Category Archives: Content Marketing

Content Quality Drives Search Rank & Online Visibility

Excerpt from Searchmetrics 2014 Ranking Factors Study (

Excerpt from Searchmetrics 2014 Ranking Factors Study (

According to the recently-released annual Ranking Factors Study from Searchmetrics, Google has made some big changes in how its algorithm evaluates content and assign search rank.   Content quality is the recurring theme of the study, which offers important lessons and opportunities for content marketers, public relations pros, bloggers and anyone else publishing digital content on the web.


Related reading: PR & SEO – Still Driving Discovery

“High quality, relevant content is increasingly the focus of search. This type of content ranks better on average, and is identifiable by properties such as a higher word-count and semantically comprehensive wording, as well as often being enriched by other media, such as images or video.” – Searchmetrics 2014 Ranking Factors Study.

Human signals

Before we dig into tactics, first we need to look the signals that indicate content quality to Google.  Topping the list is a metric that is new to the top ten factors — the click through rate.  This is an important change and it emphasizes the importance of user actions as indicators of quality.  The majority of search rank factors are derived from social signals, and like the click through rate, these also indicate content quality.  User actions and social signals are derived from human interactions with content, and Google is assuming that people won’t like, share, post or click on content they don’t consider useful or interesting.

On-page content

In addition to user interactions, Google is also paying close attention to on-page content.  However, the elements Google values on-page have changed dramatically.

Emphasis on longer-form content is one such change.  A couple years ago, longer content was frowned upon.  Today, the reverse is true. Audiences are showing increased willingness (and even desire) to consume longer content.   Case in point – look at the popularity of John Oliver’s long monologues on his new show, Last Week Tonight.  In an era when news reporting is diminishing in breadth and depth, Oliver’s monologues on net neutrality, food labeling rules and gambling in Singapore would appear to be dead on arrival.  Instead, they are smash hits.


Press releases with multiple visual assets generate more views, a study by PR Newswire found.

Press releases with multiple visual assets generate more views, a study by PR Newswire found.

Earlier this year, we shared the results of our analysis of press release formats, and concluded that content that included multiple visual elements generated significantly higher numbers of online views than plain text.

The Searchmetrics study corroborated our findings, finding that web pages with more on-page pictures ranked higher in search results.  “Photos and videos not only make text more attractive for users, but for Google, this trend is likely to develop positively and be capped at a certain level,” concluded the authors, indicating that visuals are likely to exert power in search rankings for years to come.


Tactical update for creators of distributed content:

It’s time to start talking about best practices for content that is intended to be distributed or hosted on sites other than the brand’s primary domain, such as press releases sent out over a newswire, social content and articles and guest blog posts intended for third party web sites.

Encourage click-throughs with a clear and prominent call to action.  While this is old hat for bloggers, many PR pros don’t think about embedding calls to action in the press releases they issue.  They should, because when you distribute a press release online over a network like PR Newswire’s, the message will appear on hundreds if not thousands of third party web sites.  Embedding a call to action in the form of a link toward the top of the page (I prefer to put the CTA right after the first or second paragraph) creates a distributed portal directly back to your web site.  A few tips for getting it right:

  • Limit the number of links.    Too often I see press releases littered with links. Offering readers one clear choice channels their activity toward a specific page.   Multiple links scattered across the press release (especially the first several paragraphs) is distracting and a turn-off to readers.  In addition, it can look spammy to search engines.  Less is more when it comes to linking.
  • Don’t link to your home page anywhere in the press release except for the boilerplate.  Instead, send readers to specific and relevant pages that logically offer more information or a next step for them.  Don’t dump them on the home page and then require them to hunt around for the information related to the release.
  • For that most important link you’re using as a call to action, use a full URL, not an embedded link.  Some third party web sites don’t render embedded links, leaving readers with nowhere to go.  Using a URL shortener or custom URL makes it easier to track those important click-throughs.

Include multiple visuals:  In addition to benefitting search engine visibility, multiple visuals capture more attention for the message.  Why? We’re visual creatures are attracted to images.   Additionally, each image or video you include with your message carries its own potential for generating visibility.  When people share those individual visual elements, they’re amplifying your message (and creating pathways that will bring more people back to your story.)

Write naturally, using a mix of keywords, key phrases and related acronyms.  For example: I write about press releases – a lot! Instead of using the phase “press release” over and over, however, I mix it up, using references to “news releases,” “announcements,” “messages,” “news,” and “content,”  which serves the dual purpose of making my writing a lot more readable for my audience, and injecting additional relevant terminology into the content, thus giving Google more information about the subject of the content.

Go long.  This blog post has topped 1,200 words in length.  When I started blogging, blogging best practices suggested that posts should be a bit shorter, so the standard length I shot for was 300 words.  I’m now making a point of expanding on my thoughts and producing longer form posts, and I’m also applying the same tactics to the press releases I issue for the company – as much as possible, I’m adding quotes, information and other relevant content I think the audience might find interesting. I’m not shying away from adding a few hundred more words. The premium Google is placing on the long form gives us permission (and incentive) to explore and expand upon ideas in depth.

One important note – just because a piece of content is longer doesn’t automatically mean that it’s going to generate more visibility.  Length means nothing if the content isn’t robust.

The quality of the content a brand publishes can have a profound effect not just on message visibility or online reputation.  Quality content can produce the signals that help will drive the website to the top of the search results page.  And along the way, publishing quality content can help brands generate earned media, influence buyer journeys and drive the sort of social sharing and user actions that amplify messages and drive brand stories deep into new audiences. The result? Lasting visibility for the message and better return on the PR and marketing investment for the brand.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications & content, and is the author of  the new white paper, “New Agency Benchmarks for Demonstrating Value to Clients,” and the ebook Driving Content Discovery. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Content We Love: MSL Group Promotes Brand Citizenship Through Brand Journalism


A 17-country survey commissioned by MSL Group reveals that millennials believe the combined forces of corporations and government can “solve the world’s greatest problems.” As brands yearn for attention and loyalty from millennials, the findings of MSL Group’s “Business Citizenship” study signify a potential opportunity for organizations to serve a greater purpose and earn positive praise from this seemingly unattainable demographic.

To shed light to this opportunity, MSL Group employed a news release with multimedia assets, exemplifying what Ad Age refers to as the “modern marketing imperative,” a personalized, content stream approach involving multi-faceted messages via multiple channels to multiple audiences. The organizations who are at the foundational stage of their brand journalism efforts should make note of the following:

Click here to view the complete press release from MSL Group

Click here to view the complete press release from MSL Group

The headline is attention-grabbing, includes keywords and highlights a groundbreaking new discovery and potential opportunity that can be gained from reading this release.

Information is delivered in multiple formats to cater to audience preferences. Even though they are derived from the same story, each piece of content has its own unique utility:

  • The infographic highlights key report findings in a concise, visually enticing, and socially shareable way
  • A YouTube video featuring the company’s Global Practice Director of Corporate and Brand Citizenship establishes the company’s thought leadership and provides sound bites for media to use in their coverage
  • Reporters can find more in-depth conclusions in the long-form research report and pair it with an accompanying visual

A strong story with a variety of narratives increases its earned media potential. Using bold sub-heads and bullet points, the release surfaces at least 4 different stories that a journalist has the option of covering.

This news release does an excellent job of catering to the audience needs – a key tenet of effective brand journalism. Congrats to MSL Group on a fantastic release!

ShannonAuthor Shannon Ramlochan is the Content Marketing Coordinator at PR Newswire. Follow her on Twitter @sramloch

9 Tips for Writing an Effective Online Headline

Writing headlines for an online audience poses different challenges than print. Here are 10 tips to help you write an effective headline for the web.

Writing headlines for an online audience poses different challenges than print.
Here are nine tips to help you write an effective headline for the web.

You spent hours laboring over a blog post.  You did your research and fussed over sentences until they were just right. The only thing standing between you and your next task is a headline.

You take a few seconds, jot down the first thing that comes to mind, and move on.

Don’t do that.

You’re cheating yourself out of more readers by not applying the same effort to your headline, as you did to the rest of your piece.

The headline is the first – and sometimes only — thing your audience sees before deciding to open your blog post.  It needs to be worthy of being clicked on.

During a Web Headlines seminar by the Poynter Institute, John Schlander, the Tampa Bay Times’ digital general manager, shared an easy-to-remember approach to online headline writing.

Your headline has three goals, he said. If it captures deeper meaning, reader interest and search value, you’re in good shape.

These nine tips will help you achieve those goals.

1. Keep it short. Although bloggers, online journalists, and other writers are not limited by a newspaper’s narrow columns, you do need to consider the web’s equivalents: Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) and social media.

After Google’s most-recent SERP redesign, Moz released new guidelines for page title/headline length.  There’s no magic number due to the varying widths of letters on Google. However, under the new design, Moz says 55 characters is a safe bet before your headline gets cut off in SERPs.

If your headline is close to or more than 55 characters (including spaces), make sure the most important information is near the front.

2. Don’t aim for cute.  I LOVE puns, so it pains me to say they’re better left out of your online headline.  Your headline has to live on its own in search results, as a tweet, or in a mobile news reader. You don’t have the luxury of a photo or subhead on the newspaper’s front page to explain “Scrape Me Up Before You Go Slow.”

If you saw that in your search results, you wouldn’t know the article was referring to a car accident involving George Michael.  Even if you can decipher the article’s topic from a pun, wordplay takes up room you don’t have. Clear, descriptive language that explains what the article is about would be more useful.

3. Keep your sights on why.  The who, what, when, and where of your story are very important to the headline, but you also need to demonstrate why your audience should care to click on it.  Is there an emotion this story taps into? What is the deeper meaning or impact this news has on your audience and its community? Ask yourself what would make you click on your own headline.

4. Understand your audience through research. Keyword research and website analytics give us insight into our target audiences’ behaviors. We don’t have to guess (as much) about what our audience will or won’t respond to.  By studying the different topics your audience is interested in, the words they use to search for those topics, and the headline triggers they respond to (numbers and calls to action are a good place to start), you can craft a headline that’s found, clicked, and shared.

5. Don’t be tone deaf. Once you’ve identified the ‘why’ of your story, you must consider the topic’s tone. Is it serious, informal, sentimental, or irreverent? Make sure that’s reflected in your headline.  If, like me, you struggle with capturing a funny tone, comedian Michele Wojciechowski offers advice on adding humor to your writing. Cultural differences also should be considered when determining what’s acceptable.

6. Be consistent with your site’s voice. In addition to recognizing the appropriate tone for your story’s topic, you need to understand and be consistent with your site’s overall voice.  Know how offbeat and radical you can be. How authoritative you should sound. You set your audience’s expectations. Although it’s sometimes OK to challenge those expectations, if your piece is going to seem out of place on your website, make sure it’s for a good reason.

7. Don’t fill it with “headlinese.” Because of newspaper formatting, some journalists developed a reductionist headline style, favoring short synonyms and jargon not typically used by their audience.  This ‘headlinese’ has led to many examples of unintentional (and hilarious) ambiguity.  Ambiguity doesn’t work online. Instead, use language you’d use in ordinary conversation.

8. Write more than one headline. Congratulations if your first attempt at writing a headline is perfect. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case.  After the Poynter seminar, I now write three to five headlines because it forces me to focus on all of the details in my story.  Your headline variations don’t need to be dramatically different. Sometimes, it’s a slight tweak to your keywords or combining of elements from the other versions.  It also can mean flipping the action’s point of view.

9. Don’t save your headline until the end.  There are valid arguments on both sides of the “write the headline first vs. write it last” debate.  I used to advocate for waiting until the end to write my headline. Then I tried writing it earlier in my blogging process and found it helped the rest of my post.

I still do my newsgathering first; however, after reviewing my notes and seeing what the story is, I write the headline before anything else.  I’ll edit my headline after writing my first draft, but having one early on helps me organize the article and find my lede.

Don’t feel overwhelmed. There’s art and science to headline writing and the only way to get better is with practice.

Poynter’s next Web Headlines and SEO Essentials seminar with Schlander takes place in December. It will provide hands-on headline writing and an in-depth understanding of online best practices. You can find more information about this and Poynter’s other online classes at

A version of this post originally appeared on Beyond Bylines. Keep up on media trends, tips for bloggers and journalists, and industry Q&As by subscribing to PR Newswire’s media blog or following us on Twitter @BeyondBylines.

Author Amanda Hicken is a media relations manager with PR Newswire. In addition to blogging on Beyond Bylines, she pens the local interest blog Clue Into Cleveland. Follow her at @ADHicken.

To the Relevant go the Rewards

Photo via the Lakewood Citizen (@lkwdcitizen)

Content Marketing World’s host Joe Pulizzi with Kevin Spacey at #CMWorld this year. Photo via the Lakewood Citizen (@lkwdcitizen)

How important is message relevance in gaining audience attention and swaying opinion? This year’s closing keynote at Content Marketing World provided a textbook example of power relevant messages have in developing audience connection.

In a tour de force keynote that was all too short, actor Kevin Spacey grabbed the orange-clad faithful in Cleveland by their collective noses, and brought them to their feet – numerous times.

Over the course of his talk, Spacey answered the question he posed at the outset (“What the hell am I doing here?!) proving that he belonged at a content marketing conference with an eloquent and inspiring discussion of the key elements of great storytelling, which he underpinned with a collection of fantastic stories that drove home his key points.

The presentation was a living case study in the power a relevant message designed for a specific audience.

A seasoned stage actor, Spacey understands audience connection in a more intimate way than many of us will ever experience.  In reality, he’s probably given a version of his keynote talk before – it was one that any theater or entertainment enthusiast would have enjoyed.  But by taking the time to pepper the presentation with examples drawn from the advertising and marketing realms. Spacey fine tuned his content for his audience, and as a result, was immediately accepted as credible and authentic by the crowd of savvy content marketers.

In addition to schooling the assembled on message targeting, Spacey also beautifully illustrated the galvanizing effect of a great story, illustrating his own points with specific and relevant vignettes.

While Spacey was on stage, Twitter was ablaze with tweets and Instagram was groaning under pictures uploaded by those in attendance.  In the ensuing days, blogs recapping the keynote and collections of tweets on Storify appeared and were shared in droves.  Spacey provoked a lot of on-the spot engagement and ensuing discussion.

This was in stark contrast to the closing keynotes at Content Marketing World in years past, which have  delivered heavy doses of entertainment, a welcome relief from the intensity of the preceding sessions.  Two years ago, in Columbus, Jack Hanna brought some interesting and beautiful animals to visit the CMWorld audience.   Last year, William Shatner graced the stage.  Both sessions were a lot of fun.

But Spacey clicked.  Spacey was memorable.  Spacey proved that he was one of us, and the key to the powerful connection he created with the audience was a beautifully crafted relevant message, underpinned by well-told stories.

Do you need a hand finding, telling and illustrating your brand’s stories?   Take a look at how our team at MultiVu can help you create and share your message

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

10 Things I Learned from #CMWorld 2014 Without Being There

The over-arching theme at Content Marketing World 2014 focused on audience-first messaging and the importance of delivering content in all of the ways that your audience wants to consume it. Case in point: though I was not physically present at Content Marketing World, I felt like an integral part of the event by relying on Twitter to deliver the awesome tips and sound bites that I was afraid of missing out on.

Many of the presenters and attendees at Content Marketing World had already made a favorable impression on me long before the conference. Knowing that they were credible and profound thinkers, I was inspired to follow the hashtag, engage in the conversation, and have my own Content Marketing World experience in a way that was specific to my needs. Through my virtual attendance, here are ten of my favorite things I learned from Content Marketing World 2014 without being there:

This year’s conference will surely be difficult to top next year – like many of you I am still recovering from having my mind blown by Kevin Spacey’s keynote speech thanks to the live stream. To all of those who took the time to tweet, thank you for making Content Marketing World 2014 an incredible learning experience right from the office!

To learn how PR Newswire and UBM Tech Create can help you fuel your content engine, follow the link:

ShannonAuthor Shannon Ramlochan is the Content Marketing Coordinator at PR Newswire. Follow her on Twitter @sramloch.

Trend Watch: Content Marketing World Day 1

Following the tweet stream from Content Marketing World (#CMWorld) is like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. Not unexpectedly, the attendees and speakers are producing quite a bit of content.

Emerging themes are bubbling up as day 1 is being recapped and digested, including:

  • Measuring business outcomes, not marketing output.  Increased spend is demanding increased rigor in measurement.
  • Aligning with the focus on outcomes, more attention is being paid to developing content for specific personas that is also mapped to buyers’ journeys.
  • Tightening the screws on content utility and relevance. Even as content marketing becomes more disciplined,  we can’t lose sight of the audience.  Content may be exquisitely aligned to personas and mapped to journeys but if doesn’t deliver value to the audience, it won’t produce results.
  • Using analytics to inform strategy.  Content marketers are increasingly mining big data sources to glean insights about what makes their audiences tick.
  • Content amplification.  Developing strategies to ensure content is seen from social seeding to actual distribution is central to achieving content success.

This is my third year at Content Marketing World, and the industry is definitely maturing.  Sessions and conversations are focusing on advanced strategy and execution, rather than more basic why-you-should-get-started discussions.

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




Sustainable Content Strategies – Measurement & Promotion Required

L-R: Ken Wincko, Nicole Smith, Rebecca Lieb, Michael Praniloff

L-R: Ken Wincko, Nicole Smith, Rebecca Lieb, Michael Praniloff. Photo courtesy of Victoria Harres.

You’be got the budget, you’ve got the plan – but is your content plan built to last? Keys to developing sustainable content strategies was front and center in the panel entitled “Don’t Run Out of Gas! Fueling a Sustainable Content Strategy” at Content Marketing World today.

Tellingly, two primary themes emerged from the discussion – the need for rigorous measurement and the reality that content needs to be promoted to be effective.

Panelists included PR Newswire’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, Ken Wincko,  Dell Inc.’s Managing Editor, Nicole Smith (@NicoleSatDell), and Altimeter Group’s Industry Analyst Rebecca Lieb (@Lieblink.) The discussion was moderated by Michael Pranikoff (@mpranikoff) director of emerging media for PR Newswire.

Business benefits will fuel sustained investment 

Building content strategies geared to deliver business benefit – and then measuring those results in a relevant way – is crucial to building a lasting program, the panelists agreed.

Rebecca Lieb (RL): Start with building an understanding of how content impacts broader benefits for the brand, including favorabilty, share of voice and improvements in customer care, customer service.

Nicole Smith (NS): Understand what you’re trying to achieve.  A bucket full of KPis is a diffused way of assessing your ROI.  Brands need to get specific about what they’re counting, and they need to be thinking about whether or not what they are measuring is relevant.

Break it down. What constitutes engagement? Increased comments? Really dig in and think about what’s relevant about your business.

Ken Wincko (KW): Think in term of what the specific challenges are for each your buyer personas along their buyers’ journeys?

How can brands get content to stand out in today’s fractured content environment? 

The days of organic propagation of content are waning, Lieb noted, driven largely by the convergence of paid, earned and owned media.   While the occasional great piece of content will go viral, in reality, most content requires promotion (at least at the outset) to drive amplification.

The panel agreed that search engines play a crucial component in driving content success, and that the meshing of paid, earned and owned media into converged forms provides important visibility opportunities for content marketers.

KW: Targeted outreach is an important way to reach influencers – the journalists and bloggers who own key niches to build expert advocacy for your brand.

Get beyond vague engagement metrics 

NS:  Cares that people find the content useful, and that they come back.  Comments are not as important.  We’re looking for a correlation between an activity and a result we like.  Reverse engineer it.

RL: Content marketers have to be careful to not resort to ad metrics. Publishers are trying to prove to advertisers that a lot of people are seeing their ads, and there’s not a lot of accountabilty beyond that.   Content marketing is not advertising, and it has to be more accountable.

KW:  Ultimately it’s connecting the dots between the interactions.  Tracking that activity through marketing automation in a multichannel way reveals what’s working for buyers across all the touch points.

When it comes to budget, advertising gets the lion’s share. How can content marketing compete?

RL: The Altimiter Group research demonstrated that advertising is losing ground, because content is more measurable and more effective.  Social channels only exist because there’s content in them.  Email is a container for content.  Sophisticated marketers are creating content, testing it in social and owned channels, and then investing expensive ad dollars into content that has been proven to strike s cord. Benefit: this also creates a unified brand voice.

The content cycle: content > owned > social > ad.  Lather, rinse repeat.


sarah avatar

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