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10 Huge Online PR Mistakes You Must Avoid

Ken McGaffin
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We're all pretty familiar with Murphy's Law "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". It's an amusing and important point of view that teaches us not to take things for granted. Yet few people are familiar with O'Toole's Law which is arguably much more important: O'Toole's Law is simply, "Murphy was an optimist."

One area that has got the potential to go wrong in SEO is online public relations. Here are 10 mistakes to avoid.

1. You Undervalue Press Releases as Part of Your Link Building Campaign

Gain Cutting Edge PR Insights at ClickZ Live New York 2014: See the full agenda.

Links in press releases have no value for SEO, but that doesn't mean press releases have no part to play in link building campaigns.

A press release is still one of the most effective ways to get your story in front of journalists. And journalists may well give you a nice clean link in a published article – the link is on an independent, quality site over which you do not control and therefore it has SEO value.

Then, if other journalists, experts, writers, and bloggers read the article and are then moved to write a post on their own blog and link to you in the process, then those links are also likely to have SEO value.

Bottom line: effective use of press releases has a critical role to play in link building campaigns.

2. Your Press Release Doesn't Have a Clear, Single Focus

Concentrate on telling just one of the many stories you could tell about your client. The temptation to put too much in is almost irresistible, but you must resist it. However, do provide a link to your client's newsroom or online press center where they can find out more if they really want to.

3. Your Press Release Isn't Newsworthy

This is one of the most common mistakes in traditional public relations: lots of companies put out press releases that aren't really news at all.

This mistake is exacerbated in the SEO world because keyword-rich anchor text in press releases worked really well once upon a time. Who could resist sending out poor news stories when they had such a great effect on SEO?

But those days are gone forever. Now every press release you send out should be newsworthy. That means it is something that a journalist will want to write about and something that a reader will find interesting.

The best way to find out what is newsworthy in your industry is to read as many relevant posts on high quality sites. Does your news match those other stories in quality? If not, don't waste everybody's time by sending it in.

4. Your Press Release Isn't Getting Into the Right Hands

Yes, it's possible to send your release to thousands of journalists, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. You must do research and be selective in choosing the journalists and outlets to approach.

The most effective ways of getting your press release into the right hands are, in descending order of importance:

  • Journalists you already know or who have written about you in the past. This is should be one of your most valuable lists. Unsurprisingly, this is by far the most effective way of getting your news out
  • Journalists who you don't know but who you've carefully researched. Note what stories they tend to write about, the tone they take and the angles they are likely to follow. Then tailor your pitch to match their tastes. When you do persuade a new journalist or outlet to write about you, move them up into the top category.
  • Journalists who are on a large distribution list. This falls way short of the two categories above by some distance, so much so that many PR people will just not use it. However, if can be successful in picking up new journalist contacts who have seen your general release and have written about you. Again, once they do move them up into the top category.

5. You Don't Keep Control of Everything

Public relations is often an intensely collaborative exercise. You have a client, the client has a PR consultant and might also be working on a joint venture with another business. The chances for miscommunication therefore grow exponentially – and that's when problems multiply.

Say you're organizing an event and you want to make sure you get good photographs so someone has to organize a photographer. It isn't enough to know you're going to have a photographer. You must make sure that the photographer knows exactly what photographs everyone wants.

A photo that's going to be published in the local newspaper is very different from the one you need to encourage sharing on social networks.

6. Your Press Release Isn't Structured Properly

You need a killer headline and a killer first paragraph. The news value of your release is rarely special – it's one of hundreds that a journalist has to scan every day. You've got to write a headline that immediately grabs their attention – that makes your pitch stand out from all the rest.

Spend time crafting the headline. And once you've done that, spend time writing a fabulous first paragraph. Do those two jobs well and you increase the chances of even ordinary news getting coverage.

7. You Aren't Ready for Follow Up From a Journalist

We do live in a world of cut and paste journalism where people just don't have time. However, if you do attract the attention of the New York Times or the BBC or Inc. Magazine, then you can expect the journalist to get in touch and ask questions - and that can be followed by a ‘fact checker' after they've written their piece.

How well you answer their questions can make the difference between publication and failure.

Imagine what follow up questions you might be asked - be confident and have some decent answers ready. It can be a good idea to hold back one piece of the story and then give that to journalists who take the initiative of asking questions.

8. You Don't Follow Up

No one likes to be seen as a persistent, irritating jerk and most journalists will tell you that they hate follow up calls, saying that if they had been interested in the story they would have published it or asked some questions.

But everybody in PR knows that if you do follow-up, you will get additional stories – so sadly it is something that must be done if you're to get the most out of your story.

But be polite and don't be pushy - you might even be able to pitch a different angle on the story that might get the journalist hooked.

9. You Leave the Journalist With Too Much Work to Do

Journalists are busy people who work to tight deadlines under enormous pressure. They simply do not have the time to dig into stories that are not immediately interesting. Your job is to make their job as easy and straightforward as you possibly can.

So that means writing the story as you would like it to appear in the final publication - if your story is newsworthy and gives them everything they need to write the story immediately, your odds of getting published go up dramatically.

10. You Don't Maximize Your Chances of Getting Editorial Links

No matter how much we might buy into the idea that online PR is about more than links, we're still pretty delighted when we get an editorial link from the BBC, CNN, or Los Angeles Times.

But sometimes a story will have an editorial link and a similar story on the same media outlet will not. Why is that? And how do those links happen? Sometimes journalists have the power, sometimes they don't.

There really is no rhyme or reason to it. The Telegraph is an important UK newspaper and frequently links out to other sites as in this Travel Guide to Belfast Cityby Geoff Hill, an award-winning travel writer.

The guide contains lots of links and I asked Geoff how they got there. His answer confirmed the serendipity of it all, "I compiled a list of recommended restaurants together with all their web addresses and put those in, but any other links were put in behind the scenes after I've filed my story and I don't know who did it."

There is no "secret" to getting editorial links but there are things to do that can increase your odds – check out 10 Ways to Increase the Odds of Getting Editorial Links.

Press releases are still an important part of link building campaigns. Not for the links that might be embedded within them, but for the publicity and editorial links that they can generate.

Learning to write good press releases isn't difficult and it gives you another important tool in your link building kit.

Image Credit: Ian Fraser for LinkingMatters.com


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