I recently read this article from Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land about how false and spam press releases are being distributed via PRWeb, after yesterday’s big tech news that PRWeb ran a press release that falsely reported the acquisition of WiFi provider ICOA by Google. Danny’s article makes some excellent and painfully true points about the inherent flaws with both PRWeb’s internal QC processes for the press releases distributed through its platform, and with how Google News indexes news items.
Before I go any further, let me just be completely transparent and say that Search Mojo is a client of PRWeb. The biggest reason we use PRWeb is not for SEO, believe it or not (the verdict is still out regarding the value of links from PRWeb; however, there is SEO value if links are included in the news stories that are published as a result), but because it offers a wide distribution for our press releases. However, as we saw with yesterday’s debacle, that wide distribution has its obvious drawbacks. If anyone is able to distribute a press release through PRWeb about a company–especially about something as Earth-shatteringly important as an acquisition by a multi-national, publicly-traded corporation–then there can be some serious implications for that company, and not just from an online reputation standpoint. In the case of Google, this false news may have affected (and may still affect) their stock and the stock of ICOA (which, as it seems, was the point of the press release in the first place).
Furthermore, Google News (ironically) picked up this release and all the news that came as a result of it. While this release wouldn’t be regarded as spam, Google News does also index news that comes from spam releases as well (as evidenced by one of the examples Danny gave in his article):
I think this should be a wake-up call for both PRWeb and Google, not to mention the credible news organizations that simply publish press releases on their websites without actually checking them first. I hope PRWeb will have a serious look at its internal processes for fact-checking the press releases that are submitted through its platform, and I hope Google will have a serious look at how it indexes news items to weed out spam and evaluate potentially false news and hoaxes. This is how the rumor mill turns – just look at the recent Facebook privacy hoax that resulted in I’m sure millions of users posting a copyright ownership claim to their profiles.
It will be interesting to see how this whole situation shakes out – if the FTC gets involved, for instance. But this should be a lesson in online reputation management for everyone – to be diligent in closely monitoring your online mentions to make sure you’re not the victim of a fake press release.