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Optimizing Your Online PR Strategy for Search & Social, Part 4a: Crafting the Story p1

When taking your public relations strategy online, there are some similarities to the "traditional" way of doing things, but there are also a lot of differences. Going online opens up a whole new world of opportunities that, if leveraged properly, can make your PR campaign far more successful than the old-school ways of doing things.
So far in this series we've looked at why online readers are different from offline readers, clarified the goals of online PR, and then dived into the background research needed to craft a good story. The following two posts will focus on developing your story in a way to maximize your reach through search and social.

Crafting the Story, Part 1

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Any good writer knows that there is more to a good story than meets the eye. Anybody can throw some words on a page, but it takes a lot of thought and prep work to take a story and turn it into something that is valuable, or succeeds at fulfilling it's intended purpose. Writing online PR content isn't much different than offline PR content. Many of the staples remain the same.
However, because you're dealing with a different audience than you might otherwise have dealt with offline, you have to take the nuances of this new audience into consideration before, during and after crafting your story for consumption. While the tenants of good writing remain, the action of carrying out those tenants can sometimes be very different.

Grab Their Attention

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Getting someone's attention is the first step in getting your proverbial foot in the door. If you have the best piece of content out there but fail to grab the attention of your audience, then you have a fantastic, but unread, piece of content! Getting your content read is more than just having a catchy headline, it's about saying something that really get's people to sit up and take notice.
One of the ways to grab your audience's attention is to use their search phrases throughout your content. When your readers see the keywords they actually searched for in your headline and in your content, it continues to reinforce the idea that this is what they were looking for. When you use words other than what the searcher uses, then you are, in effect, speaking an entirely different language. Some readers may get the correlation, but many will be gone before you can say "Hey, wait, this is what I really mean!"
Attention grabbing headlines are important, but again, keyword usage here is important. A cool headline that isn't keyword focused can often fail at delivering the right traffic. Headlines for online content need to focus more on keywords than on "shock" or entertainment value. Those elements can still be useful, but without keywords, your content will be bypassed altogether.
You also need to make sure the content itself grabs your audience's attention. You can't just throw out a headline that isn't backed up by your content. If your headline get's their attention, the content has to keep it. If the headline entices someone to read your content, make sure your content entices them to keep reading. If your headline makes them sit up and take notice, make sure your content makes them grab a cup of coffee and read every last drop, er, word.

Make it Interesting

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We all know that if we want our content to get read we have to make it worth reading. Nothing new here. But because online readers are so fickle, lack focus and have a short attention span (see part 1), there is a lot more work that has to go into making your content interesting.
As I mentioned above, grabbing your audience's attention goes beyond a good headline. And you have to do more than throw a phrase in every now and then that shakes them up. Everything in between needs to be interesting, compelling, and valuable. Anything that's not should be cut and (figuratively, of course) dropped onto the editing room floor!
There are four key things you can do to make almost any content interesting:
Be Unique: Put out something new. Don't write about the same thing in the same way, instead find a way to write about something new and different.
Take a Different Approach: Tackle your subject in a different way. Even if you're writing about the "same ole, same ole", do it in a new way that addresses the topic in a way that no one else is addressing.
Make it Compelling: Make sure your approach is compelling. This isn't about change for the sake of change, but about finding a more compelling way to present the information at hand. Keep them interested.
Create Value: Finally, make sure every reader walks away having learned something new. If the information isn't valuable to them then you've wasted a great opportunity. Your primary goal is to make sure your audience feels they have gained something by reading your content.

Title Tags

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Everything noted above can apply to any content, regardless of the forum. Here is where we get into the specifically web-related stuff.
Title tags are probably the most important real estate for producing optimized content. They are often the first signals the search engines see when determining the topic (and therefore the rankings) of a page. They're also what the search engines display in their search results. Your title tag is the clickable link in the search results. If it's not both keyword rich and compelling, you'll either have a lower ranked page or one that gets clicked fewer times. Or possibly both.
The page title isn't necessarily the title of your content, though they can often be the same. Regardless, you'll want your optimized title to be more keyword rich, without sacrificing it's ability to get attention. Try to keep the title tag under 63 characters, as this is the limit that the search engines display in the search results. Longer won't matter, just so long as you know that it may get cut off.

Meta Description

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While not critical to getting good rankings for your content, the meta description does have value. For the most part, the search engines will use the meta description as the descriptive text below the clickable title in the search results. This gives you an opportunity to craft a keyword rich and compelling language that will give searches additional insight and reason to click into your content.
If you are targeting a very specific keyword or group of keywords, you can create a meta description that targets those phrases. However, there are cases when a meta description may actually hinder the click rather than help. In these cases, where your content is going after what is considered the "long-tail" phrases, you can leave off the description and let the search engines pull a snippet of text from the content to display in the search results.
This allows the description in the search results to include the specific keyword the searcher used without you having to have foreknowledge of the exact phrase that might be entered in. Since long-tail keyword variations are so abundant, trying to craft a meta description with every possible variation is impossible. Let the search engines do it.
We'll continue in Part 2, looking at other elements that are valuable in crafting a strong online PR piece.

(Author: Stoney deGeyter)