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Small Business Websites That Work newsletter, April 2003

Making the headlines

Sean McManus explains how to promote your site through press coverage in magazines and newspapers

In February 2003 I launched Wild Mood Swings, a site where you tell it how you feel and it takes you off to a site to fit that mood.

The week after its launch, the website was 'site of the day' in the UK's Daily Mirror national newspaper and got a quarter of a page of coverage in Web User magazine. I got emails from lots of people who had seen it in these publications telling me they enjoyed it and got quite a few people linking to my site after reading about it. The best thing was that I was reaching out to people who could not possibly have known my site was out there to go looking for. Search engines aren't a great way to generate traffic for something gimmicky like this because people don't think to go looking for it.

Wouldn't it be great if newspapers and magazines would write about your website? It might happen if you write a press release to tell them about it.

Here are some tips:

  • Make sure you have something to offer. Websites that are just selling things or promoting services don't offer much of interest to tell readers about. But how about offering free downloads of manuals or software, or on-screen buying guides for technical equipment? What about providing some games or creating an extensive directory? Think about what your potential visitors go looking for and what you can put on your website to set you apart from your competitors. (There's more advice on creating content for your website in chapter 2 of 'Small Business Websites That Work').
  • Editors have to filter out a lot of junk. Make it easy for them to see why they should write about your site by prioritising the benefits to their readers of visiting your site. If you can't write a captivating headline, it's going to be harder to promote your site on the web too. Often you only have a few words of link text or a short description in a search engine listing to convince someone to visit your site.
  • Publications want news so prioritise what's fresh. Tie in a press release with your site launch, or the opening of a new section or a new service.
  • Include quotes. Try to have something interesting to say about why you made the site, what you hope it will become and what you hope people will get out of it. Magazines like it to look like they've interviewed you and good quotes help. Include your name and make it clear why you're qualified to comment (eg, you built the site, you commissioned it, you're the manager of the company that owns it).
  • Don't waffle. If you don't have much to say, keep it short.
  • Just the facts. Don't waste your time and the journalist's time by hyping your site. Use figures where you have them eg, the site features more than 185 pages, the site recognises more than 80 moods. Here's an article about the kinds of things journalists filter out as hype.
  • Remind editors to include your website address so readers can find your site more easily.
  • You can include background information in a section called 'Notes for editors' at the end of the press release.
  • Provide contact information so journalists can easily ask follow-up questions
  • Provide a picture. Make it easy to download a screenshot or provide a shot of your products if that's appropriate.
  • Date your press release.

Then, where to send it? Well, the best thing is to start compiling a list as early as possible and long before you'll need it. While you're still building the site or planning your promotion campaign, cut out contact details from magazines or newspapers that are relevant to what you do. Consider the local newspaper and trade press if appropriate. But don't waste time sending your press release to magazines that don't cater for your audience.

It's okay to send the press release by email (many editors prefer it because they can cut and paste your words into their story where appropriate). You could even try personalising your emails automatically by mail merging from your database to include their name and their publication's name.

Over the years I've had various websites featured in national newspapers and a whole range of music and computer magazines. The coverage tends to bring in a short burst of visitors and not the kind of quantity that you might expect from a major search engine. But it does bring in passionate people who already like the idea of what you do before they visit your site and they do tend to join in more by emailing feedback, setting up links and potentially buying your goods.

Press coverage isn't guaranteed. If you need certainty, buy an advert. But journalists are looking for good stories and your website launch might just qualify.


© Sean McManus. All rights reserved.

Visit www.sean.co.uk for free chapters from Sean's coding books (including Mission Python, Scratch Programming in Easy Steps and Coder Academy) and more!

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