Make your press materials user friendly

What if I told you that shiny stock image you just spent an hour searching for didn’t help you? Or if I said that the hundreds of dollars you’ve given iStockPhoto has actually hurt your site?

Recent research from renowned usability expert Jakob Nielsen suggests that “users pay attention to information-carrying images that show content that’s relevant to the task at hand. And users ignore purely decorative images that don’t add real content to the page.” (emphasis his) So, what does this mean for public relations?

Press pages need to be user friendly
Nielsen used eye-tracking studies to show that unless the photo is of the specific person or product being researched, most website visitors will skip it. The screenshot below is from his study and shows that the relatively low-quality photo being used on this Yale contact form is essentially wasted space.

press material
Image used by permission of Jakob Nielsen.

In our world of integrated communications, we must design content that is not only informative and actionable, but visually appealing and useful as well. Imagery that does not help shape your story only serve to distract your readers.

A report from the Nielsen Norman Group asserts that the top five reasons a journalist visits a press page are to:

  • Locate a PR contact (name and telephone number)
  • Find basic facts about the company (spelling of an executive’s name, his/her age, headquarters location, and so on)
  • Discern the company’s spin on events
  • Check financial information
  • Download images to use as illustrations in stories

So, how can you make your press content user friendly? I think that it comes down to one of the core operating principles of public relations: know your audience. It comes down to a few key principles:

  • Make the core information easily findable. Eye studies show that most users read web pages in an “F” pattern. Put your contact information and three key links in the upper left corner.
  • Make your press page a hub. Link to other pages such as your company’s blog, your financial/IR page and your product imagery instead of including them as clutter on your press page.
  • Avoid posting full text of a press release. Treat your press page like a blog and press releases like blog posts. Make them deep perma links on your site. This also helps for SEO. Would you rather a press release or a product page rank for a key word?
  • Avoid empty text and photos. It’s important to have your 140-character company description, but you don’t need a soliloquy at the top of your media page.
  • Be brief. Be right. Be gone. Make sure your press page is current, brief and useful.

Remember, a photo is worth 1,000 words. But will every one of those words help you tell your story?

Applying these principles to other materials

We manage clients’ blogs, product pages, executive bios, financial pages, printed press kits and other key information that is meant to be consumed by reporters, customers and prospects. But lets look at materials we create for clients.

When was the last time you asked your client for honest feedback on a briefing book or coverage recap? Ask him what he reads first. Ask her what the single most important paragraph from your last book was.

Ask your client what makes these materials useful. You might be surprised by the feedback you get.

As communications professionals, we create such a diverse range of materials that we can easily lose sight of “what rocks?” in favor of “what will help me get this done now.” Keep your users’ experiences in mind when you design your press materials.

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