Here's the intriguing headline from SEO Roundtable, "Google Cutts: Links From Press Releases Won't Help". But then SEO Consult tested this premise and found press release links did help rankings.
So What Gives? Do Press Release Links Work?
Couldn't these links still count due to other variables? For example, it could be that when press releases are picked up by major news sites and sources they can't help but have an impact (via "link juice") on your site's ranking.
And what if a smaller blog or news site republishes a news story that had been picked up by bigger one first?
In other words, things tend to go viral and there's a lot of, "If someone bigger than me found it interesting, I should publish it too" mentality out there. This is fine, in fact it's the way news has always traveled.
If it is the case that the press release, and the links inside, get spread far and wide, of course it would have to help your rankings, right? Right.
And these links and exposure get you direct traffic from people interested enough in the topic to do read the article, which is it's own excellent traffic source.
And Then There is The Actual Quote...
Matt Cutts didn't exactly say press release links won't help your rankings. He said something about not assuming links from press release sites will help your rankings.
So What About The Test?
Well when SEO Consult did a test of their keyword in the rankings after uploading press releases only to press release sites (apparently none were picked up and redistributed). Their word did appear highly in the rankings.
So what's it all mean? Back to the points above and a few more. They picked a weird word so there wasn't much competition. And there's the "Google Dance", the period of time when Google notices new items and ranks them high briefly (maybe in case they're breaking news?) before putting them away on a page further back in the results.
Maybe Google isn't 100% how their algo works. Or maybe Cutts isn't, or maybe he's misleading us! :-) LOL, the wonderful world of Google.
Like so many things in life, watch what they do, not what they say.