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Public Relations For SEO: The Complete Guide
This is the first of a three-part article about Public Relations for SEO. Let me start by saying that a press release written, issued and leveraged properly, can result in word-of-mouth, articles paraphrasing the release, and at a minimum, at least some backlinks. But, a press release alone will get much less exposure than one coupled with outreach to individual journalists and bloggers directly prior to issuing it.
A few years ago, I launched a website called FindHow, and we gave it a full-court press from a PR standpoint. In this series of articles, I’ll run through all the best practices we leveraged. Before we start, the results we garnered for our launch are shown below.
History: How Public Relations Resulted In 18,000+ Links
In the first month of FindHow’s existence, it surpassed 15,000 unique visitors and eventually grew to around the 100,000 uniques mark. After about five months, the Public Relations effort had resulted in a total of around 18,000 links to the site, primarily because of prominent media mentions that boosted the site’s credibility and aided word of mouth:
The six Major Public Relations Steps that we followed, which can improve your SEO rankings and increase conversions are listed below. This article will cover the first two, and subsequent articles will cover the rest.
- Have Something To Say… About A Trend
- Write Your Press Release
- Pick A Strategy To Target Journalists
- Schedule Your Announcement
- Pitch Journalists
- Work It Just Before, On, And After The Announcement
Have Something To Say… About A Trend
If you have not read “Positioning: The Battle for the Mind” by Ries & Trout, you should run, not walk, to your Kindle and download it. They make the point that when positioning a product, service or company, the most important thing is not the company or the product name itself — it’s the category that it sits in and the trend that it relates to.
Unless you’re Dean Kamen with the Segway, the press is not going to want to talk about your product, service or website if it’s in a class by itself. It’s far better to convince them that there is a big trend going on, which you happen to be at the forefront of. You may (heaven forbid) even want to mention competitors to prove there is really a trend.
Be Newsworthy & “First” Where Possible
Ries and Trout point out that the best position to take in the mind is “first,” although it’s not the only position (you can position yourself as “the alternative,” for example, like 7-Up, the “UnCola”).
When planning the launch of FindHow, we decided that we would position it as a search engine, but clearly, it wasn’t the first one; it was 15 years too late for that.
How could we be first? Ries and Trout point out that markets fragment and become verticals over time; so, we decided to position it as the first “How-To” search engine (like the first “Lite” beer).
This allowed us to have our cake and eat it, too, because we could pitch it both in the context of the growth of the search engine market, and also, in the context of the crowded “How-To” website field. Also, new search engines aren’t announced every day, so clearly, such a thing must be newsworthy.
Ironically, several journalists pointed out to us during our effort that, since it uses a taxonomy as well as a search capability, FindHow could also be termed a “Directory” (we’ve since taken their advice and repositioned it as a paid directory).
You may not be launching something new or innovative, but almost any product or service can be tied into a trend, where the trend itself is current and newsworthy.
Write Your Press Release
What is a press release? Essentially, it’s a short document created by a company, talking about something newsworthy, and then distributed through a press release distribution service.
In the old, pre-Internet days, this usually meant the service would fax your release to hundreds of newspaper and magazine offices, or even directly to editors and journalists. The last 20 years or so have seen an evolution toward electronic distribution, with press release services also sending them out through online news venues such as Yahoo! News.
A second, more accurate definition of a press release might more properly be:
“An organization’s take on some (hopefully) newsworthy event, put together in such a way that busy journalists might just republish it, or paraphrase it, as their own article.”
Have A Topic For Your Announcement
There are numerous listings of ideas for press releases on the Web; here are examples of some I’ve been involved in over the last 15 years:
- Announcement of New Website (“New Website Helps (Customer Type) (Solve Some Kind of Problem)”)
- New Product or Service Announcement
- Executive Joins a Company as a New Hire
- Partnership Announcement
One that plays very well is survey announcements. The media loves to be able to quote surveys; just make sure, if you do one, that it’s substantial. One that is a survey of 30 people is not going to fly; but a survey of 450 people that actually has information on accuracy of the survey will carry more weight.
Capture The Key Problem, Benefit & Audience In Your Headline & Subheading
Try to capture the problem, the benefit and the audience in the title. In FindHow’s launch release, the title and subheading were:
“Consumers Struggle to Find Reliable Information as Poor-Quality Instructional Content Floods the Internet”
“FindHow, the First How-To Search Engine, Brings Trust Back Into the Equation for Consumers Seeking Instructions for Accomplishing Everyday Tasks”
You may not be launching a search engine, but try to think of how your announcement is newsworthy. If you are a law firm putting out a new website that has some articles on bankruptcy, it may be as simple as announcing something like:
“Law Firm Announces New Resource for Homeowners Considering Bankruptcy.”
Always Include A Quote In The Release
Journalists love to use quotes. At a minimum, get a quote from an executive or the head of the company; even better, you might try obtaining quotes from third parties such as partners or customers of the company – this enhances credibility. My favorite verb, rarely obtained, is “delighted,” as in “We are delighted that….”
Incidentally, language in quotes can be a fascinating guide to how close two companies are. If the partner or customer is merely “pleased,” it usually means they’re merely humoring the other company with a quote. If they’re “delighted,” then there is usually a very strong relationship.
Don’t Go Overboard With That Anchor Text!
Because a release can be copied dozens or even hundreds of times, you really have a great opportunity to shoot yourself in the foot if you try to get cute with anchor text in press releases. For the most part, I’d advise sticking with the brand or website name or a naked URL, and leave it at that.
If It’s A Major Announcement, Include A Media Kit
You want to make the journalist’s work as easy as possible. A press kit (media kit) can allow you to include many things that you can’t fit into a press release. For FindHow, we included sections on: Mission, Customer Problems, Quotes from Users, Quotes from the Founders, Company Background, Market Statistics, Competitor Overview, FindHow’s Strengths and Weaknesses, the Upcoming Launch Release itself, and Artwork.
I mention Artwork in particular, because to make the journalist’s job as simple as possible, you can make artwork available at a particular URL, making it much more likely that a product shot, logo or a screenshot will get included in an article.
Be sure to include multiple formats (preferably both .PNG and .TIF). If you aren’t investing time and resources in a media kit, consider at least including information on where to find artwork in emails that you send journalists. This proved key for us — and we got FindHow’s logo shown in several articles as a result :
Which Wire Service Should You Select for Your Release?
The top wire services are PRNewswire, Businesswire, PRWeb, and Marketwire. I have personally issued press releases using Marketwire, PRWeb and PRNewswire.
Although I would not say I have enough activity or evidence to definitively recommend any over any others, I have had some good success recently with PRNewswire, which appears to be a pretty professional, respectable and effective newswire service.
Note that PRNewswire does have a low-cost option called iReach, I chose instead to join PRNewswire for the yearly $195 fee, which allows for more reach and media targeting options (in my opinion, the yearly fee also helps to keep the wrong crowd out, lending additional credibility to the service). The yearly membership option may only make sense for you if you are doing a number of releases; in my case I’ve found the added flexibility in targeting to be well worth it.
PRNewswire has a somewhat confusing variety of options and pricing, but my favorite is their state-targeting option where you can target all media outlets in one state very inexpensively — and that option comes with nationwide wire distribution, as well. This has proved an inexpensive and effective option for both getting the word out about important announcements and garnering some links in the process.
I have issued some recent press releases for clients over the last year via PRNewswire which typically resulted in over 300 links from over 100 unique domains (not that links are the point, but they are one useful measurement of effectiveness).
Yes, these links will decay over time as pages roll off of sites. But, for example, copies of FindHow’s original launch release, after four-and-a-half-years, still exists in 18 places with links back to the site.
Your mileage with these services may vary. When selecting one, I would be wary of anyone that leads with “SEO” in their marketing. They all mention it to some degree, but selecting someone who shouts it from the hilltops does not seem like a very wise strategy if you like to “future-proof” your SEO efforts.
A Very Important Post-Release Step: “Nofollow” Any Links!
Most marketers, once they have put out a press release, are eager to list it on their corporate website. Be careful how you do this (and not just with press releases; it applies to press mentions, as well). While I am not a believer that Google respects “nofollow” for PageRank flowing purposes (I think Google ignores it), I do believe that it is utilized for detecting and discounting paid links and “reciprocal links.”
Think about it — you’ve put together a press release that has a link to your website, and now your press release service has hosted it on their site. If you link to their page hosting your release, you just created a reciprocal link, so you’re unlikely to gain any PageRank or Anchor Text value from them. So, make sure your standard practice on your press page is to “nofollow” all links to any external pages.
Make Sure What You Are Actually Announcing Is Credible
In FindHow’s case, we spent a lot of time polishing its appearance in a thousand little ways, even to the extent of hunting over and over through iStockPhoto for just the right pictures to license, sharpening them and making ever so slight color corrections and so on…but as a result we had a site we could proudly pitch to journalists, and its look and feel really lent credibility to the story.
This concludes the first part of Public Relations For SEO: The Complete Guide, where I told you how to convince journalists that your topic is newsworthy by properly “positioning” your product or service, and then delved into the basics of writing a press release.
- Part 1: Public Relations For SEO: The Complete Guide
- Part 2: Public Relations For SEO: How To Target Journalists
- Part 3: Public Relations For SEO: How To Pitch Journalists
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.