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Interview with CEO of PRWeb David McInnis

Posted on May 8th, 2006
Written by Lee Odden
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    Spotlight on Search – Interview with David McInnis of PRWeb.

    Undoubtedly one of the companies that has had a major impact on the convergence of public relations and search engine optimization is PRWeb. David McInnis and his talented team have created more innovations surrounding press release distribution than any other wire service.

    While I’ve used PRWeb in one way or another since 1999, it wasn’t until 2003 that my company implemented press release optimization for both our SEO and public relations clients. In the past 2 years PRWeb has grown immensely and has led the way as a Web 2.0 wire service. Many new online wire service companies have sprung up trying to emulate the services of PRWeb and a good number of “old school” wire services have added the kinds of services to their mix that were originally pioneered by PRWeb.

    While we bump into each other at Search Engine Strategies and other conferences thoughout the year, PRWeb CEO David McInnis and I participated on a public relations panel together for the first time at the recent Boston Pubcon conference. He presented an array of new services available including: PRWeb podcast, press release trackbacks, free high res image hosting and many others.

    As a CEO of a very fast growing company, you can imagine how busy things can get. However, David recently took the time to answer a few questions about how PRWeb was started, the addition of recent patent pending services, new social bookmarking, content recommendation and expert profile ranking features, changes in PRWeb metrics, the PRWeb editorial and Q/A process, the launch of the PRWeb Evangelist program and McInnis’ answer to my “loaded question”.

    Tell us about your background and how did you start

    I completed my BA in International Business from Texas State University in 1995, but my career experience comes from the marketing and database technology industries. Having a background in marketing has given me unique insights into the world of public relations and has helped me to identify areas where the marketing and public relations disciplines should converge online. Having the technology background has been a great advantage to PRWeb because the marketing side of my brain can conceive things that the technical side can build.

    I founded PRWeb in the early days of Internet chiefly as a disappointment I experienced with one of the larger wire services. I spent a lot of money to get my message out to the media and, apart from a few online places that picked up the wire feed, I did not see any results. No media coverage. No increased visibility. Just disappointment. While I was out mowing my lawn one day, it came to me: There must be a way to market press releases on the Internet and monetize that traffic through advertising; remember the $40 CPM rates? I did the math and got really excited. I could create a free service and take in tons of corporate and organizational news, and market that content through a search engine optimization strategy. Okay, we did not call it SEO back then and Google wasn’t even on the radar yet, but the final idea was to make this news content highly visible online and capture the ad revenue.

    We have remained constant in PRWeb’s goals and mission from our early days. Our goal was, as it is today, to help our users get the maximum visibility for their press releases and corporate news. The idea was that by driving traffic to our users’ news releases, we would serve their needs (increased visibility for their press releases) and our needs (the need to drive page views and associated advertising revenue). Here is what we found: We were only successful on the first half of that equation. While we drove tons of traffic to online press releases, we were never successful in monetizing that traffic using advertising revenue.

    In 2000 and 2001, I decided to build on our success and continue to build a toolset for maximizing our users’ press release visibility online. We dropped our advertising-based revenue model in favor of something completely new, especially to corporate America; voluntary financial contributions. Essentially, we asked our users to contribute financially to the service while we continued to build our suite of visibility services. The response from our user base was overwhelmingly positive. We reinvested every available dollar to build the very first online visibility platform for corporate news content.

    I first started sending out press releases through PRWeb in 2001and a lot has changed with PRWeb in that time, especially in the past year. What’s your plan for PRWeb and how do you plan on leveraging the Web 2.0 types of features you’ve been adding?

    You were an early adopter. I guess you saw early PRWeb firsthand as we struggled to keep the idea alive.

    Now, about Web 2.0. We are really pleased with our position in the industry. Since the early days of the Internet, we have expanded our staff to include a top notch development team, which is now headed by our Chief Technical Officer, Al Castle, and we have recently established ourselves as the only Web 2.0 enabled wire service.

    Of everything that we have released in the past six months, I am most excited about our inclusion of TrackBacks and PingBacks into press releases and other Web 2.0 initiatives. We have even filed patent applications for our implementations of these technologies into a wire service and press release distribution platforms.

    What’s next? We have a variety of initiatives that we are working on. Most of these technologies are tied directly to promoting online visibility of our users, their products and their services. I prefer not to get too specific on our product suite, but I can speak generally. Generally speaking, we are working on new social bookmarking, content recommendation and expert profile ranking using principles of Web 2.0.

    Web 2.0 is more than the deployment of any one single service. For example, we saw recently that a service entered into a relationship with the leading social bookmarking platform to claim Web 2.0 status. Web 2.0 is much more complicated than that. It is about making your platform part of a larger application. We are working on APIs that will allow others to interact with our content in revolutionary ways.

    PRWeb has really pioneered the notion of distributing optimized press releases. AT least one other major wire service has added this service after it become popular with PRWeb. There also many more wire services out there now than in the past 2 years. How would you characterize PRWeb: As as SEO tool, as a tool for public relations, both or something else?

    I am glad you bring this up. PRWeb was the driving force for SEO optimized press releases. We built our platform from the ground up using sound SEO principles. Other services out there are trying to retrofit their sites to do SEO. We will see how that plays out.

    PRWeb‚Äôs SEO value is a product of our mission to gain maximum visibility for news release content for our users. No, I would not characterize our service as an SEO platform. We are much more than that — and we are much more than a newswire, which is why last year we re-branded ourselves as The Online Visibility Company‚Ñ¢. We have dubbed what we do as direct-to-consumer press release distribution.

    PRWeb is essentially a new public relations function; a layer on top of existing wire services. By just using existing wire services, PR professionals are only doing half the job. The fact is that press releases can and should be re-purposed for the Web. This is all about making your corporate news work harder for you.

    A lot of SEOs seem to confuse the distribution of press releases with the pickup or media coverage of a release. Distribution of the release is the means, not the end. What’s your opinion and what are some other common misconceptions you hear of from SEOs and online marketers about online PR?

    Media pick-up is rapidly becoming an outdated metric. In fact, we are in the process of reworking our statistical reporting to de-emphasize the importance of this metric. In the current environment, it is more important to measure the consumers’ interaction with your news. This is much more valuable to all parties, including the mainstream media. TrackBacks, for example, give you instant feedback on your news and provide a jumping off point for the media. The discussion is right there.

    Statistics are also tricky on a number of levels. First, low statistics bring into question the value of the platform and not the value of the message. Most releases fail because of the content, not because of the platform. Stats are also tricky because they don’t measure the effectiveness of your news in relation to other stories in your space. We are tackling these challenges right now. You will see new comparative metrics with our software release.

    Some wire services often get knocked for poor editorial quality. What does PRWeb have in place to ensure quality standards?

    Each and every press release distributed by PRWeb is reviewed by a human editor and scored with an editorial score of between 1 and 5. We also employ the delete and hold options as required. Our editorial staff works on a 24×7 schedule to assist customers with problem areas in their releases. Our Managing Editor, Kathy Sheehan, has established some tight guidelines for what can be distributed via PRWeb.

    Also, it is technically possible to post a free release to PRWeb, but we no longer do any expanded distribution with these releases. In fact, we prohibit these releases from being spidered by search engines because we need to have an authorized sender as verified by a credit card payment.

    PRWeb offers basic statistics on press releases including reads, pickup, prints, forwards, etc. You also offer keywords and referrer info for releases at a higher contribution level. Do you plan on adding or changing those statistics? Will you be offering any statistics in regard to the RSS feeds?

    I have ideas on how to accomplish this, but there are problems in the RSS industry that make accurate measurement impossible. What we really need is a set of standards for RSS readers. For example, some RSS readers load every item description on load. This renders the inclusion of a tracking image useless. We will, however, be able to track click-through from RSS.

    I see PRWeb listed as the official wire service sponsor of just about every conference related to search, interactive and new media. What are your long term marketing plans for PRWeb?

    We will continue to support the conferences in our areas of expertise. We feel a sense of obligation to support these conferences because they provide value to our users. We haven‚Äôt done a whole lot of traditional marketing outside of the tradeshows. I can tell you this, we are assembling a killer direct sales team — very excited about that. We are also weeks away from launching our PRWeb Evangelist program, which will financially reward our long-time evangelists for building the PRWeb user base.

    What are your favorite search engines and what are some feature improvements you’d like to see?

    How can you not like Google? It is synonymous with search. I just heard a guy on the radio recommend to his users that they go to Amazon to “Google” an author. I had to smile.

    I have an admiration for It has the ability to become the Southwest Airlines of the search space. It is my current start page.

    As far as changes, I see interactivity creeping its way into search results in the future. We are already seeing some of these ranking schemes in the blog search space. I think it would bring an exciting element to search. Introducing human recommendation into search could be valuable. A9 can do this with the Amazon recommendation technology.

    I worry about the longevity of PPC. As PPC gets more expensive, other technologies will emerge. Hey, banners never went away, but they are less important today than they used to be back in Web 1.0. I see the same shift on the horizon for PPC.

    What are some of the resources you rely on for information on web 2.0 and online marketing? Best practices, news, industry information.

    That is a loaded question. I really pay attention to what is happening in the blogosphere. This is where things are happening first. I do think that there is a lot of intentional misdirection in the search space. It takes common sense to weed through it all.

    What’s the weirdest press release you’ve ever seen submitted to PRWeb?

    The craziest ones never make distribution, and there are simply too many. Needless to say, our editors are kept entertained. (Come to think about it, maybe I should charge them to work here.) We have had everything from alien abductions to Andy Kaufman is Alive releases.

    I like catchy headlines the best. The problem with headlines that get too clever is that they tend to lose SEO value.

    Thanks David!