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News service uses SEO for clients' press releases

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PR Newswire Association, a news distribution service, is always looking to differentiate itself from the competition and add elements to its distribution services. At the same time, the company, which relies heavily on repeat customers and volume to generate revenue, is always looking for incremental revenue.

“Our price point per transaction is not huge,” said Sarah Skerik, VP-distribution services for PR Newswire. “We’re not selling multimillion-dollar software packages. We make our money a few hundred dollars at a time.” She added: “There are a finite number of companies in the world that have news releases to issue, and we need to continue to grow our business by hanging onto our current customers and acquiring new ones.”

A few years ago, the company enlisted iCrossing, a search engine marketing agency, to develop search engine optimization for its customers’ press releases. With so much content—PR Newswire typically posts more than 1,000 press releases daily for a variety of industries—the site was ripe for SEO.

“The one thing a lot of companies don’t have is content,” Skerik said. “When you look at SEO, a Web site that has a lot of content is easy to optimize. It’s really good fodder.”

“Our Web site exists largely to connect readers with our customers’ messages,” Skerik said. “It’s not like a traditional Web site where you are promoting solely your brand and your product. A traditional SEO option for us was not going to fit the bill.”

“Normally when you optimize a Web site,” she said, “the whole goal is to make that site visible for and relevant for some specific keywords. Those might be your company name, and product name and relevant words regarding your industry. Therein lies the difference.

Of course our Web site has a marketing function for PR Newswire, but it’s also a delivery platform. People who come to our site are interested in our customers’ news. That’s what complicated SEO. You want to make the individual press release more visible to the universe of people who are interested in it.”

In the end, iCrossing created an optimized Web site, taking news feeds from PR Newswire and rendering them into optimized, searchable content. In addition, iCrossing provided analytics for PR Newswire and its clients to monitor ROI.

“The age-old problem for PR is, ‘How do your measure the return on investment?’ “ Skerik said. “What this does is it enables us to offer some solid measurement.”

ICrossing developed extensive reporting so that PR Newswire could analyze specific data, such as the list of keywords that drove the most click-throughs for a given client, as well as giving customers access to the data.

“All of iCrossing’s analytics sits on the back end of the optimized Web site they host for us,” Skerik said. “They capture all the activity and they measure it; and they’ve built an interface that plugs into our customer portal so we can make the SEO reports available with all the other reports we provide for our customers.”

The latest wrinkle in its SEO efforts on behalf of clients has been on the mobile search front. Last June, PR Newswire began beta testing mobile SEO. That went live in the fall; so when a customer’s press release is optimized, it is also optimized by PR Newswire for mobile—which gives clients’ releases a leg up.

“If you search Google or Yahoo on a mobile device, in the results they return to you, they will give preference to documents that are formatted for mobile devices,” Skerik said. In terms of mobile SEO, results have been impressive. She said some releases have exhibited hundreds of mobile accesses. “When I got the first report, I was pleasantly surprised by the number the mobile application was generating,” Skerik added.

Results of PR Newswire’s SEO strategy have been good as well. Last year, the news service optimized more than 76,000 press releases on behalf of clients. That’s up from 70,000 in 2005.

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