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The Online Press Release

Jan 7, 2011 11:57 AM, By Don Kreski

How you can use PR services to build search engine rankings as well as press coverage.

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A few years ago, if you wanted to start a press campaign, you would have to build your own list of reporters and editors, either by searching out magazines one by one or by referring to a printed directory.

You can and should still build your own list, but there are a number of very good online services you can use in addition, including Business Wire, PR Web, PR Newswire, Ezines, and others. Sending your releases through one of these services gives you much greater reach—great enough that you can use the press release as a tool for building rankings in the search engines as well as for distributing news.

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What’s in an Online Service

Each of these services offers you access to tens of thousands of potential readers and publishers of your material. PR Web, for example, offers access to almost 300,000 subscribers in its standard packages, including 30,000 journalists. Business Wire, according to Senior Vice President of Marketing Tom Becktold, provides delivery into the editorial systems of virtually every news organization around the world, posts to thousands of consumer websites, and delivers to more than 100,000 journalists and bloggers as well as consumer and investor subscribers.

PR Web offers its subscribers free access to your news release mainly through RSS feeds. Anyone who wishes to opt in can access news via email or an RSS reader such as Google Reader or the live bookmarks feature of Firefox. PR Web organizes the news it distributes by about 300 topics, but subscribers can filter these topics further by specific keywords.

What subscribers see is two or three lines from your release, generally your headline and perhaps the first sentence or two from your summary—if you include one—or the body of your release. If they click on that short synopsis, they'll see your entire release in an attractive layout, together with any photos or videos you may choose to include. For that reason, according to Becktold, "the most important skill you need to learn, no matter which service you use, is writing an effective headline."

Business Wire offers a very similar RSS-based offering with its EON small-business service, although to a somewhat smaller audience than PR Web. What's crucial here, however, is not the list size, according to Becktold, but the way the service interacts with the online news services and the search engines. "In most instances, our EON clients are really looking for a narrow slice of our audience," he explains. "They are highly vertical small businesses looking for a specialized buyer who is using the search engines to find them."

To help that process, these services put your releases up on their own websites and sends them to search engines through sites like Yahoo! News. As the search engines index the sending site and start to pick up uses of your release by various online publications, you will see an increase in visitors.

Building Rankings

According to Jennifer Hauser, an online marketing consultant for PR Web, a well-crafted release will start to show up on page one of Google in about one to three days if you search by the title of the release in quotes. For example, you may title your release “AV integrator explains value of classroom audio systems" and that's what you would search for to find most of the publications who have picked it up. This title will show up first in the news results of Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Hauser says the news rankings will peak in about one to two weeks. Since most news sources archive their articles, you can expect some very long-term results in the regular (natural search) results of each of the search engines.

Of course the real value is not for the ranking of the entire title (you may be the only person who ever searches for that) but for specific keywords or key phrases you include in that title and in the body of the release (for example, "classroom audio systems"). Your goal is that some number of online publications will pick up not only your release but the links you include back to your website as well. Each of those placements may show up on page 10, 20, or 200 of Google, but collectively, having a number of links pointing back to your site will help your rankings.

There is a concept of credibility, as understood by the search engines, that comes into play here. When a site that has high rankings links to your website, that link is worth a lot more than one from a site with low rankings. If you pick up 20 links from little-read blogs or portal pages, that's worth something, but links from one or two high-credibility sites may be worth a lot more.

You also need to understand the meaning of anchor text. If you embed your link in a word or phrase in your release, the search engines will associate that word or phrase and the credibility of the linking page to the credibility of your web page when someone searches for that same word or phrase. So for our example, you want to embed the link in the phrase "classroom audio systems" rather than in something meaningless like "click here." In addition, for this link to be helpful, it should go to a page on your website already optimized for that same phrase. That implies two other requirements: 1) You want to use a service that allows you to embed links in anchor text (most do), and 2) You need to tie your press releases into the keyword strategy that (hopefully) you already have created for your website.

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