Nielsen Search Results Show Google Still Leads the Pack

April 28, 2010

Nielsen published their latest data on US Search Providers today, showing Google far ahead of all competitors with a healthy 65.7% of all search traffic, representing more than 6.3 billion searches in the month of March.  The next closest competitor, Yahoo!, had 13.4%.  Guess that makes our recent SEO Tip Jar advice on making sure your release gets into Google News even more relevant!


Do special characters in press release headlines matter?

April 9, 2010

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Judging from my recent experiment, they do.

For years, conventional wisdom suggested  avoiding special symbols such as ® (registered trademark) and ™ (trademark) in press release headlines.  The assumption has been that search engines and downstream sites to which releases are pushed have difficulty digesting words with symbols attached and your release may be misconstrued.

With that idea in mind, I conducted a small experiment to see the present state of how search engines are actually interpreting releases with symbols in headlines.

Results suggest that search engines are getting smarter about handling symbols and it’s still best to leave symbols out of your headlines whenever possible.  Instead, focus on including keywords in your headlines and properly formatting your release for Google News.

For my experiment I chose the two most common symbols, ® (registered trademark) and ™ (trademark), selecting ten releases including each symbol in the headline.  For each release, I conducted two searches on Google, Yahoo and Bing based on headline content–one with the symbol and one without.  Since it’s safe to assume most searchers are not including the symbols unless copy-pasting, this would tell me if the search engines treated the queries differently and how “searchable” these types of releases are.  I also performed searches with ten releases from the same period with headlines that didn’t include special symbols to serve as a control group.

Here’s what I found.  This chart shows whether the search engine provided the same results whether or not symbols were included in the search.  For example, searching for Acme™ versus searching for Acme.

Identical Search Results Returned With and Without Special Characters

You can see that Google does the best job overall.  Even the single instance when Google’s results were not the same, there was only a very minor difference that could be attributed to Google experimenting with different search result presentation.  Bing is not far behind, doing even better than Google with TM symbol searches.  Yahoo is the real outlier here.  Yahoo actually showed zero results on 7 out of the 10 searches with TM symbols, just a handful of results on two searches, and was the same only once.  That’s not to say that releases with TM symbols were not found; the lesson here is that Yahoo cannot handle people including the TM symbols in their searches.

Another way to confirm this strange behavior is by searching each search engine for the symbol alone.

Google Trademark Symbol Search

Bing Trademark Symbol Search

Google and Bing ignore the symbol, but Yahoo seems to interpret it as the letters TM and has many disparate results on the first page.

Yahoo Trademark Symbol Search

The chart below shows the “success” of each search.  I defined success as finding the release content within the first page of search results when searching for headline terms.

Search "Success" for Press Releases

You can see that every search engine does an admirable job finding the releases, especially when a TM symbol or no symbols are in the headline.  However, if you are concerned about performing as well as possible in Yahoo and Bing, the safest thing is still to exclude symbols if possible.


Why Your Release Might Not Make It In to Google News

March 24, 2010

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For many companies and agencies distributing press releases, appearing in online news outlets such as Google News is a significant benefit and often an important part of their PR or SEO strategy.  And from their perspective, getting in may seem quite straightforward when using a wire service such as Business Wire:  Write the press release, Send the press release, Appear in Google News!  What could be easier?

Well, what you may not know is that we do many things behind the scenes to deliver our content in a way that best complies with standards and rules laid out by Google and monitor performance to ensure the vast majority of our releases make it in to Google News.  On top of that, there are 18 reasons Google News may provide to us detailing why an individual release still doesn’t make the cut to reach their news index.  Some of these reasons are quite technical and are handled automatically by our world class technical team, but others vary based on the actual content of each individual release.  In this edition of SEO Tip Jar, I want to give you some insight into why Google News may reject your release and what you can do to best ensure that it doesn’t happen to you.

Before I get into it, please note that even if your release doesn’t make the cut for Google News, which in and of itself is an exceedingly rare occurrence, you will still be indexed by Google and available in the standard or “universal” search results.  Also, you can find the full list of rejection reasons in Google’s support section.  Of the 18 reasons Google may give, we tend to only see about five with any frequency.  Without further ado, here they are, in order of most common to least common:

“Article disproportionately short” /  “Article is too short”

Google does not give an exact word count to qualify for this criteria, but in my research this is most likely to occur when a release is less than 125 words.  However, I have seen instances when this reason is given in error as well with releases as long as 700 words.  In any case, these two errors constitute about 50% of the total errors we see, so be sure to make your releases at least 125 words to maximize your chances of inclusion.

“Page too large”

This is the most straightforward error in Google’s system.  Any page larger than 256KB may be flagged with this error, and most of the offenders tend to be very detailed and lengthy earnings reports with large tables and lots of text.  These releases are still indexed and available in Google Finance, which is usually the more appropriate and valuable venue for discovery.

“Title not found” (Title too short or long)

This is a deceptively named error, since it really means the title/headline of your release is too long.  According to Google, “…the title is required to be between 2 and 22 words, inclusive,” and headlines that don’t match this criteria are flagged with this error.  So be sure to check the word count in your headline and keep them relatively brief!

“Article Fragmented”

This error is very rare and only seems to occur on advisory releases with one sentence paragraphs or a very large number of bullet points.  It occurs when “The article …appears to consist of isolated sentences not grouped together into paragraphs.”  Avoid this error by ensuring the first paragraph of your release has at least two or three consecutive sentences.

Key Points

So if you want to best ensure your release gets into Google News, be sure to do the following with each release:

  • Write at least 125 words
  • Keep your headline between 2 and 22 words
  • Start your release with a three sentence paragraph

A Look At EON From An SEM Pro’s Perspective

March 17, 2010

Ben Plomion heads up SEM Valet, a Search Engine Marketing firm that builds pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns for its clients, so he’s a guy you can trust to know his stuff.  Following a recent meeting, Ben took a look at EON: Enhanced Online News for its possible value in building backlinks to clients’ websites and being part of an online marketing or PR campaign.  Take a look at Ben’s thoughts and let him — and us! — know about your successes with EON.


SEO Tip Jar: Tools to Track Your SEO Success

December 21, 2009

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Within the PR world, 2009 would probably be considered the year of Social, but for many it is also the year where SEO went from yet another random acronym to a high priority for clients and agencies alike.  For many web savvy PR practitioners, press releases now serve double duty as both a communication tool and an SEO tool.  But now that you are actively trying to make an SEO impact, how are you tracking the results?

Business Wire users may already be familiar with our Press Release Measurement features included in our NewsTrak reports, but in this edition of the SEO Tip Jar I want to introduce you to some free and paid reporting tools that can supplement your existing efforts by helping you track your historical page rankings for specific URLs and keywords on your own sites.  These tools will likely evolve as we enter the era of more real-time and personalized search, but as long as measurement is important they will continue to be some of the best indicators of SEO success.

SEOMoz Rank Tracker
URL: http://www.seomoz.org/rank-tracker
Cost: Free to monitor up to 5 rankings, $79/month to monitor up to 50 rankings as part of SEOMoz Pro account

The SEOMoz Rank Tracker refreshes rankings weekly by default and can update more frequently with manual requests.  It also includes very pretty historical graphs and can export historical data to CSV for use in Excel.

This tool is only available for limited use as a standalone utility, but is well worth it as part of the SEOMoz suite of web-based tools and resources.

Raven SERP Tracker
URL: http://raven-seo-tools.com/features/serp-tracker/
Cost: $79 as part of package of tools.  Monitor up to 1,000 keywords.

Raven’s SERP (“Search Engine Result Page”) Tracker works in much the same way as the SEOMoz Rank Tracker, but automatically tracks across each major search engine (Google, Yahoo, and Bing) rather than having to add each search engine individually.

It also provides historical data as charts and CSV format for easy export.

Raven’s SEO suite also offers a large number of tools and resources that help you with your SEO efforts.

SEO Rank Monitor
URL: http://www.seorankmonitor.com/
Cost: $19/ month, monitor up to 100 keywords on a single domain

This standalone web-based tool features the same sort of functionality as the SEOMoz and Raven tools, and also features Google Analytics integration.

SEOBook.com Rank Checker
URL: http://tools.seobook.com/firefox/rank-checker/
Cost: Free Firefox plugin, requires SEOBook.com account

Unlike the other tools I’ve mentioned, this free Firefox plugin runs within your web browser rather than a dedicated server, so you can only collect data from a single computer.  It doesn’t produce any fancy graphs, but does feature CSV export for the Excel set.

Also, with its myriad of customizable options this tool is probably geared more towards the geekier among us.

All of these tools feature either free options or free trials, so what are you waiting for?  Get started tracking your site’s rankings today.


Social Media for Crisis Communications

December 9, 2009

PR practitioners — the good ones — know that having a crisis communications plan in place for their companies or clients is a key part of best practices.  And, as with pretty much every aspect of communications today, social media is making an impact here as well.  Thomas Crampton of Ogilvy PR’s 360 Digital Influence recently moderated a panel discussing both the effect of social media in creating a PR crisis, and the use of those same tools to manage, mitigate and recover.

As an indicator of how quickly things change in the web and social media worlds, take a look at slide 17, which shows “Search” as a factor in spreading buzz in hour 24 of a crisis.  That was accurate at the time this panel was conducted; as of Monday, with the announcement of Google real-time search results, “Search” has moved from hour 24 to hour 1. 

The implication here is pretty clear:  If you aren’t out in front of potential (or actual!) bad PR, someone else will be, and they’ll be doing it online where the results are searchable.  Dialogue and transparency are crucial, as is an official statement from your company that reaches customers and potential customers everywhere.

Check out the whole slide show for some more insights and a great framework for creating your own crisis communications plan.


SEO Tip Jar: Common Questions about Press Release Link Practices

October 16, 2009

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Looking to learn more about the art and science of Search Engine Optimization?  Join Joseph Miller, EON Product Manager, for a new batch of tips from his SEO Tip Jar.

Links are the currency of the web and are quickly becoming more important to savvy PR practitioners and communicators.  Links help determine where you rank in searches and drive qualified traffic to your website, blog, and social presences such as Twitter.

Press releases can be a great source of links for your company, and we get questions all the time on how to best employ them in practice.   This post will address some of the most common questions and dig into the why behind linking techniques.

Q: Do links going to a specific page on my website hurt my homepage’s Google ranking?

This is a pretty big question with regards to SEO and search rankings.  The short answer is no.

Links to specific pages on your website will not hurt the ranking of your homepage for relevant search terms; they will simply boost the ranking of that specific page and the site as a whole.  There are two big advantages to linking to a specific page within a website rather than the homepage.

First off, company homepages are often more general in focus, appeal to all possible audiences, and cover a broad range of topics.  A page deeper within a website is usually more specific and will more quickly direct relevant readers (and potential customers) towards completing your desired actions such as filling out a form, signing up for newsletter, calling to inquire, requesting a brochure, or ordering online.

Secondly, deeper pages often hold greater appeal to search engines for more specific long tail search queries.  So while your company’s homepage may be better optimized for more general search queries (ex. ‘online university’, ‘pet food’) pages deeper within your site will be geared towards more specific search queries (ex. ‘accredited online MBA program’, ‘organic cat food’).

Experiment with different strategies depending on the release content and campaign to see what works best for you.

Q: Are more links always better?  How many links are appropriate for my release?

Less is often more when it comes to the number of links on a page.

Google assigns each site and individual page on the Internet a certain amount of power called PageRank (often referred to as “Google Juice”).  Google states that they “use more than 200 signals, including our patented PageRank™ algorithm, to examine the entire link structure of the web and determine which pages are most important.”  Your PageRank can range from 0 to 10, and when another site such as your Business Wire press release links to you, that site passes PageRank to you.  Calculating PageRank is somewhat complicated, but it essentially boils down to adding up the quality and quantity of links pointing at each page of your site.  Tools including the free Google toolbar can give you an estimate of your score.

Within a page, each link passes an equal share of PageRank to outbound links as the image below illustrates.

Press Release Link Juice

So while you can include a hundred links in a release, you will likely be diluting their individual value.  It’s often a better idea to prioritize and judiciously link only to your most important destination pages.

Q: What text should I use in my links?

Along with PageRank or similar criteria used by Bing or Yahoo, search engines also use link anchor text to help determine the relevancy of a page.  Employing descriptive anchor text is a great opportunity to tell search engines more about you and direct more relevant traffic your way.  When deciding what to use, try to think like a searcher.  Create a list of search terms that you would expect to bring people to your site and use some of the terms you come up with.  Try not to settle on links such as ‘Click Here’ whenever possible.

I hope this post helps you craft a linking strategy in your future press releases.  Please let me know if you have any linking questions or comments.


Why You Rank Where You Rank: New Report from SEOMoz.org

August 31, 2009

To create the latest edition of their now biannual Search Engine Ranking Factors report, SEOMoz.org conducted a survey of more than seventy top SEO experts from around the world and compiled the results on a single information rich webpage.  The report is an essential read for anyone even slightly concerned with how their company’s sites rank and where they should focus their efforts to improve performance and I highly recommend reading it.

Interestingly enough, three of the top five factors from 2007 have simply bounced around this year’s top five.  Perhaps things don’t move quite as fast we think they do in the world of search?  Of 2007’s top factors, only domain age has dropped off the map in terms of importance, moving from the top five to barely a factor at all, with the more sophisticated measure of trustworthiness taking up the slack.

Here’s how the top five shape up:

1. Keyword Focused Anchor Text from External Links (#3 in 2007)

While Google’s official opinion of SEO practitioners seems to range from ambivalence to antipathy, optimized anchor text is clearly a more important factor than ever.  Descriptive anchor text (think “free press release podcast” rather than “click here“) acts as a signpost to readers and robots indicating what they should expect at the tail end of each link.  There’s no time like the present to start being more mindful in the words you choose for your hyperlinks.  In the case of press releases, Business Wire clients can use our keyword tool within the Press Release Builder to discover and optimize for relevant and frequently searched keywords in news searches.  Other popular tools include the Google AdWords keyword tool.

2. External Link Popularity (#2 in 2007)
3. Diversity of Link Sources

The more links the better!  Building links from a wide range of quality sites can be very effective to help you climb the search mountain and outrank competitors.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.  A sustained linkbuilding effort may not always pay immediate dividends, but should reap rewards over time.  A periodic press release distribution can be a key component of your campaigns.

4. Keyword Use Anywhere in the Title Tag (#1 in 2007)Much like anchor text, page titles benefit greatly from the inclusion of keywords and phrases that are important to your company.  Though not mentioned specifically in this section of the report, it’s widely considered a best practice to ensure your keywords are also within the first 60 or so characters of your page titles to ensure they show up to readers on Google, Google News, Yahoo!, Bing and elsewhere.  Also worth mentioning is that your release’s headline will also serve as your page title in the world of press releases.

 

5. Trustworthiness of the Domain

Trustworthiness refers to a site’s mozRank, which is a “10-point measure of global link authority or popularity . . . very similar in purpose to the measures . . . used by the search engines.”  The trustworthiness of a domain casts a wide net of influence across its rankings instead of a narrow range of search keywords.

Personally, my main takeaway from the report is that how you link and where you get links are as important as ever in helping you to achieve your search goals.  As always, press release distribution can be an essential component of your marketing-pr mix.  Where else can you create compelling and keyword rich webpages, links with custom anchor text, and push your message out to a broad mix of authoritative sites?


Don’t Ask the Barber if You Need A Haircut and other Press Release Wisdom from Warren Buffett

May 26, 2009

Last week, HubSpot’s provocatively titled webinar “How to Be Smarter than your PR Agency” took a stab at analyzing the effectiveness of press releases.   We applaud their efforts and will chime in here with some footnotes based on 48 years in the press release biz.photo from Times Picayune

But first, thanks to HubSpot for tackling this topic.  We’re delighted to see an inbound marketing software firm like HubSpot acknowledge how well press releases can perform in linkbuilding and organic search. 

Among HubSpot’s findings:

  • “Traditional” press releases are “syndicated” 20% more frequently than “social media press releases”  — meaning they are republished in full on major portals like Google and Yahoo! and authority websites.
  • “Traditional” press releases drive 14% more traffic to your website than “social media releases.” 

We’ve known this for years–but as every PR pro is aware, third-party endorsements breed credibility.  Thanks again, HubSpot!

Wire services “push” content

Presenters Rebecca Corliss and Michael Volpe explained that services like Business Wire have media relations teams that work directly with portals, to whom we “push” content based on need.  At Business Wire, we have 30 full-time media relations professionals worldwide.

HubSpot gives full credit to “the wires” for being able to “push” content better than anyone but bemoan we can be “pricey.”

Here’s where we disagree.   Starting at $210, we believe the press release is a multi-tasking bargain with its ability to work NOT ONLY as an SEO/linkbuilding tool but as  direct marketing.  

Treat your press release like its own interactive web page and it works as a tipsheet for reporters, a mini website, a brand ambassador.  Awareness raised by the well-done press release is hard to beat, because NOT ONLY does it contribute to SEO, it markets your message directly, ESPECIALLY when  pushed out to other authority sites, or “syndicated” as Hubspot calls it.

HubSpot discouraged the use of multimedia and XHTML formatting–bullets, boldface, italics, white space–in press releases.  Again, we disagree.

Attractively presented content gets read

Sure you want traffic to your site, but you also want people to READ what you WRITE.  That’s much more likely when content is attractively presented.   Our metrics show press releases with graphics get two to three times more clicks.

When HubSpot introduced the “the inbound marketing press release” to join the H-release, the social media release, the SMNR, SMPR, it was hard not to wonder:  Do we really need another template?    

Thanks to investments in NewsML by Business Wire like our patented NX technology, real world applications exist NOW for virtually any template or format you choose.  Every press release can include multimedia or not, can be shared or searched, include anchortext and/or lengthy URLs–it just depends on how you build it, having something to say, and your goals. 

Good content, well written, appropriately distributed

Our press release mantra:  Good content, well written, appropriately distributed.  No need for your press release to serve as SEO link builder OR a direct marketing tool–it can do both.  

And here’s where we quote our boss, Warren Buffett:  Don’t ask the barber if you need a haircut. 

HubSpot is a software company, so naturally they will encourage the use of  software and website solutions for online marketing success.   More power to ‘em.

Those beating the drum for the social media news release are often in the business of profiting from its acceptance–frequently by carving a consulting biz out of a very crowded social media echo chamber.  It makes sense these folks would promote various templates’ alleged strengths.   Are they ”tech agency execs push(ing) faux ‘innovation’ for the sake of making names for themselves”? as one HubSpot blog commenter posted?  That’s for the reader to decide.

We, meanwhile, remain in the press release business and believe that well-done press releases address myriad online marketing challenges and at a reasonable price. 

The movie business began with silent movies, which became ”talkies,”  and later, color motion pictures.  Today we call them movies.  So it is with press releases.  They’ll continue to evolve and at Business Wire we embrace the evolution because in the end, they’re all press releases.

photo: Chuck Cook / The Times-Picayune


Business Wire PR Peeps Poll: More Than a Third Optimize Press Releases for Search Engines

May 7, 2009

Do you optimize your press releases for search engines? 

That was Business Wire’s 1-question poll for April, and we’re pleased to announce promising results:   34% of PR peeps polled say they optimize their press releases for search engines. 

Bravo!  That’s more than we expected.

Right behind the enlightened third, an almost equal 33% say they do NOT optimize press releases for search.  Twenty percent said they optimize “sometimes” and 12% “don’t know what it means” to optimize a press release for search engines.

Those of us catering to the public relations industry find these results heartening.  Press Release Optimization is a new concept and our educational webinars  suggest that the level of understanding is often shockingly remedial.  

As we said in a previous post, our clients tell us  they “don’t have time” to optimize their press releases for search engines.  That’s a shame.  One of the biggest pay-offs for doing so is better online traction through increased search engine results and sharing.

If you need help optimizing your press releases, check out the archived webinar on exactly that topic by Business Wire search pros Maria Van Wambeke and Michael Toner.  Watch for another Press Release Optimization webinar by our dynamic duo this summer.

aprilchart

To those who participated, thanks for taking the poll.  And how about helping with the next one?  What do you value more when measuring press release traction?

Business Wire PR Peeps Poll for April 2009:

Do you optimize your press release for search engines? 
 
                     207  Yes 34%
                     202   No 33%
                     123    Sometimes 20%
                       75      I don’t know what optimize your press release for search engines means 12%
607 respondents via Twitter and Business Wire webinar polls.  Poll conducted April 1 – May 5, 2009.

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