News search engines offer companies a great way to receive targeted traffic related to breaking topics through press releases and other public relations information.
A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, December 5-8, 2005, Chicago, IL.
Optimizing press releases
According to Greg Jarboe, President and Co-Founder of SEO-PR, CNN was the top news site a year ago, followed by MSNBC, then Yahoo. "Today, Yahoo is #1, getting more traffic than the other two," he said. "AOL is #4, while Google News is #14. News is one of the categories where Google is actually a trailer, not a leader. Still, Google is an A-list to target."
Why are search engine marketers spending money in search engine advertising and optimization, including news search optimization? According to SEMPO, the main reason is to increase brand awareness. "A lot of people think that search engine marketing (SEM) is only about generating leads, which is important right after driving traffic to your site and right before selling things online," Jarboe continued. "But branding is really a process. If you really want to be successful in this new category of news search, understand that ranking is just a first step. Ranking well for a two-month old press release will not matter as much because news search depends on timeliness."
After timeliness, Jarboe recommends the fundamentals, including search-friendly copywriting and keyword research. "Most companies do not even know to do simple things to the content such as including a keyword in their main headline," he said. "Without it, chances of getting a highly-ranked press release are pretty slim. Also, the press release must be written has to be in compelling, persuasive English. Always write for human beings."
Search-friendly copywriting does not always mean directly using the words and phrases that your target audience types into search queries. Sometimes, putting a word in a headline that is not a search term can generate better results. For example, the keyword phrase "cheap airfare" is a common query. "The CEO of Southwest Airlines did not like the word 'cheap' associated with the company," Jarboe said. "Even though '$29 airfare' is not a search term, the press releases were found on news search engines for 'cheap airfare' - searchers can translate '$29 airfare' really fast."
In addition, Jarboe recommended creating unique links in press releases that lead visitors to unique landing pages, which his firm did for Southwest. "In the first month, over the company made over $42K," he said. "But after the first month, the press releases were being found in the regular search engine results, and sales went up to $80K."
Other news search engine strategies that companies can incorporate are Web analytics specifically for news search engines. "We track all the way down to how many leads were generated, how much of that converted to sales, what kind of revenue, cost of optimization, ROI, and so forth," said Jarboe.
SEO for blogs
Blog posts often appear in news search engine results, though some search engines (such as Yahoo News and Moreover) separate news and blog content. "A lot of the blog content we were pushing was not just showing up in news search, but RSS search and regular search as well," said Nan Dawkins, Partner at Redboots Consulting. "Blogs are a great way to reach journalists because firms need combined impact in various places."
Dawkins offered the following tips for optimizing blogs and press releases for news search:
- Establish a blog outreach program. "This does not mean blanketing your press release to bloggers," Dawkins explained. "It means going out and doing some research on which bloggers might be interested in your company, product or service; establish a relationship with those bloggers, which means reading their stuff, providing them with material; and commenting on their own material from time to time so that they know who you are."
- Make contact with the journalist. "You don't have to make that much of a distinction between the conventional journalist and the citizen journalist, especially from a marketing perspective," she said.
- Send your press release to trusted bloggers. "Never blanket bloggers with press releases," said Dawkins. "Establish relationship with them, talk to them on a regular basis, let them know when you have news coming up. When they ask for the press release, try and send it to them the day before or two days before it goes to the wire service, but make sure its clear they know not to post it in advance of the wire service. A lot of times, they will take your exact release and put it online, sometimes posting their own commentary - so you want to make sure you time it correctly."
- Use images whenever possible. Sometimes press releases get picked up because of their professional images. "Many blogs may carry an image you send out with a press release, if it fits the style of the blog," said Dawkins.
News search and public relations
One of the basic tenets of public relations is that third-party endorsements carry more weight than information that comes directly from a company. With search engine advertising, companies are going to promote their products and services in a positive light, and site visitors expect this. "
"When people see something from an unbiased media outlet, it definitely carries more weight," said Sally Falkow, President of Expansion Plus. "The whole premise of public relations is building trust and credibility."
PR has a very specific application in terms of search. "A lot of search engines are placing tremendous importance on trust," Falkow explained. "So if company Web sites can get links from a trusted news sources, it could be very important for brand value and for search."
"Companies can do both traditional and online PR," she continued, "but they would be best off having articles appear in a trusted media source that is already appearing in the news search engines, such as Yahoo News. When people click on a news search link that leads to your company's press release, visitors will be going to a trusted news source, and the company will receive that third-party endorsement."
Falkow offered the following public relations tips for news search:
- Make sure you have a good PR strategy. "Have a good keyword strategy first to figure out the right keywords to bring you the right traffic," she said. "Many times niche keywords work well for PR."
- Content must truly be newsworthy. "Journalists still need compelling content for their audience to want to read - it cannot just be a thinly disguised advertisement," she said. "It must be tied into some kind of news angle."
- News angles can include research, studies, new ideas, stats, and tied into a current news item. "It is a very good idea to time content with expected breaking news, or a legal ruling affecting people," she said. "Money is always a good topic. Any kind of harm or damage (if it bleeds, it leads) is always considered newsworthy."
- Use RSS feeds. Falkow recommended putting press releases into RSS feeds. "That way your articles can get picked up into blog searches as well as news search," she said. "If you have good news articles and are consistently updating them, you can pitch that RSS feed to journalists and editors.
With RSS feeds, content can get picked up in a lot of news aggregators. "Then content can be picked up in a variety of news sources," she said. "Eventually, content will get back into the news engines and right back to reporters."
Shari Thurow is the Marketing Director at Grantastic Designs, Inc. and the author of the book Search Engine Visibility.