For years, three letters have struck fear into the hearts of PR professionals: S-E-O. Press release search engine optimization—the mysterious art of getting Google to list releases prominently in search results—required an understanding of arcane issues such as keyword density and exact-match anchor text, while at the same time writing in a way that was appealing—and understandable—to human readers.
Some SEO experts went as far as to suggest creating multiple versions of the same press release: one optimized for Google News and one written for journalists to read. Fortunately, recent changes to Google’s search algorithms have reportedly changed all that, rewarding high-quality content over high-tech trickery.
Today, the art of press release SEO is almost indistinguishable from the art of good press release writing, says Sarah Skerik, vice president of social media at PRNewswire. “Five years ago we would have been talking about metatags, underlying source-code data and link structures. We probably wouldn’t have talked about the quality of on-page content at all. That’s changed 180 degrees. Today, search engines are very good at reading press releases.”
To help you take advantage of these changes, here are five rules for writing a press release that will get the attention of both search engines and humans.
Make it interesting. Google now assigns greater importance to content shared extensively on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. That makes it even more essential that press releases contain information of value to readers. So when thinking about your next release, don’t focus on what you want to tell prospective customers about your company, product or service. Think about what prospective customers will want to read—and share with their friends and colleagues.
Use natural language. Make sure to weave into your copy the words and phrases your audience actually uses when talking about your subject, rather than the industry jargon you use around the office. As a negative example, Skerik points to a client in the food service industry. “Their press releases are always about ‘fast casual dining options’ and ‘healthy menu options.’ But no one talks about going out for ‘healthy menu options.’” And they’re not likely to Google that phrase when looking for a place to get a cheap salad.
Keep it tight. Rather than trying to jam everything about your product or service into a four-page release, tell one clear story in one or two pages. “If you clutter a press release with a bunch of different themes, search engines have a harder time understanding what it’s about. It’s also unwieldy and unpleasant for journalists and the public to read, so they’re less likely to share it. And you run the risk that someone who’s very interested in a theme buried down in the fifth paragraph stops reading after the first or second paragraph.”
Give it a punchy headline. A strong, concise headline attracts readers and encourages sharing on social media. Based on the results of a recent Hubspot/PR Newswire study, Skerik recommends a headline of no more than 120 characters (use a subhead if you need to add more information). And since search engines only index the first 65 characters of the headline, make sure your most important keyword appears within that range. Using numerals (like the “5” in this article’s title) has also been found to attract more readers.
Keep links to a minimum: Embedding a link to your company Web site gives readers a convenient way to learn more about the products and services you provide. But don’t overdo it. Search engines are suspicious of copy with too many links and may even write your release off as Web spam. Also, some sites convert press releases to plain text, which will result in long, unsightly URLs appearing throughout your copy—a turnoff to human readers.
Following these simple rules will help you create press releases that your target audience will find—and want to read.
Andrew Hindes is president of Los Angeles-based PR and marketing copywriting firm The In-House Writer as well as a sought-after business writing coach and instructor. He can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @inhousewriter.