If you’re wondering what press releases and search engine optimization (SEO) have in common, then your company may be missing out on one of the most important tools in the battle for page rank and search visibility. That’s because the two largest search engines, Google and Bing, pay close attention to press releases when they determine page rank.
While the exact components of the algorithms that search engines use to determine how search results are delivered are closely held secrets, media coverage, back links, and new content are certainly among the most important factors. The lowly press release is the least expensive, fastest, and simplest tool for most businesses to use when it comes to improving or maintaining page rank.
No one knows how many press releases are issued every day. Three of the top ten press release distribution services (PR Newswire, PR Web, and MyPRGenie) together publish more than 4,000 of them each business day. So how do you set your press release apart from the pack and put them to work for your SEO plan as well as your public relations plan?
Here are 5 strategies that work for press releases and SEO that any company can harness to produce press releases that deliver real SEO value while attracting more attention from the press (and customers or investors who read them, too).
Make the First 10 Words Memorable
The first ten words of a press release are the most important – to readers, and to the search engines. Unfortunately, a lot of press releases start with lead sentences that bury the news in a flurry of words that talk about who is issuing the release instead of what the release is about.
It’s by far the most common press release mistake. Instead of focusing on identifying your company and the executive being quoted, start with a brief description of the news and then distinguish who announced it, not the other way around.
Doing it right: Cutting down on sugar reduces your risk of disease. That’s the conclusion of a study at State Medical School, where scientists today released results a research report titled, “Sugar’s Not So Nice In Terms of Overall Health.”
Doing it wrong: A team of scientists, led by Dr. Serious Scientist of the Big City Campus of State Medical School, today announced the results of a comprehensive three year study on how overall health is impacted by sugar consumption. The study, which was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Health, followed more than 12,000 healthy adults between 25 and 60 years of age. The 530-page report concluded that diet is as important as genetics in the development of some diseases.
Use Simple, Clear Language
Writing press releases isn’t rocket science – and even if your release is about a complex subject, simple, clear language makes your point. Most of the news release distribution services charge a premium price for press releases over 400 words, so you can save money by writing shorter releases. More importantly, you’ll find that clear language gets more attention and better pick-up from the media.
Space Exploration Technologies (Space X) started a recent press release this way:
“The first contract for the Falcon Heavy Rocket was signed today between Intelsat and Space Exploration Technologies (Space X). This is the first commercial contract for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. Under the agreement, an Intelsat satellite will be launched into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).”
Only after the key news had been delivered in a 45-word opening paragraph did the company add in the typical corporate descriptions of each company, why the deal is important, and so forth. That section of the release (201 words) wouldn’t have generated nearly as much interest as the short, clear introductory paragraph that opened the release, but too many corporate press releases start out simply and become unfocused and wordy as they move through the corporate approvals process.
One way to get off the jargon wagon is to ask someone outside your industry to proofread your press releases. If they don’t understand it, simplify it until they do.
Write Clickable Headlines
It’s always been true: the headline is the most important element of a press release, blog post, article, or downloadable collateral piece (white paper, PDF, brochure). Like the subject line of an email, it’s what determines whether someone clicks to learn more, or hits Delete immediately.
What makes a headline clickable? Three things: keywords, action verbs, and short, interesting phrases.
If the person writing your press releases doesn’t know the most important search terms (keywords) for the subject of your press release, then they aren’t ready to draft the release. So pick the keyword(s) for your headline first.
Once you’ve used the keyword in your headline, be sure to use it exactly the same way, at least twice in the body of your press release. If your headline keywords are “press release” and “SEO” (as they would be for a press release about this blog post), don’t switch to “write, to write, create” or “headlines, PR copy, releases, news release” – all perfectly acceptable words for the same thing – in the body. Why? Because the search engine “spiders” may not be smart enough to credit you with the relevance that determines page rank unless the phrases match up exactly.
It’s not always easy, but a short headline (approximately 65 characters) with a longer sub-head (about 165 characters) works better than a long headline. Keep the keywords close together in the headline instead of separating them with less important words.
The most successful press releases are the most memorable – short, clear, action oriented phases or questions that immediately grab reader attention. That may mean several rewrites until you have the headline that will tell your story the best, but it’s well worth the effort.
Use Anchor Text and Hotlinks
Anchor text is the visible characters and words that hyperlink display when linking to another document or location on the web. The phrase “Shama Kabani’s book The Zen of Social Media Marketing guides readers through the changing world of 21st century marketing,” contains two unique pieces of anchor text for two different links.
Each piece of anchor text conveys important information that can be easily searched for if the link is dropped when republished. Hotlinks are important for consumers and journalists because they offer readers a choice to explore for additional information, while minimizing the background information in your press release.
Some newswires and press release services limit the number of hyperlinks allowed in a press release, with six links in a 400-word press release the limit on several services. A spelled out URL (http://www.marketingzen.com) typically doesn’t count as a hyperlink, and can make it easy for someone to click on the link even if hyperlinks are stripped when published.
A useful habit is making sure that at least one of the keywords you select links to a page on your website other than the homepage. Also make sure that most of your links and keyword optimization is focused on the first 250 words of your press release. This puts the important content in the text that’s most likely to drive traffic back to your website.
Write Timeless, Useful Copy
While the newswire will include a dateline (city, source, release date) in your press release, don’t include a date in your press release unless you are writing about an event. Dates in release copy can make your information seem outdated, and reduce the number of people who take action on your links.
If your press release delivers quality content that interests your audience instead of interrupting them, you’ll get great results. But if you don’t have a good story to tell, then no amount of SEO effort will help.
The key is to let your readers know why your information matters to them. When reviewing a press release aimed at a consumer audience, ask yourself, “why would my mother, brother or aunt care about this?” For a business to business audience, ask, “why would my biggest customer, or hottest prospect, care about this?”
If the first 250 words of your press release offer interesting information that prospective customers can take action on, you’re more likely to achieve your business goals for the release. Focus on the facts and your objectives – without forgetting that a press release is not an advertisement – and remember that your press release will spend a long, long time in the search engines. That, and a little patience as you implement these suggestions, will go a long way toward improving your results.