Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Is SEO the new spin?

We all know digital has disrupted everything in marketing: Advertising, Direct, Promotions, Design and yes, even PR.

Of course journalists have always had space to fill and demanding editors to appease. In this digital age, they are, as ever, under constant pressure to come up with interesting content which people want to read and which sells magazines/ newspapers/ TV advertising. The 'Digital Revolution' hasn’t changed this.

But digital has, nevertheless, changed PR. Today, pretty much all journalism appears somewhere online. Not all appears in print. And people are reading the online stuff! PR agencies report that their clients are at last properly valuing online coverage. Some offline journalists actually prefer to receive 'pitches' via Twitter or LinkedIn; even the default is email. The days of the caricature PR man/ woman, immaculately dressed and spoken, who does most of his/ her business in wine bars, buying journalists lunch, kissing everyone on both cheeks (mwah, mwah) and then taking a taxi back to the office to craft and dispatch a press release printed on crisp white paper (swiftly followed by a hefty invoice, ditto) are behind us, along with yuppies, shoulder pads and other relics of the 20th Century.

On the other side of the fence, we now have a new breed of online journalist whose deathless prose just happens to appear on a screen (PC, Tablet, mobile device) rather than on something made out of a tree. But make no mistake: they’re under pressure to produce great content too. Bloggers face similar challenges; (tell me about it!) ie. constantly needing to come up with fresh and interesting things to blog about (except, of course, for the apparently effortlessly prolific Seth Godin).

So what exactly is ‘online PR’?

Well a lot of people are writing stuff which appears on websites/ blogs etc. and in the main, they are receptive to press releases in whatever format: ie. interesting facts/ useful ideas to help them generate compelling content: after all, that’s their job, and who wouldn't welcome a helping hand?

Interestingly, we are also seeing the gradual emergence of new type of Press Release, actively promoted by 'Digital PR firms' who offer ‘a new PR for the digital age’. The promise is to “get your news straight to the search engines that everyone uses, like Google, Yahoo and Bing”.

The primary objective here is still to communicate with journalists and editors and help them to write a story. However there is also a secondary objective: Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), ie. to get found (indexed) by Google/Yahoo/Bing, leading to appearances in Search results (including searches made by journalists writing stories: truly a ‘virtuous circle’ in which the story can ‘go viral’). The result is a persuasive and informative piece which will motivate journalists to write a story, but which also acts as a mini-website in its own right with a few skilfully-placed links back to the main site; the best of all worlds. SEO PR is a reality.

Check out firms like PRWebPitch Engine and SEO-PR, all of which are experts at the SEO press release. In simple terms, this is a piece of content which is optimised for certain keywords; moreover once it’s up on the web, (preferably somewhere the Search Engines respect ie. with a high PageRank), the inbound links it contains will improve the Search Engine Results ranking of the author’s site.

As with any type of SEO, it doesn't pay to push your luck; if the targeted keyword appears in every sentence it can make the piece unreadable by humans, even if it impresses the Search Engines. In any case Google and Bing are wise to ‘keyword stuffing’ these days. So you need to know what you’re doing.

Econsultancy, in its Report Social Media and Online PR (September 2010) revealed that only 40% of client companies were currently doing any SEO PR; i.e. their press releases are written by people with little or knowledge of/ interest in SEO. This is a massive missed opportunity.

The report includes this quote:

“It amazed me in last year's results, it's amazed me again. Only 40% of companies use SEO press releases and only 56% use press release posting sites. With SEO celebrating its 17th birthday (at least), why are so few companies utilising the most basic form of link development techniques?”
David Hardy, Group Marketing Director, bigmouthmedia

Every SEO marketer knows the importance to Google and Bing of inbound links (= 'backlinks'). SEO PR can be a key tool for generating such links. For (much) more on routine but effective (and also more cunning) ways to get links, check this out from 'Linkbaiter Guru' Kelvin Newman, who has just written the (e)book on this subject: .

As we have seen, SEO Press Releases serve a dual purpose: this requires a marriage of talents. The skills required here are a blend of SEO and PR; not many agencies currently have both the necessary media relations and SEO skills in-house. Indeed PR agencies are rapidly re-engineering their businesses for the changing media world. It appears some of the smaller agencies are further down the line with this change than the big PR firms. Check out thebluedoor and Red Dog who describe their mission as “creating buzz in a digital world”. For those agencies who ‘get it’, ‘The New Online PR’ is about much more than media relations/ just sending out (e)press releases.

We all know print journalism is shrinking but we also know that there will always be a demand for quality content, whether consumed on paper, mobile or tablet. If you’re not only trying to engage journalists and persuade them to run a story, but also trying to drive traffic to somewhere else on the web, you’d do well to know your SEO before you send out that Press Release.

Digital, and specifically SEO, hasn't killed PR; rather, the two disciplines will increasingly need to work closely together. Client PR Personnel and PR Agencies need to take this on board and evolve, or risk rapidly becoming irrelevant.


Guy Crouchback said...

SEO is a zero sum game. Dog Eat Dog. [Obvious ? - stop reading now] The finite resource is attention. The advertising mantra that you are providing an information service was always thin (and did you ever believe it anyway ?). Now the targeting is so extreme there is nothing more to be gained at the recipient end by reading for longer or surfing to more links. No time. Fatigue. Eye-strain. Yes I know it would be good for me but I have lots more urgent-even-if-not-important things to do. More SEO will not increase the size of the attention pie - but yes you may claw a slightly larger slice. So feel free to scramble - and maybe you need to (defensively). But as the SEO arms race escalates it is more about manipulation than communication - and returns are diminishing.

Guy Crouchback said...

SEO is a zero sum game. Dog Eat Dog. [Obvious ? - stop reading now]. The limited resource is attention. The advertising mantra that it is a service providing information was always thin (and did you really ever believe it ?). Now there is transparently minimal marginal value to the recipient of SEO targeting. And you won't expand the attention pie. Too many links to follow that I know maybe relevant. Fatigue. Eye strain. Too many other irresistibly-urgent-even-if-not-important things to do. So feel free to scramble for a slightly bigger slice and maybe defensively you need to. But as the SEO arms race escalates, it is more about manipulation than communication - and returns are diminishing.

Vince Vellum said...

Interesting isn't it that Blair and Campbell are still the spin icons - no-one seems to have close since (which may be a good thing).
Your Seriously Excellent Offering again provides simply essential online content for a twitter / facebook /smartphone-free digital curmudgeon like me. It made me wonder:
* isn't it a good thing that not everyone does SEO? if everyone did it, wouldn't you just end up with the status quo?
* I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the take up of SEO amongst dodgy digital dealers is nearer 100% - certainly as a consumer, knowing that SEO is available to the best and the worst makes me less trusting of search engine results.
Keep up the good work - you'll trigger my enthusiastic gene one day I'm sure.