Monday, December 29, 2008

Make Your Website Reporter Friendly

Welcome back! We hope everyone had a relaxing holiday last week. I know its tough to get motivated to get back to work, but if you are anything like me you like to start the New Year with debts paid, goals established, employees motivated and websites optimized to the hilt for lots of new year business.

With that in mind, today we talk about optimizing your website for not just search engines, but reporters. Today's post is courtesy of an expert on this subject, communicator extraordinare Charles Pizzo of Ragan

Some 10 years into the Internet revolution, you'd think companies would have their acts together when it comes to creating great online pressrooms. But according to Charles Pizzo, a communications counselor who's a close watcher of Web press rooms, plenty of them still stink.

"PR people design press rooms for their bosses, and not for the media,'" says Pizzo. "They're beholden to marketing departments, who are making them post voluminous piles of information." Pressrooms are often dumping grounds for marketing material that journalists don't really need—and don't have enough of the brief, easy-to-scan info that reporters want.

"Journalists need fact sheets with bullet points, and they don't want to have to scroll down the page to find what they're looking for," Pizzo says. Herewith, Pizzo's suggestions on reporters' loves and hates when it comes to online pressrooms.

What reporters hate

Poor organization: Pizzo says the online pressroom for Entergy is a great example of organization. Press releases are organized by year, with press releases going back only a few years on the same screen. "Old releases should be archived," Pizzo says.

Too many PDF files: Some organizations post press materials as PDF documents, which need to be opened using the Adobe Acrobat plug-in. "They'll do this because they're control freaks, and they want their logos and the text to appear just so," Pizzo says. "In some newsrooms, reporters can't launch plug-ins, so they'd have to download the PDF, and open it elsewhere. Do you really think that if they're on deadline that they'll take the time to do that?"

What reporters love

One-click access: Too many Web sites force reporters to guess where the pressroom is hiding, Pizzo says: Is it in the "About" section? "Company"? Make sure there's a direct link off of your company's home page.

News on the home page: Pizzo likes Bell Canada Enterprises' Web site, which has news releases right on the home page. "When you do that, not only are you serving your media audience, but you're serving investors as well," Pizzo says.

After-hours contacts: Sure, no PR person really wants to post her cell phone number to a public Web site, but some sort of after-work contact info is essential, Pizzo says: "News cycles are 24/7." One option is to do as the Federal Aviation Administration does, and post an after-hours administrative number, which will connect an on-deadline reporter to the right PR person if necessary.

Useful search functions: Sure, you post press releases, but are they searchable? "They have to be, because reporters work by beats," Pizzo says. At the very least, allow them to be organized by subject matter: "Lists are out, and categorization is in." He likes the way Texas Instruments allows visitors to do full-text searches on releases.

Fact sheets: Where have the bulleted, easy-to-read facts sheets gone? Pizzo says they're a rare find in pressrooms, and that's too bad, because they're a brilliant tool for time-pressed journalists.

Newsletter formats: Too many pressrooms are set up to look like lists. Pizzo likes the varied newsletter-like design of Visteon's Web newsroom, which presents visiting journalists with all sorts of useful tools: press kits, events, media contacts and executive head shots.

Printer-friendly: It's a small touch, but one many Web sites neglect, Pizzo says. Do you offer pressroom visitors a printer-friendly option, or do you force them to print out extra pages and waste ink?

Executive speeches and articles: "Reporters don't want stale quotes from your press releases. They want to find something on their own from a speech—something that hasn't been used by everyone else," he explains.

FAQs: "If your PR staff if answering the same questions from reporters more than a few times a month, put them into an FAQ," Pizzo advises. And if the questions involve simple factual information, like how many employees you have, make up a fact sheet.

Downloadable logos: Not enough Web press rooms offer these, Pizzo says, which makes no sense. "I think companies are afraid someone's going to use their logo on stationery or something. But reporters will just end up taking the logo off the home page if they need it." You're better off providing high-resolution versions.

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