The New PR: How to Write Effective Press Releases in the Age of Twitter

You’re getting ready to announce a new product or service, or you’ve just won the most coveted award in your industry. How do you get the wo
June 12, 2009

You’re getting ready to announce a new product or service, or you’ve just won the most coveted award in your industry. How do you get the word out? Unless you’re booked on Oprah, it’ll be with a press release.

Putting out a traditional press release in the clutter of information jamming the Internet is worse than trying to have a quiet conversation at a rock concert. Today your release needs to be optimized for the web. That’s because the web is where customers and reporters get much of their information. Consider this: Over 80% of online purchases start with a web search (Forrester Research), and online search is the number one source for journalists to obtain additional story information (Bennett & Company). Using search engine optimization (SEO), you can help ensure your press release is easily found by customers, reporters and the robots that crawl the web to deliver search results.

Here are some tips to optimize your press release:

  1. Identify the search terms that will lead customers or reporters to you. Come up with all the key words and phrases that describe your company or product in the way a customer would. Forget that unique sophisticated term your marketing folks cooked up. After all, how many people would look for “custom designed sports footware” when “running shoes” would suffice? Then test your terms to see which ones are most frequently searched. Google has a free service called Google Trends where you can compare search terms to see which are most potent. Studies have found that most search queries are two to four words long, so try to keep phrases within that range.
  2. Use your key words in your headline (and the body of the release). You want to make it easy for search engines to serve up your release when people type those key words. Try to use your key words within the first seven words of the headline. The CEO may insist on a boring, technical headline and story lead, which is about as web-effective as rolling up the message in a bottle and tossing it into the ocean. Google search results display only sixty-three characters of a headline, so get those words in that space (sometimes a challenge!). Google recommends headlines between two and twenty-two words for the best reach.
  3. Hyperlink your key words and phrases to your website. You want people to read your release and be able to easily obtain more information, so hyperlink key words and phrases to the appropriate page on your website, your company blog or another relevant site. But don’t overdo it, or the web crawler may assume your release is spam. A good rule of thumb is not more than one hyperlink per 100 words.
  4. Use multimedia. Produce a YouTube video or Flash demonstration of your product and include it in the press release. Add photos and logos to make it easy for people to visualize your product. Title them using key words so they will also be indexed in images and video sections of search engines.
  5. Add magnifiers for easy distribution. Make it easy for others to forward your release to others, or to subscribe to future information from you. Include an RSS feed button, Technorati tags and a Digg button. After your release is written, how you distribute it is critical. You can carefully identify specific reporters and bloggers in advance and email them the release (never send it as an attachment). Most effective is to distribute through paid services like BusinessWire, whose Enhanced Online News service is leading the major distributors in optimized press release distribution. A less expensive option is PRWeb, although its distribution isn’t nearly as extensive as BusinessWire.
You’ll obviously post the release on your website. But give it an extra push by using social networks to extend your reach. Write a post about the news on your Facebook page or on Twitter, using to shorten the press release’s URL so you can fit your post into Twitter’s 140 character limit. With luck, your friends and colleagues will pass your news on to others—maybe even to Oprah.