A few years ago, I read a study on the “believability” of news sources that seemed a little, well, unbelievable. Essentially, it suggested that fewer and fewer people were differentiating between theoretically objective news outlets (such as newspaper sites) and less-objective outlets (like bloggers) or even non-objective outlets (like company websites or press releases). This was particularly true for Google searches, where searchers tended to dive right into whatever came up at the top of the list.
As an ex-journalist, I found this unfathomable…how could people believe a company press release as much as the New York Times? But then I saw a similar study a month later and another one a couple months after that. And that’s when my world started changing.
For most of my career, press releases were simply a tool to get information to the media. Regardless of how brilliantly written they might have been, they were only successful if a media outlet picked them up. Releases also had a one-time only shelf life; after distribution, their usefulness was pretty much done. Now, though, everything has changed. A press release can live forever on the web and, thanks to search optimization, can reach millions of potential customers — even if no journalist ever deems it worthy of a story!
So how do you optimize a press release? Pretty much like any other web page. First of all, identify a few (2-3) key words or phrases and link them to a relevant web page. Make sure that your key words are non-branded terms that people actually search for. For example, while “media release” is a more accurate phrase than “press release,” it is not the more commonly searched of the two — “press release” is, by far. (Google Adwords can help you determine which words or phrases to use.)
Once you’ve found your key words, work them into your headline and at least three times throughout the body of the release. Often this can be done by substituting key words for pronouns like “it or “its.” However, don’t use your key words so much that the release seems stilted — the search spiders will sense that and downgrade you. If you have a longer release, consider using another keyword in the subhead. (Use your most important keyword in the header and link it from there. The subhead, if you have one, should use a different keyword.)
You might also add links to other key information, but only if appropriate; don’t force it, and don’t overdo it — too many links can distract search engines. Make sure to include a link to your company website in the ending boilerplate paragraph. However, to aid search, use your site’s full URL nomenclature, such as http://www.boelterlincoln.com/, rather than just “boelterlincoln.com.”
Another suggestion: avoid industry jargon whenever possible. Journalists don’t like it and neither do search engines. (Admittedly, this can be hard in some product categories…but still.) Finally, make sure your release resides online, even if you are distributing it primary via e-mail, rather than wire. After all, there’s no sense bothering with search engine optimization if your release isn’t going to be on the web in the first place.