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The Crowded World of Press Release SEO

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This week, I moderated a panel at the PRSA T3 PR Conference, or, for those unfamiliar with the acronyms, the Public Relations Society of America Theory, Tactics and Technology for High-Tech Public Relations Conference.

The panel, which was entitled "Boosting PR Results with SEO, SEM & RSS," could have been held a few years ago – without needing to be retrofitted – at Search Engine Strategies, Webmaster World's PubCon, or MarketingSherpa's Lead Gen Summit.

Or, as Yogi Berra once said, "It's like déjÀ vu all over again."

A special report from the PRSA T3 PR Conference, June 19, 2007, in New York, NY.

The panelists included Melanie Mitchell, VP of SEO/SEM at AOL, and Simon Heseltine, director of search at RedBoots Consulting, who also writes the In-House column at Search Engine Land. My name badge for the event listed me as a writer for SearchEngineWatch.com, and more than one PR professional dropped by to pitch me a story.

The first thing that I found significant was that when I asked the attendees of the session if they were optimizing press releases for news search engines, almost a third raised their hands.

The fact that PR professionals have started using a tactic which SEO professionals started using a couple of years back is a big deal. It signals that adoption of the innovation called search engine promotion in 2004, press release optimization in 2005, and press release SEO in 2006 has moved from the early adopters to the early majority.

Back in August 2005, when MarketingSherpa asked the same question of several thousand search marketers for its Search Marketing Benchmark Survey, 31 percent said, "yes." By 2006, that percentage had more than doubled to 74 percent of search marketers.

So, if PR professionals follow a similar adoption rate as SEO professionals, then almost three-quarters will be optimizing press releases a year from now.

What does this mean to you and your organization or clients? It means the days of shooting fish in a barrel are over.

On an average business day, more than 2,000 press releases are distributed by the five leading wire services in the United States – Business Wire, Marketwire, PrimeNewswire, PR Newswire, and PRWeb.

When only 50 press releases per day were being optimized, or 2.5 percent of the total, innovators could kick sand in the face of virtually any competitor. When 320 press releases per day were being optimized, or 16 percent of the total, early adopters could still beat competitors five times out of six. When 1,000 press releases per day are being optimized, or 50 percent of the total, the early majority discover that the innovators and early adopters have moved on to the next tactic.

Or, as Yogi Berra once said, "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."

But wait, it gets worse.

Back on April 9, 2006, Steve Lohr of The New York Times wrote an article entitled, "This Boring Headline Is Written for Google." According to Lohr, "news organizations large and small have begun experimenting with tweaking their Web sites for better search engine results." And he cited examples from The Associated Press, BBC News, CBS Digital Media, The New York Times, and The Sacramento Bee.

Since then, more and more newspaper, magazine, radio and television sites have started optimizing their content because web, image, video, and news search can deliver 30 percent or more of their traffic. And with the advent of Google's universal search results, the stakes are now even higher.

Beginning on May 16, 2007, Google started incorporating information from a variety of previously separate sources – including videos, images, news, maps, books, and websites – into a single set of results. So far, universal search results have been subtle. Over time users will see additional types of content integrated into their search results as Google moves toward delivering a more integrated and comprehensive search experience.

While more than 2,000 press releases are distributed on an average business day, about 200,000 articles are aggregated by the top news search engines on a typical day. If only 2.5 percent were being optimized a year ago, that would have been 5,000 articles per day. If even 16 percent are being optimized today, that would be 32,000 articles per day.

In other words, it is getting over 100 times harder to get top ranking in the major news search engines.

So, both PR and SEO copywriters need to go beyond basic press release optimization, or they need to learn other, more sophisticated search engine promotion tactics.

Or, as Yogi Berra once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Greg Jarboe is the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, a search engine optimization firm and public relations agency. He is also the news search, blog search and PR correspondent for the Search Engine Watch Blog.

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