Press and Release: Nasdaq’s VP of PR Services on SEO Best Practices

June 1, 2016

[shutterstock]
[shutterstock]

In the world of media relations, “PR” can signify “press releases” as well as “public relations.” This ambiguity led Nasdaq and Acronym, a digital marketing company, to create the “The Ultimate Guide to Press Release SEO.”

Tactics spoke with Mike Piispanen, vice president of PR services at Nasdaq about the annual guide and best practices for search engine optimization (SEO) and press releases.

What was the impetus for putting together this guide?

I came in right as the Google Panda update was happening, and walked into this crisis of clients and people who were upset. [In February 2011, Google introduced a new filter to stop sites with low-quality content from working their way into top search results.]

If you looked across all the reporting and the search engine results, PR Newswire, Business Wire, Marketwired and Nasdaq, everybody was feeling it. Everybody had to learn a lot about these adjustments that Google was making — it was this realization and epiphany that people writing press releases were writing for a machine now.

I said, look, we need to be good at educating our clients on how to at least stay in sync with this so they can move as the technology changes, so they don’t get left behind.

The guide highlights the importance of plain language. Why should we start by “gathering terms” before sitting down to write a press release?

If you have all those words in front of you, then that’s a much better approach than going back and trying to plug in some keywords.

I just lived through the experience of my daughter trying to write her college essays and my wife trying to go back and jam in all the keywords that she thought the essay readers would want to hear about her high-school experience. I kept thinking, “This is exactly that same dynamic.” My daughter wants to write in her voice on who she is and what she wants to do and why she wants to go to that particular college. And my wife wants to make sure that the engine or the machine will pick up the right keywords and move her essay along in the process.

Keywords should be “a simple act of word association.” How would you advise people to do this?

Auto complete is a good way to [determine] what people are searching for, because that is something that the algorithm is going to try to capture.

But as you look around the environment and the things that are in your messages, it should be relatively obvious. There are very few of us who are librarians. We don’t write binary search strings when we go to Google. We speak and we search naturally, and just type in the words that we think we want to find. So the more you can match the narrative to those words, the better your results are going to be.

What is the most common mistake you see people make when they’re writing a press release?

I think the headline piece is a tough one for folks, because they want to get so much into [it]. You don’t have that many characters to play with. If you’re not capitalizing the word, it shouldn’t be in the headline. So you’ve got to be precise. You have maybe 55 characters and, in the first sentence, you’ve got to get that major theme out.

Say you’ve got another 155 characters. You have to start with your short declarative sentence, but you also want it to be brief so that someone can grab it and tweet it. You have this sort of traditional-to-social-media link that you’ve got to be able to make. Write the paragraph the way they taught you in 7th grade, but then make sure that the keywords can be cut and pasted into a 140-character tweet.

What about the most egregious misstep?

Jamming and trying to put all the keywords in. [It’s] the same way when you read résumés where everyone has done all these amazing things. You know when they’re trying to jam those words in and when it’s not natural.

The guide says to not include an image just for the sake of doing so. What role do you think multimedia should play in a news release?

When you have a story to tell and there’s a visual aspect to that story — so product announcements are one where you want to have a photo. [But] if you’re doing an earnings announcement, you don’t need to throw your corporate video in, because the analysts aren’t going to want to accidentally click on a video and get distracted.

Executive hirings are also appropriate — putting a face to a name in those kinds of stories. Some people will tend to try to jam multimedia in. It becomes advertising and spam when it’s not relevant to the story you’re trying to tell.

How about anchor links? The guide advises using one or two at most.

When you see a page full of links, it looks like work. When I go to the release, give me the story, the news that I need. I might want to go to one place, but then I’ve got to navigate back and find what tab I was on. Forget about SEO coverage; that’s more user experience.

It starts to look like my inbox, where I’ve got 30 things I need to get to and read. Don’t send me five more things I’ve got to do. If there’s something really exciting at the end of the rainbow, then point me in that direction, but don’t make me come back and find out which one of these four links is going to be the one I want to go to.

How does a well-executed press release enhance a company’s reputation and brand?

Your communications are more than just the press releases that you do. It’s how you manage your social media accounts. It’s how you prepare and plan for things that don’t go as you suspect they will. And on those kinds of days, you want to make sure that the communications that you put out are trusted, that they’re getting to their audience and that the audience is reading and engaging with them.

You have that trusted pipeline — this is coming from company XYZ. I know that they’re not spamming me with stuff, so if I’m getting something from them, it’s important. And I think part of the reputation of their brand and their company is that they’re focused, they’re smart, they’re respectful. They give you news when there’s really news to tell you to get you excited, to get you to come to their website, to come buy their products, to engage with their employees, whatever it may be.

If you build a reputation around your communications that is haphazard [and] all over the place, that’s just as damaging as having a lousy product. It’s a key component of your overall brand portfolio.

Editor's Note: Mike Piispanen will be presenting at the PRSA 2016 International Conference.


Dos and Don’ts From “The Ultimate Guide to Press Release SEO”:

Do:

  • Identify your audience to create relevant keyword categories, which should describe what that audience wants to learn from your release.
  • Use short headlines (25-55 characters) that feature your most highly targeted keywords.
  • Use compelling, relevant images in your release that are at least 60 pixels by 90 pixels.

Don’t:

  • 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.”
Renée Ruggeri
Renée Ruggeri is the editorial assistant for PRSA’s publications. Originally from Warwick, N.Y., she has bachelor’s degrees in English and journalism from the University of Richmond and a certificate in publishing from New York University.

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