After a company has engineered their website to enable search engine spidering, they may then graduate on to understand the importance of link-building. But, businesses often look for quick technical tricks to achieve those vital inbound links without looking towards classic offline business strategies. Press releases and similar types ofÂ publicity can significantly help with linkbuilding, and should be a major component of a business’s search marketing arsenal.
One question that frequently comes up in search engine optimization is “How can we get a new domain name to rank well and rapidly?” You may have heard of “The Sandbox ” in relation to SEO — this is the concept that newer domain names will not be trusted by search engines, and so pages hosted on those domains may not rank as well as would be expected for unique keyword combinations. Getting good numbers of inbound links can break a domain out of the sandbox effect, but linkbuilding takes time. Most shortcuts won’t work in this area, and you should run screaming the other direction if someone promises otherwise, since participation in link networks can get you penalized with major engines.
But, there is one shortcut that not only can work, but is allowed by the search engines: publicity. While the sudden appearance of hundreds and thousands of inbound links to a new domain name could raise redflags with search engines, the exception is if those inbound links are coming from recognized news sites and blogs. The search engines recognize “burstiness” — the sudden influx of links — in cases where a site has attracted popular attention, and lots of articles and blog postings have come out on a particular subject.
Whether you’re trying to found a new domain name, or increase your site’s overall ranking in the search engines, publicity is one of the most effective methods around. Read on and I’ll outline some tips for getting good PR — both kinds!
There are three good sources for improving rankings through publicity: online news stories; blog articles; and publicity releases. The following strategies should help with all of these. Essentially, you need to tell a story about your company, your products, or your services. Your story is the message you want to get across, but it should be presented in a way that’s interesting, since just baldly saying “Our widgets are better – buy our widgets now” is terribly dull and doesn’t work well as publicity.
Good publicity is one type of linkbait , and it can be one of the easiest to use consistently. Issue press releases. Aim to get the attention of news sites through those press releases. Contact bloggers who are popular commentators about your product or your demographic area and ask them to review your products. There are companies which specialize in search optimization of press releases , but many small businesses may not afford their services — the following tips are oriented to these companies with the focus towards getting other people to write about you. Look to engineer a press release, and don’t look down your nose at tying in an announcement with some sort of publicity stunt, or talk about the thing you’re announcing in a clever way that will appear to the popular consciousness. Issue the press releases on a special section on your website. If you do this well, news sites will pick you up and bloggers will write about you and link to you like crazy.Tips to getting free publicity:
1. Your publicity should be compelling. It should be impactful to some target demographic audience. It shouldn’t be ordinary — your story should outline something about your company that is original or differentiated. Also, consider some controversial angles to your story, and consider playing those up. Controversy or conflict is the heart of drama, and drama is much more interesting to read about.
2. Your story should be presented in a visually-oriented way. Visually oriented stories are more interesting to people, because they engage the audience’s imagination. The story should be vivid in some way. If you can’t make your subject matter interesting-sounding to the visual sense, try to play up on one of the other senses. Stories which engage the imagination through descriptions which appeal to one of the senses tend to draw people in more effectively and are more interesting. Some examples:
- I recently ran across this news story about a squid-shaped USB drive . The description of how it was invented and the packaging make me really want to get one now!
- The postings about the Wii Laptop  gained headlines on Techmeme , and would be interesting to any WiiÂ devotee who wishes to take their games on the road. Cool pix of the product!
- The Ms. Dewey avatar  that MicroSoft created to promote their Live search service is mainly visual hype, but it’s darned effective all the same. I blogged about this  before, along with many, many others.
3. Provide free press kit photos or videos. Companies are traditionally control freaks about their product information and promotional images and marks, but this is an area where it is more likely to help than to hurt. Provide a small handful of images that help illustrate your press release story, and generously allow people to take and use those images when writing about your product or company.
One company which has done an admirable job with this is Linden Lab, operators of the popular Second Life virtual reality environment. They provide a few images  from scenes inside their game space for people to use when writing about them, and this helps stories about them to be much more interesting. (I previously have blogged about Image Search Optimization  – if you’re adding an image to a press release, you might take the opportunity to host the image in Flickr and then link the photo’s page from Flickr to your article for yet more inbound linkage!)
4. Time your story. If you’re trying to pitch a story to a news organization or a blogger, don’t attempt to do so at the same time as other major stories are hitting in your space, or you’ll just be lost in the noise. It’s easier to get a story picked up during slower news times — try to aim for those moments. Also, if you have your own company blog or if you’re able to influence when a blogger might release an article about you, aim for it post early in the morning and early in the work week. Posting early in the morning will insure that when people check out their newsreaders they’ll be more likely to see your story — waiting too late in the day will risk that your story could be buried in the next day’s big headlines. Posting early in the week is also better, since online users are more likely to be checking out what’s new on Mondays and Tuesdays than on Thursdays and Fridays when they’re distracted by their weekend plans.
5. Take advantage of “feeding frenzies”. When the news organizations or blogging community can’t seem to get enough stories on a particular subject, find a way to release a story that can relate in some way. Hop on the “buzz” and ride the wave!
6. Know your industry and/or your primary audience. Pitch stories to the top blog writers or niche-specific news sites which cover your area. Warning: avoid the temptation to try to pay someone to give you positive buzz. The blogosphere reacts really badly to any hint of being manipulated, so such tactics could backfire and cause loss of business. There are a number of examples, and one of the more recent was Sony’s fake blog  which they tried to use to promote their PSP.
7. Use a creative or funny title for your press release. Make a compelling title or subject line — clever or humorous is great. Check out the headlines on major news sites with a critical eye for some good examples, and see what sort of phrasing typically captures your attention.
8. Be brief in pitching your story or writing your press release. The internet space has a really brief attention span, so you only have a limited space for capturing someone’s interest. A popular blogger or news site editor/reporter doesn’t have a lot of time, so respect them and be succinct when asking them to cover your story. Describe the concept in a single sentence or two, if possible. Add a nice soundbite quotation from your company CEO or expert — something very quotable and interesting. Add a bit more colorful description, if it’s warranted — such as facts which would be particularly interesting to readers, though don’t drift over into boring stats.
9. Provide free product samples for bloggers or reporters to review. This is a great way to incent people to write about you. First, contact the blogger/reporter and ask if they’d agree to review your product. Then, send it to them, and follow up by asking when they might reasonably post a review about it. When sending the product, ask them outright to link their article directly to a product spec sheet or press release about it on your website — this will help you get the desired inbound links. Don’t place any conditions when you send your product, either. You should be confident enough in your product enough to believe in it, so don’t worry overly about bad reviews. Respect criticism, because it can help point out areas which you can improve, and criticism of less-optimal points about the product can help underscore that the reviewer is not your patsy. Reviewers are more likely to say positive things as well as negative, since no one wants to be perceived as being biased. In the event of some negative reviews, look on the bright side — you can still get good link PR from bad reviews.
I know a lot of companies are too stingy to provide free product review copies, and I think they are shooting themselves in the foot. When I published a scientific book in one of my previous jobs, I built the cost of giving away review copies into my overall advertising budget, and it really paid off. Not only did I get distributors to carry the book in major chains, I got a number of people contacting me directly to buy the book after they read about it in online forums, newsletters, and review sites.
One of my friends operates ExtremeOverclocking.com , and a number of hardware manufacturers have clued-in to providing him with review copies. Those manufacturers know that getting reviewed on his site will provide them with excellent exposure and referrals.
10. Don’t take yourself or your company too seriously! There are a lot of companies which are like immature kids in this respect. They practically wear their feelings on their sleeves and they can’t loosen up enough to engage with people in a human manner. Companies which can lighten up a bit have the advantage of being able to show that they’re made up of good-natured humans. Those are the sorts of companies that people like to do business with. Think of the Wendy’s restaurant chain former CEO, Dave Thomas . His lines in commercials sometimes seemed stiff compared with slick actors, but it always seemed clear that he had a sense of humor and he was willing to expose himself to potential ridicule. His unpolished stiffness was a major part of his charm, even. If you can laugh at yourself, the world laughs with you. Humor has far more promotional value than any dry charts and diagrams — and it’s far cheaper than paying for independent research.
For a good example of an effective publicity stunt and its press release, check outÂ Kentucky Fried Chicken’s PR for their “satellite ad”  , which I previously blogged about .Â With the right promotion, you can make the most boring product or business interesting, and with the right tactics, you can get the attention of lots of people along with their associated link juice.
So, start thinking of ways to get the internet to cover you in news stories and blog posts. This is one of the best ways to get valuable inbound links, and it can work rapidly if you do it right. Start thinking about an angle for your product or business and spin it into something interesting that people would want to write about and read, and even email to their friends and family.
Also, I recommend reading the short book, “Free Publicity “, by Jeff Crilley . Crilley is an Emmy Award-winning, Dallas-area TV reporter who wrote this book based on years of seeing what press releases came into his TV station, and how newsÂ insiders would select stories to cover. Crilley’s suggestions were geared mainly to educate people on how to get covered by TV news stations, and I adapted many of his suggestions for online use. The book is well worth reading, though, because Crilley has many real-life examples, and the book is full of ideas on how to engineer great publicity. Check it out!