by David Weir
There was a time, not so long ago, that the last place I’d go to find news was a corporate press release.
Not any more. The line between a press release and breaking news has blurred in this era of SEO, SEM and Web 2.0. In order to try and understand this development better, I spoke today with Laura Sturaitis, SVP, Media Services & Strategy at Business Wire.
“I tell my clients they have to write for robots, as well as for people,” says Sturaitis. “Robots, spiders, crawlers, RSS feeds — these are the ways a company’s news is going to get out.”
Business Wire, which was founded by Lorry I. Lokey* in 1961, and bought by Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway) in 2006, was the first such service to launch a website (in 1995). Later, along with everybody else, its engineers added metatags and other search-engine-friendly coding — stuff Sturaitis likes to call the “magic pixie dust.”
But optimization alone didn’t do the trick. Straitis says she’s traveled the country giving presentations to clients that sound strangely familiar to an old journalism professor. “They’ve got to see the press release in a new way,” she argues. “It matters how it is written. There are three primary factors: recency, relevancy, and authority.
“You’ve got to write good, sharp headlines and don’t make them too long. Anything over 60 characters will be truncated by Google and the other search engines. To robots this is a page of content like any other and you’ll score extra points for using boldface, italics, bullet points, and links.
“We try to help them create little portal pages, with graphics and logos, all of which will be disassembled on the web. The images may go into Google Images, the video to YouTube, the headlines into numerous RSS feeds.
“Show, don’t tell! Two and a half times as many people will click on a story with an image or an icon like a logo,” she notes.
Business Wire’s strategy seems to be working, with its volume up to over 1,000 items a day, some of which make it to the top of search engines and aggregators. Last month on tech aggregator Techmeme, for example, AOL’s announcement that it was acquiring the social media network Bebo was the top news item, followed by all the journalistic articles analyzing and reporting on the deal.
One other innovation is EON. (Enhanced Online News). Search engines typically remove press releases after 28 days, but EON archives everything for perpetuity. So it’s every copy writer’s dream — their words living on in digital eternity.
*Disclosure: Now in his 80s, Lokey is not only a successful businessman, but a major philanthropist, and one of the few who contributes toward journalism education. I was a Lokey Visiting Professor in Journalism at Stanford for three years (2002-5), though I have never met Mr. Lokey personally.