Website basics: How to make your web presence press-friendly

Make contacts and press releases findable and accessible for when journalists come calling.

by Daniel P. Dern - For journalists who are getting ready to contact your company -- or who are looking for a company that makes/does what yours does -- your web presence is often the first port of call.

But if your web presence isn't set up to let us quickly and easily find what we're looking for, we're likely to click off to your competitors' sites.

[ See also: Four Things Open Source Projects Should Know About Dealing with the Press ]

I'm not talking about the web design basics that apply to all visitors. For example, not requiring a specific browser or version, specific screen size or resolution, or excessive use of JavaScript or Flash for basic navigation and information-finding. If you don't do this right, your web presence has bigger problems than being ready for the press.

Getting press-ready shouldn't be hard, keeping it that way even less so. Yet you'd be amazed how many companies (and other organizations) want to be contacted by customers and prospects, but seem to have gone out of their way to make it hard for the press to contact them... or just haven't given it a thought.

Here's a quick checklist. I urge you to see how well or poorly your company has done. And fix what needs fixing!

1) Set your sites

a) At minimum, your company's web presence should include a regular website, not just one about your product. (I've seen some open source companies do this.)

b) Be findable. Assuming I know your company's name, or enough of it, I want to be able to find it quickly using Google (or some other search engine). Again, make sure your company name is actually on the website, particularly if the URL is different.

2) Start with the basic facts

Make sure your main page and/or an "About Us" page includes:

a) Your company's full name as you'd want it to appear in a news article, including any Inc., Corp, LLC, e.g., "Your Company, Inc." At the top of the main page.

b) What your company makes/does, in a short sentence that a descriptive appositive can be taken from. Like, "MyCompany makes embedded-technology collars, leashes and other accessories like its award-winning WiFi/USB Collar for domestic pets and other animals," from which a journalist could extract, "MyCompany, a maker of animal techno-accessories."

c) Where your headquarters is located (city, state, country). Aside from being a popular fact to include in articles, e.g., "Headquartered in ...." this helps us figure out what time zone you're in, when we're ready to call.

3) Identify who the press should contact

Journalists don't have time to waste figuring out who the point person is for our calls. It should be just as easy as looking for sales or customer support contacts.

a) Someone, or some department, at your company, or at a PR agency, should be the initial point of contact for press queries. If you don't have somebody, get/anoint somebody.

(And make sure that whoever answers your switchboard also knows who this person is, and their number, for when somebody like me calls and says, "I'm with the press, who do I talk with?" or asks for Marketing Communications, PR, etc.)

b) Post his/her name, email and phone number. See 4) below.

If you want to also to provide a general email address, like pressinfo@mycompany.com, that's OK too.

And in case it doesn't go without saying, whoever these messages go to needs to check for them regularly -- and respond promptly, with an acknowledgement. On non-deadline assignments, I might be patient and wait one or two days for an acknowledgement. On deadline, you've got an hour.)

4) Make this press contact info easy to find

Media contact information needs to be easy to find for a) somebody who's never been to your website, and b) is browsing without JavaScript, cookies, a registration account for your site, etc. This, like your product information, is something you want quickly findable and easily accessible. So:

a) Include the information, or a link to the page it's on your company's Contact Us page, media/press page, and on every press release

b) Make sure this information is directly visible on the web page (except possibly for email addresses, which you may want to put one click away, to minimize spam-harvesting).

c) Make this information findable by web search, e.g., "company-name media relations" by including enough keywords on this page.

5) Make press releases easily findable and easily readable

a) Have an area/page for Press Releases.

b) Post new releases ASAP, at the same time you issue them to news services, email/mail them, etc. Newest on top.

c) Each press release listing should include the Headline, Date and, optionally, the starting sentence or short paragraph. Otherwise, you're forcing us to click on each release to figure out whether it's new or old.

(There's information that each press release should contain, but that's a subject for some other article, like my The Well-Tempered Press Release, which even includes a Mad Libs-style fill-in-the-blanks form you're welcome to repurpose.)

d) Post press releases in HTML or text format. If you want to also post them as Word or PDF documents, fine. But don't make us waste clicks and extra time just to read the release, or use formats that are hard(er) to copy-and-paste from.

6) Check and respond to email (and phone) queries

Though not necessarily a website tip, it's a good idea to respond to e-mail or phone inquiries in a timely fashion -- within an hour of receipt, if possible. Journalists often work under tight deadlines, and you may not get another chance.

So, are you ready?

Daniel P. Dern is a freelance technology writer based in Newton Center, MA. His web site is www.dern.com and his technology blog is TryingTechnology.com.

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