SEO: Storytelling Equals Opportunity

Flickr Creative Commons photo, courtesy of

Flickr Creative Commons photo, courtesy of

Once upon a time, the Internet gave birth to something called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. 

As its name suggests, SEO was cold and calculating.

It was also quite imperfect — and easy to manipulate.

Robots and ‘content farms’ gamed the system by cranking out keyword-riddled clickbait and unreadable copy.

Often, the most useful — and best — content was buried in search results, left behind by computer-generated garbage.

But then Google — the Dr. Frankenstein in this story — decided to try to reign in the monster it had inadvertently created.

Google took a good hard look at what had happened with SEO and vowed to make big changes

It placed increased value on well-crafted stories aimed at helping people solve problems, learn new things, or be inspired to action. 

Instead of putting too much value on the almighty keyword, Google aimed to reward humans beings writing real human thoughts and sharing real human emotions.

There is still much work to be done, and certainly new challenges await, but SEO has started to become real.

To honor this ongoing transformation, when you’re thinking about your content through the lens of SEO, I challenge you to think about it not only as Search Engine Optimization.

Think about it under a new rubric: Storytelling Equals Opportunity.

Instead of keyword density, focus on finding good stories and telling them well.

Certainly, pay attention to technical fundamentals of sound SEO.

Yet, ultimately, you’ll be rewarded if you get to know your audiences better and then execute on a thoughtful content strategy that focuses on telling stories that connect with those who matter most.

Press Release Makeovers: 10 Steps to a Stronger, Firmer Pitch

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jeff Eaton

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jeff Eaton

In a world where news reporters are bombarded with news releases, it doesn’t take much for otherwise interesting pitches to get thrown carelessly into the ‘no’ pile.

If you want to improve your chances of getting your story covered, you have to do whatever it takes to capture the imagination of reporters and editors.

You need to be sharp and direct — and you need to be willing to stand out.

How do you do that?

I begins by avoiding these 10 common mistakes:

Mistake 1: Flat Headlines

Your headline is your first impression -- and the headline for each release should tell the reporter immediately why what you're pitching is important to his or her audience. 

Often, news release headlines are long and dry, like a college textbook, when they should be short and pack a punch, like a movie poster. 

Resist the urge to tell your entire story in the headline and devote some time to crafting a headline that aims to grab the attention of your reader.

Your primary goal for the headline is to get the reporter or editor to keep reading, not to convey every key piece of information.

Hook 'em with the headline and save the details for the release.

Mistake 2: A Long, Repetitive Lead

Like your headline, the lead of your release is a crucial ingredient in grabbing a reporter's attention. Many news releases fail to hit the mark because the lead is either way too long or repeats (sometimes verbatim) the headline.

Try to avoid both of these mistakes by writing a short, direct lead that focuses on why what you're announcing is important and does so in a way that doesn't mirror the wording in your headline. Use your next paragraph to fill in any key facts.

Mistake 3: An Overly Manufactured Quote

Most of the quotes I see in press releases read more like boilerplate than an actual quote.

Your quote isn't just there to fill space. Ideally, it should give the reporter a ready-made quote that he or she can include in a story if time is short or if they are unable to interview that official.

Check out more advice on how to stand out from your peers and inject thoughtful quotes into your releases.

Mistake 4: Massive Paragraphs

Long, multi-sentence paragraphs work well in books and term papers.

But they don't work in news releases.

Long blocks of type are hard to read online, which is why you'll notice that most news stories you read have one- or two-sentence paragraphs.

There's a simple fix for this: your return key.

If you see long blocks of type in your draft, find some places where you can break your existing paragraphs into smaller chunks and hit "return".

Your reader will thank you -- and he or she will be less likely to lose interest.

Mistake 5: Too Much Information

A reporter who decides to cover your announcement isn't likely to create a multi-part series about your new initiative. With that in mind, you don't need your release to include every detail about what you're announcing.

Instead, focus on the most important stuff and leave the rest on the cutting room floor.

If reporters are interested, they'll reach out to get additional information and conduct interviews. That is, after all, what they're paid to do.

Aim to keep it short -- no more than two pages, if possible. If you can keep it to one page, even better.

Mistake 6: Not Articulating Why Your Release Is Important

How do you keep your releases short and to the point? You start by figuring out why what you're announcing is important and then you focus your release on selling that importance.

This crucial step will help you with everything from finding the right headline, writing a tight lead, and incorporating an impactful quote.

It will also help you determine what details aren't necessary in the final release.

Mistake 7: Sloppy Copy

Your organization loses a lot of credibility if you send a release that isn't properly copy edited. Take the extra time to make sure every word is spelled correctly, every comma and semicolon is in the right place, and every sentence is written crisply.

A well-written release can help you stand out from the crowd. A sloppy one will also stand out -- but for all of the wrong reasons.

Mistake 8: Forgetting to Fact Check

What's worse than a misspelled word? An incorrect fact.

Make sure every fact included in your release has been properly verified and every number adds up.

A good reporter is going to check your facts before he or she files the story. If your statements are false or misleading, things will go south for you quickly.

Mistake 9: Leaving Out Your Contact Information

Back in my reporting days, I was always surprised by how many news releases left out a crucial piece of information: who to contact.

When you send your release, clearly identify who to contact and provide an email address and a telephone number.

If possible, make sure the number you provide is one that is monitored after business hours. Not all reporters work 9 to 5 -- and many of them are filing their stories in the evenings or on weekends.

If they need to check a fact or get more information on deadline, it's crucial for them to be able to reach someone quickly.

Mistake 10: Sending It to the Wrong Person

Of course, all of the advice above won't matter if your release never gets seen.

Before you send, make sure your media list is up to date and that you're sending your release to the appropriate reporter or editor. If possible, avoid sending to a general newsroom email address and instead find a real person.

Taking these steps won't guarantee you a placement. But they will greatly increase your odds.

Before you send your next release, take the time to avoid these pitfalls and your releases will start to get better results.

Perfect Timing! 3 Ways to Add Urgency to Your Media Pitches

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  William Warby

Flickr Creative Commons photo by William Warby

Why now?

If you’re trying to get media coverage, you need to ask that simple question before you hit send on a news release or pick of the phone to pitch a reporter. 

And you better have a good answer. Of all the many considerations when you’re seeking media coverage, timeliness trumps them all. Journalists are news-driven. If what you’re pitching them isn’t timely, well, then it’s really not news. 

Adding to the challenge is that the news cycle continues to compress. Depending on the type of story you’re pitching, its shelf life might be only a day or two. Sometimes, it’s a matter of hours.

If you can infuse your pitch with urgency and timeliness, you have a much better shot at moving a reporter to action.

Here are three simple ways to make sure you’re pitches are well-timed. 

Look ahead: Finding a timely news hook is often pretty easy if you plan ahead. Announcing a new fundraising drive to support Little League in your community is clearly a great fit for Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. Planning ahead can also help you weave a news angle into a less obvious pitch. So, for instance,  if you’re a locally-sourced market, announcing a new line of hot dogs and other meats might also get traction if you make a timely connection to baseball season. 

Prep the press: Yes, busy reporters don’t have spare time to talk about news that hasn’t happened yet…unless it’s a tasty story. If you think your timely pitch has enough appeal to get good coverage – and you’re not revealing confidential information – give a reporter a head’s up so they can do some homework and carve out time to write the story. You can also send an embargoed press release that gives reporters a chance to do some research and get the story framed up prior to publication. (Learn more about how to get the media to cover your event.)

Lead with urgency: Don’t bury the timeliness of your pitch in the third paragraph of a press release. Make sure it’s woven into the headline, or at least in the lead paragraph so a reporter will immediately see the timely hook. Another simple trick – in the subject line open with “Press alert” instead of “Press release.” Changing one word makes a big difference. 

So next time someone in your organization calls for a press release, ask ‘why now?’

If you have a good answer, it’s time to get to work. 

Should You Do An Op-Ed? Answer These Questions First

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Jon S .

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jon S.

Newspapers don’t have the same clout that they used to.

But, in some cases, newspaper placements still wield quite a bit of influence.

This is especially true for op-eds.

In the past, a printed op-ed had a limited reach. Today, a published op-ed can be quickly shared and distributed worldwide.

As a result, getting an op-ed placed in a national outlet — or even a small local paper — can bring a lot of value to organizations that are looking to advocate, raise awareness, or change public opinion.

'It’s no surprise, then, that many communicators still see the op-ed as a powerful tool, especially if thought leadership is a priority for their groups.

And they often devote a lot of time and effort to drafting and attempting to place op-eds on behalf of their organizations’ leaders.

But as someone who has ghostwritten more than my share of op-eds, I can tell you that this is not always an easy process. 

A sharp, well-written op-ed takes time. And there’s no guarantee that the hours (or, in many cases, days) you spend writing your op-ed will pay off with a placement.

So before you decide to try to pen an opinion piece for your top executive or hire an expert ghostwriter to do the job for you, take some time to assess whether an op-ed is the right choice for what you’re looking to accomplish.

There is no set rule for when you should choose to write one, but answering these three questions can help provide clarity:

  1. Is there widespread misunderstanding or lack of awareness about the issue you’re looking to address?

  2. Do you — or does someone in your organization — have a unique perspective or experience that can help make a compelling argument?

  3. Is there an urgent need to change minds or move people to action on your issue?

If the answer is yes to any or all of these, an op-ed is likely worth considering.

Before you take the next step, though,  check out our free e-book, The Op-Ed Option: 5 Simple Steps to Opinion Pieces That Change Minds and Inspire Action.

It’s full of great tips that will help make sure the time and money you invest in your next op-ed is well spent.