Whether you want to buy an airline ticket, look for property or track down a job, the chances are overwhelming that you’ll start at your computer. The Web has become the world’s primary research tool, and millions, of all ages, are now intimately familiar with Google, Bing and their ilk.
This has major implications for public relations and corporate communications. While still important, the media is no longer the first place that people look for advice and information. It’s therefore vital for businesses to ensure that their news and information can also be found online, and that they score highly in search rankings. If you’re lower than page 2 on Google (and, in many cases, that’s already too low), you’re nowhere.
The good news is that PR has a strong hand to play in boosting your online visibility. By combining the traditional skills of storytelling and copywriting with an understanding of search, PR can play a powerful role as part of a Search Engine Optimisation strategy.
A principal tool is the press release, as reinvented for the search era. To ensure it satisfies twin goals – ‘news appeal’ for humans and ‘search appeal’ for the ‘crawlers’ that index websites – it’s important to take certain steps.
- Identify one or more keywords, key phrases or search terms that are central to your news and your company or product. While some may be obvious, it’s advisable to use online tools to confirm which are actually being searched for, and which offer you the best chances of being found versus your competitors.
- Draft your press release to include these terms, deliberately but unobtrusively. The ideal ratio of search terms to other written content is a secret closely guarded by search firms, and it constantly changes as their algorithms evolve. Be sure, however, to include your search terms in the headline, the body text, alt tags and the ‘boilerplate’ at the end of your release. Beware, however: adding too many could see your release downgraded by search engines and will make it clumsy for the reader, who will quickly tire of text that is stuffed with search terms.
- Understand the importance of links. As algorithms have evolved they’ve placed increasing emphasis on what other people think about a web page. Keywords are still important, but your ranking is heavily influenced by what other people think about your content, and the words they use to describe it, in the form of hyperlinks to your site. Therefore, link wisely from your press release to the pages you want to optimise (not just your homepage), and be sure to link from your keywords rather than from ‘click here’ or similar.
- Get your release out on the Web using distribution tools to maximise the number of incoming links to your site. Use a number of different tools, but prioritise those that are well-indexed and highly-ranked themselves.
- Analyse, analyse, analyse. Use analytics tools to understand the traffic this brings to your site, and use this information to continually refine future press release activity.