BACK TO BASICS: Press Release Basics for SEO Success
Press releases are an important tool in any marketer's belt. With a press release you can proactively manage your own news -- generate buzz, squelch rumors, set the record straight and just generally increase public awareness about your company. For a Web site, press releases can do all that plus attract new visitors, increase traffic and even generate backlinks to the site. You may be surprised, though, by how important SEO know-how is to creating an effective press release.
Never done it before? Don't worry. Distributing a press release is not only effective, but also it's pretty easy and not too costly these days, thanks to the Internet.
The Press Release Big Picture
Putting out a press release is fairly painless. You write up a brief article, upload it to a third-party distribution company, and voilá -- it's news! The third-party company takes care of publishing and distributing it for you. Even if you do nothing more to draw attention to the article yourself, the benefits will start to roll in.
Once it's an official press release, it's ripe for any number of other Web sites and news outlets to pick up. They may republish all or part of your article, and may even use the links, logos or pictures you included in the article. Social media sites should also be part of the distribution network.
If you're lucky, a power Twitterer or two (think Lisa Barone or Guy Kawasaki) will notice your article and tweet it to all their followers -- and so forth and so on. Your news can very quickly circulate through the Internet and bring attention and traffic to your site. It'll only be short-term attention, granted, but some long-term benefit may result as well. You may get a few backlinks from complementary Web sites. Your news might attract people who decide to become regular visitors, RSS subscribers, etc. And because the distribution company archives your story on their site, it can continue to be found by searchers looking for related information. You should also archive your press releases in a News or Press section on your site.
What does it cost to distribute a press release, you ask? To give you an idea, we generally pay between $400 and $500 for U.S. national distribution of a 400-word press release. You can customize your target area either geographically or even by vertical industry. And there are other a la carte options that will increase or decrease your final bill.
Writing a Press Release with SEO in Mind
If you've never written a press release before, the idea can sound daunting. What should it say? How should it be worded? How do you handle the headline, dateline, etc.? How does it get distributed? Is there a form to use? These and other questions may cause a first-time PR-writer to break out in hives, or at least escape for an early lunch break.
It turns out that a press release is just another written format. It's not even a long format -- no 5,000-word essays here! Think 300 to 400 words, max. Here are a few other guidelines specific to search engine optimization:
- Keywords count. As with any content you write, keep in mind your site's keywords and use the ones that are applicable to the article topic. Pick a main keyword to include in the headline, since that's going to become the Title tag. Be sure to repeat it one or two times in the body text. If possible, use it within the first 160 characters of the first paragraph, since Google usually shows that part as the description of a news result.
- Links are good. Include links to your site in your article, and use good anchor text. Your PR distribution company might charge a little more for active links, but the potential link equity value is probably worth it. And make sure that each link points to the most appropriate landing page for that anchor text, not just to your home page.
- Engagement Objects™ add value. Many distribution companies allow you to include a logo graphic for free, but consider putting in additional images, video or audio if they are appropriate to your topic. They help engage readers, enticing more eyeballs to your news. And your article could show up in other vertical search engines and possibly move up in the rankings of a blended search with a snazzy Engagement Object included.
If this is beginning to sound like SEO 101, you're catching on! Basically, you can apply the same search engine optimization best practices you use when writing Web page content to writing a press release. After all, the end result of a press release is really static Web copy.
At Bruce Clay, Inc., we have some guidelines to use on company press releases. Keyword usage is highest priority. From a list of top five keyword phrases, pick one to work into the headline, first paragraph and once more in the body. Pick and choose from a list of secondary keywords to sprinkle through the release as they apply. And try to vary the main keywords emphasized from press release to press release. That's important because varying the anchor text in inbound links looks more natural. It also spreads the wealth, so you have better off-page SEO for several terms, not just one.
There are many options for press release distribution and they vary based on your target market. What works best for a tech company might not be suited to a bed and breakfast in Ohio. Check out the following press release distribution services, which are a few we have used first-hand. Compare their coverage, prices and options to find the one that suits you best. Different services feed different news outlets, so if there's a particular news outlet that you definitely want your news appearing in, that would be a deciding factor.
- PRWeb - This is a very reliable distribution service, and one that we often recommend to clients. Their Web site also offers some really helpful tips on how to write a press release.
- Marketwire - Marketwire news stories rise nicely to the top of Google news search results and in Google Alerts, so they're another good one to consider when looking for SEO value.
- PR Newswire - Being one of the biggest press release operations in the U.S. makes this company another good candidate.
When you upload your article, be sure to tag it for your appropriate industry categories. Generally you'll scroll through a long list of choices. Check off only the categories that your article applies to. These categories tie in to various news agencies' and companies' feeds, so this can help guide your news into the right channels.
Getting your Press Release into Social Media
The distribution companies have caught on to the importance of social media to a greater or lesser extent. Marketwire, for instance, offers chiclets below your article on their Web site for free. You can specify the tags (relevant keywords) you think apply to your press release that will help social media users find your news.
The chiclets enable anyone reading your article on the Marketwire site to post it on Digg, Delicious or Technorati. However, you have to pay more if you want the distribution company to push your news to social media sites as well as to traditional media.
To get it into social media without spending a ton, your best bet for now is to follow up with some posting of your own. Once your article is published, tweet about it. Mention it on your Facebook wall. Even resort to good old-fashioned e-mail to get the word out. Link to the article on the distribution company's site to increase its backlinks. But spread the word right away.
As effective as they can be, press releases have a very short lifespan. You should distribute press releases regularly -- at least every month or two, but more frequently if you have something newsworthy. They will help keep buzz about your company circulating, with a message you can control.