Finding a genuine "scoop" of a story can be SEO gold. It can whizz round the internet gathering links as it goes. However when you have a story that is a little "too hot to handle" you need to careful how you manage it.

Recent events would make you believe that the traditional print media is a bit too cosy with the establishment and that if you want to publish a controversial article which will turn into juicy SEO link bait then the online world is for you.

However, my experience shows this is not necessarily the case and that if you have news which is “too hot to handle” then Google News might be your best bet.


Cutting a long story short, when HTC returned my phone to me there was a URL on the packing slip which showed my personal details including name, address, phone IMEI number and phone serial number.

If you changed the number in the URL then you could see other HTC users’ details. The length of the URL suggested 25m records online. Wow! I could publish the story on our site and the links would come pouring in? SEO gold?

The slight fly in the cyber-ointment was that before I broke the story I had to tell HTC so that they could fix the URL. Obviously I didn’t want to facilitate the mass download of people’s private data. 

HTC’s PR department didn’t seem too concerned, saying that tech sites wouldn’t run the story because they wouldn’t want to damage their reputation with HTC. I thought this was a hollow statement as surely online tech sites provide tech news free of external influence? How naive I was...

News distribution agencies ran a mile.....

HTC fixed the error and I ran the story. I wanted to use a news distribution agency to get the story out. Reuters listed PRnewswire, Business wire and Globenewswire as their trusted sources.

I spoke first to PRnewswire who said that even if the story was true they didn’t want to run it. I had all the necessary screenshots and pointed out that the truth was a defence to a libel law suit.  

They said “PR Newswire as a business has decided not to distribute your story for our own self-protection as a publisher”.

Would Reuters be happy if it knew that one of its news agencies was censoring news? Never mind there were the other news distribution agencies, so I then tried Business Wire.

After a few hours the answer came back that they couldn’t run the story. One source told me that the bosses didn’t want to run it because he thought that they had a good relationship with HTC’s PR firm.

Globenewswire was next and the same thing. I loaded up the story, initial interest and then complete silence. No-one was interested in potentially millions of mobile phone records being available online?

Google News to the rescue...

So who ended up running the story? Google News. Within seconds of putting it in our blog it was up there for the world to see. Thank goodness there is an online service that is willing to walk where others dare not tread.

My advice when trying to maximise the SEO benefit of a Google News release is to think about the big, generic keywords that journalists may have signed up to receive alerts on.

Also the fact that Google News stories only appear in the news results for a limited time means it's unlikely you will pick up much long tail traffic. It's those big terms that are going to deliver meaningful traffic over a limited period of time.

Further advice for anyone trying to maximise the SEO impact from a good story:

  1. Plan every step of how you are going to handle the release and plan your reaction to how the various parties might respond. You don’t really have much time to think much on your feet when the story goes live.
  2. Make sure that by making the release you are not compromising people’s security/privacy etc.. otherwise the story will backfire on you.
  3. If you have to pre-warn the company that is subject to the story, try not to involve their PR people as they will start to put pressure on publishers.
  4. Speak to publishing websites in advance of running the story but on a no names basis to start with. Find the sites that seem to be most interested and release the story to them first.
  5. Have cast iron proof that your story is true. Take screenshots, record interviews with people involved etc.. In the UK you can run any story you want without fear of being sued for defamation as long as it’s true. 
  6. Make sure that you have a Google News account as a backup in case the news agencies find the story a bit too hot to handle. 
  7. Have a well optimised page on your website ready for the story to be hosted on and for people to link to. Also optimise the press release you are going to send out. Think URL structure, keyword density, anchor text and the suchlike.

All you need to do now is to find someone who can help with that all important scoop. Now, where did I leave that News of the World journalist’s number......


Published 29 July, 2011 by Charles Duncombe

Charles Duncombe is Director at Just Say Please Ltd and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

2 more posts from this author

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Comments (15)

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Matthew Read

I know this article is about the awesomeness of Google News but I just can't get over that all those personal details were so easily accessible and no one cared!

about 7 years ago

Simon Francis

Simon Francis, Campaign & communications consultant at Claremont Communications

The role of PRs and newswires in this story is not a proud day for the industry. As a PR though, I'd have thought that actually pitching the story direct to Reuters / Press Association and then using Google News / newswires as a follow up would be a more effective route to generating not only coverage, but also conversation in social media?

about 7 years ago

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith, Director at eschermanSmall Business

There are some pretty strong allegations in this piece. Namely that HTC's in house PR department claim that tech journalists won't run negative stories about them for fear of "damaging their reputation" (which is presumably code for "you won't get freebie kit and/or access to HTC info in the future if you don't toe the line).

You also allege that Business Wire wouldn't distribute your "news" because they had a "good relationship" with HTC's PR firm (again, this is presumably code for we get paid a lot of money to distribute press releases for this firm on behalf of HTC and many other clients, so we don't want to jeopardise that revenue".

To be fair to PR Newswire et al, they are press release distribution companies - not "newswires" in the sense of Reuters. They are perfectly free to decline your "press release" if they believe they would be commercially compromised by distributing it.

If HTC's PR dept did indeed say what you allege they said, you should have called their bluff and given your story to a journalist in the first place. Any respectable journalist would then follow up those claims before publishing eg asking you what evidence you have that they actually said it - or following up with both HTC and other parties to verify those claims. Its called journalism.

On the subject of Google News, I'm curious how you got a Google News account - Google has specific criteria for judging what outlets are added - do you run a site that has independent news content written by multiple authors? I would hazard a guess that Google might take a dim view of the advice you are outling above re: getting content on Google News.

Finally, I'd caution anyone from following the advice you give.

For example: "In the UK you can run any story you want without fear of being sued for defamation as long as it’s true."

That isn't true. Someone can choose to sue you whether it is true or not. If the company you are making accusations is a big un, you may well end up on the losing end of a very costly legal suit. Not saying it is morally right, but you haven't exactly spelt out the risks involved in any of this.

Recording conversations? Then you'd need to warn and gain permission from the person you are talking to. Otherwise, it could be claimed as entrapment.

I could go. In short, I'd be very wary of anyone following your advice without being aware of the potentially severe risks involved.

about 7 years ago

Stuart Bruce

Stuart Bruce, Principal at Stuart Bruce Associates

I'm not entirely convinced by this. Why isn't there a link to the story on your blog, but there is one to the home page of an ecommerce site?

I also share Andrew's curiosity about Google News and echo his wise counsel about libel laws not being as easy as this makes it sound.

How do you actually go about making sure you have a Google News account, there are criteria that have to be fulfilled or it would simply be full of marketing spam.

about 7 years ago


Stephen Waddington

It is common for press release wires to refuse to publish third party content. As publishers they're culpable and they don't have the resources to fact check.

Numerous news wires or journalists would have picked this up and run this story. Many have come forward in response to Andrew Smith's comments on Twitter.

I agree with both Andrew's and Stuart's comments.

about 7 years ago


Charles Duncombe, Director at Just Say Please limited

Hi, to answer Andrew and Stuart's points.

1) The quotes I got: The various quotes I gave were given to me either over the phone or by e mail and so I am happy to back them up if required. I didn't record the conversations electronically but wrote notes.
2) Some tech sites did run the story:-

and so there was some journalism investigation
3) Google news source: Yes we have a separate information site which is the google news source, not our main e commerce site. As the story ran in early June and google news only shows stories for about a week you won't see it in google news at the moment.
4) Fear of being sued for defamation:- Yes I take the point that you can be sued even if the person suing you doesn't have a case. It's also true though that under English law the loser of the law suit has to pay the costs of the person who wins and so if you publish something that is true and are sued then you can recover your costs. Yep, no-one likes incurring costs in the first place but I don't think people should hold back on publishing the truth for fear of being unjustifiably sued.

about 7 years ago


Ryan Skinner

The point that journalism should not be taken lightly (particularly in the UK with its peculiar libel laws) is a good one, but there's a defensiveness here that irks.

Duncombe discovered something interesting and newsworthy. This is hardly still the day and age when you need a degree or salary from a professional news organization to engage in journalism.

He wanted to share his story and get attention for it. And so he did. As for distribution, he found that no one would back him except Google News. Good for Google News.

Are there sticky connections between big tech companies PR departments and their hangers-on, and the media machinery? One might be shocked if there wasn't. Thankfully, Google and resourceful people can work around them.

about 7 years ago

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith, Director at eschermanSmall Business

Charles - thanks for replying. I guess I was concerned that various issues were being mashed up together here. On the one hand, you had a specific story relating to HTC - we can debate the merits/demerits of how best to have exploited that story - either from the perspective of making the truth known and/or exploiting it for your own SEO benefit.

To use that as a template for others to copy is another matter entirely. I'm simply suggesting that people need to be fully aware of the risks involved before automatically copying the approach you appear to be suggesting.

Ryan - do you by any chance work for Velocity Partners? If not, forgive me. If yes, your boss, who ran one of the biggest tech PR firms in the UK in the 1990s will be well aware of the issues involved here (do pass on my regards) - I'd be surprised if he endorsed the view that "this is hardly still the day and age when you need a degree or salary from a professional news organization to engage in journalism."

That's the point really. Professional journalists do receiving training in things like libel law, interviewing technique, permissible evidence, etc. I'm not saying all journalists meet those standards - but I think the idea that "we can all be professional journalists" irks me. And is misguided. And false.

As we can see, at least one tech site did cover it (The Register) - given the Reg gets around 8.9m page views per month globally, I'd suggest that the story got far more exposure from this one title than if it had been distributed by a hundred wire services. Perhaps there is still a role for professional journalism.

about 7 years ago


Charles Duncombe, Director at Just Say Please limited

At the risk of straying a bit off the topic I think it’s a really interesting point about whether journalists should still be the gatekeepers of the news these days.

On the one hand doesn’t everyone have the right to free speech? However at the same time should people really be able to shout their mouth off about things without proper investigation and then hide behind the anonymity of the internet?

My personal view is that if you have found something of interest then you should be allowed to publish it as long as you are willing to stand behind it, give your details to lawyers and prepared to be sued if you are wrong.

I think actually the tricky point comes when you have something that is true and that you are within your rights to publish but which is particularly sensitive and could cause harm elsewhere. For example in my case I was probably within my rights to publish the URL of the compromised customer data if I wanted to. It was on a public URL, hadn’t been acquired illegally etc..

You end up in the whole Wikileaks debate and whether certain information shouldn't be published.

Anyway, I will let greater minds than mine can discuss this at their leisure. I was just giving a little insight into our experience but am glad to see it has triggered a few other people to exercise their freedom of expression!

about 7 years ago


Ryan Skinner

I'll have to strongly disagree with you there, Andrew. The battle over whether journalists have a monopoly on good journalism was convincingly fought and lost in the US almost a decade ago. I'm not going to revisit it.

This kind of antiquated attitude among journalists is not only misguided; it's destructive. Telling someone like Charles Duncombe here to either shut up or go via accredited journalists is, well, evil. His attempts to use media channels were stonewalled due to cozy relationships between "news" organizations and power. That citizens are willing to speak truth to power (and they can do it now, without journalist's intervention) is something to be encouraged, not the opposite. Anyone who would discourage that kind of thing should seriously question his/her own motives for doing so.

So you know my boss, Stan. I don't know Stan's opinion on this. I didn't ask him. I didn't even think to. I do know that Stan is both intelligent and opinionated. And intelligent, opinionated people rarely find it agreeable to have opinions attributed to them and then have those opinions thrown up like straw men.

about 7 years ago

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith, Director at eschermanSmall Business

Ryan - who has actually told Charles to shut up? As per my reply to him above, his HTC story is one thing. Advising others to use it as a template without awareness of the risks is another. Because there are risks.

As for his right to publish his story, he wasn't denied the right to do that. He used his own web property to do so. By the same token, it doesn't matter who publishes the story - on your own blog, via a press release distribution company or a publishing house - all are subject to the law. You can argue that the law is an ass - but it is there all the same.

On another point, there is nothing to compel a press release distribution company to publish anything - what if, for argument's sake, that Charles' story wasn't true and PR Newswire or whoever distributed the piece - they are the ones that would be in the crap not Charles. Same goes for a publication or a blog.

Who here said that journalists have a monopoly on good journalism?

No one is denying that there is nothing in principle to stop anyone coming up with a story that deserves to be heard - however, not everyone will take into account the factors that professional journalists routinely do - not because they aren't capable of it, but they just don't know - or lack the experience. Or dare, I say it again, because not everyone is cut out to be a professional journalist. Just as not everyone is cut out to be a brain surgeon. Encouraging people to do something without outlining the potential risks involved is reckless.

And was Charles "speaking truth to power" or simply trying to exploit the story for commercial gain (ie for SEO linkbait)?

As for Stan, I'm not aware I attributed an opinion to him. I said I'd be surprised if he did agree with that view. But if does, then I'm happy to accept it from him.

Why don't you ask him his opinion. I'm sure he'd add some valuable input to this discussion. I'd welcome it.

about 7 years ago


Ryan Skinner

You're absolutely right. No one ACTUALLY TOLD him to shut up. It was just implied.

We're liable to persecution if we break the law. Yes. Thank you. Public announcement heard loud and clear. Hear that everybody? You have been warned!

Professional journalists...brain surgeons....puh-lease.

All in all, you sound like the kind of guy who would have chased Paul Revere shouting (in response to his "The British are coming!") "And you can and will be held responsible for acts of rebellion!"

Was Charles speaking truth to power? Just the fact that several press release services didn't even dare to look into his claims says something. And since when were journalists (professional or otherwise) averse to gaining by their work?

And, hell, ask Stan for his opinion yourself.

about 7 years ago

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith, Director at eschermanSmall Business

OK - I'll Stan what he thinks. Good night.

about 7 years ago


Guy Clapperton

I notice my previous comment hasn't appeared, so I'll say it again.

The press release services Charles names in the article - PRNewswire et al - are just that, press release distribution services. They distribute the official announcements from their client companies - their job is a lot more public relations than independent publishing. This is why they are trusted sources for Reuters, because if (for example) a quote appears on them, Reuters knows it's been checked and authorised for publication.

To go to them with this story is one step down the food chain from going to HTC's press office itself and insisting they should distribute the story. I'm pleased it found its natural home on The Register but anyone wanting to get a story out there seriously needs to check who they're approaching.

about 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Guy - Apologies, for reasons unknown the Akismet spam filter automatically filtered your (entirely unspammy) comment.

about 7 years ago

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