Story 1: Press release as summary
The new life of press releases hit home to me when I was usability testing a web site meant for researchers and research librarians. The first scenario went something like this: "You have heard that researchers at . . . just released a new report on . . . and you want to see what they have to say on that topic."
Link press releases to relevant information on the web site -full reports, pages about people, production information, and so on.
We thought that participants would look for the new report. Some of them did. But half of the participants first clicked on the tab for Press. One said: "I always look for a press release first. A good press release summarizes the key findings. Then I'll decide if I really want the report."
Great idea. But, at the time, the press releases on this web site were just copies of paper documents; they didn't even link to the full report. They do now!
Think about the long life, new users, new uses of today's press releases.
Story 2: Press release as fact sheet
I started to be more alert to how and when press releases show up on web sites. In another usability test - this time of a health information site for the general public - some people searched for information. Old news items (press releases) showed up in the search results.
Several participants selected the link to a press release, without realizing that's what it was - or even knowing anything about press releases. They assumed the links were to web information and they treated the press releases as fact sheets.
For these participants, the old press releases were simply information on a relevant topic. They wondered why the pages didn't have headings, why the pages had wall-to-wall text, why the pages looked different from other pages on the site.
Participants also assumed that the contact name on the page was the researcher when it was really someone in the organization's public relations office. The press release page did not say who the person was.
Story 3: Press release as basic information
I was helping another web team do a content inventory of what they had available on each of the main topics the site covers. To everyone's surprise, most of the information was in old press releases.
What are your press releases like? How well do they serve as summaries for the public? as fact sheets? as basic information? How well do they fit into the look and feel of your site? How well do they work as web writing?
Consider a new format for press releases - one that matches the web site and typical web writing. Or plan for two versions - one for print and one for the web. Include a date on all press releases.
Think about whose name and contact information should go on a document that may live a very long time on the web site. State clearly who the people you name are.
Story 4: The press call up
I once had several reporters as participants in a usability test. They all said they had no time or patience for trying to use the organization's web site. They knew whom to call. They were not reading news items on the web site.
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