Optimizing press releases for search engines is a hot topic these days, with a number of writers offering tips and tricks to boost releases' search rankings.
Some of these recommendations are jarring for PR practitioners who've honed the craft of writing releases, and journalists have good reason to fear the slew of so-called “optimized” releases flooding their inboxes.
Fortunately, there are ways to raise releases' rankings without sacrificing the art form. PR Newswire even currently offers such a service, Search Engine Visibility.
Recently, on these pages, BL Ochman offered her own tips for optimizing releases. BL is one of the smartest, sharpest people I know in the industry, and I'm an avid reader of her blog and newsletter. While it would be wise to regularly pay attention to what she has to say, there are right ways to optimize releases, and then there are other ways.
Let's first take a step back and dissect what search engine optimization (SEO) really means.
SEO, to invoke an appropriate cliché, is both art and science. There are technological fixes to make online content “search engine friendly,” a common example of this being adapting the meta tags embedded in HTML code. This is largely the science.
Then there's the art form. It's crafting content that embodies various keywords. It's building a strategy positioning a company within search engines. It's designing a site that follows best practices in aesthetics and usability while keeping all search goals in mind.
Though there's a fine line between the two, with many facets of search engine optimization and marketing crossing back and forth, the dichotomy can illustrate where best to focus efforts on optimizing press releases for search.
To solve this riddle, it helps to first determine what about press releases is art and what is science.
While the best of the best PR practitioners may indeed distill release writing to what appears to be a science, there are few set rules for it. Despite its being business writing, it requires a near-superhuman talent for creativity. Standing out is art.
In light of this, the art should be left alone. If Joe's widget company hires a top-notch PR executive or agency, Joe shouldn't be too concerned with how often the press release contains the word “widget” or what the exact word count is.
If the art is off limits, then all efforts should focus on the science.
The first step with the scientific approach is to put the press release online and make sure it's linked to within the Web site's architecture. Assuming your site is already indexed by search engines, merely having the release online and linked from your site's pressroom will ultimately let it get discovered by Google, Yahoo! and their peers.
Ms. Ochman lists this as her seventh and final tip for creating search-engine-friendly releases, but it is the most important. She also mentions that the link to the release should include the “https://”—which is a necessity anyway when writing the HTML code for the link.
Of course, that alone won't guarantee high rankings in engine indexes. Ms. Ochman offers some remedies for this that mainly stem from learning how to write effective news releases (she should know; she's authored several books on the subject). For example, she advises including a subhead for somewhat longer releases, refraining from shortening or substituting jargon for seemingly familiar terms and capping the word count at 300. These can all help the readability and earn brownie points with journalists.
Additionally, she recommends repeating the key phrase in the headline and three or more times in a 300-word piece. Referring back to the earlier example, if Joe (or his PR professional) tried writing a press release about his new widgets, he'd be hard-pressed not to include the keyword “widgets” so often in the article.
Lastly, Ms. Ochman buries one of her most salient points—suggesting sending out releases via PR Newswire, along with the free PR Web service sometime later. PR Newswire offers a service called Search Engine Visibility (powered by icrossing, this columnist's employer), which takes care of the science to maximize exposure in search engines and extend the life of the release.
It's an offering that attracts its share of repeat business because once the science is managed with technological solutions, then PR artisans can be given the freedom to hone their craft with the content.
Press releases should indeed be optimized for search engines, but there's no need to sacrifice the art when there is a wealth of opportunities by perfecting the science.
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