Author Archives: Sarah Skerik

Press Releases, PR Newswire and Panda

New copy quality guidelines from PR Newswire to help improve press release content quality.

New copy quality guidelines from PR Newswire are designed to help improve press release content quality.

In late May, Google rolled out an update to its Panda algorithm that targeted low quality content, affecting a variety of content distributors and press release websites, including PR Newswire.   By “low quality content,” we’re referring specifically to press releases that were used in efforts to manipulate search rankings.   These releases were of little-to-no redeeming value for readers.

In an ensuing audit of the content of our site, we identified the spam press  releases which had had been generating inordinately high inbound links and traffic due to the black hat SEO tactics their issuers employed.  Those releases have since been deleted, and we’ll be monitoring our site content for unusual levels of inbound links, traffic and other red flags on an ongoing basis.

Distribution is about more than just one web site

While we’re proud of the fact that our web site attracts millions of unique visitors each month, it’s important to remember that PR Newswire has also spent years building a comprehensive distribution network that reaches a vast global audience, including:

  • Thousands upon thousands of media outlets, via direct news feeds;
  • More than 30,000 credentialed journalists and bloggers, via PR Newswire for Journalists;
  • Information databases like Factiva and LexisNexis;
  • More than 10,000 websites worldwide, who display feeds of relevant news releases designed for their audiences;
  • The social web, via dozens of carefully curated, industry- and topic-specific presences on Twitter and Pinterest.

PR Newswire has cultivated an engaged and high-quality audience for press release content.

Our media relations and content syndication teams work one-on-one with media outlets, individual journalists and bloggers and website operators to create and deliver feeds of press releases germane to their areas of coverage, interest or beats.

New guidelines governing press release copy quality

To improve the content quality we distribute, we’ve started reviewing all press release submitted for distribution over the wire for content quality. As they review releases, our team will be looking at a variety of different message elements, including:

  • Inclusion of insightful analysis, original content (e.g. research, reporting or other interesting and useful information,)
  • The format of the releases, guarding against the repeated use of templated copy (except boilerplate,)
  • The length of the releases,  flagging very short, unsubstantial messages that are mere vehicles for links
  • Overuse of keywords and/or links within the message.

These new guidelines are additions to our already robust press release acceptance guidelines, which include verification of sources, authentication of the sender’s identity and attribution to the source, among other requirements that all messages must meet before distribution by PR Newswire.

Most PR Newswire customers, who write and distribute press releases with the primary intent of building awareness of key messages and earning media, will be unaffected by our new guidelines.

Press releases are about earned media, building awareness and acquiring audience

It has long been our stated position that press releases are chiefly about building awareness, and we don’t promote press releases as link building devices.   (See: Generate Awareness, Not Links, With Press Releases.)

We believe that the distribution of press releases plays a very useful role in driving content discovery, introducing new audiences to brand messages, seeding and encouraging social interaction, and, of course, earning media pick up.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Reality Check: Meeker’s Internet Trends Report & Notes for Communicators

Almost 20% of press release views on PR Newswire's web site  originate on a mobile device.

Almost 20% of press release views on PR Newswire’s web site originate on a mobile device.

Summary:  Mary Meeker’s most recent presentation on internet trends (given yesterday at the Re/Code Code Conference) emphasized the powerful growth of the mobile web. In this post we summarize key points from Meeker’s discussion in terms of impact for marketing and PR pros. 

As we approach the mid-year point for 2014, it’s worth taking a minute to consider trends in internet usage as we develop our PR and content marketing plans for the upcoming months.   Internet sage Mary Meeker gave a wide ranging view of internet trends yesterday at Re/Code’s Code Conference, and within her data are some findings that demand communicators’ attention.

The mobile web gathers strength

Growth in use of mobile devices – and thus, mobile internet use – is still extremely strong worldwide, but with just 30% of mobile users using smartphones, a lot of upside remains, which means the mobile web will only grow more pervasive – and important – in the months and years to come.

Even more stunning is the spectacular growth rate of tablet sales, which are growing far more quickly than PCs or laptops ever did.  The portability and intuitive design of tablets are fueling the demand for these devices.

The net effect of these trends in hardware sales is pretty profound: more and more individuals are accessing web-based content from smart phones and tablets. Meeker reported that 25% of web traffic originates from mobile devices today, up from 14% a year ago.

Changes in audience behavior

However, folks are not simply laying laptops aside and picking up their phablets instead.  Mobile devices have ushered in new behaviors, enabling people to use time on a train platform, bus or grocery store checkout line to continue following the news stories, researching the products or engaging in the conversations they were having at their desks. Certainly, there’s more competition for attention than ever, however, audiences are devoting hours of their days to online information and interaction, offering marketers new opportunities to connect.

Imperatives for communicators

Ensuring your organizations’ communications are clear and render well across a range of mobile devices is of indisputable importance today.  Rest assured, your audiences are reading your brand’s blog posts, perusing press releases and viewing videos from their phones and tablets. If the content your organization has published isn’t mobile friendly, audiences will go find content that is, taking with them valuable opportunities for your brand to inform, engage and connect with them.   Here’s a simple checklist to help ensure the content your brand is creating will resonate on the mobile web:

  • Use short, tight headlines (100 characters or so) to capture fast-moving reader attention.
  • When selecting visuals, be sure to use some that are simple and render well on small screens.  I.e. in addition to a large infographic, also include a snippet highlighting a key fact that will be easy to read on a smaller screen.
  • Have a chat with your vendors about their mobile capabilities. PR Newswire’s MediaRoom product, for example, is designed to deliver a consistent user experience for web site visitors, whether or not the client web site employs responsive design.  For sites that aren’t responsive, we’ll create a mobile-optimized MediaRoom, ensuring your PR content is usable on mobile devices (even if the brand web site isn’t.)

“Even if your organization’s website is not optimized for mobile or responsively designed, you still have options for creating an online newsroom that provides your growing mobile visitor audience with the best possible user experience,” noted Chris Antoline, our director of customer engagement and an expert in developing online press rooms.

  • Edit large files.  Create shorter (a minute or two) video clips, pull out excerpts from white papers, and break long PDFs into pieces to make it easy for mobile users to get to specific information.

So the next time you plan a campaign, think about your mobile audiences, and build content that works for them, too.  And don’t forget to include a discussion of reaching mobile audience when talking to various vendors, such as design firms, email providers or commercial newswire services, and when you prepare your 2015 budgets.  Developing communications that resonate with mobile audiences is fast becoming a cornerstone of successful communication strategies.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

10 Tips for Developing Your Organization’s Visual Strategy

A look at the data around use of visuals by public relations professionals tells a few different stories.  On the one hand, use of visuals in press releases has increased steadily over the last few years, and the majority of communicators (76%, to be exact) surveyed about multimedia use in PR indicated they plan to increase usage.  That said, the great majority of press releases issued by PRNewswire are text-only, with no visual elements.

MediaStudio-Visual-Storytelling At the same time, data around the effectiveness of visuals is incontrovertible. Press releases with more visual elements garner more views. Search engines and social networks reward visual content, which is one reason why messages that contain a visual element get more views.  But there’s more to the story than just more eyeballs.

Content with visuals also generates better engagement among the audience, arresting their attention and keeping them on the page longer – especially in the case of video. This helps brands build affinity, and encourage important following actions by the audience is engaged with the messages. An additional benefit – when audiences spend more time on your web site, and interact with the content there, it sends a powerful and positive signal to search engines, indicating that the your web site content is valuable.  This contributes positively to search rank.

The case for using visuals in press releases, content marketing and other digital communications is clear, but for many organizations, doing this is easier said than done.  According to the PR and marketing pros responding to our survey, budget isn’t the primary constraint when it comes to producing multimedia messaging.  The principal challenges are time and resources.

The demand for content across the board puts high demands on an organization’s resources.  In-house designers have high workloads and external designers carry high-prices.  Developing compelling visual content also takes time, which can be problematic when a fast-moving team is developing a campaign.

  1. Getting organizedSo how can your organization get ahead of the curve when it comes to employing visuals in your messaging?  A great way to get started is to simply organize your brand’s visual assets, and centralize their storage.  If you’re a PR Newswire customer, you have free access to Media Studio, where you can upload, store and organize images and videos in a secure environment for future use.
  2. Gathering content – getting it out of hard drives, off the intranet and  downloaded from social channels – and consolidating it for easy use by all of your communications teams will help your brand immediately improve communications effectiveness.  Additionally, your organization will realize more value from the content it has produced and teams will save time.
  3. Developing galleries of go-to visuals, such as logos and executive head shots that are ready to go for breaking news and crisis situations as well as for ongoing, regularly scheduled communications.   Pro tip: while you’re collecting those head shots, update the bios too, adding links to published articles, active social presences, slide presentations, etc.
  4. If your company does webinars, check with your webinar provider. You may be able to easily extract elements of a recorded webinar and turn them into the video.
  5. Mine the presentations your employees create for sales meetings and external presentations, for new story lines and fresh content.
  6. Be sure to have screenshots of any web-based services or customer portals created and stored.  Bonus points will be awarded for video demos or walk-throughs.
  7. Infographics do not have to be complex, lengthy affairs. A single data point turned into a colorful graph can be just as compelling as a longer form graphic.
  8. Conversely, if you do produce a long form infographic, be sure to have your designer create stand-alone images of key points.  Large infographics don’t render well on every platform.  A single, highly visual point can also drive attention to your message.
  9. Don’t despair if you don’t have a bevy of great research data with which to build an infographics. Processes, decision trees, and building blocks type learning scenarios also make great fodder for infographics.
  10. Mine white papers and research reports, as well as market research done by product teams, for trends and data that can be turned into simple graphics.  Don’t forget to look into interviewing customers quoted in papers, researchers and others associated with the content – videos add new perspective and can humanize a data-rich story.

So if you’re among the majority of communicators who want to utilize more visuals in campaigns, but are challenged by constraints on your time and resources, start by organizing – and then utilizing – the visuals you have.  Be sure to tally your results and benchmark progress – that data will help you make the case to secure more budget for content development in the future.

And if you’re a PR Newswire client that uses the Online Member Center, learn more about Media Studio here.  This great tool provides you a place to upload, store and organize your visual assets. It’s  available to you now … and it’s free! 

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Why Storytelling Matters for PR

There’s a lot of talk about storytelling today amongst communicators, and for good reason.   In our frenetic, always-on, socially-connected, information fueled environments, information is continually washing over us.  A few things stick, and those are generally stories.

The key to a good story is found in the audience’s ability to relate strongly to something in the story, which naturally builds affinity.  And affinity is important to brands.

A good narrative can also spur the audience to act.  The best social media campaigns are all underpinned with strong stories.

Developing the ability to weave storytelling into unexpected places – such as press releases or executive profiles, for example – can have myriad effects.  Stories can help journalists understand the impact of announcement, and drive news coverage.  A compelling story can inspire prospective customers to act, and engage more deeply with a brand.

Stories are more than flash-in-the-pan campaign tactics.  They build pulling power over time, which means different KPIs should be employed to measure their effects.   Traffic to the web site over time, message virality and the quality of the leads generated over time are all measures that communicators can use to gauge the impact of the stories their brands tell, providing more opportunity to connect PR to top line revenue results.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Google: How Earned Media Impacts Search & New KPIs for PR

Earned media and implied links, visualized by Brawn Media.

Summary:  Brand mentions and earned media comprise the implied links Google has patented as part of its search algorithm, codifying the impact PR has on search results.  lil tweet

In a patent for search engine ranking methods that was granted on March 25, Google codified the role earned media plays in search rank.  The patent describes how the search engine values “implied links,” which it describes as a reference to a target resource [i.e. a web site or web page] such as a citation, but does not include an express link to the resource, as part of its process for determining the search rank of a web page.

What are these implied links?  In a nutshell, they are relevant earned mentions, and run the gamut from media pick up to references on blog posts to mentions in discussion groups.

“What does all this mean? It means that once a connection is made by someone typing in a brand name or other search query and then clicking on a site it creates a connection in Google’s eyes,” SEO expert Simon Penson explained in a Moz.com post about brand mentions. “The search engine can then store that info and use it in the context of unlinked mentions around the web in order to help weight rankings of particular sites.”

The implications for public relations are significant.  The mentions your PR campaigns create in turn generate audience activity, which Google watches in the aggregate and uses to inform search results.   In an excellent blog post on this topic titled, “Google Validates that PR is SEO in Patent Filing,” Christopher Penn of Shift Communications concludes:

“Google is publicly acknowledging that every time your brand gets a mention in a story, that counts as an implied link that affects your SEO, that affects how many links there are to your website, which in turn affects how well your site shows up when someone is searching for your brand. In short, PR is SEO (or part of it). It singlehandedly validates all of the PR that you’ve generated for your brand, all of the mentions and citations that you’ve accrued through hard work, great products and reputation, and effective public relations, even if you didn’t necessarily get an explicit link in the coverage.”

I agree with Penn’s assessment.  Public relations builds awareness and credibility that influence audience behavior.  Part of the ongoing struggle we have with measurement is due to the fact that those coveted media clips don’t capture the follow-on changes in audience behavior they can inspire.

The new KPIs for PR & an important caveat

Don’t assume that more is better when it comes to “implied links.”  Google is a stickler for relevance and quality, and the company is continually refining its search algorithm to deliver ever-better results for users.   In doing so, Google have specifically targeted web spam and are emphasizing the value of authentic earned media. Tactics designed to create artificial references to a brand or organization won’t work, and brands employing them may risk incurring penalties from Google, disappearing from search results altogether.

However, it’s also important to note that what we consider “earned,” has evolved.   While Google’s search chief is on record saying that the company does not use social signals as part of its ranking algorithm, this does not mean that activity generated from social media users has no effect on search.  There’s no doubt that inbound traffic and time spent on a web page are important factors that Google watches.  Driving discovery and social sharing of your brand’s owned content is an important first step in generating the references to your company or brand that comprise the ‘implied links’ Google values.  And sparking social sharing under a relevant hashtag on Twitter, professionals on LinkedIn or interested consumers on other networks will generate the sort of quality traffic and ongoing activity on which Google’s algorithm places high values.

With all this in mind, here are a few KPIs (key performance indicators) public relations professionals should use to gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns in driving lasting value for their organizations.

Search query volumes:  Increases in the volumes of search queries that include either brand terms, or terms strongly associated with the brand, industry or product that lead visitors to the organizations’ web site are difficult to measure perfectly – Google masks a lot of search query data – but some does make it through to the web analytics programs organizations use to tabulate web traffic.   Talk to your web metrics guru about gaining access to the reports.    Important note:  you’ll also need to connect with team handling web site optimization for your organization about what keywords and phrases they’re targeting, and which URLs are associated with each term.    You’ll want to make a point of using those terms (or near derivatives) when relevant to your message and you’ll also want to include links to the related target URL in your releases, too.)

Inbound traffic to specific web pages: We’ve previously discussed the importance of including a URL to specific (and relevant!) web page in press releases, rather than dumping readers onto the homepage and forcing them to search for information related to what they read in the release.  These links are trackable, and working with your organization’s web team, you should be able to measure increases in inbound traffic to specific pages.  (Coordination with your web and inbound marketing teams is crucial.)

Lead quality or conversion rate:  What happens once someone has clicked on a link you placed in a press release?  The next step that visitor takes is an important one on the buying journey, and it’s something your marketing team is paying close attention to.  In many cases, a subsequent call to action on the web page will offer the visitor more content, such as a video or offer of a white paper download. The marketing team looks at the conversion rate (the percentage of time a prospect actually completes a transaction) and they may be scoring the quality of the leads the web site garners along the way.  The PR team can have a tremendous impact in generating an influx of well-qualified prospects to the organization’s web site.   If you’re tracking the traffic PR generates through trackable URLs, you can also track the quality of those leads, and the subsequent conversion rates. This is the sort of data that can be equated to revenue and will make a CFO sit up and take notice.

Improved search rank for key pages: Increases in search rank for key web site pages for specific sets of terms.  Over time, the implied links and earned media the PR team generates should have a positive effect on the search ranking of specific pages on the brand’s web site.  Garnering those results – and maintaining them, which requires sustained effort – are some of the truest measures of the value of the media and mentions the brand has earned.

The power of earned media has long been indisputable, but tough for PR to measure.  With Google’s acknowledgement of its role in determining search results, public relations pros can connect their campaigns to the online interactions that drive revenue for the organization.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

The Right Thing to Do, From Any Angle: Curbing HFT Advantage

I used to live across the street from a fellow who worked for a hedge fund, writing software code designed to machine-read data and execute stock trades in hundredths of a second.   One night, as we were standing out by our mailboxes chatting, we realized that our jobs intersected, an interesting conversation ensued.

We had been talking about emerging news feed formats and the fact that he had figured out how to write code that could machine-read the news announcements about the macroeconomic events of the day (e.g. jobs reports, durable goods orders, etc.) and execute trades based upon that data – automatically and in the blink of an eye.  Our conversation soon turned towards his interest in getting access to our news feeds.

I bring this up because this conversation was similar to one of the many discussions our leaders have had here at PR Newswire over the past decade. We’ve had ample opportunity to sell our direct feed to high frequency trading outfits, and have evaluated doing so through many different lenses.  And our answer has always been no.  Today, we received some powerful affirmation from the New York Attorney General that we continue to do the right thing.

“By going the extra mile to ensure its service is not abused by high-frequency traders – at any time during the trading day and in the moments after the closing bell – PR Newswire has proven itself to be an industry leader,” said New York Attorney General Schneiderman in a press release issued today about the steps PR Newswire is taking to curb preferential access to material news  for high frequency trading firms“High-frequency traders can use information in the milliseconds before it becomes widely available to other investors, effectively skimming from the rest of the investing public. Today’s agreement is another important step toward curbing Insider Trading 2.0, and PR Newswire deserves credit for its leadership.”

The discussion about high speed trading tactics is far from over.  Numerous federal agencies, including the SEC and the Justice Department, are investigating whether HFT practices violate insider trading laws.   In the meantime, PR Newswire is expanding on its long-standing approach to fair and equitable distribution, taking additional measures to protect client and market interests by recommending that public companies disclosing material news at market close delay those announcements until 4:01PM ET to prevent same-day trading on this information.

In the wake of all the developments around HFT tactics recently, I reached out to my old neighbor, who left the trading business several years ago and now writes code for a security firm.

“I think it’s great that you guys didn’t sell your feed to the highest bidder, even if at the time I was trying to be one of your highest bidders,” he told me. “You did always have the long-game in your perspective, and that’s admirable.”

Related: 

Building Shareholder Confidence:  New York Attorney General announces unprecedented steps by PR Newswire to curb High Frequency Traders

AP: PR Newswire Imposes Use Limits on Its Data Feeds

Wall St. JournalPR Newswire to Ask Companies to Delay Late Releases to Sidestep Rapid Traders

USA Today: PR Newswire Curbs High Speed Trading 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek: PR Newswire Reaches Deal With New York in High-Frequency Trading Probe

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

What PR Pros Need to Know About Facebook’s New FB Newswire

fbnewswire

Facebook has actively been courting journalists and bloggers for years, first launching the Facebook for  Journalists page in 2011 in order to position its vast social network as a source of trending and popular content.   The company took their efforts a step further today, launching FB Newswire.  Powered by Storyful, which describes itself as a “social media newsroom” that aggregates and vets social content for use by news media, FB Newswire  is being positioned by Facebook as a resource for journalists, enabling them to incorporate newsworthy content from Facebook into the media they produce.

“Look forward to first-person photos, videos, and status updates posted publicly on Facebook from the front lines of newsworthy events around the world which have been selected and verified by Storyful’s editorial team,”  — FB Newswire post.

What FB Newswire means for brands

FB Newswire is going to attempt to separate signals from noise on Facebook, and the service will undoubtedly lead to earned media placements for brands.  To get there, however, content first and foremost will need generate interaction (likes and shares) and comments on Facebook – to get onto the Storyful radar screen, stories need to reach critical mass in social sharing. Content that doesn’t inspire action on Facebook won’t be surfaced by Storyful.

If you want pickup on FB Newswire, social interactions are an outcome your PR content MUST generate.lil tweet bird

Keys to developing social interaction with brand content:

Understand your fans and their preferences.

Posting messages by rote on Facebook and other social network won’t serve your brand well.  Chances are good there are distinct differences between your most engaged fans on Facebook and followers on LinkedIn or Twitter, and they probably have corresponding differences in preference in terms of content format and topic.  Analyze the last several months of your brand’s Facebook posts, and notice what sort of content was more popular in terms of unique users and total interactions.

Build content that appeals to them

Instead of simply posting your press releases to Facebook, go to school on your Facebook Insights data, and develop unique posts highlighting the messages most likely to resonate with your FB audience.  Doing this will ensure the content you post to Facebook is more aligned with your fans’ interests, and increases the likelihood that they will start a cycle of sharing and interaction that will increase the message visibility and traction on social networks.

Utilize multiple visual images.

The majority of posts on Facebook contain a visual, and the effectiveness of visual content on social channels is well documented.  Recently, Facebook enabled users to post multiple images to posts, and while the jury is out in terms of impact on reach (I have not seen any large studies about this), anecdotal evidence suggests that multiple images in a post do have a significant positive impact on reach.

Share on Facebook – and encourage broad social sharing.  Sharing is one of the most powerful signals of content quality, and broad sharing of your message across Facebook and other social networks will be one of the key factors in garnering FB Newswire pickup.   We’ve written extensively about social media strategies for PR and content marketing (http://blog.prnewswire.com/tag/social-media/) but here are some keys worth repeating:

  • Write a descriptive and compelling headline, and keep it to about 100 characters.
  • Use bullet points and bold font to make it easy for readers to scan content and quickly land on key messages and interesting facts.
  • Employ visuals.  Redundant, I know, but worth emphasizing.
  • Embed social sharing buttons in your content.

In the example below and on the right, Dancing with the Stars’ Carrie Ann Inaba shares a photo from Purina ONE’s temporary “cat café” that opened today in New York. You can read Purina ONE’s original press release announcing the café, as well as its multimedia news release with photos and videos of Inaba and the Cat Café on PR Newswire.

Left to right: Purina ONE's multimedia news release with images and videos from the Cat Cafe; FB Newswire's posting of Carrie Ann Inaba's photo.

FB Newswire represents another earned media opportunity for PR pros, but at this point, it’s impossible to gauge the impact it will have on reporting (and thusly, PR.)  Many media outlets already feature popular social content – it’s not unusual at all, for example, to see popular YouTube videos on morning news shows.  In reality, because of the effectiveness of social media on driving traffic to web sites and the value search engines are placing on social signals, PR pros should be making social sharing and the generation of social proof a priority in their campaigns, regardless of whether or not FB Newswire becomes widely used by professional media.

Additional tactical advice for digital PR campaigns:

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.