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How to Use PR to Improve SEO Results

If you want to improve your search engine optimization (SEO) results (or squeeze out a competitor in page ranking), a properly leveraged PR program could be just the boost you need.

Relevant keywords. Link building. Delivering fresh, quality content. These tactics top the list of requirements for a successful SEO strategy – and a well-executed PR program can deliver on all three with just a little extra effort and planning.

Use these tips to make get the best SEO results from your PR program:

  1. Choose Keywords Carefully. Keywords should not be approached as an after thought once a release is written. If you have a list of keywords already in use for SEO campaigns, deliver the list to your PR writer, if not, do your homework and come up with a laundry list of relevant keywords that can be leveraged across all communications. When brainstorming keywords, consider which terms your target audience is likely to use when searching for your type of products or services. Free tools like Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool or WordTracker, will provide useful search volume data that can help you refine your list. Eliminate words or phrases that cannot deliver significant website traffic due to insufficient search volume and consider cutting any popular terms that put you in competition with 1M+ search results. Try to create a list of 10 – 15 targeted keywords that can be leveraged repeatedly in your press campaigns over time. (Note: your actual list may be shorter or longer depending on the size of your company, scope of offering and SEO budget).
  2. Be Aware of Keyword Placement and Frequency.  Each press release should be optimized for 1-2 keyword phrases. Include keywords in the title, subtitle and first paragraphs, but don’t over stuff your press release with keywords. This practice will dilute the effectiveness of your media communications – remember ultimately, humans, not bots, read press releases. Ideally in a 500-word press release, your chosen keywords should appear 2-4 times.
  3. Include a Call to Action with Hyperlink.  Search engines favor sites that have a high number of inbound links from other popular sites. Press releases can be a very effective way to earn those inbound links. News distribution sites that copy content from newswire feeds often convert full URLs into hyperlinks. Use this to your advantage by making sure that every press release distributed across the wire includes a call-to-action with a full URL link to your site (not an embedded hyperlink). Also, be sure your PR person asks journalists to include inbound links in any feature news stories (To be successful, you may need to get creative and provide a reason to include the link, i.e. come up with a special or exclusive offer for the publication’s readers). This strategy won’t always yield results, but it’s definitely worth a try – just a few links from top tier publications can do wonders for your SEO program.
  4. Add Images and Video.  Multi-media can give your company added visibility in search engines and make your press releases more shareable. To get the best SEO results, add descriptive titles that include your chosen keywords to all embedded images and videos. News distribution services charge extra for the inclusion of multi-media, so you may want to strategically plan which press releases are worthy of the added cost or stagger your distribution of multi-media releases throughout the year.
  5. Create an Online Newsroom and RSS for News Distribution.  Search engines, especially Google, love blogs for the fresh content and highly structured data. If you don’t already have an online newsroom, consider adding a blog style newsroom to your website. By posting releases to your site and distributing through RSS, you can get even more mileage from your PR program. Be sure to choose a SEO friendly blog platform and include tags for your keywords with each post. Bookmark and share each post and provide sharing tools so that others can easily do the same.
  6. Make Headlines Tweet Friendly. Keep your press release headlines short (less than 70 characters, if possible) to improve tweetability or consider adding suggested Tweet text at the end of your release to make sharing of your news easy for readers (and be sure to include a shortened URL that links back to the full-text release on your site).
  7. Automate Distribution of News Across Relevant Channels. By using a news distribution service like BusinessWire or PR Newswire, you will be able to extend the reach of your news and get pickup of full-text press releases (complete with keywords and hyperlinks to your site) on thousands of downstream sites, including Internet portals, search engines, websites, financial services and database systems. Choose the level of distribution service based the relevancy and newsworthiness of the communication you are distributing. For instance, you may want to consider lower cost “online only” distribution options when the primary goal of the release is to aide SEO efforts (as may be the case with a media alert announcing the availability of a company sponsored informational report), while a larger distribution would be more appropriate for a press release that is likely to earn your company feature news stories.
  8. Keep a Steady Pace.  Ideally companies should aim to distribute a minimum of 2-3 releases per month to help boost SEO results. Understandably, it can be difficult for smaller companies and start-ups to keep this pace. Having a back up strategy in place can help fill news gaps when they occur. Momentum releases (that package multiple smaller news items into one communication) or media alerts (that publicize events/information vs. news) can keep your SEO-friendly PR program afloat despite a slump in media-worthy news.
  9. Measure Your Results.  Web analytics are essential – if you don’t already have a web traffic-monitoring tool, get one. Google’s free web analytics offers a wealth of information on the origin of website visitors and keywords. Use this information to track the progress of your efforts and identify areas for improvement.
  10. Be Patient.  Neither PR nor SEO are about instant gratification. Often it takes months to see results and this is especially true for smaller or new companies. Set realistic expectations from the beginning and give the program a minimum of 6 months to deliver measurable results.
  11. Make Adjustments.  SEO isn’t a one-time event. Search engine algorithms change regularly, so the tactics that worked last year may not work this year.  Keep up with SEO best practices and make adjustments as algorithms change to ensure the best results. SEO requires dedication and a long-term commitment but the pay-off will be worthwhile for those that keep with it over time.

Is it Time to Place an Embargo on PR Embargoes?

Robert Mullins is a freelance technology writer in Silicon Valley. His writing can be found at his Robert Mullins blog.

Under the heading of things that can be both a blessing and a curse, journalists and the PR people we work with are in agreement on one: embargoes. They can be a simple and fair way for a PR client to disseminate news about themselves to the media, or they can be a way to manipulate journalists into doing a story because they know everyone else is.

All sides of the debate about embargoes were aired one recent evening at a panel discussion in San Francisco that featured journalists from old and new media and an audience of more than 50 media and public relations professionals. The organizer of the event was Waggener Edstrom, the huge PR agency whose most famous client is Microsoft.

First, here’s a primer on embargoes, just so we’re all on the same page. When a company wants to get the word out about something it thinks is newsworthy it reaches out to reporters with whom it wants to share the news. In order for all media to get the story at the same time, the company imposes an embargo that the news can’t be reported until, say, 12:01 a.m. Eastern time on Monday.

The reporters who agree to the embargo are then entitled to an interview with key people from the company a few days ahead of time, called a prebrief. They may also be referred to industry analysts who’ve also been briefed who can provide some independent perspective on the news. Then the reporter can take his or her time writing the story with perhaps a little more thought, detail and insight than if they quickly rewrote the press release once it came out at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Sometimes, though, the embargo process fails.

“Embargo is from a Latin phrase which means ‘[to heck with] you,’” blurted Dylan Tweney, senior editor of Wired.com, the Web site of the high-tech magazine. (Use your imagination to fill in the real word in the brackets.) Tweney resents being forced to agree to embargoes in order to get the news.
Embargoes work — to get news out to readers in a timely fashion – except when they don’t work, Tweney said, and then provided examples of instances where he agreed to an embargo only to learn some other media outlet broke it and got the story out first. It happened twice within a few weeks on different stories handled by the same PR agency.

“I recognize both the utility and the anxiety and danger of embargoes,” added David Darlin, technology editor for the New York Times. While it can be a convenient way to report news, he also feels manipulated by the process.

“[The embargo] is a tool for PR people to co-opt the media to turn them into part of the PR apparatus,” said Darlin.

But the alternative to embargoes, which would be just putting the release on PR Newswire and only responding to reporters seeking interviews is impractical for the companies making the news, said Doug Free, public relations director for Microsoft’s operations in Silicon Valley.

“I can’t have my staff scrambling to take calls from 30 reporters,” said Free, from his seat in the audience. Using the embargo system sets up a more orderly process for arranging interviews ahead of time.

As the discussion continued, it became apparent that there remains some suspicion among reporters, PR people and their clients about who’s responsible for broken embargoes.

Sam Whitmore, founder of Media Survey, a consulting practice for tech PR people, and moderator of the discussion, listed what he thought were bogus “excuses” media gave for breaking embargoes, such as the story was posted by mistake, the embargoed story was mistaken for a non-embargoed story, there was time zone confusion about when the embargo lifts and the all purpose “I forgot.”

But Wired’s Tweney said embargoes are also broken by the client who, despite the PR agency’s efforts to control the embargo, leaks the news to a favored blogger or someone else who gets the jump on reporters who agreed to the embargo.

The debate ended 45 minutes later with no real consensus on how to fix the embargo dilemma, which with the expanding universe of media bloggers, corporate bloggers, PR bloggers, Twitterers and other new media sources, isn’t going away.

But both journalists and PR people agreed on one essential element for a fair embargo system: Trust.

Traditional PR is Not Dead

The fat lady has yet to sing.

In the PR industry we’ve been hearing rumblings of the great shift from the reign of mainstream media to the rule of citizen journalists and social media channels. While we happen to believe that social media has forever changed the landscape of media relations (BTW, a great read is “Putting the Public back in Public Relations” by Brian Solis and Dierdre Breckenridge), we think the death knell may be more hype than reality.

Through a market research project, Attain Marketing has been in the trenches with senior IT buyers from a wide range of companies, including BofA, Phillips and First Data talking turkey about the IT buying process.

When asked how they first become aware of products and services, 95% of IT buyers interviewed said that trade publications were their number #1 resource. Although many did say they turn to IT peers to hear more about new products on the market, none acknowledged the use of social networking tools or communities as part of this process – right now. Analyst reports also topped the list of influencers, but mainly as part of the validation process.

So, here are some “old school” PR tips that never die:

  • Leverage key relationships with influential analysts and media. Schedule press and analyst “tours” in a 3-6 month cadence around company milestones.
  • Position your company/products around hot current events and submit articles to trade pubs for placement. Here are some good examples: PC World and Wireless Week contributed editorial
  • Always let your customers tell the story: editors are much more willing to write about a customer deployment than your product. Example: SC Magazine
  • Content is king. Journalists are looking for good stories. Period. See previous blog posts: Content is King and Some of My Best Friends are PR Weasels
  • PR campaigns should be integrated with marketing and lead generation efforts for maximum impact

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Every company should evaluate the unique landscape in the market it serves, but usually a blend of the old and new PR strategies is the best recipe for success.

It’s a Video Revolution

People respond to visual communications – a picture paints 1,000 words, as they say.

In the past two years online video has transformed the communications landscape for businesses – and now the video revolution is fully underway.

Chew on these numbers a bit if you’re still not convinced that video is a powerful medium:

  • 52% of all Internet traffic is driven by online video.
  • More than 70% of all Internet users watch videos online.
  • In a single month, YouTube presented 9.5 billion videos to 138 million American consumers.
  • 123 million Americans watched videos online during every single month of 2007.
  • When Cisco added streaming video to its website, the traffic to its website increased by 600%.

Savvy businesses are using video across the customer lifecycle from generating awareness to advocacy – driving better results and greater return from their online marketing investments. With the explosion of online video, businesses taking advantage of this medium are leapfrogging their competition with communications that break through the clutter and connect with prospects and customers.

If you’re ready to get the camera out, here are several take away tips that may help:

  • Walk before you run. Start small and see what the possibilities are – video news releases, video articles or product tutorials are a good way to test the waters. Then you’re ready to move to bigger apps like video blogging and video podcasts.
  • Edgy is good but B2B companies need to keep content appropriate for business audiences. Video will always have inherent risk (you can’t control perception as well as written communications) but you should not add to the risk by overtly offending the viewer.
  • Always remain authentic and relevant to your audience. Don’t try to fool people with scripted or overproduced video content that has no real value.
  • Video ROI measurement includes easy tactics like number of plain views, star feature ratings, comments with feedback and having your video marked as a favorite – so use them to your advantage.

As an industry, we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of what video apps will emerge. No doubt about it – if used smartly, video is a killer addition to your PR 2.0 and lead generation arsenal.