Something weird has started happening with Google's "In The News" box: in early October, Search Engine Land reported that posts from the user-generated "news" site had begun showing up next to -- and in some cases, above -- articles from legitimate news sources. To prove the point, Barry Schwartz, Search Engine Land News Editor, included a screen clipping from an October 6th Google search for "dunkin donuts." The title and source of the first article listed in the "News" box is a bit surprising -- "My girlfriend ordered a Halloween pumpkin donut from Dunkin' Donuts. It was not quite as advertised. :funny --Reddit."

Not surprisingly, confusion exploded among content creators and news publishers; what exactly does this mean for press release creation and distribution? Should content marketers start changing up their press release strategies, in preparation for yet another Google algorithm change?

The Early Days of the Press Release

Navigating the online world of press release syndication is no easy task. Back in day, (around the time when you had to walk to school uphill, both ways, in four feet of snow) businesses would write up press releases and then pitch their content to news sources. If the news source decided to accept the press release, a thorough fact-checking and rewriting process would occur; even though this process ensured that each press release was legitimate, the process became archaic in a time when the internet fostered instant gratification.

This is where press release distributors stepped in. A distributor like PRWeb requires that content creators abide by their writing requirements, and in return, press releases are guaranteed to be syndicated to a group of search engine "News" feeds (like the "News" sections in Google, Bing, and Yahoo) as well as regional newspapers and social media sites. The syndication process became faster and more cost-effective for businesses, but it also gave businesses an opportunity to benefit from low-quality content and promotional "news."

The Google Warning

Just last year, Google released a warning aimed at businesses and news publishers who had begun using "native ads" in lieu of real news stories. A senior director at Google reportedly took this warning one step farther, and told publishers that too much promotional advertising, masked as real content, could result in the entire website being banned from Google News.

Last year's warning came through loud and clear. Businesses realized that they couldn't afford to have their press releases pulled from Google News -- a press release doesn't just allow a business to promote its services and products to target audiences, but a collection of press releases linking back to a business' website also provides the variety and substance that gets a webpage ranked higher on search engine results lists.

Businesses that hadn't already turned to press release distributors for content syndication took Google's warning seriously, and distributors like PRWeb started enforcing strict "journalistic requirements" for each press release syndicated through their service. The goal here is to allow legitimate businesses with real news to earn the high rankings that they deserve, and to ensure that no valuable press release falls through the cracks of an algorithm misunderstanding.

The Conclusion

Content creators are still unsure whether they'll have to recreate press release guidelines in order to combat a possible influx of questionable Reddit threads and blog posts, but Google seems firm on its responsibility to provide users with the most valuable and newsworthy content.

A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land that "[Google] will be pulling from all over the web, which means that we will present as diverse a range of voices as possible to ensure we get users to the answer they are looking for." In other words, Google is saying that a legitimate and newsworthy press release will still be given the spot it deserves. If ever there was a time to keep an eye on press release syndication, that time has arrived.

By: Shannon Delaney