White Paper: How Search Engine Optimization Can Dramatically Improve Your PR Strategy

Step 1: Choose the right keywords.
"The biggest mistake PR people make when optimizing news releases is using keywords no one uses in their searches," says Sarah Skerik, Vice President of Distribution Services for PR Newswire. "For example, luxury car dealers often use the phrase, 'certified pre-owned vehicles.' The problem with this phrase is that an auto dealer's customers are looking for '[brand name] used cars.' Hence, the dealer's carefully crafted release doesn't appear in the search engine results pages - because it's optimized for the wrong keywords."

Your first step in developing a list of the right keywords is to visit your company's marketing department. Why? Because they've probably already done keyword research and can give you a list - saving you countless hours.

If your marketing department hasn't conducted this research, you can determine which keywords are most relevant to your release/product/ business by consulting a keyword search tool such as Google's free Keyword Tool or for-fee tools such as Wordtracker or Keyword Discovery.

Also check out your company's competition on Technorati and del.icio.us to see which keywords were used to "tag" content. If you're using Google's Keyword Tool, click on the "competitors" tab for an insightful look at the keywords your competition is using.

"Journalism best practices are still in force and are even more relevant today," says Skerik. "News releases full of jargon and hyperbole are bad for journalists and for search engines because they suppress visibility. To be successful online, you must get out of your own jargon and use the keywords your customers are using to find companies like yours."

Step 2: Incorporate keywords into your news releases.
According to an August 2007 survey by iProspect on how the offline channel influences online search behaviors, 44 percent of searchers who have been exposed to a company through TV, print and word of mouth advertising use the company name when searching for a company and its products.

One can extrapolate from this data that people also use a company name in their searches during breaking news events where their products could potentially be affected. For example, right after Hurricane Katrina hit, Cingular Wireless (now AT&T) registered a unique URL utilizing the words "Cingular hurricane updates" and linked the URL directly back to their media room. The corporate communications team then distributed a news release alerting its customers, which included 1,200 federal, state and local government agencies, as well as 95 of the Fortune 100 companies, about the site. Two years later, Cingular/AT&T is still #1 for the search phrase "Cingular hurricane updates" (albeit the AT&T page is a year out of date).

For business-to-business, where buyers are often searching for solutions to problems - not specific products or services - the rules are a little different. Unless your product is a well known brand name to the vast majority of business users (e.g. Windows Vista), use keywords from your list to describe your products and services.

Choose two to three related keywords that best describe your products and services and which have garnered search traffic in the past. Why only two to three keywords and not more? Two reasons: it's easier to optimize copy around fewer keywords and your release has a much better chance of ranking well in the search engines for one, two or all three of those keywords - versus a release that has a half dozen non-targeted keyword phrases splashed randomly about. Incorporate the keywords into the news release headline, subhead, first paragraph of the release and throughout the release where it makes sense to do so. If possible, use keywords as links to content on your Web site.

You can increase the effectiveness of your news releases by using URLs that go to specific product or information pages (e.g. landing pages) within the corporate Web site versus your home page. On September 26, 2007, Bankrate.com issued a news release announcing that bank fees had reached an all time high in several areas. The research was compiled in Bankrate's new fall 2007 Checking Study. In the first paragraph of the release, the company incorporated a unique URL that took searchers directly to its 2007 Checking Study landing page.

Include a link to the corporate Home Page in the "About Company" blurb at the end of the release. Write out the full URL as "http://www.companyname. com" rather than "www.companyname.com" as not all news distribution systems will convert the latter into a working hyperlink.

Step 3: Distribute news releases via a wire service.
Although posting optimized news releases to your Web site or online media room ensures that search engines will eventually find them, you can speed up this process considerably by distributing your releases via an online news release distribution service.

The Bankrate.com news release cited above went out the morning of September 26, 2007 and by 11:00 AM Eastern time had achieved top search results on Google's main search results - not just the News section. Google searches incorporating keywords such as "high banking fees," "banking fees study" and "Bankrate's banking fees study" all show the report ranking in the top three listings for these key phrases. This is due in part to the optimized news release. Additional advantages of using a news release distribution service include:

  • Heightened online visibility - Distribution services work directly with major media outlets such as Google News, Yahoo! Finance and CNN. Typically, a news release sent out over the wire will appear on these outlets' Web sites. The Bankrate.com study, for example, hit the front page of CNNMoney's News page a few hours after it was released.
     
  • Increased longevity - Most news distribution services will keep your news release "live" for six months or more, which helps journalists and others find it months after it has been sent out.
     
  • Quantitative real-time tracking and reporting - Many distribution services now offer the ability to track click-throughs or the number of people who've printed the release. Depending on the reporting capability, you can also determine the keyword phrases people used to find your release (data that can be used for future releases) and which search engines people used to find the release.
     

Step 4: Post optimized news releases to your online media room.
Another reason for writing optimized news releases? Once you post them to your Web site, journalists, customers and investors visiting your site have an easier time finding them via your site's search tool. Posting optimized releases to your site means they come up for keyword searches - in addition to what journalists, bloggers and others may be saying about your company. It's a fact that for many companies, top search results often include negative postings or reviews - something well-optimized news releases can help neutralize. And too, archiving your releases means journalists, who may be looking for "background" on a story, can find your news releases months or years after they've been released.

Step 5: Include an RSS feed in your online media room.
RSS, which stands for "Really Simple Syndication," is an easy way for search engines and people to find content. Once a company establishes an RSS feed - simply look for the little orange box on a Web site or blog - search engines then scan the feed regularly for updates. This is why content found on RSS feeds, including news releases, blog posts and podcasts, shows up in the search engines soon after it's posted. Adding RSS feeds to your online media room ensures that those journalists, investors and customers who use newsreaders receive your news releases immediately as they are posted to the feed - and that the search engines find them, too. If your company has many product lines and industry verticals, it pays to develop RSS feeds by product or vertical category since not everyone will want to receive all of your releases.

These excerpts taken from a PR Newswire/The Fuel Team joint white paper published in August 2008. To access the full white paper, please contact Dee Rambeau at dee.rambeau@prnewswire.com.

Looking for broad online syndication of your content? iReach from PR Newswire can help.  Click here to find out more.

 

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