“I cannot emphasize enough that press releases should be optimized for people first and for search engines second. Few people will link to or pass along a press release that reads as if it were ‘optimized’ for keyword phrases.”
— Lee Odden, TopRank Online Marketing CEO

Put people first

Optimize for readers & Google

Press releases are a key tool for making your website findable.

HUMAN INTEREST Don’t forget people as you optimize your release for Google.

Because your headline gets a header (<h1>) tag on the portal, it can deliver huge SEO benefits. To take advantage of this opportunity, use a keyword in your headline.

Here’s how:

Choose a keyword.

That’s one keyword. You can hurt your ranking in search results — and render your page unreadable — by cramming your headline with keywords and phrases.

So don’t over-optimize: Limit yourself to one keyword per headline.

Lead with that topic word.

Next, place your keyword within the first seven words of the headline.

Not only will that get you lots of “Google juice,” but it will make it easier for real readers to find your piece in indexes, as well.

That’s because headlines have less than one second to get attention in indexes, search engine results pages and other story lists, according to Eyetrack III, The Poynter Institute’s latest study of how people read online.

That means people are reading only the first word or two of your headline.

If they don’t get your topic in the first 11 characters or so, says Jakob Nielsen, they might never get it at all.

WILL THEY SEE IT? On indexes and story lists like this one, readers scan only the first 11 characters or so of each item.

Don’t bury the topic. Notice what happens when you write a traditional news release lead:

Wylie Communications Inc. introduces
new social media writing webinar

The words your readers are looking for — social media writing webinar — are buried beneath five words. The information readers will see, the first 11 characters, don’t give any information about the topic.

So drop the company name or move it from the front of the headline. Even the wire services no longer require company names in the first position in the headline, says John B. Williams, regional director of PR Newswire.

Benefits headlines aren’t quite so onerous, but they bury the topic words, too:

  • How to Write the News Release 2.0: May 13 webinar shows communicators how to help Google find your site, reach readers online and more
  • Go Beyond the Inverted Pyramid: April 22 webinar shows communicators how to increase readership with the feature-style story structure
  • Get the Word Out With Social Media: March 25 webinar shows communicators how to write blog postings, tweets and other status updates that expand their reach and influence online

The first 11 characters, which appear in red, hide the topic from your readers.

So how do you push the topic word to the front of your headline?

How to lead with the topic word. Here are three techniques to try:

1. Write a kicker. Add the topic word to the front of your headline as a kicker. On the Web page, it looks like this:

News release 2.0

Help Google find your site
Communicators learn to write releases
that reach readers online in this May 13 webinar

On a story index, it looks like this:

News release 2.0 — Help Google find your site: Communicators learn to write releases that reach readers online in this May 13 webinar

2. Write a simple sentence. A subject-verb-object sentence pushes the topic, or subject, to the front of the headline.

Feature-style stories increase readership: Communicators learn to go beyond the inverted pyramid in this April 22 writing webinar

3. Write a label head. I know, I don’t like these either. But it works!

Social media writing webinar: Communicators learn to write blog postings, tweets and other status updates that expand their reach and influence online in this April 22 program

All of these approaches have some benefits and obstacles. My advice? Choose one approach and stick with it.

Make your headline your page title.

Finally, multiply your Google juice by making your headline your page title, too.

Learn more about SEO.

Reach bloggers, journalists and readers

Want to master the art of writing successful media relations materials?

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“There’s too much time spent trying to bamboozle us with flowery marketing-babble instead of cutting to the chase and saying just why this should be important to readers.”
— Charles Cooper of Ziff Davis in a Softletter survey of media about the quality of PR writing

Drop the buzzwords

Write hype-free news release heads instead

On my desk is a New Yorker cartoon where a CEO is talking to his PR executive. He says:

LANGUAGE BARRIER Readers, reporters, fans and followers hate hype. Even Google hates it. Why not drop it from your next release?

“Here it is, the plain, unvarnished truth.  Varnish it.”

Well, I’m advising you to skip the varnish, especially in release headlines.

Four problems with hype

Why skip the varnish?

  • Reporters hate it. Bloggers and journalists want us to report the story without the hype.
  • Readers hate it. Modifiers distract Web readers, making it harder for them to focus on your message. In one study, replacing modifiers and other hype with objective language increased Web copy usability by 27%.
  • Fans and followers hate it. Adjectives and adverbs don’t get shared as often on Facebook as nouns and verbs, viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella learned. According to his analysis, adverbs get shared nearly 3% less often than average; adjectives, nearly 2% less often.
  • Google hates it. People search for “athletic shoes with toes,” for instance, not “best-of-breed athletic shoes with toes.” We want “trekking poles,” not “leading trekking pole solutions.” All those buzzwords just get between you and your reader.

The only person who likes the varnish? The vice president of the department who made your award-winning, innovative, best-of-breed solution.

Stop with the chest pounding.

Despite the fact that buzzwords serve nobody but the VP, I still see phrases like these in news release headlines:

  • Expands leadership
  • Sets major milestone
  • In a move that sets the next industry milestone and reinforces its leadership position …

This hyperbole is so essential, it often shows up before the subject and verb — before the actual news — in the headline.

If you find such chest-pounding phrases in your release headline, cut them. Your news release headline should sound journalistic, not full of marketing hype.

Avoid the top 20 buzzwords.

SEO and PR strategist Adam Sherk regularly lists the most overused press release buzzwords in press releases. His top 20:

  1. Leader
  2. Leading
  3. Best
  4. Top
  5. Unique
  6. Great
  7. Solution
  8. Largest
  9. Innovative
  10. Innovator
  1. Award winning
  2. Exclusive
  3. Premier
  4. Extensive
  5. Leading provider
  6. Innovation
  7. Real-time
  8. Fastest
  9. Easy to use
  10. Dynamic

Some 15% of release headlines contain one or more of these buzzwords, according to Schwartz MSL’s 2011 study of 16,000 Business Wire Releases. That’s up from 14% in 2010.

The worst offenders in 2011:

  • Solution
  • Best
  • Leading
  • Top
  • Cloud
  • Innovative
  • Largest
  • Innovation
  • Leader
  • Exclusive
  • Unique
  • Premier
  • Fastest
  • Great
  • Sustainable
  • Real-time
  • Dynamic
  • Extensive
  • Innovator
  • Leading
  • Provider
  • Award winning
  • Easy to use

The solution to the “solution” problem? Focus on what your products and services will do for people. And favor keywords over buzzwords whenever possible.

Don’t even think about it!!!

Nearly 1% of news release headlines contain exclamation points, according to Schwartz’s study. And 10 out of the 16,000 releases included multiple exclamation points.

If your news isn’t exciting enough without the exclamation points, perhaps you should rethink releasing the information altogether.

Just .3% of release headlines included question marks. And that’s a form of punctuation that can actually help engage readers.

Cut Through the Clutter

Want to make every piece you write easier to read and understand?

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“When are you going to realize that if it doesn’t apply to me, it doesn’t matter?”
— Candace Bergen’s character on “Murphy Brown”

Make it relevant

Focus your Web copy

How can you cut Web copy in half? Choose the half that’s relevant to your audience members.

Give readers what they want.

ALL ABOUT ME Focus your Web copy on your readers’ best interest, not your mission, vision, values and other internal blah-blah.

Besides making your Web pages shorter — and serving your audience better — relevant copy is more effective.

According to Jan H. Spyridakis, author of “Guidelines for Authoring Comprehensible Web Pages,” readers:

  • Understand better and remember more when they’re interested in the topic (Asher 1980; Stevens 1980; Baldwin, Peleg-Bruckner, and McClintock 1985).
  • Focus more attention on more relevant information (Celsi and Olson 1989).
  • Use a web site for a specific purpose only when they’re looking for something particular (Rajani and Rosenberg 1999).
  • Are distracted by irrelevant information. “Unnecessary information … prevented users from finding what they were looking for even if it was right in front of them,” the researchers report.
  • Tend to stay with a page if it contains interesting information.

To give readers what they want, put yourself in the readers’ shoes and Think Like a Reader.

Drop the irrelevant stuff.

Then cut the crap. Or at least move the mission statement off of the home page.

Filter out unnecessary content, Spyridakis suggests. Do your Web visitors really need to see your mission, vision, values, pledge and org charts before they even find out what your organization does?

Skip the internal blah-blah.

“Designers can all too easily lean on information that is current and relevant to people inside the organization,” Spyridakis writes, “but is irrelevant to outsiders who visit an organization’s Web site.”

Don’t do that.

Learn more about cutting your copy.

Reach readers online

Want to get the word out on the Web?


Source: Jan H. Spyridakis, “Guidelines for Authoring Comprehensible Web Pages and Evaluating Their Success,” Technical Communication, August 2000

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“The nonverbal message of good writing is, ‘I understand this subject, I love it, and you are going to love it too.’”
— Crawford Kilian,
 author of Writing for the Web

‘Sigh … We miss you already’

Steal a trick from CD Baby & make your copy personable

This little note arrived in my email box the other day:

Ann —

Thanks for your order with CD Baby!

Your CD has been gently taken
from our CD Baby shelves
with sterilized contamination-free gloves
and placed onto a satin pillow.

HEY, BABY Make your online communications warm and friendly with personable Web copy like CD Baby’s.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing. Our world-renowned packing specialist lit a local artisan candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved “Bon Voyage!” to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, June 18, 2012.

We hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. In commemoration, we have placed your picture on our wall as “Customer of the Year.” We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Sigh …

We miss you already. We’ll be right here at http://cdbaby.com/, patiently awaiting your return.

CD Baby

The little store with the best new independent music

The best Web copy is packed with personality. What can you steal from CD Baby to make your emails and other Web copy warmer and more personable?

Make fun

Want to make your copy more amusing?

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“Ann’s team of award-winning writers makes even complicated, scientific topics easy and delightful to read. And better copy equals an easier approval process — even with our pickiest subject-matter experts.”
— John Francis, director of marketing, Saint Luke’s Health System, Kansas City

Reach more readers

Get the word out with Wylie’s writing team

I’ve interviewed George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Robert Redford. But what I really enjoy is chatting with economists, engineers and surgeons.

GET THE WORD OUT Reach more readers with Wylie Communications writing services.

At Wylie Communications, we write about communication technology for Sprint, about personal finance for Northern Trust and — despite the fact that my preferred form of exercise is the hike from recliner to refrigerator — about fitness medicine for the Mayo Clinic.

We’d love to write for you, too.

Deliver copy that sells.

When I’m not writing or editing, I’m training other writers. Or helping companies get the word out to their audiences. My writing team applies the best practices I develop for my training and consulting business to your writing and editing projects. So your project will Cut Through the Clutter, Lift Your Ideas Off the Page or Screen and Sell Products, Services and Ideas.

Bring award-winning talent to your project.

Our work has earned nearly 60 communication awards, including two IABC Gold Quills. Let us help you produce world-class business communications, as well.

Stop working weekends.

We’ve provided a virtual staff to write and edit newsletters and magazines for Saint Luke’s, Northern Trust, State Street/Kansas City and Sprint. Let us pick up the slack in your department, too.

We’ve written everything from annual reports to websites, for companies ranging from Armstrong World Industries to State Street/Kansas City.

How may we help you?

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“[Ann’s workshop was] extremely useful and easy to digest. She shook me out of my old, decrepit habits into thinking like a reader.
— Diana Kowalsky, internal communication manager, REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.)

Ann’s touring schedule

Polish your skills at one of these events

Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations.

COME ALONG FOR THE RIDE Catch Ann at one of her upcoming workshops.

But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:

Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.

Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.

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Where in the world is Ann?

Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program

Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.

Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:

  • Austin, Texas: Nov. 8-9
  • Boston: Aug.7
  • Green Bay, Wis.: Oct. 23
  • Kansas City, Mo.: Aug. 21, Christmas week
  • Miami: Dec. 7
  • New York: Sept. 21
  • Portland, Ore.: May 9, 2013
  • San Francisco: Oct. 14-15
  • Sonoma County, Calif.: Nov. 2-5
  • Spokane, Wash.: Sept. 27
  • Tacoma, Wash.: Aug. 15
  • Washington, D.C.: Oct. 1-5

Save even more: Ask about my communication association discounts and second-day fee reductions.

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

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What are we up to?

The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:

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Keep up with my calendar

Find out when I’m coming to your neighborhood, learn when you can sign up for one of my programs and otherwise keep up with my calendar.

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Let’s connect

Keep in touch via:

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Please share this issue

… with two of your colleagues by directing them to our current issue. Better yet, invite them to subscribe to Wylie’s Writing Tips. They’ll thank you — and so will I!

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For more info

… about my seminars, publication consulting or writing and editing services, please contact me or visit my website.

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