This story looks at search engine optimisation and public relations (and generally all creative writing) and how you can achieve significantly better results with what I consider to be minimal input. It can apply to any creative writing that may one day end up online. It most definitely applies to journalists, even speech writers and I bet you that smart newspapers and online agencies around the world are training their staff on exactly this topic.
Simple SEO applied to your writing can significantly improve the number of visitors to your article
Think about the lifetime of online articles – potentially years!
What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Public Relations (PR) doing in the same sentence?
If we take the extreme view that Journalists simply copy and paste press releases as stories then it figures that the text being published (online) should be optimised for a search engine (ie Search Engine Optimisation). The logic is that an optimised piece of text will rank much higher on a search engine, and will allow your target audience to find that particular piece of text through a search engine such as Google.
In the example above it assumes press releases are simply copied or pasted, but in general this isn’t how the system works. Usually PR firms send their press releases and journalists look for newsworthy content that they can either add to, or change to fit their publication or angle. This example is much closer to the truth, so in this next example let’s assume that an optimised press release receives editorial changes of +/-30% to the original. This means that 70% of your optimised release is still being published, again you’re probably still sitting on a search engine optimised winner.
Following the rules of SEO while writing a press release in this example is a sure fired way to ensure you maximise the number of eyeballs on your carefully crafted message. This translates to more of whatever your object was when you wrote the press release, be it more enquiries, sales, awareness etc.
Isn’t SEO just for IT geeks?
This is where I think the topic gets really interesting. SEO has primarily been the domain of IT professionals who optimise websites to improve your ranking in Google, and also a bunch of dodgy email spammers who promise the world for only $12.95 a month.
However with standardisation of websites through things like templates much of the html (the framework for a website) has been optimised for you straight out of the box. In our example we are focusing on the content on sites that you have no direct power, so SEO for the frame work of HTML is pointless. So the only thing left for PR firms, Journalists and creative writers to focus on is what is actually being written. If you could look at all the information written on SEO in one sitting (which is impossible) you’d find that well over 40% of the suggestions made can be directly or indirectly applied to your creative writing, the hardest part is trying to find the information to apply directly to your own work. I look at SEO as a simple process, you spend a few minutes thinking about what you’re about to do, what you think will work and you begin the creative writing with this in mind. During the editing phase you spend a few minutes thinking over the guiding principles and again with the bigger picture/end result in full view you review your content and apply any finishing SEO touches to it.
How important is SEO to PR?
Very! The difference could be over 100,000 visitors(1)
This is a question of measurement, better put, what is the measurable performance benefit for the additional effort required? For the most part this has been unmeasurable, you generally do not get a chance at writing two pieces of text, one optimised the other not and being able to measure the pairs of eyes that have read the article. Compounding the problem is that you don’t have the website statistics for your particular article on the newspaper website, and lastly what elements of SEO apply to writing a press release (this definitely isn’t taught in Universities that I know of – and if you can find a University that is willing, I’ll give a two hour lecture on how to optimise your writing for an online universe!).
Technology and measurement have come a long way in the last five years, for instance with a few clicks and a bit of cut and paste code you can measure the online performance of any text on your website. I am sure that Google Analytics has made a great many of people richer, and has helped an even greater many more deliver information to an audience that requires it.
What specifically do I need to understand about SEO and how I can apply it to PR?
You can optimise optimisation! Use the 80/20 rule to focus on the 20% of SEO that will deliver you 80% of the gain. The hardcore IT professionals spend their life refining their SEO techniques, but at the top end of SEO a 5% improvement can win them more business and a reputation. At the creative writing level if you have the beginners tricks under your hat then you’re 80% ahead of the pack.
Writing an optimised press release requires a slight change in how you think about crafting your message, although the actual change to the press release or text is generally so subtle that to the general reader there is no difference at all.
Here are some really basic points on SEO that most creative writers do not consider, and at their own peril!
Step 1. Complete before you begin writing. In defining your message and target audience, have you defined what they’ll be searching for to find this information? Create a list of five or so keywords/phrases that you think sum up your press release, think about what people will be searching for both sets of keywords/phrases should be the same/similar (if you need to decide which ones to use go with your gut about what people will be searching for – if you don’t know, simply sit down at Google and try and find the information yourself, look at what your searching and how you refine your search – get creative!). Rank them in order of importance.
Step 2. When reviewing your title of the press release, does it contain the top two keywords/phrases you selected from step 1?
Step 3. Does the first paragraph contain the top five keywords, with at least one of them repeated once.
Step 4. Your keywords and phrases can be reworded – imagine a keyword was ‘search engine optimisation’ repeat it throughout the first few paragraphs but reword it like ‘search engine optimise’
Step 5. You should be bolding a few of the keywords, not all of them, but at least one or two in the first two paragraphs.
Step 6. You should always always include an image. Again using the SEO example, make sure you have an image with a name like ‘search-engine-optimisation.jpg’, give it a caption with similar wording.
Step 7. Include (where relevant) a few relevant links to websites that Google ranks higly – this is simple, Google search the keyword, and look at the first page of results, these are obviously what Google considers search engine optimised for your selected keyword/phrase. If Google sees you’re linking out to those sites then the chances are they’ll think you’re more of an authority as well.
Step 8. Review your creative writing, look for new opportunities. As you wrote the press release you may have included new ideas, thoughts, products etc that have a whole new set of keywords, maybe this should be in another press release – Search engine optimisation is all about focusing on a few keywords (also known as keyword density)
Step 9. This is the last step – once you get published, send the link to any websites that came up when searching your keywords. If they link to that article then chances are Google will look at you and think that if the current authority on that keyword is linking to your article then you too must also be an authority and worth putting on the front page of Google.
Step 10. Include your list of keywords (also known as tags) at the bottom of your creative writing. This will assist Journalists and any online publication to tag your writing for you, using the intended keywords. If you leave them out then they’ll make them up for you and you’re at their mercy.
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Is there a way to tell if my writing is SEO optimised for online publication?
With websites like www.ReversePR.com.au you can simply add your press releases, let it do the magic, and at the bottom of the press release you can review how many people have read the article, the higher the number of views the more successful it can be considered as being an optimised press release.
Experiment! Write a few different press releases, and release them to online sites and see how they go, does one go better than another?
One of the best examples I can find is this press release – http://www.reversepr.com.au/2009/09/21/1397/alex-fevola-in-temelli-jewellery-for-2009-brownlow-awards/
It was released right before the Brownlow Awards (this means there is going to be lots of search traffic about ‘brownlow awards’, ‘alex fevola’), it’s about a celebrity and I think the title of the press release, along with the image and the first few paragraphs nailed this one home as an SEO winner! What keywords do you think the writer used? The writer of this should receive a pat on the back but I think the sheer number of hits is reward enough!
I (Matt Schmidt) will be writing more on this topic over the coming weeks, however if you want a hand, have a question or need some advice feel free to drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lastly, did you notice this article has been search engine optimised? If done well you shouldn’t have noticed!
(1) Depending on what site it runs on, how well you’ve optimised it and what you’ve optimised it for (topic, keyword, audience, time of day, event driven, and timeliness). Obviously there are a lot of other contributing factors but the point is you have the power to significantly improve the number of people who read what you want them to read.