How to Optimize a Press Release for SEO
by Pete Kidd on May 30, 2023 3:36:00 PM
The press release remains an effective public relations tool to distribute news and start conversations. But simply issuing a release doesn’t mean you’ve engaged your target audience or successfully communicated your message. That's where press release SEO comes in.
Aside from telling compelling stories about your business through clear, concise writing, it is critical to use search engine optimization (SEO) to optimize your press releases. Without focusing on press release SEO, your news will perform less effectively in search, and will be less appealing and engaging to audiences.
Why is Press Release SEO Important?
The headlines that most consumers read are accessed from queries on search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing, which in turn pull them from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. This means that news releases must be designed with SEO in mind.
In the past, the embedded links that channeled link equity back to the target URLs (e.g., your corporate website) were an important part of what made an optimized press release so valuable. It was a convenient and easy way for optimizers to manufacture authoritative links and inflate the value of their link profile, driving up their rankings.
But Google’s algorithm has been tweaked over the years to punish these exploitative tactics, neutralizing the impact of those phony links.
That doesn’t mean that the value of press release SEO has been eliminated—it’s simply been changed. An engaging, well-optimized release encourages other credible sources to construct their own content based on that release (i.e., write a story about your announcement).
Ultimately, this is where press releases can deliver real value: by building awareness, building an audience, getting people talking, and garnering earned media for your organization.
The Importance of a Solid Keyword Strategy
The first step in drafting any well-optimized press release is to identify your target audience and build out a keyword portfolio that aligns with the message you want to convey.
While it may be tempting to get the substance of your release on paper first and fit your keywords in afterwards, the result often reads as stilted and inauthentic. Readers can perceive when terms have been shoehorned into a piece where they otherwise don’t belong, and you should ultimately be writing for readers, not search engines.
It’s much more practical to start by gathering the terms that should figure prominently in your release than it is to write without those terms already in mind. The result will be a more organic and well-written (and therefore better optimized) press release that builds your company’s credibility as a news source.
It’s worth emphasizing here that this exercise is less about ranking for specific keywords than it is about choosing your keyword phrases intelligently and then using them to capture interest and build an audience—that should be the ultimate goal of a press release.
What is Your Audience Searching For?
An important part of press release SEO involves segmenting potential keywords into separate categories. A keyword category is a topic, product, or story that people use search engines to find out more about.
Initial keyword categories are easier to predict, provided that your press release is on a rather straightforward subject, such as the disclosure of financial results or the announcement of a new location.
If you’re writing a press release for ACME Corporation (a fictional widget manufacturer) announcing its third quarter results, it’s easy to get a sense of what most of your readers will be searching for: “ACME third quarter results” or “ACME Q3 2021 earnings.” Good keyword categories for this release would be general ideas such as: “Q3 ACME,” “third quarter ACME,” and “ACME earnings.”
Of course, there are many other kinds of press releases that demand the use of different keyword categories. If your release is about a product or service launch, consider:
- The name of the product.
- The kind of product it is, plus its main selling point.
Example: If you’re a financial institution promoting a new form of overdraft protection, try “low-fee overdraft protection.” In many cases, customers will be searching for a version of your product or service that is either low in cost or high in quality.
If your release is about an executive appointment, consider:
- The year, the name of your company, and the title of the position being filled.
- The names of the executive being replaced and the person replacing him or her.
- The name of the new executive’s former employer if he or she was hired from another company or institution.
If your release is about an acquisition, consider:
- “(First Company Name) Merger with (Second Company Name).”
- The name of your industry, plus “merger,” plus the current year. If any of these seem obvious, it’s because they should be. Creating your keyword categories ought to be a simple act of word association that identifies what your readers are looking for on a fundamental level.
Identify Niche Keyword Categories
After you’ve found these basic categories, you must also seek out a few good “niche” categories – search terms that a more select group of readers would use and that could earn significantly more clicks.
These long-tail queries can take a bit of research, and it helps to think critically about who your audience is and what they want. Fortunately, there are several useful tools that take much of the guesswork out of keyword planning.
Autocomplete (Search Assist)
As soon as you type something into almost any search engine, this feature (called Autocomplete for Google and Bing, Search Assist for Yahoo!) will instantly suggest four to 10 potential search queries. It provides a quick and easy way to find out what people are searching for and how it’s related to your company or the story you’re telling.
Google Ads Keyword Planner
The Google Ads Keyword Planner is the industry standard in SEO tools, able to deliver millions of potential keyword combinations with data that is highly accurate and objective. While the platform was designed with marketers in mind, it remains an indispensable tool for all communications professionals.
Keyword Planner is a free tool; to use it, you only need to have a Google Ads account.
The Google Ads Keyword Planner can be useful in several areas of SEO research:
1. Search for new keyword ideas.
If you haven’t done your keyword category brainstorming yet, or if you need some more fresh ideas, this will be an incredibly useful tool for you. Type in the keyword ideas you already have to get related keywords, enter your landing page to get keywords specific to your company, and input your industry in order to get crucial “niche” keywords.
2. Get the search volume for a list of keywords.
Once you’ve got your long list of keywords, punch them into this tool to see exactly what the search volume is for each. This will allow you to see which keywords are higher priority. If you see something that’s awkwardly written but gets a lot of searches, it might be worthwhile to try and work it into your release.
When selecting keyword phrases generated by Google Ads, keep in mind that the terms with very high search volumes are commonly entered, but very difficult to win. Many keywords are simply too popular. Setting realistic goals and expectations is a crucial part of any keyword strategy.
For example, let’s say that you’ve decided to create a startup shop in Manhattan selling beautiful, handcrafted kitchen furniture. You’re not going to attempt to build awareness that your company sells “furniture.” The major retailers are known for “furniture,” and it’s not realistic to expect to dislodge them from that SEO position. Instead, you’d do well to go after niche terms like “handcrafted artisan kitchen furniture.” It’s an SEO keyword phrase you can realistically hope to achieve, and it best suits your offering.
You should also strive to create unique content that will appeal to a niche audience. Try to choose industry-specific keywords with moderate search volumes that are related to more coveted, general keywords. This method results in what are referred to as nesting doll keywords.
A nesting doll keyword is a long-tail keyword that contains other, more general keywords within it. This allows you to maximize the overall SEO value of your press release and score for high-volume keywords that might not otherwise have been worth aiming at.
For instance, it’s much easier to score for “European watch repair” than it is for “watch repair.” But by using the first, you’re able to score for both. The same goes for “watch repair” and “watch.” The lesson here: nesting dolls allow you to make the most out of your limited space on the page.
Regardless of whether you use the Google Ads Keyword Planner or some other tool, remember: the idea is to choose your keyword phrases intelligently and then use them to capture interest and build an audience. Keep that in mind, and you’ll be on the right path.
How to Improve Press Release SEO
When it comes to the leading search engine, Google keeps the inner workings of its algorithm highly secretive and often alters it to prevent people from “gaming” the system. However, the search engine giant has released a set of “quality guidelines” by which you can judge your releases:
- Was the content edited well, or does it seem sloppy and hastily produced?
- Does the content provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does the content contain insightful analysis or interesting information that will engage the audience?
- Are the articles unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
Adhering to the tenets of good writing has become no less important in the age of the internet, as search rankings tend to favor pieces that are actually well-written and pass over ones that have been stuffed with irrelevant keywords.
The first goal in constructing a release should be to tell an informative, concise, and clear story, even if that story is about your company’s financial performance. With that in mind, let’s cover a few basics of writing a strong press release for internet audiences.
Why You Should Write Like a Journalist
For better press release SEO, you should write as if each word is costing you something. Especially for an earnings press release, where your readers will be clicking on your post seeking very specific financial information, there’s no better strategy than getting straight to the point.
This kind of writing requires selective or minimal use of adjectives, especially ones that are overtly promotional. Words like “groundbreaking” and “interesting” might be common fodder for headlines these days, but superlatives like “one of a kind,” “premium,” and “best in class” are almost always associated with advertising.
Your sentences should be short and declarative, concisely stating the facts that are most relevant to your reader. This is especially crucial near the start of the release, which should establish the context and purpose of the announcement (we’ll return to the proper structure of your release in a moment). Declarative sentences not only sound more journalistic, but tend to be more “tweetable.” A short sentence that doesn’t require much additional context will always gain more traction in the world of digital news.
The tone of your press release ought to be somewhere between editorial and academic, though it’s generally better to aim toward the latter. That said, while your press release should stick to the facts, there are ways of coloring your audience’s impression of them.
For instance, if your company is undergoing a change in executive personnel, it’s advisable to use language that emphasizes progress, rather than drawing attention to potentially negative circumstances that led to the change.
Another key to writing like a journalist is to quote your sources. Doing so adds an additional human element to your release, makes it more compelling (as long as your executive’s quote comes across as authentic and not as a jargon-filled talking point), and identifies potential spokespeople to the media.
The Importance of the Inverted Pyramid
Using the inverted pyramid for press release SEO can help you create content that’s not only easily readable and scannable, but also search-friendly.
How Does the Inverted Pyramid Work?
By ordering your information as follows:
- Most relevant information
- Important details
- Other details and information. Writing for The New York Times, Frank Lohr pointed out that one of the most enduring standards of journalistic writing, the “inverted pyramid,” evolved from the needs created by a new technology: the telegraph. “Putting words on telegraph wires was costly,” said Lohr. “So, reporters made sure the most significant points were made at the start.”
Similarly, the rise of SEO and web-based news services has led to a renewed emphasis on the inverted pyramid. SEO takes the logic of the inverted pyramid quite literally: use the words that your readers are searching for as early as possible, only getting more general and digressive as you get deeper into the article.
This approach not only achieves the immediate practical end of drawing eyeballs to your release, but makes the piece more readable. Those seeking one or two relevant facts get what they want quickly, while readers with a more sustained interest in the subject at hand are free to absorb more information.
Where Do You Place Keywords Within Your Press Release?
Hopefully, you’ve already aimed to include targeted keywords in your press release. Once you’re done, however, it’s good to review the following checklist to see if you’ve put valuable search terms where they’re needed most.
Press Release Headline
The key to optimizing the headline of your press release for search engines is to move imperative language to the beginning. Remember: the first line of your Google search engine result listing is going to be pulled from your headline. You want that listing to compel readers to click through, so plan accordingly.
- Note: Google typically displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag. If you keep your titles under 60 characters, you can expect about 90% of your titles to display properly. There's no exact character limit, because characters can vary in width and Google's display titles max out (currently) at 600 pixels.
Short headlines also helpfully force you to prioritize relevant keywords, which in turn maximizes your visibility to search engines. Just as you should take advantage of valuable (but relatively attainable) keywords, you should minimize your use of “filler” words – anything that wouldn’t be capitalized in your headline won’t do much for your press release SEO.
Instead of “ACME to Hire Executive of Competing Firm as CEO,” try “ACME Names New CEO.” It conveys all the information necessary for a headline, and there’s very little in it that you wouldn’t want to rank for in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). And while it’s a tempting convention in journalism, you should be careful about using puns or witty phrases in your headline that may confuse search algorithms.
Press Release Subheadings
Keywords are much easier to place in your subheading, but that doesn’t mean you should be tempted into keyword stuffing. Use Google Autocomplete to find search terms that are closely related to the ones you’re pulling from your research.
- Note: Headings give you a great chance to use your focus keyword prominently, to make it really clear what the page is about. By adding your focus key phrase to your subheadings, you stress its importance.
Say your headline is “ACME Announces Annual Meeting.” When you type “annual meeting” into the Google search bar, one of the first things that comes up is “annual meeting agenda.” While the word “agenda” may not belong in your headline, it might fit snugly into your subheading: “2018 Agenda to Cover Recent Litigation, Other Topics.”
Your Press Release Intro (The First 100 Words)
Your press release will rank higher for keywords when they’re placed in the first 100 words than it will when they’re placed later in the text. But again, don’t overuse your keywords! Aside from lowering your value in the eyes of the Google algorithm, repetition makes your piece less readable and makes it seem as if your press release is more for SEO than it is for communicating news.
Just as your release’s headline becomes the title of your Google SERP listing, the first sentence of your release becomes the description (the two lines below the headline). Again, you want a description that will compel readers to click through. It’s important to note that Google limits the description to about 155 characters including spaces—so be concise and place the most important content up front.
- Note: Descriptions can be any length, but Google generally truncates snippets to about 155–160 characters. It's best to keep descriptions long enough that they're sufficiently descriptive, so the recommended description is between 50–160 characters. Keep in mind that the optimal length will vary depending on the situation and primary goal. Description, while not tied to search engine rankings, are extremely important in gaining user click-through from SERPs. A description should intelligently employ the keywords that page is targeting, but also create a compelling description that a searcher will want to click. It should be directly relevant to the page it describes.
The intro represents your opportunity to incorporate different wordings and supporting language into your release. Thanks to regular algorithmic updates and machine learning, the Google algorithm can associate contextual language with a broader, main topic. That means that you have the ability—and even the imperative—to incorporate natural language.
For example, in the first few sentences of the press release you could use language like “Executive of Competing Firm” as a variation of “New CEO” (your main topic and a part of your headline).
Press Release Anchor Text Links
If you want to link to a target web page in your release, that’s perfectly fine. But note that a press release shouldn’t include more than one or two links.
Since readers may discover your release on a website to which it’s been syndicated (e.g., Yahoo! Finance, Reuters.com), you’ll want to take an opportunity to link back to a relevant page on your corporate website. If your release announces an executive appointment, or if it covers a topic on which someone in your company is considered a thought leader, consider also linking to their blog, executive bio, and/or LinkedIn Influencer page.
Don’t worry about inserting keyword phrases into the anchor text. For example, if you’re an artisanal kitchen furniture company, and you’re including a link back to your corporate website, don’t phrase the anchor text as: “Visit the leading artisanal kitchen furniture company website.” Once upon a time, Google paid close attention to the anchor text, which is why it was a good idea to include important keyword phrases in that text. Google has publicly stated that they make efforts to ignore links in press releases.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean you should avoid links in your release altogether. Links to relevant product pages or an event registration, for example, are fine, and can provide a relevant, measurable call-to-action for readers of your release. However, the links themselves have minimal-to-zero SEO weight. Also, be sure your links aren’t “spammy” (e.g., links to your homepage or service pages stuffed with keywords).
For all intents and purposes, the anchor text is irrelevant from a press release SEO perspective—in fact, you’d do well to add no follow links to any anchor text, just to show Google that you’re not trying to manipulate the system.
Press Release Image Alt Tag/Alt Text
Compelling images, videos, and other rich media have been shown to boost press release SEO. Including keywords or related search terms in the metatext for your images increases your chances of being found via Google Images.
Once you’ve found a relevant image to include—such as a logo or the headshot of a new executive—make sure it has a standard file extension name such as .jpg or .jpeg. In this case, it’s also important that you name the file with a title that includes keywords and effectively describes the image in question (e.g., new-ACME-coo-jane-doe. jpg).
However, it’s not advisable to include an image or video just for the sake of doing so—only choose a media file if it’s directly related to the content of your release. Those are minimum requirements, and a high-resolution image is always more useful to media outlets. Make sure any images used in a press release are compressed to improve page load times.
To further boost press release SEO through images or rich media, national or franchised businesses with local retail locations should embed Google Maps within the release indicating their physical address.
Given the prominence that Google gives to actual news coverage (local or national), you want to put your best foot forward in terms of getting your content picked up. At the end of the day, the reach of your release is dependent on the reach of the wire service you use to distribute it.
What kind of distribution network does the wire service have for putting out content? For example, do they have local reach? How about national reach, or international reach? The purpose of issuing a press release is to put out high-quality content that’s going to reach the right people—which means that the wire will ultimately play a critical role.
Press Release Do's and Don'ts: Recap
Let’s run through some final key action points as well as a few practices to avoid when writing and distributing your releases.
Press Release SEO Do's:
Identify your audience to create relevant keyword categories, which should describe what that audience wants to learn from your release.
Maximize your release’s optimization for a single keyword phrase, rather than several iterations that mean the same thing.
Use short headlines that feature your most highly targeted keywords.
Write an introductory sentence or paragraph that concisely summarizes all the most important information your press release is going to convey.
Use the “inverted pyramid” writing style that places the most important information first and related details and digressions later.
Write with short, declarative sentences that state the main point(s) as concisely and simply as possible. Just as the piece itself is organized to convey the most relevant information first, so should each paragraph and sentence within that piece.
If you’re quoting someone within the company, take this opportunity to link back to their blog or LinkedIn Influencer page to boost their status as a thought leader within your organization.
Use compelling, relevant images in your release.
Embed Google Maps into the release if you’re a national or franchised business with physical locations.
Consider the reach and optimization of the wire service you’re using to issue your release.
Press Release SEO Don'ts:
Shoehorn as many keywords as possible into your piece at the expense of clarity or brevity.
Spend your energy trying to rank for generic, extremely popular keywords (e.g., “technology”).
Use superlatives like “one of a kind” or “groundbreaking.”
Include more than one or two “filler” words in your headline that you aren’t trying to rank for, including conjunctions. Any word that wouldn’t be capitalized in a headline is a filler word.
Developing a strategy for creating, optimizing, and distributing press releases can seem at first like a daunting task, but the process becomes more streamlined once you’ve set it all up. The rest of the work is in fine-tuning your approach. Frequently publishing releases will do much to establish your company as a trusted news source, but how quickly you’re able to do that will depend on how you manage the entire process—from the first draft, up until the moment it goes live.
The truth is that press release SEO is constantly adapting to changing consumer trends and search engine algorithms—but what remains constant is the strength of compelling content.
Press releases will continue to be written for the same reason they were written five years, 50 years, or even 100 years ago: to get in front of audiences with your message. With the tips in this blog, you can improve the optimization and visibility of your releases, which can lead to additional media coverage and generate greater interest amongst analysts and investors, helping deliver your message as effectively as possible.
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