SEO PR – missing the target?

The final panel at the recent PRSA T3 conference was about Search Engine Optimization, specifically SEO for press releases. It was a good panel, and I like SEO. I don’t see why you would produce content and not want people to find it easily.

But I think, somewhere along the line, some folks have missed the point. We were offered a case study of a firm which had been asked to promote a news story for a publication. It produced a press release highlighting the fact that this particular publication had broken the story, and associating the two. Excellent tips were offered about how to improve the ranking of content in search engines. But the end result was that the press release ranked higher than the publication’s story itself. In fact, it took positions one and two in the organic rankings with the publication, and really the topic of the announcement, coming in third.

Full marks for SEO skills, but doesn’t this rather defeat the objective? The release was meant to draw attention to the story, not replace it. A press release is a vehicle for the media (and some might argue not a particularly good one for that). What it’s not good for is end-users, consumers, prospects or customers. The promotional marketing toolkit has lots of better vehicles for those audiences.

I asked a few people after the session what they thought. Everyone said you want people to find your content online. Agreed. No-one said they’d ever bought anything based on finding a press release. Everyone agreed a PR team should know which media might be interested in a press release, and that they should be approached directly. No-one felt that media would spend much time reading releases they’d stumbled across on the web. Everyone agreed that if you were going to choose content to SEO, a blog post, or areas of the company’s website might be better. Several thought that despite that, I’m wrong and resisting the inevitable.

I like SEO. I think it makes sense and appreciate the delicate art of matching word selection, order and repetition to make content rank as highly as possible. But am I alone in thinking the humble press release is a direct vehicle for a specific audience (namely the media)?