Optimizing Your Press Releases

If you look at a press release through the lens of an SEO, what you see is not a piece a paper; it’s potentially a mini web site. From this perspective, the humble press release takes on a whole new life. In this article, I’ll discuss a number of ideas that will give your press releases much more impact.

Before I get to these tips, however, maybe you’re not convinced that you need to optimize your press releases in the first place. If you aren’t, here are some points to consider, with a nod to Rob Garner, writing for Media Post’s Search Insider:

  • If you use an online news wire such as PRWeb, PRNewswire or BusinessWire to help you distribute your press releases, you may already know that many reporters go directly to them (or receive feeds from them) for content. They’ve turned into “press release search engines," and as with any search engine, content indexed by them may need to be optimized if you want it to be found by your target audience.
  • Google, Yahoo, and especially Ask have begun including a greater variety of content in their general SERPs; they’ll now turn up a healthy mix of blogs, video, and yes, news items. If your press release is picked up by news outlets, it stands a better chance in Google if you’ve already optimized it.
  • Journalists, reporters, bloggers, and news junkies often have alerts in place with various sites (such as Google) that are triggered by particular keywords. These alerts push them new stories. Since this is content they’ve actually requested, wouldn’t you like your press release to be one of the items they receive in their inbox?

Garner mentions a couple of other reasons, but these seem to be the most important. Press releases are and always have been about visibility. It’s true that they’re many decades older than the Internet, but like everything else they need to keep up with the times. That means they need to fit into their new online environment. With the tips in this article, you’ll see how to make your press release feel right at home.

{mospagebreak title=Starting at the Top}

Online, your press release will be a web page. So go one step further and think of it as a sort of one-page web site that connects to all of its important points. Start optimizing it the same way you’d optimize a web page: with the title of the page. Or in this case, since we’re focusing on the content, with the headline.

Headline writing for newspapers used to be an art, and a good one could make a reader laugh with its clever wordplay. Sadly, we can’t do that anymore. Your headline needs to contain your press release’s most important keywords. Try to keep it down to 80 characters or less. And keep using those keywords throughout your release.

Web pages link to other web pages. Why shouldn’t your press release link to other web pages? If your release is all about your company introducing a new line of products, it makes sense to link within the release to the appropriate pages on your company web site – and no, I don’t mean the home page. If you don’t have relevant pages within your own site to link to, you can always create special landing pages. The important point is to link the most strategic keywords in your press release. If you’re selling T-shirts and you link the words “political T-shirts,” it should lead either to a sub-section of your web site that shows off those political T-shirts or to an appropriate landing page you’ve created specifically so that Red and Blue staters can see your offerings.

If you’re putting up your press release with a service that allows it, you can include a lot more than ordinary hyperlinks. If it allows external multimedia content, you can link to a podcast that covers your press release. You can even include photos hosted on Flickr or video hosted on YouTube to make it a multimedia extravaganza. And since these sites are indexed by the major search engines, including that kind of content will give your release more opportunities to be picked up and get a good position in the search engine results pages.

There’s more to this kind of thinking than just taking advantage of the extra dimensions offered by the web, however. You also need to be aware that web surfers read and focus differently from magazine and newspaper readers. Keep your headlines short; use bold, italic, and bullet points to help you get your message across; and use subheads rationally to break up the release and lead the reader smoothly from topic to topic. I’ll cover more writing tips in the next section.

{mospagebreak title=Use Those Keywords!}

I mentioned keywords in the previous section. I’d like to emphasize that you must use relevant keywords. By “relevant” I mean keywords that are both relevant to your press release, and being used by web surfers to find information related to your press release. Learn what words your target audience uses to think of your offering, and you’ll be able to put your press release right in front of their faces. Remember the point I made in the first section, that many people have keyword alerts set up to send content directly to their email inboxes. Research your keywords well, and your release will be right there.

Here’s another point to consider when choosing keywords, by the way: use a well-known brand name if you can. For instance, if your company is partnering with the company that owns that brand name, you’d be able to use the brand name then; you might even want to put the other company’s name in the press release before your own. That will help get you spotted.

Once you’ve settled on your keywords, where do you use them? I’ve already mentioned that you want to use your most relevant keywords in the headline of your press release. But of course, the headline is hardly the only place to use those important keywords.

Usually when you write a press release, your first paragraph summarizes the content. That’s a good place to put secondary keywords that support the theme of your release. Make sure you also put your company name in the first paragraph, of course, and include your company’s URL right after the name. Consider using the full version of your URL starting with http://, since some news-based content management systems will not turn it into a link otherwise.

Use keywords throughout the body of your press release. Don’t overdo it; they should flow naturally from the subject matter. For example, I’ve used the phrase “press release” multiple times in this article already, but if I’ve been doing my job, it doesn’t leap out at you enough to annoy or slow down your reading.

Most companies use a certain “boilerplate” paragraph at the end of a press release to describe themselves. That’s a good place to put any keywords that describe the company, the nature of your business, etc. Don’t go too crazy here; make sure there’s at least a simple statement that includes your company name and what it does (i.e. “Microsoft is the worldwide leader in software…”).

{mospagebreak title=Getting the Word Out}

How do you get your press release seen in all the right places? Well, you can start by making sure your PR team understands SEO, or at least the basics of press release optimization. Fortunately, many of the practices PR writers already use to get a journalist’s attention jibe well with SEO practices. The two can reinforce each other.

Many companies put out joint press releases. If your company’s press release includes a public company other than your own, try to get permission to distribute your release on their PR feed. In this way, your press release will get picked up by many financial news outlets. In fact, nearly anyone who covers the other company for whatever reason will at least see the release.

Of course you know about the PR sites I mentioned at the beginning of this article. You also know about the Associated Press and Reuters. They aren’t the only games in town anymore when it comes to news services, however. Garner recommends bizjournals.com; a little research should turn up some online publications that would love to see your press release and serve your target market.

Make sure you email your release to the appropriate journalists, along with a concise summary. As a recipient of press releases myself, I can tell you that we don’t have a lot of time to wade through the whole thing. Many of us have developed the fine art of rejecting a press release as soon as we get through the headline. Attach the press release to an email in which you’ve summarized the contents in a short paragraph, and you have a better chance of getting read. Include any unusual angles. Show that you know what the journalist normally covers, offer a story idea, and you have a much better chance of convincing him or her to write about you.

Don’t forget that news begins at home. You should post the release to your web site in an area set aside for press releases on your site, and also talk about it in your company blog. This is one more way to make sure the news gets out. Getting the news out and creating the right buzz is what press releases are all about, after all. Follow these steps and you’ll get your message in front of the people who most want to see it – which should lead to more traffic and conversions on your site.

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