How to Optimize News Releases for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

July 14th, 2008

online press release optimizationTraditional public relations (PR) is being completely redefined as a result of the Internet.

One subset of PR is news release distribution. A news release, media release, press release, or press statement is a written or recorded communication directed at members of the news media to announce something deemed to have news value. Typically, it is mailed, faxed, or sent by e-mail to assignment editors at newspapers, magazines, radio stations, television stations, and television networks (source: Wikipedia: News Release). It used to be a traditional tactic within the marketing department (in-house or outsourced), but it was expensive, and for the most part ignored by smaller companies. Some companies simply couldn’t afford to hire PR firms to help them with releases, and they couldn’t afford the expensive distribution.

Isn’t it funny how the world evolves over time? Now the distribution model has changed and is far less costly. Press releases are not only being pushed to journalists and media – they are also being served out on the Internet via blogs, news feeders, directories, and aggregators, thereby – tapping into an enormous audience and, in some cases, talking directly to the consumer or customer. Additionally journalists, media, and end users may have subscribed to particular key word feeds, which are more of a pull versus push.

So what’s the big deal to a website owner?
Press releases can help your search engine rankings for popular and competitive search terms. If you’re a website owner, you should seriously consider adding press releases, optimization, and online distribution into your online marketing mix. Ultimately, this will benefit you by producing higher search ranking results on key word strings in the search engine results pages (SERPs), which in turn creates more site traffic and more site conversions (such as newsletter sign-ups, product or services purchases, downloads, phone calls, or trials)

My favorite news distribution tool:
After doing some online research for news distribution providers, business wire, and service shops, my favorite choice is http://www.prweb.com. It is good for those who understand SEO and how to write a release…and for those who don’t! If you fall into the latter category, you can add on editorial revision, drafting, and optimization. Depending on your news release length and the additional services you choose, it can range from $80 to $1,000 for each release. For Sitemasher, I personally choose the “Media Visibility” package at $360 for distributing our news releases, as it has more options for optimizing and distributing news. Sometimes I will upgrade with the business wire add-on, as it can reach an even larger media network, but only for very important releases.

Ten top tips for optimizing your press releases to increase search engine rankings and site traffic

Some changes to a press release are relatively minor, but can make major differences in the most critical spots. If you take the extra time to implement the following tips, not only will you see the benefits, but your release could potentially be picked up by more sites, search engine results pages, aggregators, and directories, and also attract more media attention and bloggers (who may write about your product or service).

  1. Choose news distribution services that have the right features. Research self-serve online distribution services that offer features to optimize your releases (see points below on those requirements, and question whether you can do it on their platform). Some don’t offer all of the features to properly optimize your news. If you’re unsure from their website whether they do, then sign up for an introduction webinar, if available, to understand the tool more. Alternatively, ask them for a test account that will let you log in and kick it around to actually see the features. Also, look for a service that gives you reports on readerships, downloads, and archiving (for longevity on exposure). Consider the geographic distribution networks and whether you can upgrade to larger networks or language translation (if you are a global company or plan to go global in the future).
  2. Optimize: add all important key words in the headline. Understand and define the most important key word strings that you want to be known by, and try to incorporate them in your headline. Why? Because it increases the possibility of people finding your release or your release being picked up by key word queries in readers and directories. For example: if you state “Sitemasher wins an award,” it is too vague and it will limit your exposure throughout the web that picks up releases via tags (also known as “categorization” and “key word” queries). By contrast, if you state “Sitemasher wins Microsoft Canada Blue Sky Award,” you have more potential key words, which means the release can be picked up for any tags under “Microsoft” and “Blue Sky Award.” Also, if people search for this exact phrase in Google, they will probably find your release at their first attempt. I actually saw this work just a few hours after we sent out our release. It was listed in second place in the Google search results, and was picked up by Yahoo and Google news, as well as some top aggregators and financial aggregator sites that pull through all Microsoft’s feeds.
  3. Optimize: use links, one for each 100 words. Try to follow a rule of one hyperlink per 100 key words. Some SEO experts believe that if you do more than that, then the release can be over-optimized (also viewed as spam from the search engines) and possibly get penalized, whereby it will show up lower down in the search engine results. To take it even further, make sure that you add hyperlinks to the important key word phrases (and never something such as “click here”). This helps raise the ranking of the release (and possibly your website if the link is to any of your web pages) in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for that particular key word or key word string.
  4. Optimize, use alt tags. In the same way as defining key words, this tactic can also tell the search engines what is important and raise your release within the search engine rankings. So if you can label particular pictures with your important key words, make sure you take advantage of it.
  5. Optimize: add anchor text. This is an advanced tactic and sometimes a little confusing or hard to find the instructions within PRweb.com. However, the formulas are simple, and with a little practice (and by following a few simple rules), adding anchor text to your press release is quite straightforward.

    Plain anchor link
    : http://www.sitemasher.com/cmssolution.htm [Sitemasher]. This will result in a link with the text “Sitemasher” pointing to “www.sitemasher.com/cmssolution.htm,” or whatever you substitute.

    Anchor with Title tag
    : http://www.sitemasher.com/csssolution.htm [Sitemasher __title__ Sitemasher is a cms platform and more]. This is the same as the above except that if a reader hovers a mouse over the link, the text “title text” (or whatever you substitute) will appear.Note: There’s a space before and after the underscore, which is a prerequisite.
  6. Interact and optimize. Use images, audio, video, and PDFs to take things up a notch and make it a multimedia news release. This may attract attention, as some aggregators like to rank multimedia pieces higher up on the page. It also gives other bloggers additional pieces to pull through to their sites if they wish. If you are pulling in a YouTube video, make sure you also tag it with important key words within YouTube, which will help your most important key words in the search engine results. Also, within the news distribution service, you should be able to label and tag any images and PDFs with key words to increase your odds of getting even more exposure.
  7. Optimize: take the time to tag the release itself. Services like PRWeb have an additional feature that lets you can define Technorati tags. Technorati looks at tags that authors have placed on their websites or news releases. These tags help categorize search results, with recent results coming first. If you overlook this feature and don’t use it, you can miss out on thousands of readers who may subscribe to Technorati, or directories and aggregators that pull through feeds from these tags. PRWeb allows you to tag your release with multiple tags, so I always choose the most important tags.
  8. Optimize: run a key word density check. Some services such as PRWeb may have an analysis tool that gives you feedback on key word density and key word locations. Try to make sure you have at least two to three of the most important key words in the title, in the short description, and within a hyperlink and its anchor test. If the analysis indicates that your release is weak or lacks important key words in some areas, go back and tweak it.
  9. Have a strong call-to-action and landing page on your site. Depending on your message, I’m sure that you can incorporate some sort of call-to-action or incentive to read more on a special landing page. Maybe it’s as simple as asking interested parties to sign up to your newsletter, read more on your company blog, sign up for a webinar, download a white paper, or sign up to qualify for substantial discounts on purchases. If you have a unique landing page for this release, you can also track how many people clicked through by viewing your site analytics.
  10. Provide good content. Last, but by no means least, make sure that you add meaningful content. Keep it short and get rid of adjectives – “the first,” “the best,” “the paradigm-shifts,” “world famous,” and all manner of other trend-setting verbiage and numerous quotes. For website owners and SEOs, this may be a matter of educating and retraining you or your writer to move away from traditional news release writing (hyperbole) that used to talk to media and journalists only. Releases via the web are being picked up by other bloggers, and pulled through and aggregated on other sites, so it’s more important to get straight to the meaty stuff!

If you’re looking to do your press release yourself, here are some good tips on how to write it, along with information about the anatomy of a news release:

Want to learn more about online PR and marketing? A recent book I read is called “The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly” – I highly recommend it!

Or would you rather hire a firm to help you with your SEO and PR? Recently, I talked with Deborah Collins at a BCAIMS Seminar from Soya Marketing (www. soyamarketing.com ). She is an online marketing PR and social media expert. We had a great discussion on how PR and SEO have merged. Debbie advises her clients to be very careful when choosing a PR firm, as not all PR firms (especially traditional ones) understand or have invested in the time to learn SEO and online PR and how they work together.

If you want to share similar experiences on this topic, I encourage you to leave a comment.

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