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According to the 2006 Middleburg/Ross Survey of Media Professionals, 92% of journalists go online to find story ideas, with 73% specifically researching press releases.

With Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and free automatic email alerts from Google News so readily available, it makes sense that the Web is a prime source of consistently updated information for busy journalists.

So how can your organization capitalize on that fact?

Optimizing the press releases and other documents created by your PR department or agency for search engines—and correctly posting them on your Web site—is one key to generating more publicity.

Step 1: Research Keywords

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a keyword as "a significant word from a title or document used especially as an index to content." Sounds pretty simple, right? It can be, but to achieve maximum results from using keywords in search engine optimization (SEO), you need to do some research to uncover what words journalists who cover your subject matter use when looking for story ideas and sources on the Web.

No-Cost Keyword Research Techniques

  • Find out what keywords successful competitors are using by going to their Web site, viewing a press release, clicking on the "view" browser menu option, then selecting "source". A new browser window will open with the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) code for you to study. (It would take another article to explain the ins and outs of HTML, the most popular way to design Web sites, and how it plays into SEO. If you're not familiar with it, I highly recommend educating yourself via sources listed in this article's appendix.)
  • Read articles written by target journalists, then search the Web or the Web sites of the sources interviewed to read the press release that spawned the article. Use the above tip to look at the HTML code of the Web page for the release and find out what keywords were used.
  • Survey your PR and Marketing department personnel for keyword ideas.
  • Survey your Web site development team to find out what keywords are currently used for your organization's Web site, particularly the meta tags.
  • Survey product development personnel and executive management, as they may have ideas for technical or industry terminology.
  • Many press release distribution services (PRNewswire, MarketWire, etc.) have SEO features. Use them a few times (the companies usually permit you to do a free trial) and track results to get an idea of which keywords are most popular.

Low-Cost Keyword Research Tool

Wordtracker is a subscription service ($30 for 1 week, $59 for 1 month, $329 for 1 year) that helps you choose the correct keywords and phrases to make sure that you reach your specific target audiences.

Special tip: Once you develop your list of keywords, post it to your organization's intranet or send it as a memo to your PR, Marketing, and Web development colleagues. It's been my experience that a consistent list of keywords across an organization is a rarity.

Step 2: Craft Keyword-Rich Content

This is the point where I must stress that you cannot "stuff" press release text with keywords and expect it to magically appear high in search results. You must be strategic about not only which keywords are used, but how often and where within the release they are used.

Copy stuffed with keywords not only reads horribly but also could harm your chances of being included in search engine results.

  • Limit optimization to 1-3 keyword phrases per release.
  • Use the most popular keyword phrase in the headline, which carries the most weight with search engines.
  • Include a subhead with a keyword phrase if your release is more than a few paragraphs long. It makes the release easier to read, and search engines give more weight to bold text.
  • About 2% of your content should be keywords. For a 300-word release, six words can be keywords, so you can repeat your keyword or phrase up to three times.
  • Don't let your combined keywords exceed 1,000 characters.
  • Use plurals for your keywords, but avoid excessive repetition.
  • Don't always use obvious keywords. Include phrases that may get fewer searches but higher results.
  • Concentrate on optimizing the first 250 words of the press release, with the first 25 words being most important.
  • Include anchor text links (the visible hyperlinked text on Web pages) and write out full https://www URL addresses.
  • In your release call to action, insert direct links to separate landing pages set up with further information to aid journalists (and of course any prospective clients!). (PluraPage is an easy-to-use and affordable (about $20/month) landing-page and microsite-creation tool that doesn't require any knowledge of Web development. You can create landing pages without relying on your Web-design or IT team.)

Step 3: Post the Press Release to Your Web Site

Even if you aren't responsible for your organization's Web site, it's important to understand the basics behind effective posting of press releases. During my days as a PR manager, I developed good relationships with my Web developer colleagues by supplying them with which keywords to use in meta tags when I sent them the release to post.

Focus keywords on the following meta tags:

  • Title: Displays the name of the Web site page; appears in the top bar of the browser window when viewed.
  • Description: Description of your Web page that some search engines will use instead of what they would otherwise randomly select from the copy in the press release. Not all search engines recognize or read this HTML tag, which should not contain more than 25 words.
  • Keywords: Your suggested keywords to the search engines, telling them you would like your Web page to be included in search results for those keywords. Again, not all the search engines will use this tag; some won't even consider keywords included in this tag in their scoring of your Web page.
  • Headings: When viewed, they appear as the larger print or subtitles on a Web page. Some search engines score keywords and text found in heading tags better than other text on your pages.

Step 4: Measure and Track Results

Though you'll quickly realize how well your press release SEO efforts are working, based on the amount of media inquiries and subsequent coverage you'll receive, it's important for short-term and long-term success to formally measure and track your results. It's also wise to "do PR for the PR department," and positive SEO results are one great way to prove the value of PR to management during quarterly or other reviews.

Also, search engine operators are constantly changing the ways in which they rank Web sites, so it's important to note if your search result rankings suddenly drop off so you can quickly respond.

Quick and Easy Results Tracking Tips

Set up a spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • Keywords
  • Search engine name
  • Highest ranking results position
  • Impressions
  • Incoming links and pickups
  • Referring traffic
  • Conversions

Use the following steps to gather the data to populate your spreadsheet:

  • Set up automatic email alerts from Google News, Yahoo News and MSN (the three most popular search engines in the US) for your main keywords.
  • Your press release distribution service should offer a variety of analytic data on each press release, particularly if you are using its SEO service. Even without the extra SEO function, most services track which search engines your release appears on, the number of times your release is viewed, the Internet service provider (ISP) address of the person viewing the release, etc.
  • Your organization most likely has Web site analysis software in place that tracks, analyzes, and reports on traffic to the site. Ensure that it is set up to track results on the landing pages linked to in the press release call to action, as well as to the page that the release is posted on.

No Magic Bullet

There is no single tactic for effective SEO; real results come only when using a proper mix of the various tools and techniques available.

Finding your organization's proper mix is your challenge, but also an amazing opportunity to grab the valuable media spotlight!


  • Search Engine Watch is a great resource for search engine marketing. Specific article: How to Use HTML Meta Tags.
  • SEO Chat News offers articles and tools for search engine optimization.

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Kim Cornwall Malseed is principal consultant and founder of marketing communications and PR copywriting firm MarCom Ink ( Reach Kim at or 703-729-9159.

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