Ever respond to one of those pizza flyers hanging on your doorknob? They’re an effective marketing tool utilized by the major pizza chains as well as local restaurants. Of course, the business of printing those flyers is extremely competitive and price-driven. So when the printing company Print And Deliver wanted to stand out and gain bigger clients, they turned to online press releases. The press release itself has been around more than a hundred years. It’s a major tool that companies of all sizes have used to share their messaging with the media. And now with the Internet becoming a major marketing vehicle to reach multiple audiences, the press release has evolved and considerably broadened its reach and relevance as a tool for communicating directly with target audiences. Naturally, media coverage is still desirable. We just don’t need to rely solely on actual media exposure for an online release’s overall success. It’s also true that even when no initial media coverage occurs, a properly optimized online press release shows up in search engines, often found via online searches weeks, months, even years after it first appeared. In fact, Print And Deliver continues to get leads from a press release it ran over a year ago. A search on Yahoo! for the keyword phrase “Pizza Flyers” shows that two of Print And Deliver’s online press releases are in the top ten rankings and on the first page of more than 1,200,000 listings. So what is an online press release exactly? Online press releases are similar to traditional media releases. The traditional media release followed a fairly strict formula, with a goal to prompt the traditional media—newspapers, magazines, radio and television—to include the company issuing the press release in a news story, thus earning free exposure and publicity for the company. Online release can be successful even without traditional media coverage. In the old days, zero media exposure equaled zero results. The media, with its role as a gatekeeper to the public, essentially controlled the dialogue. Online press releases still fulfill this role as “bait” for the traditional media, but there are important distinctions: 1. Reach your clients, customers, and prospects directly. You can submit press releases to websites that will publish them locally, regionally, nationally, even internationally. 2. Online releases accelerate your online visibility. When your release appears on other websites via online distribution, it generates links back to your web site. Besides the initial traffic boost, the more backlinks, the better the search engines will rank your web site. 3. Greater staying power. It’s not uncommon for the media, prospects, and influencers to discover your press release way after it originally appeared. 4. Reach a larger audience. You can submit an online press release once and reach hundreds, even thousands, of media outlets and online news sources, including major search engines like Google and Yahoo. 5. Get there faster. In as little as 48 hours, your online press release can appear on hundreds, even thousands of other websites. Online press releases can be submitted via a number of online service providers, including PRWeb.com and PRnewswire.com. How well a release performs is determined by many factors, including the power of the story as well as Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Online Thought Leadership As online credibility takes on additional importance for all businesses, online press releases can help to position your business as a thought leader by appearing on respected websites. Moreover, you can earn credibility though association. It’s not uncommon for online press releases to appear in search results surrounded by media outlets like CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post. People now use search engines to validate a particular company’s online reputation. Online press releases help you build additional exposure that often shows up in online searches. A properly optimized online press release can expect significant exposure in news search engines like Google News and Yahoo News, as well as greater longevity in the regular search engines, resulting in a consistent stream of traffic and visitors, and heightened exposure.In Print And Deliver’s case, the company secured two large clients that nearly doubled their overall pizza flyer printing revenues. An Online Press Release Blueprint for Success It’s important to realize that even with the many search engine and social media benefits of online press releases, the “story” still plays a key role in the overall success of any release. That’s why you need a combination of a good story with online tactics that make your press release “search engine-friendly.” So what are some insider tips that can help your press release come out on top? I’ve identified four critical areas. Step #1: The Story Is Still King Sure, facts are important. But without a story, a hook, or an interesting angle, the press release won’t achieve much impact. If you don’t think you have news, manufacture some. Research Google News and use a current event as a jumping-off point. My system has identified over 16 different personas that can be utilized. Another story angle: look at the role you or your company can play in the industry landscape. One of my favorite angles, especially for those who want to wage a guerrilla PR campaign, is this: The Underdog. Step #2: Writing and Optimizing the Release A good release can be created in about 450-500 words. When you write the release, make sure you put your keyword phrase in the headline, the first and last paragraphs, and once or twice in the body. What’s a keyword phrase? It’s what someone would type into the search box to find you or your company. There are plenty of good keyword research tools, including the free one from Google. Optimizing a release can be done with keywords in specific areas of the release. You can even turn these keywords into actual links if you use certain providers like PRWeb. An overlooked part of optimization is including the link to your website. Most press releases have the link at the end; I recommend mentioning the link two or three times in the press release. Step #3: Press Release Distribution without The Frustration Some providers perform better with the SEO and Web 2.0 aspects of an online press release. And while some service providers are no- cost, results are always better when you use paid services like PRWeb.com, PRnewswire.com and others. It’s important to have a campaign mindset with your press release distribution. Say you have a launch of a new product or service. You could do a pre-launch release as a teaser, another release for the actual launch, and then a post-launch release with proof that your product/service generated results. Step #4: Testing, Tracking and Conversion Online press releases can be tested and measured to provide metrics that help you refine and target your message. What do you test? Headlines, keywords, wire service providers, and number of days you send out the release. Tracking will reveal how much traffic your release generates, which keywords yield the best search rankings, and how much money to invest in the distribution. Online press releases work best combined with a conversion strategy that gets website visitors to take action, such as downloading a white paper or media kit. A Few Simple Next Steps First, sign up for Google Alerts at http://www.google.com/alerts. This is a free tracking service where you can monitor your company, your name, your keywords, and even your competition. You get an all-in-one email summary of relevant stories pertinent to the keywords. Second, visit PRWeb.com and review the releases on the home page. You can search for releases relevant to your industry and see what’s possible visually by clicking on the headline link of the release. Third, you can follow the tips in my special report mentioned below. Overall, online press releases are a proven method to generate leads and reach influencers quickly and affordably. And as Print And Deliver discovered, leads can be generated weeks, even months after the release appears. So make sure your release has content that can stand the test of time. Marc Harty is the CEO of MainTopic Media, Inc., and the creator of the PR Traffic System, a proven, step-by-step Web PR training program. Marc speaks regularly on Web PR, Headline Writing and Social Marketing. To learn more and receive “The 7 Sins of Web PR and How To Avoid Them,” Special Report, visit his web site.