Headline and one-sentence summary

Be mindful that your summary isn’t quite the same as your opening paragraph. It doesn’t have to check off the five Ws and one H but should incite enough curiosity to keep someone reading.

You can write your headline with just the first letter of the sentence capitalized, just like in the above screenshot.

We recommend using title case, which means the first letter of most words is capitalized. Try using this auto-capitalization tool to help you get the headlines looking on point.

Buttons for different style guides. Click each one to show text field for adding/formatting headline

11. Boilerplate

Your boilerplate comes after the main content of the press release but goes before the contact information. It furnishes readers with some information on the company behind the press release.

This should be a one-paragraph summary of the company’s backstory (where applicable), as well as an overview of its products or services. You can also briefly mention any notable achievements.

Here’s what it may look like:

Apple's boilerplate

12. Close your press release

Below your boilerplate, indicate that your press release has ended with the “###” notation.

13. Press contact details

In a new section, add in the necessary contact details so that journalists and editors can reach out easily.

It’s normally written in this format:

Name (bolded)
Name of company or PR agency
Email address
(Country code) contact number

14. Review your copy

At the final stage, review your press release by revisiting the above steps.

In particular, check for the following:

  • Is it objectively written?
  • Is it newsworthy and succinct?
  • Does it contain the key details? 
    • Quotes, images, details on event or launch (time, date, and location), etc.
  • Are there typos or stylization errors? 
    • This happens more often than you’d expect, especially when it comes to people’s names.
    • You should also check for stylization errors. For instance, it’s “AirPods” and not “Air pods.”

Finally, get a second opinion from someone more experienced—this is a crucial step in identifying anything you may have missed.

Once everything’s in order, your press release is ready for distribution.

Tracking the performance of your press release

A natural next step is looking into your press release analytics.

They help you determine your campaign performance, whether the resources spent were justifiable, and if you reached the right audience through the right platforms. It’s also a good way to better understand the overall sentiment toward your press release, which can inform future press releases.

Most distribution services offer basic visibility reports that allow you to review commonly tracked metrics, such as click-through rates, conversion rates, backlinks, and downloads (if you released the press release in pdf form).

The trouble is such services can be expensive, so a free tool like Ahrefs Webmaster Tools can help to offset unnecessary costs while allowing you to easily track backlinks and mentions.

How to track backlinks

First, follow this pictorial guide to set up your first project on Ahrefs Webmaster Tools.

Then, in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, enter the URL of the page on which your press release is hosted. From here, you’ll be able to see the number of backlinks received.

Site Explorer overview of Apple's press release

For a detailed breakdown, head to the panel on the left and go to Backlink profile > Backlinks. Here, you can look at “live” backlinks, as well as recent and historical ones.

Backlinks report for press release

You can also hover over the tooltip (marked with a tiny “i”) on each metric to get a better idea of what you’re looking at.

If you’re in a hurry or aren’t sure if it’s worth signing up for a free account, try using our free backlink checker tool instead. The tool provides an overview of the top 100 backlinks for your page.

Backlinks overview showing UR, DR, and overview of top 100 backlinks

How to track mentions

If you’re interested in monitoring the mentions of certain keywords, quotes, or your brand’s latest products, you can set these up in Ahrefs Alerts. These mentions will be sent to your email inbox at a frequency of your choosing.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it.

While it may seem similar to Google Alerts, Ahrefs Alerts offers a more comprehensive view of insights, according to our mini study of both monitoring tools.

Final thoughts

So there you have it—your detailed guide to what a press release is, what to avoid, and how to craft one.

It’s also a good idea to revisit the basics on occasion, just so you don’t lose sight of the foundations of press release writing.

Got something to say? Ping me on Twitter with your thoughts and suggestions.





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Are Contextual Links A Google Ranking Factor?

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Are Contextual Links A Google Ranking Factor?


Inbound links are a ranking signal that can vary greatly in terms of how they’re weighted by Google.

One of the key attributes that experts say can separate a high value link from a low value link is the context in which it appears.

When a link is placed within relevant content, it’s thought to have a greater impact on rankings than a link randomly inserted within unrelated text.

Is there any bearing to that claim?

Let’s dive deeper into what has been said about contextual links as a ranking factor to see whether there’s any evidence to support those claims.

The Claim: Contextual Links Are A Ranking Factor

A “contextual link” refers to an inbound link pointing to a URL that’s relevant to the content in which the link appears.

When an article links to a source to provide additional context for the reader, for example, that’s a contextual link.

Contextual links add value rather than being a distraction.

They should flow naturally with the content, giving the reader some clues about the page they’re being directed to.

Not to be confused with anchor text, which refers to the clickable part of a link, a contextual link is defined by the surrounding text.

A link’s anchor text could be related to the webpage it’s pointing to, but if it’s surrounded by content that’s otherwise irrelevant then it doesn’t qualify as a contextual link.

Contextual links are said to be a Google ranking factor, with claims that they’re weighted higher by the search engine than other types of links.

One of the reasons why Google might care about context when it comes to links is because of the experience it creates for users.

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When a user clicks a link and lands on a page related to what they were previously looking at, it’s a better experience than getting directed to a webpage they aren’t interested in.

Modern guides to link building all recommend getting links from relevant URLs, as opposed to going out and placing links anywhere that will take them.

There’s now a greater emphasis on quality over quantity when it comes to link building, and a link is considered higher quality when its placement makes sense in context.

One high quality contextual link can, in theory, be worth more than multiple lower quality links.

That’s why experts advise site owners to gain at least a few contextual links, as that will get them further than building dozens of random links.

If Google weights the quality of links higher or lower based on context, it would mean Google’s crawlers can understand webpages and assess how closely they relate to other URLs on the web.

Is there any evidence to support this?

The Evidence For Contextual Links As A Ranking Factor

Evidence in support of contextual links as a ranking factor can be traced back to 2012 with the launch of the Penguin algorithm update.

Google’s original algorithm, PageRank, was built entirely on links. The more links pointing to a website, the more authority it was considered to have.

Websites could catapult their site up to the top of Google’s search results by building as many links as possible. It didn’t matter if the links were contextual or arbitrary.

Google’s PageRank algorithm wasn’t as selective about which links it valued (or devalued) over others until it was augmented with the Penguin update.

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Penguin brought a number of changes to Google’s algorithm that made it more difficult to manipulate search rankings through spammy link building practices.

In Google’s announcement of the launch of Penguin, former search engineer Matt Cutts highlighted a specific example of the link spam it’s designed to target.

This example depicts the exact opposite of a contextual link, with Cutts saying:

“Here’s an example of a site with unusual linking patterns that is also affected by this change. Notice that if you try to read the text aloud you’ll discover that the outgoing links are completely unrelated to the actual content, and in fact, the page text has been “spun” beyond recognition.”

A contextual link, on the other hand, looks like the one a few paragraphs above linking to Google’s blog post.

Links with context share the following characteristics:

  • Placement fits in naturally with the content.
  • Linked URL is relevant to the article.
  • Reader knows where they’re going when they click on it.

All of the documentation Google has published about Penguin over the years is the strongest evidence available in support of contextual links as a ranking factor.

See: A Complete Guide to the Google Penguin Algorithm Update

Google will never outright say “contextual link building is a ranking factor,” however, because the company discourages any deliberate link building at all.

As Cutts adds at the end of his Penguin announcement, Google would prefer to see webpages acquire links organically:

“We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.”

Contextual Links Are A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

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Contextual links are probably a Google ranking factor.

A link is weighted higher when it’s used in context than if it’s randomly placed within unrelated content.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean links without context will negatively impact a site’s rankings.

External links are largely outside a site owner’s control.

If a website links to you out of context it’s not a cause for concern, because Google is capable of ignoring low value links.

On the other hand, if Google detects a pattern of unnatural links, then that could count against a site’s rankings.

If you have actively engaged in non-contextual link building in the past, it may be wise to consider using the disavow tool.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal





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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?


Latent semantic indexing (LSI) is an indexing and information retrieval method used to identify patterns in the relationships between terms and concepts.

With LSI, a mathematical technique is used to find semantically related terms within a collection of text (an index) where those relationships might otherwise be hidden (or latent).

And in that context, this sounds like it could be super important for SEO.

Right?

After all, Google is a massive index of information, and we’re hearing all kinds of things about semantic search and the importance of relevance in the search ranking algorithm.

If you’ve heard rumblings about latent semantic indexing in SEO or been advised to use LSI keywords, you aren’t alone.

But will LSI actually help improve your search rankings? Let’s take a look.

The Claim: Latent Semantic Indexing As A Ranking Factor

The claim is simple: Optimizing web content using LSI keywords helps Google better understand it and you’ll be rewarded with higher rankings.

Backlinko defines LSI keywords in this way:

“LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) Keywords are conceptually related terms that search engines use to deeply understand content on a webpage.”

By using contextually related terms, you can deepen Google’s understanding of your content. Or so the story goes.

That resource goes on to make some pretty compelling arguments for LSI keywords:

  • Google relies on LSI keywords to understand content at such a deep level.”
  • LSI Keywords are NOT synonyms. Instead, they’re terms that are closely tied to your target keyword.”
  • Google doesn’t ONLY bold terms that exactly match what you just searched for (in search results). They also bold words and phrases that are similar. Needless to say, these are LSI keywords that you want to sprinkle into your content.”

Does this practice of “sprinkling” terms closely related to your target keyword help improve your rankings via LSI?

The Evidence For LSI As A Ranking Factor

Relevance is identified as one of five key factors that help Google determine which result is the best answer for any given query.

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As Google explains is its How Search Works resource:

“To return relevant results for your query, we first need to establish what information you’re looking forーthe intent behind your query.”

Once intent has been established:

“…algorithms analyze the content of webpages to assess whether the page contains information that might be relevant to what you are looking for.”

Google goes on to explain that the “most basic signal” of relevance is that the keywords used in the search query appear on the page. That makes sense – if you aren’t using the keywords the searcher is looking for, how could Google tell you’re the best answer?

Now, this is where some believe LSI comes into play.

If using keywords is a signal of relevance, using just the right keywords must be a stronger signal.

There are purpose-build tools dedicated to helping you find these LSI keywords, and believers in this tactic recommend using all kinds of other keyword research tactics to identify them, as well.

The Evidence Against LSI As A Ranking Factor

Google’s John Mueller has been crystal clear on this one:

“…we have no concept of LSI keywords. So that’s something you can completely ignore.”

There’s a healthy skepticism in SEO that Google may say things to lead us astray in order to protect the integrity of the algorithm. So let’s dig in here.

First, it’s important to understand what LSI is and where it came from.

Latent semantic structure emerged as a methodology for retrieving textual objects from files stored in a computer system in the late 1980s. As such, it’s an example of one of the earlier information retrieval (IR) concepts available to programmers.

As computer storage capacity improved and electronically available sets of data grew in size, it became more difficult to locate exactly what one was looking for in that collection.

Researchers described the problem they were trying to solve in a patent application filed September 15, 1988:

“Most systems still require a user or provider of information to specify explicit relationships and links between data objects or text objects, thereby making the systems tedious to use or to apply to large, heterogeneous computer information files whose content may be unfamiliar to the user.”

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Keyword matching was being used in IR at the time, but its limitations were evident long before Google came along.

Too often, the words a person used to search for the information they sought were not exact matches for the words used in the indexed information.

There are two reasons for this:

  • Synonymy: the diverse range of words used to describe a single object or idea results in relevant results being missed.
  • Polysemy: the different meanings of a single word results in irrelevant results being retrieved.

These are still issues today, and you can imagine what a massive headache it is for Google.

However, the methodologies and technology Google uses to solve for relevance long ago moved on from LSI.

What LSI did was automatically create a “semantic space” for information retrieval.

As the patent explains, LSI treated this unreliability of association data as a statistical problem.

Without getting too into the weeds, these researchers essentially believed that there was a hidden underlying latent semantic structure they could tease out of word usage data.

Doing so would reveal the latent meaning and enable the system to bring back more relevant results – and only the most relevant results – even if there’s no exact keyword match.

Here’s what that LSI process actually looks like:

Image created by author, January 2022

And here’s the most important thing you should note about the above illustration of this methodology from the patent application: there are two separate processes happening.

First, the collection or index undergoes Latent Semantic Analysis.

Second, the query is analyzed and the already-processed index is then searched for similarities.

And that’s where the fundamental problem with LSI as a Google search ranking signal lies.

Google’s index is massive at hundreds of billions of pages, and it’s growing constantly.

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Each time a user inputs a query, Google is sorting through its index in a fraction of a second to find the best answer.

Using the above methodology in the algorithm would require that Google:

  1. Recreate that semantic space using LSA across its entire index.
  2. Analyze the semantic meaning of the query.
  3. Find all similarities between the semantic meaning of the query and documents in the semantic space created from analyzing the entire index.
  4. Sort and rank those results.

That’s a gross oversimplification, but the point is that this isn’t a scalable process.

This would be super useful for small collections of information. It was helpful for surfacing relevant reports inside a company’s computerized archive of technical documentation, for example.

The patent application illustrates how LSI works using a collection of nine documents. That’s what it was designed to do. LSI is primitive in terms of computerized information retrieval.

Latent Semantic Indexing As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI): Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

While the underlying principles of eliminating noise by determining semantic relevance have surely informed developments in search ranking since LSA/LSI was patented, LSI itself has no useful application in SEO today.

It hasn’t been ruled out completely, but there is no evidence that Google has ever used LSI to rank results. And Google definitely isn’t using LSI or LSI keywords today to rank search results.

Those who recommend using LSI keywords are latching on to a concept they don’t quite understand in an effort to explain why the ways in which words are related (or not) is important in SEO.

Relevance and intent are foundational considerations in Google’s search ranking algorithm.

Those are two of the big questions they’re trying to solve for in surfacing the best answer for any query.

Synonymy and polysemy are still major challenges.

Semantics – that is, our understanding of the various meanings of words and how they’re related – is essential in producing more relevant search results.

But LSI has nothing to do with that.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal





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What Is a Google Broad Core Algorithm Update?

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What Is A Google Broad Core Algorithm Update?


When Google announces a broad core algorithm update, many SEO professionals find themselves asking what exactly changed (besides their rankings).

Google’s acknowledgment of core updates is always vague and doesn’t provide much detail other than to say the update occurred.

The SEO community is typically notified about core updates via the same standard tweets from Google’s Search Liaison.

There’s one announcement from Google when the update begins rolling out, and one on its conclusion, with few additional details in between (if any).

This invariably leaves SEO professionals and site owners asking many questions with respect to how their rankings were impacted by the core update.

To gain insight into what may have caused a site’s rankings to go up, down, or stay the same, it helps to understand what a broad core update is and how it differs from other types of algorithm updates.

After reading this article you’ll have a better idea of what a core update is designed to do, and how to recover from one if your rankings were impacted.

So, What Exactly Is A Core Update?

First, let me get the obligatory “Google makes hundreds of algorithm changes per year, often more than one per day” boilerplate out of the way.

Many of the named updates we hear about (Penguin, Panda, Pigeon, Fred, etc.) are implemented to address specific faults or issues in Google’s algorithms.

In the case of Penguin, it was link spam; in the case of Pigeon, it was local SEO spam.

They all had a specific purpose.

In these cases, Google (sometimes reluctantly) informed us what they were trying to accomplish or prevent with the algorithm update, and we were able to go back and remedy our sites.

A core update is different.

The way I understand it, a core update is a tweak or change to the main search algorithm itself.

You know, the one that has between 200 and 500 ranking factors and signals (depending on which SEO blog you’re reading today).

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What a core update means to me is that Google slightly tweaked the importance, order, weights, or values of these signals.

Because of that, they can’t come right out and tell us what changed without revealing the secret sauce.

The simplest way to visualize this would be to imagine 200 factors listed in order of importance.

Now imagine Google changing the order of 42 of those 200 factors.

Rankings would change, but it would be a combination of many things, not due to one specific factor or cause.

Obviously, it isn’t that simple, but that’s a good way to think about a core update.

Here’s a purely made up, slightly more complicated example of what Google wouldn’t tell us:

“In this core update, we increased the value of keywords in H1 tags by 2%, increased the value of HTTPS by 18%, decreased the value of keyword in title tag by 9%, changed the D value in our PageRank calculation from .85 to .70, and started using a TF-iDUF retrieval method for logged in users instead of the traditional TF-PDF method.”

(I swear these are real things. I just have no idea if they’re real things used by Google.)

For starters, many SEO pros wouldn’t understand it.

Basically, it means Google may have changed the way they calculate term importance on a page, or the weighing of links in PageRank, or both, or a whole bunch of other factors that they can’t talk about (without giving away the algorithm).

Put simply: Google changed the weight and importance of many ranking factors.

That’s the simple explanation.

At its most complex form, Google ran a new training set through their machine learning ranking model and quality raters picked this new set of results as more relevant than the previous set, and the engineers have no idea what weights changed or how they changed because that’s just how machine learning works.

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(We all know Google uses quality raters to rate search results. These ratings are how they choose one algorithm change over another – not how they rate your site. Whether they feed this into machine learning is anybody’s guess. But it’s one possibility.)

It’s likely some random combination of weighting delivered more relevant results for the quality raters, so they tested it more, the test results confirmed it, and they pushed it live.

How Can You Recover From A Core Update?

Unlike a major named update that targeted specific things, a core update may tweak the values of everything.

Because websites are weighted against other websites relevant to your query (engineers call this a corpus) the reason your site dropped could be entirely different than the reason somebody else’s increased or decreased in rankings.

To put it simply, Google isn’t telling you how to “recover” because it’s likely a different answer for every website and query.

It all depends on what everybody else trying to rank for your query is doing.

Does every one of them but you have their keyword in the H1 tag? If so then that could be a contributing factor.

Do you all do that already? Then that probably carries less weight for that corpus of results.

It’s very likely that this algorithm update didn’t “penalize” you for something at all. It most likely just rewarded another site more for something else.

Maybe you were killing it with internal anchor text and they were doing a great job of formatting content to match user intent – and Google shifted the weights so that content formatting was slightly higher and internal anchor text was slightly lower.

(Again, hypothetical examples here.)

In reality, it was probably several minor tweaks that, when combined, tipped the scales slightly in favor of one site or another (think of our reordered list here).

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Finding that “something else” that is helping your competitors isn’t easy – but it’s what keeps SEO professionals in the business.

Next Steps And Action Items

Rankings are down after a core update – now what?

Your next step is to gather intel on the pages that are ranking where your site used to be.

Conduct a SERP analysis to find positive correlations between pages that are ranking higher for queries where your site is now lower.

Try not to overanalyze the technical details, such as how fast each page loads or what their core web vitals scores are.

Pay attention to the content itself. As you go through it, ask yourself questions like:

  • Does it provide a better answer to the query than your article?
  • Does the content contain more recent data and current stats than yours?
  • Are there pictures and videos that help bring the content to life for the reader?

Google aims to serve content that provides the best and most complete answers to searchers’ queries. Relevance is the one ranking factor that will always win out over all others.

Take an honest look at your content to see if it’s as relevant today as it was prior to the core algorithm update.

From there you’ll have an idea of what needs improvement.

The best advice for conquering core updates?

Keep focusing on:

  • User intent.
  • Quality content.
  • Clean architecture.
  • Google’s guidelines.

Finally, don’t stop improving your site once you reach Position 1, because the site in Position 2 isn’t going to stop.

Yeah, I know, it’s not the answer anybody wants and it sounds like Google propaganda. I swear it’s not.

It’s just the reality of what a core update is.

Nobody said SEO was easy.

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Featured Image: Ulvur/Shutterstock





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