Launching a new product? Opening a new branch or office? Headlining an event? Just won an industry award? Take advantage of the fact that you’re making news – go write a press release.

Not only does this classic PR strategy earn you an opportunity to gain free publicity (so you won’t have to pay $15,000 for advertising placements); a press release also allows you to reach a wide audience through the media. You get to keep the brand fresh in their minds, and you’re able to enhance the visibility of your business, too. A press release is your opportunity to get a message through – without having to use hard-sell techniques, sales pitches, and marketing buzzwords.

These days, it’s a best practice to optimize your press release for the Web. Why? Well, there are a bunch of reasons why – like reaching potential customers who don’t necessarily keep an eye out for items in traditional news media (newspapers, radio, TV), like earning links that help you perform better in search, like getting even more free publicity. In this case, it’s an “everybody release”, because bearers of your news won’t be limited to just the press. Online, everyone – anyone – can spread the word.

What should your optimized-for-online press release have? Here’s a list:

  • Something newsworthy. Your article won’t be picked up by online news media if it doesn’t contain relevant, newsworthy information. It’s not these guys’ jobs to be interested in your service or product catalog; what they’re looking for is a story that their readers will find to be of interest and use.
  • Straightforward facts. When writing your press release, be cautious of the temptation of making it sound too awesome. Don’t exaggerate. Stick to the facts of the story. Otherwise, you’ll automatically lose your credibility to the online news media. Your press release should be factual, brief, and straight to the point, and it should answer the 5 Ws that traditional press practitioners have been taught to ask – when, what, where, who, and why.
  • Non-technical language. A press release littered with bits of industry jargon won’t sound too appealing to traditional news media – less so for online. So use language that lets the story speak for itself. Also, never write your press release in a first-person perspective. Choose third-person, and use words like “I”, “we”, and “you” only if you’re directly quoting a person.

  • Keywords. Avoiding jargon, of course, doesn’t mean leaving out the keywords. Consult online applications like the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to find out which search terms and phrases will help your press release rank better in search engines. Then apply these terms to your story, including your headline, but not so liberally that your story suddenly looks “spammy”.

  • Pictures, relevant links, and videos. Link it or it didn’t happen. Or at least attach photos or videos. The Internet has shifted to bring the richest, most interactive experience of reading and sharing information. So, if you want your press release to be picked up by online news wires and be read in full by readers, it might do you well to take advantage of rich multimedia content (which isn’t really possible in, say, a newspaper). Links, pictures, and videos also make it easy for people to discuss, link to, comment on, and share your press release through their blogs and social networks.

  • Subheadings and a subtitle. Again, the goal is to optimize your press release in a way that makes it easy for human readers and search engine robots to read. Not only do subheadings, subtitles, bullets, and numbering help increase the “scanability” of your story; they also cater to the casual readers online who don’t have as long an attention span as those who read newspapers.

  • Contact information. Provide ways for you to be reached by online news media and their readers. Essential information include: company name, contact person, E-mail, phone number, website URL, and blog. Feel free to throw in your official social media information, too, like your Twitter account and Facebook page.
  • A media list for distribution. The task of working on a press release doesn’t stop at writing it. Pay equal attention to where you distribute your story, too. If you’re looking at online news media for the first time, create a list or a spreadsheet of the online journalists and media sites you’re going to be distributing your story to – it saves the hassle of doing it over and over. Make sure you also send your optimized press release to news wires and distribution services such as Business Wire, PR Web, PR Newswire, and Marketwire, among many others.