Marketers know that slight tweaks to their web pages can deliver astonishing “lift” in the results those pages generate. Moving a button to a different spot on the page and reducing the amount of text and other visual clutter increases the likelihood that page visitors will take the desired action, clicking on the primary call to action on the page. This is called ‘landing page optimization,’ and it’s an increasingly important field of digital marketing.
The press releases we issue become landing pages of a sort when they hit the wire and are distributed online. They are hosted on thousands of web sites, and are the digital ambassadors for our brands, conveying messaging, branding, visuals and – importantly – links directly back to our web sites.
New press release outcomes
As a result, many organizations are using releases to generate more than media coverage. Driving social interactions that lead to improved search engine results is one potent new outcome for which brands are using the distribution of content. Promoting content – such as blog posts and white papers – is something else we’re seeing more brands do with online news releases. Generating leads and direct sales (such as app downloads and event registrations) is a third use of news releases we’re increasingly seeing.
Formatting press releases to encourage readers to take action
Jakob Neilsen of the Neilsen Norman Group is the grandfather of online user experinece (“UX”) research, and has devoted considerable time to researching how people read content online. His conclusion – people don’t actually read content online the same way they read long-form print. Instead of methodically reading each line, online readers scan content, using an F shaped pattern, spending more time at the top of the page, and then scanning the left side.
PR pros penning press releases can utilize this research to create more effective content. When formatting news releases and other content destined to be distributed online, writers should pay attention to the following tips, taken straight from Neilsen himself in the article titled, “F Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content:”
“The F pattern’s implications for Web design are clear and show the importance of following the guidelines for writing for the Web instead of repurposing print content:
- Users won’t read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner. Exhaustive reading is rare, especially when prospective customers are conducting their initial research to compile a shortlist of vendors. Yes, some people will read more, but most won’t.
- The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. There’s some hope that users will actually read this material, though they’ll probably read more of the first paragraph than the second.
- Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior. They’ll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words.”
It’s no surprise that the inverted pyramid of news writing and search engine optimization best practices also offer similar advice in terms of placing key information at the top of the page and using bullets and bold text to highlight information for readers. Many press release writers, however, ignore this advice, instead loading lead paragraphs with long-winded boilerplate and hiding key messages deep within blocks of text.
I think it’s time to put our messages under the microscope. We need to tune our press releases for our readers, not allowing competing egos or “the way we’ve always done it,” to add barriers to message effectiveness.