A well written press release, distributed through the correct channels, can increase web traffic and boost search engine rankings. A big part of this success relies on being able to react to breaking news quickly, so it’s worth developing a solid press release template to follow, so you can get your take on the latest news in front of key influencers before anyone else.
Before you start, understand that there is no strict formula for writing a successful press release. To adopt a few bits of fishing terminology: it’s not a ‘one bait catches all’ process; you might have to cast your line out for a while before you get a bite.
Start by listing variations of the following questions at the top of your press release template:
• What am I trying to say? • Why is it worth saying? • How am I going to say it? • Who am I targeting? • Where is this appearing?
These should get the person writing the press release thinking of the bigger picture, in regards to its purpose and what you hope it can achieve for your brand.
Choose a catchy title
Highlight the importance of choosing an eye-catching title in your press release template. There’s a reason why newspapers jostle for space outside newsagents with clever ‘play on words’ and ‘what did that say? headlines that make people stop in their tracks, buy the paper and read more. The same rationale applies to picking an enticing title for your press release.
Susan Payton from Cision suggests that, when writing a press release, you should imagine the story being printed on a front page. Choosing a headline to match, will, according to Payton’s interviewee Melissa L. James, help people look at the article through ‘readers eyes.’
Remember to pick a title that conveys what you’re trying to get across, without being too heavy on keywords; you want people to be persuaded into reading your release, but you don’t want to mislead them with ‘clickbait’ or robotised sales copy. It may help to write the headline after you’ve composed the rest of the release, so you know exactly what you need to cover.
Focus on the top line
The next ‘box to tick’, if you will, is the press release’s top line.
In the words of the English language’s greatest communicator, brevity is the soul of wit – so don’t go overboard. Use every word carefully and, if in doubt, cut. Jeremy Porter highlights a particularly bad, jargon-filled release, while also quickly remedying its faults and producing an easier-to-read example that still communicates the original message.
Choose your quotations carefully
All good press releases will include a handpicked quotation from a relevant individual that adds to the provenance of the piece. Ensure quotations aren’t platitudinous and don’t merely repeat the points made in the main copy.
Write in the third person
Always write in the third person – stamp this in capitals across the top of your outline if you like – anything else and it’ll just sound like sales copy.
Think outside the box! Brands are no longer constrained by two-dimensional black and white print, so tell your press release writer to review the article and include informative links, pictures or videos, where necessary.
Hannah Fleishman of HubSpot is particularly vocal on this, pointing out that it’s worth sitting down together as a team to discuss how you can include infographics, slideshows and the like to increase the likelihood of your content being shared across different channels.
This example, from British tech start-up The Soldier’s Box, includes a video that demonstrates the value of the product being offered, while still providing the fully-formed content that can be spun into a news story. Of course, the publisher doesn’t have to use the video, but it could help pique their interest.
Who are ya?
Don’t forget that, after telling the story, you need to include some details about your company. After all, you aren’t doing this to give journalists and online publishers an easy life; you’re doing it as part of your content marketing strategy! Contact details are vital, but don’t provide a long list – choose between phone number, email address, web/blog address and social media handle, depending on the type of release and the nature of your business.
The key to success here is quality. Your releases should be written with the human consumer in mind. Make them relevant, informative, attractive and readable, and you should start to notice just how effective they can be. Finally, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly for grammar, punctuation and spelling before you send – releases are often published as is, and you don’t want your business to look unprofessional!
The convergence of SEO and PR has never been more crucial to the success of an SEO campaign.
Getting SEO buy-in from a PR team can help you to gain powerful links and citations from authority sites. Unfortunately, this is sometimes difficult to achieve, as PR professionals are judged on press cuttings and exposure, not search engine rankings.
In the latest edition of our weekly Ask an SEO feature, I caught up with SEO consultant Patrick Langridge. Patrick has a background in traditional PR and gave me some really good insight into how to successfully combine the two disciplines.
Q) Hi Patrick, could you maybe start by telling us about your current role?
A) Hi Martin, thanks for having me! I’m an SEO Consultant at Screaming Frog; we’re a search marketing agency based in Henley-on-Thames, UK. If the name rings a bell it’s probably because you’re familiar with our own SEO crawling software the SEO Spider, but I’m always keen to remind people that we’re predominantly a paid and organic search agency! My role involves both onsite/technical SEO, as well as the offsite/traditional marketing side of things which includes link building, creating and implementing content, and PR strategy.
Q) How and why did you make the switch from PR to SEO?
A) In a bit of a roundabout way really! After leaving my PR position and looking for a new role, I rather speculatively applied for a job here at Screaming Frog, assuming that I would probably be technically under qualified to ‘do’ SEO. As it turned out, while working in PR I was actually ‘doing’ SEO without realising it – a lot of my PR work was specifically digital PR where there is a growing amount of synergy with SEO. Since the day I was fortunate enough that Screaming Frog took a punt on me, I haven’t looked back.
Q) I’ve often found that getting SEO buy-in from PRs can be tricky, do you have any recommendations on how you can get a traditional PR team or agency to incorporate SEO considerations into their work?
A) It’s important for PRs to understand the long term value of SEO, and how it relates to their day-to-day work. At times PR can be very immediate – it’s naturally great to have an article about your brand feature in the Guardian newspaper for instance, but in reality that newspaper will be tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, as the cliché goes. I’m over simplifying rather, but the long term SEO value that links provide, especially from trusted newspaper websites, is huge in comparison to what might be just a few column inches. A link from the Guardian isn’t just for today, that news article will be archived, the link will mature and the article might even receive references and links of its own which will only increase the SEO value of your own hyperlink.
Q) Do you think that PR professionals are becoming more SEO-savvy?
A) Slowly but surely yes, but in general PRs could be a lot more aware of what SEO is and have a better understanding of the power of links. I wrote a blog post last year about how SEO and PR aren’t all that different, and with a little extra know how, PR agencies could integrate SEO and actually offer it and charge for it as a separate service to clients.
Unfortunately, we as SEOs still see too many press releases without hyperlinks, too many news articles not referencing the original sources or quotes back to the client, and too many wasted SEO opportunities! A lot of PRs still aren’t quite there yet technically, but this is probably down to the fact that links and SEO aren’t even a consideration for some of them; it’s just simply not their job to worry about digital.
I can’t stress enough the importance of SEO and PR talking to each other, whether that’s agency to agency via the client, or just across the room if your marketing team is working in-house!
Q) Do you have any other tips on how to write a successful SEO press release?
A) I’m probably preaching to the converted for any PRs reading this, but for SEOs, you need to think like a journalist thinks. A strong headline and genuinely interesting story with a hook or angle should be a given when approaching press, and then you need to consider who journalists answer to – their editors and sub-editors. What they demand of their staff is to write stories that will sell papers in the offline world, and generate clicks online.
Stephen Pavlovich of Wish.co.uk gave a great talk at the recent Content Marketing Show about how he has been able to get some great links from media outlets and newspaper websites. Stephen’s four pillars to achieve a successful PR campaign are; topical, sexual, controversial and celebrity. If you can combine all four at once then you’re on the right track. As for the SEO side of the press release, I wouldn’t recommend putting out a press release for the sake of a link (i.e. if the release isn’t actually newsworthy!), and don’t go too heavy on anchor text either, as some recent examples have badly demonstrated.
Q) How do you deal with the usual problem of getting SEO recommendations implemented by your clients?
A) It can be an ongoing battle! We are very much a consultancy agency and don’t carry out any development ourselves, so all we can do is hope that our clients’ dev team are on the ball! Strong communication is the key here, it can get the required ‘buy in’ and solve any issues along the way. We provide as much support and guidance as possible in that regard. SEO recommendations are an on-going consideration too; don’t just think that your recommendations in month 1 of a campaign are satisfactory. Constantly review them and reassess how pages are aligned in regard to traffic and rankings.
Q) Have your campaigns been impacted by the Panda and Penguin updates? If so, what have you done to recover?
A) Thankfully we haven’t had any of our existing clients hit by Panda or Penguin, but have since taken on new clients who have been hit by both updates. We regularly receive enquiries about link based problems which makes us unhappy. As all affected are finding, there isn’t an easy, quick fix to recover from Penguin, despite the recent introduction of the disavow tool. Even once the disavow file and reconsideration request have been submitted, and manual action has revoked, that’s really just the first step in a long road to recovery as often you have to start again with offsite strategy and links. Panda provides a different challenge as of course it’s onsite (rather than link based, although we suspect there is a link based element to it! :-)). The issue of course is low quality, thin or duplicated content and the solution is simple, improve or remove! We have had success with recoveries here, but the interesting thing about Panda is that some websites have to come to terms with the fact that traffic might not ever quite reach the levels seen pre-Panda as they were classed as underserving
Q) What are your favourite SEO tools?
A) I really love Searchmetrics and geekily await their update every Wednesday/Thursday! We use SEOmoz’s great toolset in-house, and Majestic is still the best backlink analysis tool out there. Three smaller tools I would recommend, that all do different jobs: Check My Links is an awesome Chrome plugin which allows you to do broken link building at all times, Pinalytics is a great new tool that helps you find the best link prospects via Pinterest, and we’re getting a handle on Buzzstream which looks very powerful and great for scaling outreach.
Q) Rand Fishkin recently predicted the decline of anchor text as a ranking factor, is he right?
A) I think we have already seen a big decrease in the power of anchor text over the past couple of years, you certainly can’t get away with a backlink profile made up of just exact match keyword anchor text links, but I don’t see anchor text disappearing as a ranking factor altogether. Anchor text is still a major ranking factor in Google’s algo, even if the percentage of importance has reduced. Something that I’m noticing from very recent work is that I don’t see any hard and fast rules when it comes to anchor text, it’s dependent on the link profile and trust of the site. If you have a newish site or domain with low trust and you try to point a tonne of exact match anchor links to it, obviously it won’t rank and will potentially hurt you in the long run. But, if you have a trusted domain with a large number of referring domains, with a natural and varied link profile, exact match anchor links are still extremely powerful, and I don’t see this radically changing over the next 12 months.
Q) Any other SEO predictions for 2013?
A) I predict that things won’t die in 2013. There’s a lot of hyperbole spouted by so-called experts about certain link building tactics or ranking factors ‘dying’. If your link building tactics are continually risky and you push Google to the limit then you will deservedly get penalised, but if you’re smart about building links then some of the old-school ‘greyer’ hat tactics do still work. Google’s algo loves a pattern, that’s when it becomes most effective, so if you create a pattern then you’re only on borrowed time – it doesn’t matter if it’s paid links, guest posts or directory submissions. Ross Hudgens explains it well with his example of paid links: “The best time to buy paid links is when everyone has stopped buying paid links. Abuse was downfall, absence may be ascent.”
I also predict that what we’re seeing with rel=author is going to continue to be really important into 2013. It’s not quite enough to ‘just’ rank well anymore, you also need to find ways to earn clicks which rel=author does so well – it humanises the SERPs and adds a layer of trust. Then of course there’s the other side, where citations and links from some authors will be more trusted and pass more weight, based on their specialism.
Q) And finally, who is your favourite ‘SEO rockstar’?
A) I always love hearing what Wil Reynolds at SEER has to say (his personal blog rocks too), I’d recommend catching him at a conference because he’s a great speaker to watch. I’m impressed with what the guys at Distilled are doing too, especially with DistilledU which looks pretty awesome if you want to learn SEO at all levels. In fact, everything on their training page rocks.
As an internet business here in the UK, it’s easy to feel a little distanced from all the champagne and pop enjoyed over in the USA.
Apparently, while you’re based in The Golden State you can throw together a small, loss making product and within a few months have acquisition offers bigger than Pete Burns’ face.
Before you know it, you’ll be zooming around Palo Alto on a Segway wondering what quirky snack to put in the office vending machine next.
Back in the room. Look out of the window, it’s raining. In a few days it’ll be July, yet it feels like November. You’re on your third cup of Yorkshire tea. The only thing more distracting than the fluorescent lighting above your desk is the piercing sound of Fearn Cotton’s voice on the radio as she queues up another awful pop song for the 400th time this week.
This is Lancashire. You’re a million miles from Silicon Valley.
Back int’ day, when your business needed to buy some equipment, or had to hire some sales people, you attacked your best pair of Clarks shoes with a tub of Kiwi and headed down to Barclays to meet with bank manager “Graham” for a chunky loan.
Hang on…I have to pay it back?
Web startup, meet British business culture. Things are different here in Blighty. A black hole in computer science skills, and a relatively young industry (10 years ago using your credit card online was pretty much the scariest thing known to man) which means that Graham is going to laugh you out of the door when you pitch him your far fetched idea of a new “social media portal”.
But there is an alternative, you’ve got a killer idea and your numbers are crunched. You’re itching to launch your startup on a shoe string… here’s how.
Find a partner
If you have all the skills to pay the bills, great you’re all set. But lets face it…you don’t.
Every aspect of your new venture is going to require a skill and focus in several areas: sales, marketing, design, programming, hosting, accounting, packaging, ordering pizza at 2am, customer support. The list is pretty big, and at a stretch you can cover 2-3 of these areas really well.
Usually folk are in one of two categories: Commercial or Techie.
Do you like trying your hand at building websites? Obsess over the next bit of cool software that will make your life easier? Spend most of your time on Stackoverflow? You’re probably a Techie.
Are you good with people? Confident on the telephone? Know exactly how you’re going to work through your list of contacts to grow the business? You’ll be better at the commercials.
Decide which glove fits you best, and find someone to wear the other. This is your new partner.
You now have a basic two person team that can cover almost every area of your business, and if there is still something neither of you can do, one of you learn.
Try to go things alone and you will quickly be overwhelmed, your attention will be spread too thin and you’ll more than likely burn out in a matter of months.
It’s by no means impossible, but working alongside someone offers invaluable support in areas that could take you precious weeks to get up to speed with.
“Never work with friends” is a myth
The reason people say this over and over is that they chose the wrong friend. How could it be worse than working with the wrong stranger?
When we launched Copify in 2010, I was already good friends with my new business partner Martin, and we immediately had our first issue. Who’s going to build the site?
Me being the Techie, the responsibility lay with me. But hang on, what the hell are YOU going to do while I build the site?
Well obviously, Martin had no product to begin his side of the work with, you can’t start marketing a half finished product so this in itself could have been the first fall out.
From Martin’s perspective, he had chosen the right partner: I didn’t expect more of a stake or to be awarded somehow for my work while he had nothing to do.
I too had chosen the right partner: Any outside issues which were a distraction from the initial site build were taken care of, not quite as time consuming but equally as important for long term success.
The scenario of “I’m doing more than him/her” is a common pitfall which can mean your startup may never get off the ground.
Hang in there and take the rough with the smooth. Do you think the late Steve Jobs, who owned a 50% stake in Apple, refused to do a bit more than others every now and again?
No. That’s what made him a great CEO. He rolled his sleeves up and got stuck in. You’re going to have to do this too. Sometimes you’ll have to do more than another Director. Suck it up.
Working with a friend also means you’ll enjoy what you’re doing, you weren’t just in this for the money, right?
We’ve worked hard, too hard sometimes, argued: sometimes intensely, and on occasion may have needed a break from each other. But fuck me have we laughed. We’ve actually cried laughing at times. Working with a friend can be very rewarding.
You don’t have a clue
Neither did we. It’s OK, its normal.
Unless you have successfully run the exact same business model before, you’re about as useful as a ham sandwich at a Bar Mitzvah.
We didn’t know where to get customers, we didn’t know where to get copywriters and we certainly had no idea how to make the idea work financially.
The key to surviving this period is to take small steps based on your common sense, something you’ll need to trust implicitly.
Do you start cold calling potential customers, or work on refining your product? Should we put together an AdWords campaign, or explore some free alternatives first? We’ve got a huge bounce rate on our registration page, do we split test it with another layout or let people signup with Facebook instead?
All these little questions will crop up, all will be unique to your business, nobody has had to make the same judgement call with the exact same factors you are facing, so take advice with a pinch of salt no matter how experienced you think the person is.
You’ll make some small mistakes, and you’ll also make some enormous ones. Keep going, you’re doing it right.
You are not an entrepreneur
You’re just someone who is working hard on something you believe can work, don’t call yourself an “entrepreneur”.
People who refer to themselves as this are usually scatty, overloaded with crap ideas, have itchy feet and can’t stick something out.
Also, they are usually financially unsuccessful despite having “a name for themselves”. If you actually look in to their accounts most haven’t made enough money to cover their Chamber of Commerce subscription.
Richard Branson is an entrepreneur. You are most definitely not.
Strike while the iron’s hot
In the first few weeks you will be overwhelmed with limitless enthusiasm. Use and abuse it.
You’ll get a perverse amount of work done in the early stages, you’ll have the energy to work late and start early but recognise when this begins to fade and change your routine to suit.
Take more breaks, work less hours. Ask yourself “how much do I want to go to the office today” and when the answer gets below 9/10 take a step back, or mix things up and work on something completely different on your to-do list.
It’s addictive. Get comfortable trying new things, whether it be a new marketing campaign, new price point or a new language or framework. Every month try and learn something new which helps your business grow or reduces cost. Here are some ideas:
• Do some tutorials online and learn how to code an email marketing template, you’ve just saved yourself £100 in outsourcing costs
• Complete your tax return, you’ve just saved on accounting fees
• Learn about version control and help your Techie with small fixes to the website
Or for the Techies:
• Try something creative (like writing a blog post…hello!)
• Go to a networking event while trying not to think about what you’re missing on Reddit
• Try your hand at design or managing a customer account
You’re building your business, but you’re also building YOU as a business person.
You’re already an obsessive person. Go on, admit it.
It actually helps to be so, but think of it as a problem that needs to be managed carefully. An obsessive founder can quickly become immersed in their project and end up somewhat blinkered. Clarity of thought begins to disappear faster than Michael Barrymore after a pool party. You listen to other peoples opinion less and less.
Obsessing makes you check your email in the cinema. It makes you login to PayPal under the table at lunch. It makes you think about tomorrows big feature release while you’re on a date.
Switch off! What’s the worst that could happen between 18:00 and 08:00?
Don’t abuse the internet
Enjoy the internet by all means, but when you work online most of the day it can become compulsive. Refreshing Hacker News or Imgur every 10 minutes, or having Facebook open all day long isn’t going to land that next big customer.
The internet is fun, but so is crack cocaine. And we all know how that ends. Even go as far as blocking certain sites through your router if you just can’t handle the distraction.
The same goes for email. Do you sit with your email client open ALL day? Stop. Shut Outlook down, and do some work. Nothing is going to land in your inbox in the next 3 hours that requires your immediate attention. If it is that urgent, someone will phone.
Bad PR is better than being squeaky clean
Unless you’re a major label, nobody cares about you. Not even a little bit. Hurts doesn’t it?
So stop trying to please everyone with a faceless, neutral mush of a “brand”, you’re in business now so by default you are going to forge adversaries no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try to be “great at PR”.
You may as well put this to good use.
In our case, we saw it as any easy way to generate traffic, back-links and stir up some hype. Our product is inherently disliked by traditional, pay-through-the-nose pay-by-the-hour copywriters who see us a not only a threat but somehow derogatory to their profession.
Who better to target for a bit of link baiting?
We emailed a few of them asking if they wanted to sign up and hey presto, several contextually relevant back-links from our furious competitor’s blogs.
Granted most of the posts were scathing attacks, some even plain lies, but aside from the envious PageRank we’ve now acquired as a result, a weird thing also happened.
It was obvious we had been purposely inflammatory, but people we’d never met seemed to find this affable and on a few occasions actually defended us! Further still, we actually acquired our first 4 big paying customers directly though a blog post attacking us.
Great PR is hard. Very hard. It’s time consuming, and we were in too much of a hurry to go down that route. So we put on out troll hats and began stirring up trouble…and it worked.
This is a risky approach, we don’t actually advise you list “start a fight” at the top of your launch to-dos. The takeaway is don’t lose sleep over bad PR and if people dislike what you’re doing, you’re doing something right!
Be honest with your opinion and share enough of your company’s culture so those who do join your following have a genuine reason to do so. They’ll be much better allies!
Sleep on it
Often an idea will seem so important it’s prioritised unnecessarily, especially after a long day fraught with other issues and problems to fix. Unless business has ground to halt (or in our case) your product is offline, sleep on it and review with a clear head.
It’s too easy to knee jerk and change something because of one screaming customer, and when you do this, you’ve possibly made your product a little bit less usable for everyone else.
Don’t be a Facebook douche
There is a big difference between intelligent marketing and begging. Don’t plead with people to “like” or “follow” your company, you come across like a needy girlfriend.
So what, you’ve got 5000 likes from all these irrelevant people when in fact only 4 of them have ever paid for your product, how does that help anything?
The only thing that matters is that your offering is as good as it can be, the likes and follows will come, and they’ll be genuine.
Because put quite simply, you don’t know who you need. If you’ve been up and running for less than a year, you have no way of knowing what position to fill. At best it’s guesswork, at worst it’s trying to run before you can walk.
For a new web startup knowing what’s going to happen next week is hard to predict, so hiring what right now might seem like the “must have” member of staff could be a costly crippling mistake.
Once you can operate with a skeleton staff of the founders, you’ll have a much better idea of what the company’s needs are. By this stage you should also have enough capital in the bank to be able to afford not only their wage, but your own.
Remain profitable, take baby steps, grow slowly and successfully. After all, you’re not in Silicon Valley…