On an average weekday, 1,600 press releases go out over BusinessWire and PR Newswire, but according to Bennett & Company's 13th Annual Media Survey, just 14% of journalists routinely pay attention to the wire services.
You can email your release to reporters directly of course, but so many PR people do now that the average business or high-tech journalist gets about 300 press releases via email per weekday.
If you're a famous-name company, perhaps you'll stand out enough to be noticed in the email in-box. But, it's very tough.
The good news is, a Middleberg/Ross survey shows 92% of journalists use search engines to research stories. 81% use search engines daily, partially because it gives them more targeted control over the information they find than the deluge of releases hitting them.
Which is great - but what do you do if you've just launched? Search engines can take about 30 days to notice your new Web site (or new site section) and add it to their listings.
SEMPO, a new trade association for the search marketing industry, planned to launch its Web site and an accompanying press release on August 20th this year. Their goal was to get lots of press attention, and hopefully some paying members. But first they had to figure out how to get anyone to notice it.CAMPAIGN
The Association didn't have any full-time staff yet, so first a volunteer marketing committee got together to hash out a press release and get it out the door.
They'd learned from a Nielsen/NetRatings report that as of this July, Google News had 3,400,000 unique users per month.
Unlike the main Google search results which might take up to a month to show links to any press releases posted on SEMPO's site, the News section might show headlines of press releases from wire services, and any resulting stories from more than 4,000 publications, almost immediately.
Although press releases don't show up on Google News home page anymore, they do still appear mixed in with relevant stories in search results of the News section, and also in Google's email alerts service.
Plus, releases included in Google News can have up to a 28-day life-cycle before the system flushes them out to make room for newer content.
So SEMPO volunteers wanted to get their release into the system and maximize its results.
-> Step one: Creating a press release
The press release was a thing of beauty -- along with the routine "we've launched" information, it also included data from two different industry studies. Unfortunately, it was also about 1,300 words long.
Most releases run about 400-500 words, and given journalists' severe information overload these days, only the first 50-words or so are generally read.
So, the team decided to chop the release into three different ones, each focused on a particular angle to the story. (Link to all three below.) One was the official launch announcement, the second featured the data from one research study, and the third featured the data from the other research study.
Because SEMPO was brand new, they knew their acronym would not make much of an impact on reporters skimming news. So they also included the brand names of the more famous organizations, behind the research studies cited, in the appropriate headlines.
-> Step two: Optimizing the press releases
Just as with regular Web site pages, you can only optimize a press release targeting Google News for two keyword phrases. (Committee member Greg Jarboe notes, "It's possible to optimize for three, but you're stretching. It's much easier to optimize for one term and maybe one subsidiary term. If you try to optimize for too many terms, it turns the page into mush - it's one size fits all and no one finds it because they're searching for the most appropriate page for one term.") So, having more press releases to optimize worked out beautifully.
The team wrote each press release with a particular search term in mind: one was SEMPO (in case anyone heard about them elsewhere and wanted to look them up), one was search engine marketing, and one was search engine advertising.
They were careful not to overuse the particular targeted search term in the text of the release, because Google might assume a phrase seen more than three-times was "stuffing".
Jarboe explains, "If you use a keyword too much, most search engines will think you're trying to fake them out, and they'll actually penalize you.
"If you're in the 2% range, you're about right. So 2% of a 500- word press release is 10-words. If you've got a three-word search term, you can use it three times. If you've got a two-word search term, you can use it up to five times."
-> Step three: Adding measurability
The team wanted to get a rough estimate of their releases' impact, so instead of putting a general contact on the releases, they used a volunteer's personal email address and cell phone number.
Anyone using this contact information had to have gotten it from the release.
(Note: We strongly recommend this as a Best Practice. Adding new email accounts should be the work of a moment for your IT department. If you can't get a unique phone number for each release, you can certainly have callers ask for a particular made-up name, such as 'Sue Smith' to track things.)
-> Step four: Sending the release out (twice)
One committee member volunteered the use of his Market Wire account to send out the three releases the morning of August 20th. Market Wire's pricing is in line with mainstream services at about three hundred dollars per release.
A week later, on August 28th, the team re-sent the releases again via the PRWeb when PRWeb CEO volunteered to donate the service to prove his twenty-dollar per release offering could also result in Google News postings.
Last, but not least, SEMPO President and Chair Barbara Coll, made sure the releases were posted to the SEMPO site so they'd be picked up by traditional search engine spiders as soon as possible.
On the morning of August 20th, SEMPO's three releases dominated Google News results in the #1, #2, and #3 positions for the search term 'search engine marketing'. Later releases from the PRWeb service also achieved top positions, proving that for this purpose at least, an economy-priced wire service is your best bet.
Just as with regular search marketing, the rankings varied from day to day, and sometimes hour to hour. However, the releases and resulting stories lingered in Google News through mid-late September.
By August 23rd, stories also showed up on Yahoo news, CNN Money, and Lycos Finance increasing the impact.
SEMPO was able to trace about 21% of total revenues for the period, from new members, supporters and sponsors, directly to the three releases. And let's just say total revenues were in the hundreds of thousands.
Three calls came in on the cell phone number used for the release, two of which resulted in revenues and one which resulted in a news story in the Business Journal of Kansas City.
The reporter, who called on September 9th (two weeks after the releases went out) admitted that yes, he'd been searching Google when he found the story and decided to call.
17 emails came in to the email address used for the release, 14 of which were from potential members and two of which were "inappropriate business propositions." Interestingly, many of the potential members who heard about SEMPO through the releases were themselves outside the US.
Turns out Google News is a great way to reach businesspeople in many countries.
The release that ultimately was most successful in terms of news pick-up was the one using the name of "U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffrey" (whose analysts did one of the studies) in the headline.Useful links related to this story:
Samples of the releases and screenshots of Google rankings:
SEO-PR, Greg Jarboe's firm which handled this PR optimization campaign: