Writing press releases for the Web: make it clear, keep it brief

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Last week at SES Chicago, a search marketing trade show, Tim Ash had a group of about 30 people crowded around him, shouting out the URLs for their Web sites. He was holding a site clinic,
Dozens of fans line up to have their copy of Tim Ash's Landing Page Optimization signed by the author

Dozens of fans line up to have their copy of Tim Ash's book Landing Page Optimization signed by the author

critiquing Web pages that encouraged people buy spice racks, sign up for classes, join churches and so on. Tim, the president of SiteTuners, a landing-page optimization consulting firm, is a soft-spoken guy. But in his criticisms, he held nothing back. “I just came here by clicking on an ad, what do I need to know? I don’t even know what this is,” he told one webmaster. “Too much text here, keep it short,” he told another. “Oh, don’t have those annoying avatar people walking across the page.”
In the end, most of Tim’s advice boiled down to this: make it clear, and keep it brief. That’s exactly what PR professionals are trying to do as we adjust to a world in which the press releases we write are available directly to consumers as never before. News sites are archiving our releases, forever to be searchable for everyone, and the new content producers of the blogosphere are demanding information in plain English.

Ash signs of copies of his book at the Search Engine Show in Chicago

Ash signs copies of his book at SES in Chicago

All of this helps explain the rise of the social media release, pioneered by social media PR masters Todd Defren and Brian Solis. The tenets of writing a social media release are simple: use language that consumers can understand, and provide relevant links and multimedia content. Make it easy for people to link to and discuss your content on their blogs and in social networks. Sounds simple enough…the part about links, photos and video, anyway. Brevity and clarity can be harder to achieve.

For someone on the cutting edge of Web design, Tim sounds like an old newshound when he talks about writing. “Always write in inverted pyramid style, try to get the most information in first. Chances are, people aren’t going to look past the first paragraph of what you’re writing anyway. Headline, bullet points, that’s it. Deep, supporting information should be linked elsewhere,” he says.

As for photos and video, think about whether the medium distracts from the message. “I’m not a big fan of gratuitous multimedia,” Tim says. “Is this absolutely the best way to convey the information? If the multimedia experience isn’t much more effective than what could be accomplished with text or simple graphics, it should be removed.”

Tim is the author of Landing Page Optimization, a new book on designing the pages where Web users land after clicking an online ad.

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