People & Robots

Death of the Press Release

Have you ever experienced the joy of writing a press release? It’s horrendous. When I write a blog post, the words come smoothly. Sentences flow. I edit and rework it, but the language feels natural. Even when I experience writer’s block, it’s nothing compared to the painstaking process of writing a release.

For the longest time, I didn’t know why releases were so damn challenging for me. If I can write an ebook or a post or a thesis, why can’t I write a one page document announcing something interesting?

I got my answer as I read up on the recent hoopla about Google’s latest algorithm changes. In a nutshell, Google is cracking down, again, on content designed purely to attract its robots. And this time, the “victim” is the press release.

The tension in the SEO-driven PR world is palpable. Tom Foremski from ZDNet added fuel to the fire when he highlighted some major problems PR agencies may face when their clients’ content gets penalized for its now-frowned-upon practices.

Yet despite the drama, not much is new here. The most experienced SEO and online marketing experts have always said that creating content people want to read and share is the most important search engine optimization technique in the book.

I like how Jason Kintzler, CEO of PitchEngine, a content marketing platform, summed it up,

Press releases published through wire services have been riddled with link bait. Headlines were obviously written for robots, not humans. If you asked one employee at one company about their latest news, not one of them would answer you with a headline like that. Finally, Google is forcing companies to get real about the content they share.

So what actually happened… why is PR freaking out?

Google updated its ranking advice so that it no longer reads:

In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.

It now reads:

In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.

Many top notch PR agencies are Traackr customers who do fantastic work for their clients. We asked John Berard, a communications leader and one of our advisors, if he thought Google had just killed PR. He said,

Public relations is still the same business; it is all about telling a good story well. The methods by which such stories are told, though, has and continues to change. The key is to do what can be done to ensure that the story is told where the right people are listening.

Notice the shift to people?

It’s not about what you publish. It’s about who cares about what you publish. Do people sign up for your newsletter? Do they come back to your blog weekly or even daily because they’ve come to expect a certain quality from you?

Back to my rant about press releases. When I sit down to write a release I know I’m writing for an ambivalent wire. The only “result” is a bunch of impressions that drive little to no traffic to our site. When was the last time you were covered in the press or mentioned in your influencer’s content because of a release?

As soon as I wrap up the heavily structured release that no one will read, I write the corresponding blog post and the excitement just flows. I’m writing for people. I can see our community and potential community in my mind. I know what you want and I’m striving to provide the content you seek.

If you want your content to be found, start by writing for your people. The robots are smarter than you think and they will reward you for your efforts. Do you start with your audience’s desires and challenges in mind?  Do you provide the type of content that inspires conversation, education and relationship-building opportunities?

 If you do, awesome. You’re safe. If you don’t, watch out. The robots are coming for you.