The press release is a tried-and-true public relations workhorse which (despite many premature reports of its death) remains one of the most popular communications formats for PR pros today. That said, we can all agree that the last few years – heck, the last few months even – have seen tremendous change in how information is consumed. To ensure your press releases are effective in reaching today’s wired audiences, avoid these common mistakes that can sink your message’s visibility.
The six mistakes press release writers make:
1. Lack of focus: Many writers make the mistake of trying to cram too many themes into one message, with the intent of appealing to multiple audiences.
Here’s the problem an unfocused message can create. People seek specific information, and search engines reward it. Unfocused content is likely to fall by the wayside in social networks, going unshared. Furthermore, search engine algorithms – which are designed to analyze on-page content and categorize the information accordingly – are likely to conclude the content is effectively about ‘nothing’ when the focus is too watered down.
2. Unnatural writing: From the ‘speed bump’ that starts many press releases, (e.g. “Company Name, a global innovator and provider of world-class end-to-end turnkey solutions for ….” to stilted quotes from execs declaring their excitement about some sort of mumbo-jumbo, many press releases are the antitheses of natural, interesting writing.
Jargon and stiff “corporate-speak” slow down (and turn off) readers, and they distance your audience from your organization by being less relatable. Journalists conclude “Nothing new here…” and hit delete, and readers get through half the lead and then bail. Additionally, search engines are amazingly good at detecting natural language, and they reward it. Content that is too machine-like may be penalized.
3. One-dimensional formatting: Many news releases are written as though they’re going to be read off a sheet of typing paper, not a fluid and interactive environment.
Blocks of text and a lack of interactive links and sharing buttons bog down key messages and trap readers. The simple act of embedding an anchor text link creates a call to action, inviting interested readers to take the next step and visit the web page you suggest. And easy formatting changes such as using bulleted lists and bold-text paragraph headers capture attention when folks scan your content, and make it easy for socially-connected readers to discern key messages and share them on social networks.
4.Long and ponderous headlines: Headlines exist to capture attention, not tell the whole story or perform an exercise in branding. And the role of the headline is even more important today, because a good headline can also spark social sharing of your content, and help search engines index the content correctly.
When writing a headline, consider a few facts:
- Search engines don’t index beyond the first 65 characters of the headline.
- A study by Hubspot and PR Newswire found the optimal headline length is 120 characters for readers & Tweeters alike
- Headlines with numerals garner more readers (from the same Hubspot/PRN study)
(Link to the Hubspot/PRN info: Rethinking Press Release Tactics)
- Write a headline that’s around 120 characters (no more, you want to leave ‘room’ for Twitter handles.)
- Put your most important keyword within the first 65 characters of your 120 character headline.
- And by all means, if can, include a numeral in the headline. (Why do you think this post is titled as it is?) Finally, if you need to add more detail, use a subhead.
5. Too many embedded links: Before you go on a linking spree after being inspired by item #3, please heed this caveat. A link or two in a press release is great, but too many links in a body of text can have dire consequences for that content’s visibility.
Content that is peppered with hyperlinks is the press release equivalent of the loud-talking, wildly-gesticulating used car guy whose annoying TV ads are likely to have inspired the invention of Tivo. They’re annoying. Worse, search engines are paying very close attention to links in content, and too many links can cause your press release to be flagged as spam – and buried in search results. Don’t be greedy. Embed one link – or two if you absolutely must – in each press release. But that’s it. No more. Links in press releases should provide a service, not a distraction.
6. No visuals. The importance of visuals in PR campaigns and press releases really can’t be overstated, but the majority of press releases issued over commercial newswires today are still plain-text, despite the fact that press releases with accompanying visuals generate better results.
Why it’s a problem: Google and Facebook both give visual content more weight in their ranking algorithms, which is why pictures and video float to the top of search engine results and Facebook news feeds. Additionally, wildly popular social networks like Pinterest and Instagram are based on visuals. Without a visual, your content won’t be available to these massive and engaged audiences.
Whether you’re simply emailing your press release to a media list, posting it to your web site or are planning to distribute it broadly on a wire service, avoiding these mistakes will help you garner better visibility for your message – and results for your efforts.