SEO professionals who look at press releases as a way to garner links are missing the point.
The strategy of spamming wire services with sales pitches or informative articles under a press release header has been recognized, and Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts has said in not to expect much power from these types of links just because they are a press release.
The true power of a press release is to attract media attention, leading to a reporter re-working the release into a full-fledged article. Those are the powerful, authoritative links that build rank and authority.
To get a journalist’s attention, press releases need to get a journalist’s interest and engage that journalist enough to publish it.
Using the proper form for a press release is important, but including the right content with the right spin is even more critical to getting the juicy links that press coverage – not syndicated press releases - can provide.
Here are a few tips from journalists on giving your content the right spin:
1. Avoid Jargon
“Don't reel off esoteric software programs that mean nothing to the average reader. Say in generic terms why the company is hot,” says Scott Wyland, Investigative reporter, Scripps Newspapers.
Your average newspaper reader doesn’t know SEO from SOS or PageRank from page views. Explain the concept instead of using a term that could be confusing.
Releases specifically for industry publications should use the industry terms but avoid proprietary or company-only slang.
2. No Hard Sell
The old saying “People love to buy but hate to be sold” is valid for press releases. Releases written as a sales pitch with a strong call to action will often go directly to the circular file.
Journalists and publications walk a fine line of ethical reporting, and reputable journalists have a duty to go beyond the sales pitch. Including heavy sales language makes it harder for a reporter to strip away the promotions and get to the core – if there is a core at all.
3. Don’t Believe the Hype
Journalists are trained to be critical. They have a well-developed nose for baloney.
Superlatives and just high praise will trip the crap-o-meter and lead to tossed releases. Keep your releases factual and to the point.
“Journalists read news releases to find out what's being promoted and whether it's worth a story. They don't read them to be entertained,” said Wyland. Hyperbole has to be edited out, causing more work for the journalist.
4. Press Release Styles
There are two approaches to press release writing. The traditional, “reverse triangle” press release gives a summary of the facts and makes the reporter craft the story. This press release primer gives a good background on the details of a release.
There’s another school of thought that drafts the release as the final news story itself, saving the journalist the work of setting the scene.
“Start with a description or anecdote at the top, and get to the point quickly,” advised Wyland. “People who don't have a professional story-telling background could create a muddled mess if they try to get too fancy.”
Most outlets still expect the traditional release, and journalistic ethics prompt reporters to research the release anyways. If you’ve built relationships with reporters who are open to this type of release, then a more modern and feature-style release could help propel you to the next level.
5. Know Your Audience
Finally, your release should target a specific audience. While you want to keep your end consumer in mind, your target audience is the journalist reading the press release. Your release should appeal to the journalist’s interests, topics and views.
For example, the tech industry in downtown Las Vegas is growing. The Las Vegas Sun has a reporter assigned specifically to the downtown area to report on its growth and changes. Joe Downtown will never report on a tech company that’s growing in the suburbs of Las Vegas, even though the common strains of growth and tech are present. Pitches that are off the mark are one of journalists’ top annoyances.
To get journalists to cover your story, give them a factual yet engaging summary of your announcement. Avoid technical jargon, hype, and a sales call to action. Tailor your release to journalists that cover your topic, and write to their needs.