Tag Archives: SEO

SEO Trends for 2013 & What They Mean for PR

seo_2013

This image, originally published on the Ink Blog, nicely summarizes the diverse tactics and approaches that are shaping SEO today.

The practice of search engine optimization has changed dramatically over the last couple years, and now offers PR pros and other communicators some real lessons in achieving relevance to audiences.    A look at current SEO trends offers some great ideas for anyone charged with creating content or doing outreach for a brand.   Here are some common themes I’ve been seeing on leading SEO sites and blogs this winter.

A mix of quality content:

You can’t read an SEO or marketing blog today without bumping into the phrase “quality content,” and there’s a good reason for that.   As brand publishing becomes more entrenched, the content we publish is at the very heart of our communications.  It’s the hub on our web site, it’s the landing page where we convert leads, it’s the fuel for social conversation, it’s the next step in the buying process.   So, content is crucial.  We get that.  But what does “quality” really mean?

In reality, and in this context, “quality” means a mix of content.  You need some attention-garnering, awareness-building, “upper funnel” stuff.   Many infographics, pithy blog posts about 6 ways to do something better and clever videos fall into this category.

However, this is the content equivalent of convenience food.  It’s bite-size and portable, but it’s not a feast.

“Clients are shifting not only to higher-end writers, but to subject matter experts,” noted Christina Zila in a recent Search Engine Watch post titled 5 Trends Shaping SEO & Content Marketing in 2013.  “In 2013, demand will increase not just for good writers, but for good writers who know their stuff.”

More substantial, meatier content that’s designed to inform and educate your audience – and move them deeper into the buying process – is crucial as well.   This content is tougher to produce, but  is high-value, more likely to generate links and readership, and is great fodder for derived content.

Integration of user experience and planned outcomes

Brian Loebig said it well on the InkBlog:  “There will be a tighter integration of websites, social media, press releases, SEO and mobile applications. In fact, I think the idea of optimizing for search engines will become congruent with optimizing for actual humans. If the content you are creating and distributing is highly useful and relevant for humans it will likely be favored by the search engines.”

This is an important point to remember, because while our audiences access content via all manner of devices (computers, smartphones, tablets) and platforms (web, mobile, apps, social) they expect a coherent brand experience.   This requires integration and coordination between departments, and also underscores the fact that we’re not optimizing discrete pieces of content or web pages anymore – we’re optimizing experiences.

It’s also worth noting that time-on-page and bounce rates are factors search engines notice.  Developing content and experiences that not just capture but keep attention is an important factor in both achieving successful outcomes and great online visibility.

Derived content – diverse and fresh

Content marketers have long advocated the derivation of many pieces of content from one.  A white paper, for example, can provide fodder for multiple blog posts, a deck for SlideShare, a webinar and be the basis for a variety of images.  Done well, this derived content can spark social sharing, and deliver readers back to the original work, which is often one of the meatier, more substantial pieces of content your organization has published (see above.)

Depending upon where the derived content is hosted, there can be some value in the links going back to the original work itself, especially if those links are coming from a relevant and respected industry blog or web site.  However, the fact that the work is being read and shared creates signals that engines notice.  Additionally, current content is still important, and derived works are a good way to fuel your brand’s content creation engine.  Just be sure that the derived works are themselves useful and substantial.

At this point, some readers may be thinking “This doesn’t sound like SEO to me,” and if your definition of SEO is limited to keyword density and link-building, then yes, you’re right.  This is new ground.  The lesson here for all communicators that we can learn from search optimization gurus can be summarized pretty simply:  Search engines are smarter than ever and they pay attention to signals generated by real, live humans.  To generate visibility in search engines, you have to start with compelling content, use multiple channels and formats to deliver the messages, and make serving your audience well the priority.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

See more blog posts on the topic of search engine visibility and content optimization:  http://blog.prnewswire.com/tag/seo/

Do Press Releases Help SEO?

seo factors 5 10

The debate over whether or not press releases distributed over a commercial newswire like PR Newswire have a positive effect on SEO has raged for years, resulting in confusion over whether or not using press releases to build visibility for a web site in search engines is an effective tactic.

Years ago, sending out press releases with embedded anchor text links rewarded the issuer of the press release with dozens – if not hundreds – of backlinks.  In many cases, the associated web site was catapulted to the top of the search engine results pages and voila, a popular tactic was born.

Since then, search engines have become more intelligent, and even more focused on their users.  Google’s updates (especially Panda and Penguin) have focused on winnowing out poor quality content.   Many of the press releases that are created link-building tactics don’t pass muster in the engines’ ongoing evaluation of content.

Google’s Matt Cutts is on record advising that links from press releases are no longer contributing to page rank.  However, a recent test by the SEO Consult blog offers evidence to the contrary.

So what’s the answer?  Do press releases matter when it comes to site SEO?  Yes, they do, but not in the way they used to.

The old days of using press releases as a link-building tool have not gone, the evidence shows it can still be beneficial, but the bar has been significantly raised.

On the other hand, content that is written for the audience and is subsequently valued by the audience fares well, whether or not it’s a press release, article or blog post.

“Our advice is that we should write for our audience first, and then work to make the press release findable,” notes Rod Nicolson, PR Newswire’s vice president of global reporting. “By sharing information that your audience needs, or providing them with something else they want you’ll be using best practice that is as old as press releases themselves.”

“Matt isn’t saying that press releases won’t help,” commented SEO Round Table reader Joshua Butler, in a comment on the post titled “Links in Press Releases Don’t Help Your SEO? This Experiment Proved They Do, where a lively discussion on this subject has ensued.   “What Matt is saying is that press releases that are posted to press release sites without getting picked up by real news sites won’t help. He’s saying:  links from press release sites won’t help your rankings.  So what do you do? Still do press releases, but make them newsworthy enough to get picked up by news sites. Getting links from industry news sites that have a long history (3 or more years old) are great links to get.”

Whether or not a press release (or, for that matter, any other content your organization syndicates or publishes) is effective in terms of building traction in search engines and ultimately becoming  a source of valuable and authoritative inbound link to your web site will depend on a few things, including:

  • The subject matter & content: Is your content germane to your audiences’ interests?  Is it written using language they use and will search for?
  • The competitiveness of the subject matter and associated keywords:  Competing for attention when using extremely popular search terms such as “Michelle Obama” or “Super Bowl 2013” is difficult, because of the sheer volume of information available about popular topics.   A more targeted key phrase will generally deliver better results.
  • Where the content appears:  Newsworthy, well-written content appearing on relevant, high-authority web sites will be noticed by search engines, and the net effect will be positive.   PR Newswire’s web site has been continuously online serving our customers and their audiences since 1995, and our content syndication network  includes some of the web’s largest news outlets, as well as thousands of well-respected, tightly-focused and subject-specific news sites.
  • Whether or not people actually read it (and share it):  Content that is published but not read achieves nothing – both in terms of human impressions and search engine traction, and it’s a waste of resource to boot.  When people read and share content, they generate signals indicating to search engines the value of a particular piece of content.  So generating strong readership has a dual benefit – in addition to spreading your message virally, your search engine visibility is boosted, too.

The take away here is that there is no cookie-cutter formula for using press releases to build web site rank.  However, emphasizing value to readers in all the content published by the organization will ultimately generate lasting visibility in search engines and increased credibility with your brand’s audiences.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

Improve the visibility of your content:

Need tips on improving the visibility of your press releases and other content you publish?  Here are some simple, straightforward and easy to use best practices that you can start using today.

SEO is Dead! Now Let’s Optimize!

top rank seo cycle

The heydey of SEO is over!

As a discipline it found a prominent place in the psyche of Web publishers because of the critical role the search engines played in driving traffic to Web sites, which in turn played a critical role in monetizing those sites.

But SEO was a victim of its own success.  That success led to excess and with that excess came a threat to the efficacy of the very search engines it was intended to attract.  Perhaps more importantly it caused publishers, marketers and various other content producers to lose the plot.  They stopped writing for their audience and focused instead on producing stuff that only resonated with algorithms, not with people.

Let’s take keyword search as an example, because that is SEO at its most basic level.  It was a pretty rational idea to try to identify what keywords were most commonly being searched for and then include those keywords in your story.  And add them to the headline.  And then add more and more of them.

Then the spammers joined the SEO party and put those keywords into content that had absolutely nothing to do with what the unsuspecting Web user was actually searching for.  In fact whole businesses grew up based on generating traffic by matching keyword queries and directing traffic to shallow, low-cost, low-value content.

So, 200 or so algorithm tweaks later, Google shuts this down.  The use of links is following a similar escalation to oblivion pattern.

The goal of Google and every other search engine is to have quality rise to the top (unless of course you’re willing to pay to be on top).  So naturally their advice to Web authors is “write great content.”

But the search engines can’t really identify quality.  What they do instead is first of all associate the quality of the content with the place it appears (e.g. you’re more likely to come up with quality on the New York Times than on eHow,) and secondly, try to predict quality based upon robotically identifiable characteristics of the content.  For example, it may be true that 400-word stories are more likely to be of higher quality that 200 word items.  But they can’t deal with the fact that you could say something brilliant in one graph.

Post-SEO Optimization

If you’re a marketer or a PR professional, if you’re the digital guru of your organization or one of the new breed of content marketers, you can’t afford to just write something good and say “Here you go, Google.”  What you need to do is to optimize in a post-SEO world and here’s some advice on how to do that.

  1. First of all your content needs a good home.  Just putting it on your Web site isn’t enough, you should have an online newsroom as part of your site.  That becomes the landing page where you drive traffic to your content and the place were you use some best practice SEO for Web sites in order to capture searchers.  Make it interesting.  One of the biggest challenges with search engine traffic is getting them to click on more than one document.  Use photos, use video and if you don’t produce enough content yourself bring some in.  Add a Twitter feed, YouTube videos or Flikr photos.
  2. You should also have a blog, whether as an individual or as an organization.  A blog is one way to personalize your content.  Take advantage of the unique writing styles and perspectives of individuals within your organization.  De-institutionalize your content and provide another path to your online newsroom.
  3. You are not going to maximize your audience with search alone.  Use social networks.  Every new piece of content should give rise to several tweets with interesting excerpts from the document and links back to your online newsroom.  One tactic that can be effective in building an audience is to not only use an organization account but also have individual accounts of thought leaders in your organization.   This personalizes the messaging and makes it more social.  (If you haven’t built a strong following on Twitter you can use PR Newswire’s Social Post to reach followers on our curated vertical Twitter accounts.)   For B-to-B companies in particular, LinkedIn is becoming an increasingly important place to share information.
  4. It’s important to hit every social network you can think of that’s relevant to your business or your brand.  However, quality beats quantity – it’s better to focus on a couple where you can really concentrate on building a following.  By learning what types of messaging draw the most likes, or follows, or shares, you can refine how you use each network.
  5. Placement is another way to get lots of readers.  I’m not thinking about the classic and expensive ad network type of placement.  There are many innovative alternatives in the market today including recommendation engines, keyword buy options and sponsored and preferred placement on mobile and social networks. A cost effective approach for placement is to use a commercial newswire service like PR Newswire that has a robust syndication network.  This can enable you to reach many targeted sites that may have a very selective audience specifically interested in your content.

So optimization is as important as ever, but not for the practice of SEO that’s all about keywords and links and gaming the search engines.  Optimization has a broader meaning that starts with good content and good places to put it and then drives readers to that content through search, social and syndication.

Author Ken Dowell is PR Newswire’s executive vice president of audience development & social media.

Image courtesy of Flickr user  TopRankOnlineMarketing.

What is Quality Content?

Content-is-King-1-300x169Virtually every discussion of modern public relations and marketing practice will at some point refer to the importance of quality content.  It is the absolute baseline for brand publishing, content marketing, social media messaging and just about any other way that an organization communicates.

The need for quality applies across the board whether the content you are producing is called a press release or a white paper, sponsored content or a blog post.

Quality transcends category.

But what exactly is quality content?  Often that question is answered by what it is not:

  • It’s not spam.
  • It’s not jargon.
  • It’s not solicitous.
  • It’s not laced with tricks to attract search engine algorithms.

The don’ts are easier to point out than the do’s.

If we’re going to define what constitutes quality, let’s start at the simplest level.  Quality content is well written.  That means it’s concise, clear and grammatically correct.  I can’t recall reading anything that was so brilliant I could overlook the typos, mismatched tense and run-on sentences.

Secondly, quality content is honest.  It is honest about what it is and who is writing it.  If it is sponsored content, that is made clear, as is the author or authoring organization.  If someone else’s ideas or someone else’s research is referenced, that too is appropriately attributed.

Beyond that it gets a lot more subjective.

The Google Webmaster Blog talks about “unique, valuable, engaging.”  Other attributes that are cited by various Web authors include useful, relevant, well-researched, credible, and easy to read.

I suggest that good quality content has to be either interesting or informative.  Entertain or educate.  Great quality content does both.

There are many ways to be interesting.  For example, your content can be funny.  Photos and videos can be interesting in ways that are hard to replicate solely with blocks of text.  Great writing, especially if it is in a style and tone that is unique to the author, can in itself be interesting.

Content can be informative to a very broad audience, such as when NASA discusses some new information about the nature of neighboring planets, or to a very small audience, such as information about an innovation in industrial design.   Quality content doesn’t have to be brilliantly original, never-before-heard wisdom.  It can add context or insight to information that is otherwise widely known.  But it has to add to the conversation.

How good is your content?  Try asking yourself whether it is the kind of stuff that you would be interested in reading and why.  If your answer is affirmative, you’re on the right track.

Author Ken Dowell is PR Newswire’s executive vice president of social media & audience development.

Does your content need some fine-tuning?  We have some resources that can help:

Image via 100Kblueprint.com

Can Google Slay the Dragon It Spawned?

Google is believed to make something like 500 changes to their search algorithms a year.  In August and September there were 65 updates.  The widely discussed Panda update has been supplemented another 21 times and the more recent Penguin update has already had two follow-ups.

(Related: Algo Hunters)

All this is to improve the user experience.  To deliver to the user through Google search the best quality, most authoritative and most extensively researched answer to their query.

If you think all the way back to Web 1.0, that’s pretty much what we went for.  We went to sites that we trusted, that were widely known and popular.  We used our computers quite literally as if they were electronic libraries or newsstands, choosing the publication and then looking for what we wanted.

It is really the search engines that changed all this by offering a path directly to the information we sought, an answer to the question we asked.   Leave the browsing to Google!

But some funny things happened along the way.

Our query about a medical condition was not always answered by a doctor or a reputable medical organization, but rather might have prompted a couple shallow graphs from a freelance writer who got paid a few bucks by one of the so called content farms.

Our keyword query might in fact yield some document that was full of instances of that keyword but had no real information about the subject being asked.

We might get an answer that is written by a journalist who works for a reputable news organization but maybe we only see a couple graphs of that story that were extracted and “curated” onto a different organization’s site.

All of these are symptoms of SEO (search engine optimization), which might also be called GG (Gaming Google).  It is the promise of SEO and its widespread adaptation that in fact screwed up the viability of the search engines and produced the need for Google’s 500+ tweaks a year.

Because while Google was offering the user a shortcut to the information it was indirectly offering the diverse world of content providers shortcuts as well.

It certainly seemed a lot easier to game your way to the top of search engine results than it did to build a reputation as an authoritative source.  And some code to capture trending keywords and tag content with them seemed a quicker solution than finding great writers and giving them the resources to do extensive research.

So Google is now all about fixing the mess it was at least partly responsible for making.  The search giant is now talking about good content, good sites, good sources.

I hope they’re successful.

Need some ideas on how to make the content you publish really work for your organization – across traditional media, social networks and search engines?  We’ve collected a raft of posts focusing on content optimization and strategy.  Here you go:  http://blog.prnewswire.com/tag/seo/

Author Ken Dowell is an executive vice president with PR Newswire, and oversees audience development and multimedia services.

Image courtesy of Flickr user  Go Local Search.

Content Marketing Case Study: It Sure Looks Like PR to Me

Wordstream’s infographic that supported their campaign generated fantastic results for them. (Click on the image to see the full size version.)

A blog post on search engine authority SEOMoz titled “How I Got a Link from the Wall Street Journal” offers some real instruction for PR pros on linking content – and public relations outputs – with measurable, top-line business results.

It’s worth noting that the author of the post – and the content marketing campaign discussed – is Larry Kim, the founder and CTO of Wordstream, a search marketing firm.  (There’s another link for you, Larry – I know you’re counting.)  In short, he is a data-driven quant, C-suite denizen and SEO guru.  And within his case study is some very important guidance for public relations pros.

Think strategically (and holistically) about online pickup.

The first lesson to be derived from Larry’s post is this:  PR should think more deliberately about the value to be had for the organizations we’re promoting in the online mentions and “pick up” we generate — and not just in terms of PR outcomes.   In this day and age, the content we publish digitally can provide a variety of benefits to an organization.  The content, for example, can be mapped your customers’ buying process by your marketing team, and re-purposed.  And the content can generate potent search engine visibility – if you manage the language and linking correctly.  Optimizing press releases and other content can certainly help, however, it’s important to think beyond one granular message, and think instead in terms of how messages can improve web site search rank and provide content that aids potential customers as they make buying decisions.

Defining SEO benefits

What do I mean by “good link” and “significant SEO benefits”?  Search engine optimization is the art and science of fine tuning a web site’s content (among other things) so it shows up on the first page of search results for specific, targeted keywords and phrases.

A “good link” is one that includes one of those target terms, and links back to related pages on your web site.   Here’s how Larry defined his objective of garnering a “good link” from the WSJ.

Real, editorial links from the WSJ. But not just any link. Ideally, links in an article that:

  • In some way mentioned WordStream (my company) so that we could get a bit of media exposure out of this effort
  • Links to both our homepage and contained to a deep page on our site with relevant anchor text.

Now, as we all know, the sort of placement Larry in talking about – real, editorial placement – is right in PR’s wheelhouse.   How many of us are working with our web marketing teams and thinking about search terms and deep links when we’re developing our PR campaigns and planning our tactics?  Anecdotally, from the many conversations I’ve had with PR teams over the years, I’m going to venture to guess that the answer to that question is “Not many.”

A good link from a high-profile, high-authority news site – whether it’s the Wall St. Journal or an important niche publication – can provide lift in search rankings for your web site, which is a proven driver of business results, as well as fuel for social conversations.   The content we publish, and the results it generates across the enterprise – is all connected.

Newsworthy content & a good news hook

As one continues reading Larry’s post, it reads more-and more like a modern guide on how to get more PR pick up. He emphasized the need for newsworthy, unique content that was written for the WSJ readership, not a bunch of search experts.

Further on in the case, Larry also addresses the vital necessity of a solid news hook, and how he went about identifying the hook for his “content marketing” campaign.

Finally, by now we know that press releases with multimedia generate better results than plain text.  Larry knows the power of visuals too, and made an infographic central to his campaign.

This *really* sounds like PR now, doesn’t it?

The importance of high-value links & a new definition of “pick up”

I’m prepared to argue that generating high-value links from credible media and blogs should be a key goal of many PR campaigns.   This is a new facet to that old standard in our business – achieving editorial “pick up,” and it’s one that our peers in marketing are really good at measuring.  The teams who manage web marking, in particular, generally have really good insight into the performance of different web site content in terms of the generation of qualified traffic and leads, conversion rate and search rank.   There’s no reason why the content PR deploys can’t be tweaked in order to work in tandem with other content deployed by the organization.  This ‘tweaking’ isn’t onerous.  It just requires a little collaboration with the web marketing team, getting organized, and then being sure to use target terms in PR content, and linking those terms to relevant web site pages. In addition to synching publishing strategies, the same should also be done for measurement at well.  It’s not unreasonable to imagine a scenario in which a press release, for example, is measured in terms of resulting high-value media links, leads generated and search marketing value.

Borrowing a few pages from Larry’s playbook is a good idea for PR.  Simply put, we can leverage the press releases and other content we produce, publish and syndicate to impact far more than the goals set for the PR department and the outcomes the organization usually expect from the public relations team.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media and has written extensively on how public relations, content marketing and search intersect.

Picking the Best Press Release Wire Service for Your Needs – An Insider’s Guide

One of the most common questions PR people ask is “Which press release wire service should I use to issue my organization’s news?”

I’ve spent  20 years working for various newswires, including managing the press release distribution product at PR Newswire and keeping tabs on our competitors.  Simply put, I know the newswire business! So to help you find the best answer to that question “Which newswire service should I pick?” for your organization, here are some questions and criteria you can use to determine which wire service will work best for you.

Four questions to ask when selecting a press release distribution vendor:

First and foremost, you should question vendors about their coverage – in terms of both media and online channels  - related to the specific business you’re promoting. Things to ask potential newswire vendors include:

1)      What web sites syndicate your content and will display my news?  Pay attention to your industry niche, and ask the vendor to distinguish between people who receive content via RSS and the web sites that have actually agreed to syndicate (and display) content from the newswire.

2)      How do you measure online distribution, and what type of reporting will I receive?  Ask questions about what the numbers mean.  Some numbers, like “impressions,” describe potential audience, not actual views of the press release.

3)      Which media do you reach, and how?  Drill into how the vendor reaches the media that are of most importance to you. Don’t forget niche industry media and bloggers! They are important sources of influence.

4)      How do you measure media activity, and what type of reporting will I receive? It’s always helpful to ask vendors what reporting they provide. Ideally, the reporting should match or describe the distribution you’re purchasing.

Other factors to consider:

Best press release wires for social media - prnewswire businesswire marketwire prweb

Press release shares on social networks, measured independently by PostRank. PR Newswire beat out all competitors, including Business Wire, MarketWire & PR Web.

  • Web site traffic: Compare the web site traffic and search engine referrals each vendor’s web site receives.  These numbers will reveal which newswire have stronger web sites – which delivers more visibility for your message.  Don’t assume the larger, more well established wires are lacking in online exposure. In most cases, they actually provide more visibility and have stronger web sites than newer, web-only companies.
  • Social media: Look at social media presence, and the social shares of press releases generated by the vendor .
  • Editing & SEO: The degree to which press releases are edited before they are distributed also varies by provider. Some provide no editing; some just check spelling; others do a full edit, finding and fixing mistakes in press releases, and may even provide SEO tips, too.

Dig deeper into pricing and options

All of the wires offer different price structures. Don’t assume that the biggies like PR Newswire and Business Wire can’t compete with smaller wires – we all offer packages ideal for small business PR efforts, as well as programs for agencies, public companies and a host of other kinds of organizations and enterprises.  Once you have zeroed in on the vendor offering the distribution that is best aligned with your objectives, talk to one of their people about which service levels make the most sense for your organization.

Free Wire Buyer’s Guide

PR Newswire has created a Wire Buyer’s Guide that will give you additional ideas on factors to consider when selecting a press release distribution vendor.  The guide is free, here’s the link:  The Buyer’s Guide to Content Distribution.

In addition to working for PR Newswire for almost 18 years, author Sarah Skerik also spent time with Reuters and the City News Bureau of Chicago.  She got her start in news distribution at age 14, as a paper girl for the Burlington HawkEye, Iowa’s oldest newspaper.

Balancing Substance with Attention: Creating Content That Attracts & Appeals

I’ve long thought that the discipline of search engine optimization (namely, the art and science of getting your web site positioned high in search engine results for specific keywords) offers great lessons for PR and content marketers.   A blog post on SEOMoz today titled “What Kind of Content Gets Links in 2012?” offers an unusually rich trove of data and ideas for communicators to consider, and it got me thinking about different the different types of visibility our content generates.

Some readers skim quickly over content, others spend a lot more time on the page.   Some readers will share links to the content you publish, others will click through the links you serve.  With some readers, the opportunity to connect is fleeting.  Others may make a greater commitment to your content, such as bookmarking it for future reference, or linking to it from their blog.

The Linkers & the Sharers

For simplicity’s sake, let’s create two audience groups – the Sharers, who consume and share content at high speed, and the Linkers, who engage with content more deeply.    (Admittedly, these two groups are very generalized, but for the sake of this discussion, we’ll focus on commonalities, not particulars.)  The Sharer and Linker behaviors are different, and a lot can be learned from asking how they differ, and why.

Marketers would say the Sharers are at the top of the marketing funnel – in the Awareness stage.  They are like butterflies in a field of flowers, flitting about and sampling many.  They haven’t committed.  The Linkers are further along in the content consumption / decision making process, moving into the Consideration (and maybe even the Preference) stages as they mull over, click through and re-read your content.

Both represent vitally important audience groups.  The Sharers may one day evolve into Linkers.  In the meantime, this group helps amplify your messages when they share links to your content on social networks.   The Linkers, especially when they link to your content from their blogs, create lasting traction that search engines value.  And, of course, they represent a qualified audience that’s valuable to the organization, because they’re more likely to take the action the company is encouraging, whether that’s registering for an event, buying a product or subscribing to a service.

Is it possible for communicators to serve both? 

In an earlier post, I talked about embedding multiple calls to action within press releases and other content, in order to appeal to (and engage) different audiences.  Chris Sietsema, in a recent post on Convince & Convert titled “Creating Social Substance: Talkable & Useful Content” starts to plumb this issue, discussing the differences between creating talkable and useful content, which my context, appeal to the Sharers and Linkers, in that order.  I believe we can take that a step further, and appeal to different types of readers, by paying attention to how we format our content.

The best practices for press releases and other content we’ve long advocated on this blog are especially important when it comes to attracting sharers’ more fleeting attention.  To garner readers, the following tactics are especially important:

  • Write a headline that’s around 120 characters and put your most important keyword within the first 65 characters of your 120 character headline.
  • Include an image in your content.
  • Embed an anchor text link (or two) in the text to give readers who are interested a path to follow.
  • Make it easy for readers to scan the content – use bullet points, numbered lists and paragraph sub-heads.

However, appealing to Linkers requires longer, more complex and robust content.  In fact, the SEOMoz post today backs this up, finding a correlation between longer content, and the number of web sites that had drawn links to the content:  longer content elicited more inbound links.  This might seem surprising, given that many SEO gurus and purveyors of blog best practices suggest we eschew longer-form content on our digital properties.   Clearly, even in today’s sound-byte, 140-character communications culture, there is still real demand for more detailed, useful information.

In my mind, the charge for communicators is pretty clear.  We shouldn’t shy away from the longer content that attracts Linkers, helps create more qualified leads and, as SEOMoz noted, can be a valuable source of inbound links.  Nor should we go overboard.  Our content portfolios should contain a mix of content – in terms of length, character, purpose and medium.  But crafting content that is designed to support people who are moving from the Awareness stage into the Consideration and Preference stages of the buying cycle is good practice.  We should certainly still adhere to the best practices noted above when we create longer-form content, in order to attract some Sharers while also serving our Linkers well.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

How to Write Press Releases that Work

Yesterday at the Ragan Communications Best Practices Summit, Ruth Sarfaty of Spark PR and I gave a presentation on the subject of press release best practices.  This particular discussion is one I have often, and the answer is ever-evolving.   I say “ever-evolving” because we operate in a fluid environment today.    The algorithms that dictate what we see in social networks and search engines can change dramatically day-to day,  rendering last week’s best practice a worthless tactic today.

“Releases have changed and so have we,” noted my co-presenter Ruth. “While press releases may be intended primarily for journalists, let’s not forget the long tail who tweet and retweet your news!”

Here is the most current iteration of my “best practices” deck, along with the case study Ruth presented of our work together on the study of press releases and social media we did with CrowdFactory.  It’s long and comprehensive.  I’m not going to re-type all the details here (you can easily access the whole thing via Slideshare, just click on the image at the top of this post) but a couple points are worth emphasizing.

Their house, their rules.

It’s important to remember a few things about the search engines and social networks that drive so much visibility for our messages today:

1) Google does not exist to promote your press releases.  Many people forget that the reason Google exists is to return a profit to their shareholders.  They do so by selling ads.  Those ads are effective because of the immense utility most of us derive from using Google to search for stuff.    It’s very important to Google that people find their search engine useful. Ergo, the best way to get visibility in Google? Publish useful and interesting stuff.

2) Social networks are social.  Not commercial. Not advertorial (for the most part.)  People go on to Facebook to hang out, for example.  Twitter, however, is often about the exchange of information, especially niche info and breaking news.   Point is, if your message doesn’t fit the context of why people are using a particular social network, you’ll have difficulty gaining traction there.  You’ve heard the adage “Horses for courses” – well, the same applies for content and social networks. Content that plays well on Facebook won’t necessarily work on LinkedIn.

A lot of time and energy is spent on the optimization of press releases.  Without a doubt, some of the best practices outlined in the deck above will help improve message visibility.  However, at the end of the day, the best way to ensure your message is to provide content that is interesting and useful to your audience.

Author  Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

Related reading:

4 Essential Tips for Writing Effective Press Release Headlines

Rethinking Press Release Tactics to Meet Evolving Audience Preferences

Press Releases Shared More on Facebook, But Twitter Drives 30 Percent More Views

Writing Press Releases that Get Results

The Cross-Platform Consumer: New Communication Imperatives

A new study titled “The New Multi-Screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior” from Google suggests that reaching your audience on one device isn’t enough.  The research reveals that 90% of people use multiple devices – mobiles, PCs, tablets, smart phones, TVs – to accomplish a goal.

The study concluded there are two modes of multi-screen media consumption:

  • Sequential – where we move from one device to another to accomplish a goal.  An example of this would be researching a destination for a day trip at your PC, and then using your smart phone once you got there to make decisions about which restaurant to visit. According to the study, 9 out of 10 people use devices sequentially.
  • Simultaneous – when we use two or more devices at the same time.  The simplest example of this is watching TV, and tweeting about what you’re watching on your tablet. 77% of people watch TV with another device in hand.

 So what does this mean to marketers?  If anything this underscores the necessity of increasing our clock speeds and adopting an agile approach to engaging our audiences.  This reality is central to why PR Newswire has long advocated a multi-channel approach to distributing press releases and multimedia content.  It’s simply not enough to rely upon a web site or two any longer.

Additionally, Google makes several important conclusions about how consumers interact with information across devices:

  • Search is the connector between devices.  People use search engines to “pick up where they left off,” according to Google.
  • Turn “spur of the moment” activity into valuable opportunity.  The study suggests that 80% of searches from smart phones are done at the spur of the moment.  A great mobile presence can be instrumental in converting that opportunity into a sale.

Imperatives for communicators:

  • Ensure that your web site is not only search friendly, but formatted for mobile devices too.  Be sure your phone number, location and other information people access most frequently on your web site (business hours, menus, products, special offers, etc.) render quickly and prominently for mobile users.
  • Coordinate online and off-line campaigns.   One famous example of a brand failing to do this is the Snickers campaign that featured made up words such as “hungerectomy” printed on a Snickers wrapper.  This campaign was purely analog, appearing on billboards, the sides of busses and in print.  However, the ad’s creators overlooked the fact that offline messaging drives online behavior.  They have any digital presences designed to capture online interest in the campaign, and they didn’t buy search engine ads against the very words upon which the ad campaign centered.  Understand that offline messaging will trigger online activity, and plan accordingly.

The Google study is interesting reading and underscores the connectedness of our audiences and how the advent of mobile devices has significantly changed the decision making process.  It’s critical for brands to develop intelligent presences everywhere their audience is going to look – from search engines to social networks and from print to mobile.

Author  Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.