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Bowling for Business: The Sky’s the Limit

How to get your company in the news.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 1, 2010, in the Press Enterprise on August 7, 2010 and in the Business Press on August 16, 2010.

The first time I saw my photograph in a newspaper, I was mortified. I was eight years old. My brownie troop produced a float for the Christmas parade in Englewood, Colorado. And after dutifully decorating for weeks, I was chosen to ride on top of the float instead of walking next to it.

To prepare me for the cold three-mile route, my mother insisted I cover my beautiful fairy princess costume with a humongous white down coat and a giant furry hat. When a picture of the event landed on the front page of The Denver Post, I looked like a tiny Russian immigrant who had been swallowed by the Michelin Man.

So it’s somewhat ironic I would enter the field of public relations, which is all about generating media coverage. In the early days as an intern, I wrote press releases in long hand, using felt tip pens on yellow legal pads. Once the copy was approved, I submitted it to the office secretary, who would type the document to be mailed to media outlets.

Since press releases were directed to newspaper staffers, the only way to successfully solicit exposure was to curry favor with members of the media. In the glory days of the newspaper, editors had the luxury of tossing aside submissions that failed to follow the right formula. Releases had to be written using an Inverted Pyramid and Five Ws. At the time, the most a media relations’ manager could hope for was to catch the attention of an editor, who would assign the story to a reporter. By the time any given story made it to print, creative control was lost.

To the dismay of the newspaper industry, times have changed. The Internet has effectively stripped publishers and editors of their roles as gatekeepers and given it directly to anyone with a word processing program and access to the Internet. That’s good news if you are a business owner or nonprofit director who has a product or service to promote. Instead of laboriously searching for a newsworthy angle to pitch, you can write and publish just about anything you want. Here’s how:

For Free—

To create a Social Media Press Release, start by setting up a free account with an online distribution service such as PR Log, PR.com or Free Press Release.com. Requirements vary depending on the service you use. But, generally, here is what your press release should include:

  1. Headline—interesting, relevant information to attract your target market. Grab their interest with the headline and deliver what you promise in the body of the release.
  2. Subheading—further details relating to the headline
  3. Summary—press release contents in short order. This can be written in narrative form or broken up into bullet points.
  4. Body—the meat of your release. Here is where you can use the Inverted Pyramid and Five Ws if you are a traditionalist. But even if you opt for a more conversational style, make sure all essential information appears in this section.
  5. Multimedia Links—directs Internet traffic to photos and videos. The surefire way to generate lots of interest is to attach a video link. If you don’t yet feel comfortable creating media of this type on your own, point visitors to one of the millions of videos already available on YouTube.
  6. Relevant Hyperlinks—Internet links that relate to your article. Include your company’s website, social media accounts and other relevant information.
  7. Tags—often neglected, this step is probably the most important for generating traffic to your release. Whereas old school press releases were written for editors, social media releases should be directed to end users.

On a Limited Budget—

If the above list overwhelms you and your budget will allow, hire a professional writer. Most freelancers charge between $35 and $125 per hour. But bear in mind that, at this price point, distribution will fall to you.

Full-service social media release agencies are pricey but effective. So, if you can swing about $500 per release, use a service like PR Newswire, Business Wire or Marketwire. These companies produce, distribute and store social media press releases. But since they specialize in making anything and everything buzz worthy, be prepared to see your image splashed across the Internet…whether you like it or not.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

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Bowling for Business: SEO—The Bot Stops Here

SEO: So easy, even a baby could do it!

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 15, 2010

When our daughters were young, we made sure our home was childproof. We plugged the outlets with plastic covers, latched cabinets and bundled electrical cords. We placed a menacing plastic gate at the top of the stairs which pinched our fingers when we opened it and tripped us when we tried to step over it.

As the girls grew, baby-proofing became less necessary. Seventeen-year-old Lauren hardly ever tries to lick the outlets. Thirteen-year-old Kaitlin no longer lives to pull pots & pans out of cupboards so she can play with them on the kitchen floor. And 20-year-old Brianna is busy baby-proofing her own house for our 10-month-old granddaughter, Avery.

When they visit, I realize that our home is no longer child safe. An expert crawler, Avery heads straight for full trash cans, fireplace tools and dog toys. So I spend a lot of time trying to redirect traffic. I dissuade her from sucking on splintery kindling, heavy ceramic coasters and prickly decorative pine cones by making it easy for her to find more suitable targets. In other words, I optimize my granddaughter’s search.

We do a similar thing for clients of Mountain Marketing Group. By optimizing their websites, we help dictate Internet traffic patterns.

Wikipedia defines Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines via “natural” or unpaid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results as opposed to search engine marketing (SEM) which deals with paid inclusion. Typically, the earlier (or higher) a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine.

In other words, if you want potential customers or donors to spend time on your website, you need to make it easy for them to find it. The best way to do this is to find a way to get your site to return top results in the top three search engines, Google, Yahoo and Bing. Internet Bots, also known as Web Crawlers or Spiders (A frustrated science fiction writer must have coined these terms), continuously monitor Internet content to match it with search entries. Several SEO strategies can help land you at the top of the list.

For Free—

If you want to boost traffic to your website, make sure you include plenty of backlinks, which are inbound links coming from other relevant websites back to your own. Early on, link farmers artificially drove search engine traffic by creating worthless links to unrelated sites. Since Internet robots now recognize, disqualify and even ban sites that link like this, the best way to create legitimate backlinks is to:

  • List your website on Free Directories, like the one available on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net.
  • Comment on Forums and Blogs. But shy away from software that generates links. Google is very much aware of spamming techniques like these. If they catch you using them, you run the risk of being de-indexed.
  • Provide RSS Feeds to websites that interest you. (When your RSS feed gets published by the other site, you will get a legitimate inbound link to your site.)

On a Limited Budget—

One cost-effective way to improve SEO is to use keyword research tools to discover untapped market niches, get inspiration for new products and create compelling content that distinguishes your site from the pack. Once you find out what your target market is looking for, be sure to include it on your website…not just in tags, to get traffic to your site, but in rich, valuable content.

This might sound like common sense, but you might be surprised at the search engine tactics some desperate people try. If your product is lemonade, don’t add “USA Women’s Hockey,” to your website even if it is the hottest Google search term (as of 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 14, 2010). Deliver what your keywords promise.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Keep the content fresh. If the information on your site is stagnant, you will return lower results than if you change the copy and images on a regular basis.

The easiest way to do this is to hire someone to build a customized Content Management System (CMS) website, which is simple to add to, edit and manage. Keeping content dynamic using a CMS site without HTML knowledge is straightforward because CMS sites convert HTML programming code into WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), which may not be easy enough for a baby to configure. But, take it from me. If a doting grandmother can handle it, so could you.

Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.