What happens when a journalist comes to your website and tries to find information? Can they easily find what they need or do they visit one of your competitor’s websites to get the information they need? Your online press room should be an important component of your public relations, sales and marketing plans. Your press room is open and working for you 24/7. Editors and writers often work late at night, on the weekends and holidays when your PR and marketing teams are not available. Your website and its press room have to be able to provide all the info needed.

News publicity is free

The beauty of this kind of publicity, of course, is that it’s absolutely free.

“Our online press center is intended to be a go-to hub for journalists writing about landscape architecture,” shares Karen Grajales, public relations manager, American Society of Landscape Architects. “We provide a broad array of resources for this purpose, including press releases, social media links and fact sheets.”

The trick to putting together such a digital presence is knowing how to trigger story ideas, knowing how to relentlessly promote what you’re offering and being sure to post the equivalent of a neon welcome sign for members of the press when they stop by your landscape website.

“News publicity costs you nothing,” says Thomas Wong, author of “101 Ways To Boost Your Web Traffic.” “It often produces better results than advertising, because people trust news articles more than sales ads. Press releases often lead to personal interviews on the phone or TV or radio appearances, which can make you and your website very popular.”

Moreover, if that story winds up on the web, your landscape business can often reap the rewards of that exposure for years.

In fact, there are so many tactics and web technologies available for courting the news media. Building a killer online press center for your turf business can become an evermore sophisticated, ever-more publicity generating pursuit.

Press center 101

Here are some tips for creating an ideal online press center:

Offer web-friendly press releases

While some text, quotes and contact info is a good start for a press release, you’ll get better play in the news media if you optimize press releases for the web. This means embedding a relevant keyword in the press release headline, as well as in the text, if possible, so it can be easily found by search engines.

You’ll also want to angle your press release to spark the imagination of the editor or reporter. Before you post your press release, ask yourself, “What makes this story new, different or important for your target news outlet?”

It’s also a good idea to make it easy for others to spread the word about your press release by adding a social bookmarking tool such as AddThis.

Another good practice is to ensure visitors can effortlessly cut and paste your press release text into a Word document. (On some websites, press release text is impossible to copy; others use Adobe PDF documents, which are sometimes tough to cut and paste.)

The website for the American Society of Landscape Architects offers a press center well-stocked with press releases, as does Dirtworks Landscape Architecture, Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council and Kingdom Landscaping. Click on “News” on each of these sites to see their press centers.

A free Google Webmaster’s account will help you optimize your press center for the search engines.

Create a blog

Blogs are tried-and-true content sources that are a magnet for reporters.

Read more: How to Start and Manage a Business Blog

Trigger coverage with other content

Editors and reporters are always hungry for story ideas, so you can never offer too many in your press center. The over-arching guideline here is to clearly state that all — or as much as possible — of the content you post can be directly quoted by editors and reporters. The importance of this practice cannot be overstated.

Essentially, this permission can save the press five days of phonetag with your green industry business and mean the difference between getting covered and being skipped over for a more press-friendly company.

The press also loves transcripts of company speeches they can quote (always include a name and title), transcripts of recent company webcasts, company case studies, industry survey results and customer/client testimonials. (Always include a name, title and company for the testimonial.)

If you’re lucky enough to have been covered in the media, also offer links to previous stories already run.

Add dimension with rich media

Once you’ve implemented the essential elements of your press center, mixing in esoteric rich media like web video, podcasts and even virtual reality can bolster your message in an extremely compelling way. Besides posting video from your business on YouTube like thousands of other organizations, you can also embed a YouTube video player on your own website for free.

Become a media authority

You’ll get even more coverage if you establish one or more key employees at your company as media authorities. Blogs are one of the quickest ways for a key employee to loom large before the press — but only if the blog is interesting and insightful. One of the easiest ways to guarantee this is to simply hire a good ghost blogger.

Another important blog tactic: Invite journalists to freely quote from your blog as they would use quotes from a press release, and you’ll create a journalist friend for life.

Nature’s Perspective Landscaping offers a newsletter in the form of a blog, as does the Global Landscapes Forum — a global association of thought-leaders seeking to promote green consciousness via landscape design.

ND Landscape also offers a monthly e-newsletter that customers can sign up for.

Meanwhile, you can enhance the credibility of your media authority representatives by publicizing them on the various “expert stables” on the web — places where recognized authorities gather to be quoted by the media. Some of the more prominent stables include Profnet, and ExpertClick.

Be charming:

Most turf businesses understand that offering a name, phone and email contact info for all key public relations personnel in your press center is a good start.

But the same contact info for key executives who are open to being interviewed is even better. A promise — and practice — to turn around all press requests within 24 hours will go even further toward winning your turf business instant friendships in the press.

You should also alert telephone receptionists to be especially cordial to reporters. Receptionists need to understand unequivocally that the reporter calling your landscape business can often offer free exposure in a news story for your business to 50,000 to 100,000, or sometimes a million or more, readers or viewers.

You can enhance the credibility of your media authority execs by publicizing them in “expert stables” like Profnet.

Tweak under the hood

During the past few years, Google has released a number of free tools designed to help your press center appear as high as possible on Google search engine returns. Sign up for a free Google Webmaster’s account and all these tools are yours to use for free.

Plus, once your press center is search-friendly for Google, the center will also be optimized for most of the other major search engines as well.

Also be sure to ensure your press center downloads like quicksilver. For speed optimization tips, check out Andrew B. King’s book, “Speed Up Your Site.” Founder of Website Optimization LLC, King also offers a free tool that will check to see if your press center is optimized for speed.

You’ll also want to create a sitemap for your press center — a technical way of listing the pages of your site to search engines like Google, and providing other key technical information the search engines need to process your website as efficiently as possible. Google offers an excellent tutorial on how to create a sitemap.

Optimize the titles of your press center’s images, as well. Since many press centers overlook this simple tactic, your landscape business may be able to rocket past many competitors by simply making sure the press images and press releases you supply (along with photos of your team members, etc.) can be easily searched and categorized by search engines.

Do this by ensuring each image has a name to describe it, rather than using an inscrutable number. Also, save images in the .jpg format if at all possible. And store your images on the folder level — such as www.yourpresscenter.com/images, instead of burying images in a less accessible folder.

Promote relentlessly

One of the great equalizers of the web is that a tiny, nimble landscape business can leap ahead of the largest Goliath with the right promotion of its press center.

Offering press releases and a company e-newsletter gets this process started.

But you can also offer the same information via RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds for reporters who like their news delivered via that technology. Fed43, for example, will make your page RSS-friendly for free.

Other tactics that can work:

  • Circulate your news through a professional press release distribution service like PRNewswire or via free services (search “free press release distribution”).
  • Post a “send-this-page-to-afriend” button on every page of your press center.
  • Add a live chatroom to your press center if you have a staff person who can babysit it — LivePerson is one of many good live chat solutions.
  • Link your press center with your presence on social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Measure your success

The quickest way to an increased press center budget, as we all know, is quantifiable results. Document how traffic from journalists has increased on your press center with Google Analytics, another free program.

Or, if you’re looking for even more robust analytics, check out software like IBM Digital Analytics or WebTrends.

Safeguard your reputation

Once people start talking about your company on the web, including editors, reporters, bloggers and others, make sure they’re not engaging in libel, slander or other image-tarnishing talk. Specific service providers who will help you out with this reputation monitoring include Dow Jones Factiva and BlogSquirrel.