Warren Buffett’s Business Wire Awarded Patent For Press Release SEO

Submitting press releases in hopes of gaining search traffic has long been an SEO tactic. But now Business Wire — one of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway companies — has been granted a patent over it. That’s pretty nuts.

SEOing Press Releases, Patented!

Yousaf Sekander over at ElevateLocal spotted the news and has his own write-up here. The Business Wire release is here, saying:

Business Wire announced on Wednesday that it has been awarded a U.S. Patent for the technological process of optimizing and distributing press releases to maximize their ability to be found and tracked in leading search engines.

The unique proprietary approach to maximizing the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for press release content is the result of years of research and development and considerable investment. The newly patented process helps users to increase the availability, ranking and click-thru rates of press releases online, particularly in search engine results.

Sound really fancy and high tech? Let’s go to the patent document to understand more. Here is more tech talk from the two main claims:

A computer-implemented method comprising: receiving a document containing content for distribution via one or more online media distribution channels; analyzing a structure of the document; determining optimal modifications to the structure of the document; analyzing keyword frequency and keyword positions in the content of the document, the keyword frequency and keyword positions being analyzed relative to historical data obtained from one or more of the online media distribution channels; determining optimum modifications to the keywords in the content of the document based on the structured document; displaying recommended structural changes to the document based on the structured document modification and recommended keyword modifications to the content in the document to a user in a graphical user interface; receiving input from the user adopting one or more of the structural changes or the keyword modifications to the content; and initiating distribution of the document via one or more of the online media distribution channels.

A computer-implemented method comprising: receiving a document containing content for distribution via one or more online media distribution channels; analyzing a structure of the document; determining optimal modifications to the structure of the document; analyzing keyword frequency and keyword positions in the content of the document; determining optimum modifications to the keywords in the content of the document, the keyword frequency and keyword positions being determined based on one or more of the following: other documents that previously achieved high search engine rankings for keywords in the document, historical data weighted by recency, seasonality factors, and neural networks which adapt based on the actual performance of documents for which recommendations are made; displaying recommended structural changes to the document based on the structured document modification and recommended keyword modifications to the content of the document to a user in a graphical user interface; receiving input from the user adopting one or more of the structural changes or the keyword modifications to the content; initiating distribution of the document via one or more of the online media distribution channels; and analyzing and recording the performance of distributed documents for each optimized keyword in terms of search engine ranking, document opens or views, and related conversion events.

That’s a lot of technical sounding words. Further down in the summary, we get some plain talk:

The systems and techniques described herein allow non-technical users to optimize content through tools and guidance needed at each step that is integrated within a single interface. The current subject matter also automatically tracks and reports on the performance of optimized news and press releases, emailing the reports directly to end users.

Pictures Of An SEO Process

Then you get many more specifics, including a handy chart:

But elsewhere in the images, you realize what’s really being patented is a specific tool that helps someone check and improve a document for SEO criteria. Business Wire certainly wasn’t the first to have such a tool. I’d also be surprised if that current tool clients use look like what was included in the patent:

Patents Purchased From Newsforce

Indeed, from looking at the images, this isn’t even a tool that BusinessWire created. It’s a tool that the now defunct Newsforce company created. They have a series of press release optimization tools, as you can find reviewed here, which look the same as you see in the patent documents.

Some of the principles behind Newsforce are named as inventors on the document. These include Greg Jarboe and Jamie O’Donnell, who run the long-standing SEO-PR firm, John Gaffney, Dana Todd, Mike Zemans, Gary Saner and Marlene Matheson.

I was pretty surprised to see both Jarboe and Todd on the document. Knowing them over the years, they’ve always seemed the sort who would have been leading an attack against anyone who tried to claim a patent on SEO.

My guess is that they, along with others at Newsforce, decided they should patent their particular process for protective reasons. My further guess is that BusinessWire decided that was a handy patent to have, and perhaps to use aggressively against competitors.

I’m checking with BusinessWire for a comment and will update, as I hear more.

Postscript: I have a brief comment from Tom Becktold, senior vice president of marketing from Business Wire. He emailed me:

We’ve pretty much issued this release in advance of our 50th Anniversary NYSE Opening Bell event tomorrow.  It may be referenced during that event, so we wanted to have a basic overview out heading into tomorrow.  We’ll have more information in the coming weeks as details firm up.

I’m hoping to catch Becktold later today by phone to talk more.

Postscript 2: I emailed back:

I think the key thing is whether you’re going to try and enforce this patent. There are a lot of people who do press release SEO, not necessarily with toolsets, but still who might wonder if this is something they need to worry about.

And got this reply:

We continue to strive to maximize the effectiveness of press releases – their reach, search visibility and measurement – on our platform.  As demonstrated by our previous US & Canadian patents awarded for our simultaneous NX distribution technology, we look at this announcement on our 50th Anniversary as a continuing step in our ongoing commitment to lead our industry in innovation.

Postscript 3: I also emailed SEO-PR founders Greg Jarboe and Jamie O’Donnell, to see if they had any comment, as well as Dana Todd. Todd said she was heading for a flight, so I might have a comment later. Jarboe is on vacation, from his auto-responder. But O’Donnell emailed back:

Seven years after Greg wrote the initial product specification for the Newsforce tool it amazes us at SEO-PR how many companies are still interested in training on press release optimization. We are equally surprised how many press release links show up in site link audits. The tactic now plays to the current wave in content marketing.

Newsforce originally patented the tool as part of a roadmap to attract funding. Like hundreds of startups Newsforce made it for a about five years before closing its doors.

We are not aware of any enforcement plans by BusinessWire. As for BusinessWire publicizing it, all of the leading wire services are focused on their competitiveness in search.

We are called upon to perform a competitive analysis of wire services including Google indexing and ranking several times a year. Business Wire has made great progress in the last couple of years as to thousands of pages it now has indexed by Google. I expect that optimization of releases will only grow that number.

Postscript 4: As it turns out, the patent office has been busy on the SEO patent from recently. The patent above was granted on June 28, 2011. Two other notable ones, found by our corresponding editor Gary Price, have also been granted this year:

Postscript 5: Dana Todd has sent me this.

At the time we launched Newsforce in stealth mode in 2005, very few companies were actively optimizing their press releases – using software or otherwise. There was nothing on the market that suited the unique needs of optimizing against the news search engine algorithms, nor a solution that addressed the requirements of the audience who was using online PR and had very little technical or SEO background. We were extremely proud of the novel product we built and felt it was worth protecting the IP on it, so we filed for patent. As Jamie O’Donnell said, it was also part of building value for the company and its investors. We were pleased that Business Wire (who were our first wire service partners) found value in it too.

One thing to note: I would never “lead an attack against anyone who tried to claim a patent on SEO”. You’ve known me enough years to know I never attack anyone. But one thing I do know is technology, from years of working in development. This is a solid patent on a specific technological advancement, including a rank-checker that works against news algo results and a wizard that makes it dead-easy for PR people or anyone to optimize a document for news search. While I agree that no one can patent all of SEO (that would be silly, like trying to patent “marketing”), there are plenty of reasons to protect software intellectual property. And yes, we were the first to patent this specific approach and software implementation so it’s worth declaring and protecting as a valued asset and a means of differentiating.

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://nicdagreek.typepad.com/my_weblog/ J Nicholas Gross

    A few things:
    1) it isn’t clear that they are “patenting” anything specific to the NF interface, and may be simply using it as an example to build from;
    2) even if they are it is possible that Newsforce simply assigned what rights they had in the interface to Business Wire;
    3) Under the patent laws, you have 1 year to file an application based on an invention that was already publicly used or disclosed;
    4) the Newsforce article you cite is from 2006, and the patent was filed in 2007 so BW could well be within the allowable period.

  • http://nicdagreek.typepad.com/my_weblog/ J Nicholas Gross

    If you check here:
    http://assignments.uspto.gov/assignments/q?db=pat&qt=pat&reel=&frame=&pat=7970754&pub=&asnr=&asnri=&asne=&asnei=&asns=

    you can see that Newsforce indeed did own the patent originally; but they assigned all rights to BW

    part of your mystery is solved

  • http://www.rubenstein.com Nataliya Yakushev

    I personally avoid using businesswire press release distribution for SEO as they insert their “smart links” into release. It’s a piece of code they add to each hyperlink: <a href="http://cts.businesswire.com/ct/CT?id=smartlink&amp.

    I still don't understand what to patent here. Every wire has copy/paste visual optimization system built-in.

  • http://www.seobythesea.com/ Bill Slawski

    Yousaf tweeted me about this earlier today, and I had a chance to look over it.

    I vaguely remember seeing it when it was granted in June, and skimming over it and proceeding to ignore it after reading the claims.

    There are some issues with the methods described by the claims that would make me want to stay away from the approach being used, so I’m not really bothered that someone has tried to patent work processes that many of us use, and have been using for years, to provide services to our clients.

    One of those is the idea of comparing the frequency of words within the press releases to a frequency of terms used within a corpus of ” historical data obtained from one or more of the online media distribution channels.” That part of the analysis might help the document rank better within that pool of historic data documents, but probably not within documents found within a search engine’s index.

    Regardless, much of what is described as SEO in the patent is old, and the patent seems more for the sake of patenting the self help process, and the behind the scenes analysis.

  • http://www.seobythesea.com/ Bill Slawski

    Hi Danny,

    The two patents that you’ve listed in postscript 4 haven’t been granted, and are still just pending patent applications. It’s possible that they may not make it to the point where they are granted.

    There are some granted patents involving SEO that you might find interesting.

    For example, Yahoo was granted a patent that would automate SEO:

    Automated System to Improve Search Engine Optimization on Web Pages

    Intuit was granted a patent for SEO as well:

    Method and system for performing search engine optimizations

    Here’s IBM’s patent showing their variation on SEO:

    Search Engine Optimization Using Page Anchors

    Not sure that I’m worried about any of them taking away business from SEOs as the patents are written.

  • http://www.bowlerhat.co.uk marcusmiller

    This feels like some bluster to use in marketing the PR optimization system rather than anything for your average SEO to worry about.

    I can almost see it now:

    “First patented system for optimising your press releases for increased visibility in search engine result pages”

    Not something I will lose much sleep over!

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