How Google’s Latest Search Algorithm Update Impacts Press Release Distribution

It’s happened yet again, and it will continue to happen. Google has updated their link schemes document. So at this point you’re probably wondering: “what does that have to do with my business?” In the simplest of terms, every so often, Google makes changes to its search algorithm and the way it ranks content online. If you want your content (and, more importantly, your website!) to be found on Google, continue reading to find out why you should care.

When the latest Google update happened, the people in our industry had a momentary freak-out, as it seemed to doom press releases for providing SEO (search engine optimization) value using the wire – as opposed to online distribution websites which have become a popular SEO strategy in recent years.  As more details emerged, we realized that the update wasn’t a death sentence.

Now, I am BY NO MEANS an SEO expert. I do, however, often talk to and read things written by people who do know their way around the SEO world, including Business Wire’s own SEO experts and web developers. Here are the things I’ve learned during my quest for knowledge about Google’s recent changes.

The latest update included language that specifically points to press releases, among other things. This time, the language PR people should specifically be interested in is as follows:

“Creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines, including…links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.” “Creating Links for the sole purpose of SEO on a press release is unnatural. Links should be placed on a press release to enhance the user experience, add information, and be relevant to the content.”

An example of keyword stuffing that they provide is:

“There are many wedding rings on the market. If you want to have a wedding, you will have to pick the best ring. You will also need to buy flowers and a wedding dress.”

What that means is that Google will penalize people who use anchor text to link to content through press releases, especially those distributed on outside websites (such as wire services, like Business Wire). You can see why we were worried.

Before you sprint away from wire distribution services, as I said before, this is not an entirely bad thing. The core purpose for press releases (and wire services) is to provide relevant content to those who are looking for it. For example, let’s say you send a press release to a journalist at the Austin American-Statesman, and he writes a story using content within your release. In the text of the release, you included anchor text linking back to your website or blog, which the journalist visited to get even more information to use in his story. His article was an online piece, so he also linked back to your website because he found the information there helpful. Because his link was an outside referral to relevant content, Google sees it as valuable, and therefore, will make it available for search. This external link can also add SEO value and can aid in the ranking of your website. That, my friends, is an example of a legitimate way to build links that point to your website. The goal of earned media should always be the ultimate goal of PR people – to influence others to talk about you and share your message across their networks.

So, what can you do to ensure that your press release is not going to hurt you in the long run?

  • Always provide content that is good quality, relevant and useful to audiences who are going to benefit from it. The more relevant your content, the better chance for it to be shared. The more often your content (and links) are shared, the more value Google will give to your links and website(s).
  • Add a ‘nofollow’ tag to anchor text link, so that Google will not give any SEO value to that particular link. The link will still be a functioning link to your content, but this is a way to avoid the negative fallback of including anchor text. When you use Business Wire, we will automatically do this for you, so you don’t have to learn anything about HTML coding.
  • Do not stuff your press release text with links – a good rule of thumb is 3-5 links per release, or about one link for every 100 words.
  • Lean towards writing the text of your press release for people, instead of writing for the search engine robots. It is widely being communicated that Google now prefers natural language text over copy that is clearly written for the ‘bots.
  • While you should be aware of the risk, do not be overly afraid to include anchor text within your release, as long as it is relevant and maintains the flow of the release. Suggested anchor text can be your company/client name, social media handles, or event names. And once is enough! Do not link to the same thing multiple times.
  • If you are distributing the release outside your owned online properties, make sure to do so with a legitimate and reputable service. There are many distribution options out there, and not all of them will benefit you.
  • From a friend who does SEO at Cabela’s: Use http://www.removeem.com/ratios.php to discover and remove potentially penalizing links that point to your site. Simply type in the URL of your company or client to find out if there are ‘over-optimized links’ that could cause Google to penalize you.
  • Consider adding multimedia to your press release. This will dramatically increase the chances of your release getting looked at, thus starting the natural content discovery process.

This doesn’t change much in the overall scheme of things. PR people need to continue to do their job, which is communicating relevant messages to their key audiences.

In closing, I’ll point back to Matt Cutts, head of the Webspam team at Google, who said in a recent Q&A on nofollow links, “Don’t forget about users other than search engines.” Reaching those “other users” are your most important goal!

To read more from Business Wire on the subject, check out this blog post written by our SEO specialist, John Leung, and Marketing Specialist, Fred Godlash.

About Our Guest Blogger:
Erica Schuckies is an account executive for Business Wire, located in their Austin office. She works with both private and public companies, as well as Public Relations and Investor Relations firms, to distribute their messages to key stakeholders across the globe. She has a background in Public Relations and Marketing Communications, as well as experience in the non-profit and sports/events sectors. Erica is a board member for the Public Relations Society of America Austin Chapter, as well as a regular attendee of PR Over Coffee.

Creative publicity Ideas for small businesses and startups

Most small businesses and startups don’t have a ton of new initiatives, products, and hiring to announce to news media outlets in order to keep them in the public eye.

Indeed, if you want to enjoy more than your allotted “15 minutes of fame” in hopes of keeping your brand top of mind, then you have to come up with clever ways to make everyday, run-of-the-mill business activities look new, fresh, even larger-than-life.

Most small businesses and startups can boost their awareness in the community with a few creative PR campaigns each year without breaking the bank. It’s as easy as taking a little time (perhaps over coffee!) every month to brainstorm with your friends, colleagues or employees.

Here are some suggestions on how you can get your business into the spotlight more frequently:

  1. Study upcoming holidays or event calendars: often the best opportunity to get your company in the news is to tie it to a national holiday, cause or awareness campaign. For example, National Goat Cheese month is in August so if you own a cheese shop or restaurant then it’s a perfect opportunity to offer a local TV station a tip sheet on how to incorporate goat cheese into a healthy, Mediterranean-style meal. Here are a few websites that list these kinds of recurring events: brownielocks, Surfnetkids, and epromos.
  2. Seasons offer ideas: a recent idea I had for a high-end salon in the summer was to emphasize how women can protect their hairstyles on vacations from excessive chlorine, sun, sand and salt. The timing was in the middle of summer and we ended up getting coverage in a local TV station as well as a couple Mommy blogs.
  3. Fundraiser for a nonprofit: businesses can also get publicity by holding an event that benefits a local nonprofit. Link Coworking in Austin, Texas did a superb job of that when it held a unique fundraiser that imitated a Project Runway episode and ended up generating thousands of dollars in funds for three nonprofits. The Austin coworking space won a couple media mentions including a TV interview.
  4. Grand Opening – Ribbon Cutting: turn your garden-variety grand opening into a special event worth covering in the news. Invite the mayor or an important city council member. Hold a raffle benefitting a local nonprofit. Invite another business or two to participate the spread out the reach and potential audience.
  5. Unique pairings: If you are a restaurant, then consider holding a special event dinner featuring a special menu with pairings from one or two local specialty food retailers or producers. How about teaming up with that artisan goat cheese manufacturer above and a winery for a special event featuring northern Italian dishes in time for “Festa della Repubblica,” Italy’s version of Independence Day every June 2nd?
  6. It’s raining cats & dogs: there is an explosion of stray cats and dogs in many communities across America. What if your company came up with a plan to place these lovable animals in “forever homes” by offering a raffle to give 3 lucky winners free food for a year? You could combine your efforts with a local animal shelter and pet store to maximize the news exposure and do something important for your community.
  7. Anniversary with a cause: don’t let an anniversary pass you by without looking for a way to make it memorable. What if you’re a home builder and on your anniversary you build a home for a low-income family? Say you own a sustainable food grocery and on Earth Day you send a tip sheet to the local TV news about how every family can lower its carbon footprint when shopping for groceries.
  8. Jump on a craze: remember when cupcakes were all the rage? Well, now the craze is all about the Cronut, created by Dominique Ansel Bakery in NYC! Be the first to roll-out (pun intended) a Cronut knock-off in your city and invite the food media to the launch. Tasty PR never goes out of style.
  9. Set the record: it’s hokey, it’s been done before, but setting a Guinness World Record gets people’s attention. People are fascinated by records, not to mention the people with the audacity (and craziness) to break them. Are you a bar owner? Make the longest shot pour from a single bartender or the largest margarita to celebrate Cinco de Mayo or National Margarita Day on February 22nd. The media can’t resist a good spectacle, especially on slow news days.
  10. Hit the road: rent a bus, trip it out, and take a road trip. Say you are a gym looking to add new senior citizen members, then you can fit out a bus with equipment and take it to retirement homes to teach the value of exercise for managing arthritis pain during Arthritis Awareness Month.

The bottom-line is you are in charge of your publicity, and only you can create the perfect moment when creativity and opportunity come together for the perfect news story that can set your brand on fire in your community.

Speaking of fire, what about building a massive bonfire to create the largest marshmallow roast the world has ever seen?!? Okay, okay, you get the picture.

Do you have any crazy, wacky, fun ideas to get publicity for small businesses? Leave them below so we can carry on the conversation!

By Dave Manzer
Dave Manzer launched PR over Coffee to help small businesses figure out how to do their own PR by meeting reporters, editors and news anchors. Dave owns his an Austin tech PR agency and works with small businesses and startups around the country obtain brand and revenue-enhancing news coverage in local and national news media.

How to pitch your small business to a reporter

Back when I was starting out in PR I made the mistake of calling a busy editor at a business journal without having a real clue about what I was doing. That one painful phone call taught me more about how to pitch reporters than just about anything else I have done since.

While I know everybody will make mistakes — and should if they are going to learn anything! — I want to save you the singular embarrassment I felt during that excruciating three minute phone call.

Here are some tips to mull over as you prepare your next pitch:

  1. Research first, pitch after: be sure you know what news beat the reporter covers. There’s nothing more embarrassing then pitching a reporter about an education story only to find out she writes about healthcare.
  2. Know your main news hook: what’s your main reason for pitching a reporter? Be able to articulate it within 10-20 seconds without a pause or sounding like you’re just making it up as you go. A busy reporter may only give you 30 seconds before deciding on whether the pitch has any merit.
  3. Roll with the punches: reporters tend to be more stressed out than other professionals these days given staff and budget cutbacks in most newsrooms. Don’t be surprised if you aren’t treated with the professional courtesy you think you deserve. It’s not personal. Chances are you are the 25th pitch they’ve gotten that day and they’re working against a deadline.
  4. Think fast: a reporter may pepper you with questions so be prepared to back up your news hook with facts. Reporters like statistics, trends, and dates. If you can’t demonstrate why the news would be important to the reporter’s audience then you’re out of luck.
  5. Follow up: you may not succeed in getting the reporter’s attention the first time around. Don’t give up. I keep saying this but it’s true: reporters are busy. Really, really busy. They don’t have time to answer every email or phone call that comes across their desk.
  6. Ask for advice: if you miss the mark on a pitch – and it happens to the best of us from time to time – then ask the reporter for a little guidance on what he wants from your future pitches. Many reporters won’t mind helping if it means they will get improved pitches from you in the future.
  7. Show appreciation: finally, don’t ever forget thank a reporter for her time. You want to use the opportunity to build a working relationship so you can come back to her with future pitches.

Pitching a story idea is not rocket science but it can be a numbers game. The more you pitch the better you get. Or perhaps that is better phrased as the more mistakes you make the better you get!

Happy pitching!

How to Generate More Sales Leads with PR

It’s safe to say that PR is not well understood as a sales lead generating activity for small businesses. Indeed, PR is usually lumped together with other brand marketing activities like newsletters, billboards and product literature that help solidify a brand in the consumer’s consciousness in hopes of driving future sales.

Yet, for the uninitiated, PR can actually help you drive sales leads even as you grow awareness of your brand in your community or industry. From press releases posted on the Internet to news coverage in local media, your business can experience a measurable spike in website visits, phone calls and foot traffic leading to sustained revenue growth.

While it’s not always easy to track the results of a PR campaign the way it is with Google AdWords, you can still improve your next PR campaign’s ability to drive new revenue and grow your business for years to come by following some of these steps:

  1. Call-to-Action: a strong call-to-action in your PR campaign will generate clicks, calls and cash register rings. If you write a press release, then embed the call-to-action URL as an “anchor text” in the body and at the end of the release. Be sure to test out a variety of call-to-actions and pick the one that tantalizes the reader’s imagination the most.
  2. Landing page: make sure you create a unique landing page for your PR campaign to track clicks to the web page and measure the conversion rate. Over time, your ability to convert traffic will improve as you refine your call-to-actions and offers.
  3. Target relevant media: be sure to go after the media your target prospects are watching, reading or listening to.
  4. Send email: don’t be shy about sharing your news. Send your latest press release (with a call-to-action) to customers and prospects alike.
  5. Create your own publicity: a new upscale hair salon decided to hold a benefit for a prominent local charity as part of its Grand Opening celebration rather than just make it about the salon. It generated media buzz and lots of involvement from local moms (the target demographic) because the fundraiser benefited a children’s education foundation.
  6. Follow trends: don’t miss this easy opportunity to promote your business to local media and win new customers. We’re in the middle of summer so owners of businesses specializing in ice cream, kid-friendly summer activities, or AC repair should be promoting them as the thermostat rises.
  7. SEO: so much is done online today – from product research to product purchases – that ignoring your search engine rankings is done at your own peril. That’s why you should optimize every press release for key words (or phrases) that refer back to your home page. (Hint: optimize pages deeper into the website in order to get visitors to stay on your website longer.)
  8. Social media integration: don’t ignore popular social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Pinterest. Make sure any media coverage you get is announced on social media and any product launches or visual events are thoroughly photographed, recorded and pinned.
  9. Blog: if it’s newsworthy, why not blog about it yourself and get others to do the same? Blog sharing is common trick among SEO experts as a way to create more back-links to your website. It’s also a good way to expand your brand awareness into new networks. Just be sure you go after blogs that are in your target demographic – food blogs if you’re seeking attention for your high-end specialty food store.
  10. Video: with over 4 billion videos viewed daily in 2012, YouTube has become a powerful way to drive awareness of your brand and new revenue for your business. If your business is interviewed on local TV news, link it to your website and invite followers on social media to watch.

Another plus about using PR for generating sales leads for your business? Not a lot of businesses do it! That’s why it pays to be among the 20% who understand how to leverage PR as a valuable lead gen tool.

Still not convinced? Check out one of my other blog posts where I explain how PR is more effective at driving revenue for small business than cold calling.

The key is to take action, and be smart about it. When PR is done right, no other marketing tool on the planet is as effective at motivating prospects to part with their money.

Happy pitching!

Can Solopreneurs get good publicity?

According to 2007 U.S. Census data there are nearly 28 million solopreneurs in the United States. Solopreneurs, as defined by Urban Dictionary, is an entrepreneur “who works alone, ‘solo,’ running [a] business single-handedly.”

With nearly 28 million solopreneurs in America you would think that the media would be full of news about them, right? Wrong! Considering the sheer numbers, solopreneurs as a group are without a doubt among the most ignored demographic in the business media.

Go ahead, try and find fresh news content about solopreneurs on any of the big media sites like CNN, Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, NBCNews.com. Get ready to be sorely disappointed. Heck, even local news media comes up short on covering solopreneurs in favor of much larger employers.

Now, lest you jump to the conclusion that the media are corrupt, money-grubbing organizations only interested in corporate Fat Cats, consider the reasons why most solopreneurs fly virtually undetected on their radar:

  • Solopreneurs – taken individually – have a small economic impact on a community
  • Solopreneurs don’t hire employees
  • Solopreneurs don’t open offices in new cities
  • Solopreneurs don’t acquire other companies
  • Solopreneurs don’t (usually) have 1000s of customers & millions of dollars in revenue

So, does this mean solopreneurs should kiss the opportunity for publicity good-bye? Absolutely not!

The simple fact is there is a high correlation between solopreneurs who get good publicity and solopreneurs who actively seek it. In other words, the more often you try to get publicity for your business the more likely you are to receive it. Hey, it’s worked for me on several occasions in local and national news media!

As a Solopreneur, you have to do your own marketing to promote the business and find new customers. Since PR is one of the most cost-effective ways of both spreading brand awareness and driving more revenue, you should spend some of your time every month – if not every week – asking yourself what’s newsworthy about your business. At PR over Coffee, we recommend doing it every day over your first cup of coffee!

With nearly 28 million solopreneurs, the odds of getting media coverage may not be in your favor but, as the old saying goes, “Fortune favors the bold.” So, go forth and do bold things — just be sure to take credit for it in the news.

Happy pitching!

About Dave Manzer: Dave Manzer founded an Austin tech startup PR firm for startups and emerging-growth businesses in 2009. Dave Manzer specializes in highly integrated PR & marketing strategies that help companies in technology, healthcare, consumer and professional services reach their goals in brand awareness and revenue growth. To contact Dave about the PR over Coffee blog, feel free to tweet him at @davemanzer or email him at dave(@)davemanzer.com.

How to Get your Small Business on Local TV News

Getting your small business on the local TV news can be one of the most effective ways to promote your business and win new customers.

Indeed, many business owners who land a coveted interview with a local network often report a spike in customer inquiries in the form of phone calls, website clicks and, in the case of retail and restaurants, customer visits.

I firmly believe many bricks-and-mortar businesses improve their chances of getting on TV if they simply approach the media with the right story at the right time – and keep doing it until they’re successful.

Here are some tips you can employ when pitching TV stations in your community:

  1. News Peg: it’s a larger story idea impacting your overall community, state or country to which you can tie your own business news or offerings. Think holidays, national awareness months, or historic events like the invention of the ice cream sundae. Say you’re a hair salon that specializes in treating kids with lice. Normally it’s not a topic people like to hear about, right? But in August, as kids are getting ready for the school year, it can be a compelling news story for parents who want their kids lice-free (or at least to know how to treat them if the unthinkable happens). For a list of other news pegs for your business, check out these websites: brownielocks, Surfnetkids, epromos.
  2. Skip the press release: a press release is a great tool that can help you inform and educate customers, prospects and media. Most news pitches directed at TV news producers and reporters are better served in the form of a pitch email that succinctly answers the Who, What, Where, When and Why of your news. Because reporters can receive over 100 pitches every day opening a press release is not high on their priority list.
  3. Pick up the phone: it’s often very hard to get a busy TV reporter to give you the time of day unless you follow up with a phone call or two. Just because you ping the reporter a few times by email and phone messages doesn’t mean you’re being a pest. You’re helping him or her by identifying a good news story for the community that would otherwise go unnoticed.
  4. Hold an event: another way to get the interest of the local TV news is to create your own event. For example, I know of a specialty food retailer who sells olive oils and collaborated with a local restaurant on an event featuring a special menu that paired exquisite extra virgin olive oils with dishes from northern Italy. The olive oil importer and executive chef went on the local news for an interview and quick preparation of a dish on the special menu. It was a great interview, the event sold out and both came away with more brand awareness!
  5. Have coffee with a news reporter: we don’t call it PR over Coffee for nothing. More relationships are started and cemented over coffee than perhaps any other drink. Call up a TV news producer or reporter and ask him or her out for coffee. It’s a chance to introduce what you do and discover potential news hooks of interest to the media professionals you meet.
  6. If at first you don’t succeed…: whatever you do, don’t give up just because you don’t succeed on your first media outreach attempt. Keep trying! Look for more news pegs that relate to your business. Missed out on National Cholesterol Education Month? Shoot for American Hearth Month in February or National Wear Red Day for heart health awareness for women. PR, like many things in life, is a numbers game. The more you try, the better your chances at getting beneficial publicity are.

If you have any suggestions for ways small businesses can get into the local TV news then please share them. Has your business been featured on local TV recently? Please share your experience!

Happy pitching!

How to Pitch Entrepreneur Magazine

Pitching a national magazine like Entrepreneur Magazine can intimidate even the most seasoned PR professionals. So what is a scrappy, do-it-yourself business owner to do if he or she wants to get some national publicity in hopes of growing brand awareness and income?

Fortunately, it’s not rocket science. You can learn to pitch like a PR professional with a few basic PR pointers, some timely feedback and a little chutzpah!

Here are 8 tips on how you can prepare for and pitch reporters with national audiences like Entrepreneur Magazine:

  1. Define your Key Message: ask yourself what makes you special, unique and memorable to customers. Is there something idiosyncratic in how you serve customers that really sets you apart from the competition? Is it a marketing strategy that has been really successful at finding new customers? Don’t be shy about asking your customers and vendors for ideas. Sometimes the best ideas come from outside observers!
  2. News Peg: it’s what makes your story interesting to a mass audience. It’s not enough to be an interesting business. It helps if you can make a case that you represent a larger trend. For instance, an Austin real estate broker called Give Realty donates 25% of all home sales commissions to charities and recently passing $250,000 in total donations in just five years. A news peg for Entrepreneur Magazine might be in relation to the increasing popularity of social good companies that donate a percentage of proceeds to charities in hopes of making the world a better place while gaining a competitive market advantage. In other words, tie your company to a larger story trend and you just mind find yourself featured in the news.
  3. Eye-Catching Subject or Headline: whether you write a press release or just an email news pitch, take time to come up with 5-10 different headlines that could help hook the attention of a journalist. Often the success or failure of pitches comes down to how effective the subject or headline is at conveying the core idea and why it’s of particular relevance to a given journalist. For instance, if you run a food truck specializing in doggie treats then you would be wise to discover the names of other pet food trucks are roaming the parks and streets of American cities and make mention of the new movement toward high-end pet treats sold out of food trucks. The key is to get your business mentioned along with several others so that all of you share in the media love.
  4. KISS Principle: the old adage of “keep it simple stupid” has perhaps never been as apropos as it is for pitching a busy journalists or reporter. Make that doubly so for a journalist at Entrepreneur Magazine! When pitching, stick to the facts and avoid rambling sentences. Be sure you answer the Who, What, Where and Why of your story as concisely as possible. But be careful not to omit key facts in your search for brevity. You can always give the journalist a teaser in the email and tell them you have copied more information below your signature line or attached a press release.
  5. Persistence Pays Off: it pays to be persistent when pitching national outlets like Entrepreneur. You may not win coverage for your business the first time around but keep in touch with occasional news updates to let an Entrepreneur journalist you’re still around and willing to be a resource for an article. After each pitch, be sure to follow-up with either a phone call (assuming you have a phone number to call) or a second email. Be polite with your follow-ups, and above all don’t be a pest and annoy them with a rash of emails and phone calls.
  6. Be Responsive: if you finally do get the attention of an Entrepreneur writer and are asked to schedule a phone interview, be sure to respond immediately. Journalists are often working against a deadline so if you procrastinate in responding then you could lose out on your golden opportunity for national publicity.
  7. Show Appreciation: if you do end up getting an interview that leads to a mention in Entrepreneur, then don’t forget to thank the reporter. Don’t send a gift. There are rules forbidding most journalists from credible news outlets from accepting gifts. Simple gratitude goes a long way.
  8. Stay in Touch: as mentioned above, keeping in touch with a national reporter is an easy way to always be under consideration for future stories. Reporters are no different than the average consumer in that they know what they like and tend to show loyalty to what has helped them in the past. You still need to follow the steps above to make sure you have compelling news to share but as long as you are providing the reporter with a good product, then there’s a better chance you will get picked again.

The good news is you don’t have to be a media expert to get national media coverage from outlets like Entrepreneur Magazine. You just passionate about your business and follow the steps outlined above.

While following these steps is not guaranteed to get you mentioned in Entrepreneur, it significantly improves your chances. One thing I know for certain is very few businesses get media mentions in national news by doing no media outreach at all.

For a list of media contacts at national magazines like Entrepreneur, please visit our free online news media database called MyLocalReporter. Click “Start Now” and then search based on “National” and you’ll be rewarded with contacts from such magazines as Entrepreneur, Inc., Wired and the Wall Street Journal.

Happy pitching!!

About Dave Manzer:  Dave Manzer founded an Austin tech PR agency for startups and emerging-growth businesses in 2009. Dave Manzer specializes in highly integrated PR & marketing strategies that help companies in technology, healthcare and professional services reach their goals in brand awareness and revenue growth. To contact Dave directly about the PR over Coffee blog, please email him at dave(@)davemanzer.com.

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