The Real Value of Press Releases, Search Engine Marketing

    July 20, 2005

I’ve been following a meme lately on the value of press releases. Amy Gahran suggests, from the standpoint of their value as a PR mechanism, that they need to be put out of their misery.

Steve Rubel argues that blogs are the new press release but decries the notion that “old-fashioned” press releases are dead. Josh Hallett, on the other hand, says blogs are NOT the new press release.

Each of these approach the subject with a view toward the public relations value press releases provide an organization. Not being a PR pro, I would be loathe to argue the point from that perspective. However, I believe press releases do have value, yet for an entirely different reason, search engine marketing.

My entire life these days revolves around the use of keywords. I believe a well-written, keyword-optimized press release can be a tool to increase PageRank and thereby enhance SERP placement.

Searchwrite chief strategy officer Larry Sivitz suggests, so far as the internet is concerned, the new PR person is not a person at all. He says the press “agent” these days is Googlebot and MSNBot.

In an article called SEO PR (“search engine optimization” PR) Sivitz says, “By getting PR distributed and published on external Websites and news outlets, your online link popularity,’ or the number of Websites that link back to your landing pages, adds enormous leverage to your search engine visibility.”

Thanks to the distribution capabilities of sites like PR Newswire and PR Web, your press release gets syndicated to a number of high quality, high traffic sites including Yahoo! News, Google News, and others. When the content of the press release is written with SEO in mind through the judicious use of keywords, it only increases the chances of being read.

Recently, I attended a Search Engine Watch Forums event in Atlanta. One of the presenters, Stacy Williams, President of Prominent Placement, said that keyword-optimized press releases are read five times more than non-optimized releases. Not only that, the average cost per read is less than one cent.

As a sidebar to his article, Sivitz lists several suggestions for optimizing a press release to gain the attention of search engines:

  • In the top portion of the page in the first sentence of
    the first full bodied paragraph (plain text: no bold, no italics, no
  • In an H3 or larger heading (H1, H2) on the page
  • In bold – second paragraph if possible and anywhere but the first usage on page. In italics – anywhere but the first usage. In subscript/superscript
  • In the URL We will advise on directory name, filename, or domain name
  • In an image filename used on the page
  • In the Alt Text tags of any image file(s)
  • In the Title Attribute of the image file(s)
  • In the Link Anchor text to another site
  • In an Internal link’s text to another page within the site
  • Actually, those optimization techniques work for any type of content, not merely press releases. The point here is to think of press releases as search engine marketing tools and apply basic SEO techniques to them, the result being great value in terms of traffic and rankings, particularly when combined with the built-in distribution sites like PR Web provide.

    As far as public relations is concerned, I agree with both Amy and Steve that blogs ARE the new PR. However, I don’t see a need to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and reject press releases off-hand.

    Ultimately, the goal of both PR and SEM is the same, to generate buzz about your company and its products or services. Press releases AND blogs can be used synergistically to achieve optimum results. In my view, it’s not either/or but both/and.

    Amy Gahran’s suggestion

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    Paul Chaney is the owner of Radiant Marketing Group, a web design and marketing agency geared to meeting the needs of small business. He has been involved web design and marketing since 1997. Currently, he spends most of his time blogging about Internet marketing.