Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The inevitable Integration of Search and PR

Traditional PR is not sacred in the post Internet world. Anyone can get to be on the front page of the news on the Internet today. And smart SEO companies are all over it.

It's a natural for us, because the news has become a search medium. It's mainly text based so we can optimize it for keywords.

Today, for a small fee and completely online, we can insert press releases into Google and Yahoo News and get them syndicated on industry and niche sites all over the world. The reach is staggering.

What's different now is that it doesn't even matter if your release is picked up by any traditional media. There is no longer any need for the intermediation of a journalist to get attention.

Yahoo News is currently the number 1 online news source. It's a news media of it's own with over 1Million unique visitors a day. And our press releases are listed right alongside releases from AP and Reuters.

You submit your news, and there it is, coming up at the top of the news for all of your keywords. Here's the reach of online news:

Yahoo News is the number one online news source

Journalists are only a tiny fraction of the people reading this news. The press release isn't for the journalist any more - it's direct to public.

The secret to success is to optimize our press releases for our money keywords, the words that get searched the most by our potential customers. We can be at the top of the news for whatever we want, but we have to make it the right words.

A simple press release can get thousands or tens of thousands of views in a few days after it's release.

But it's not just the people reading your release that makes this a great medium. If we pay a little extra to have embedded links with our own anchor text, these links are distributed within the release wherever it's shown. Readers of our release can click through and visit our sites. Maybe become a lead, or buy something.

But those aren't even the reasons why SEO companies are doing PR. The two main reasons why every smart SEO company is doing it are:
  1. Inbound links. The syndication of your release on niche sites propagates links to your site all over the Internet. The press release itself contains links that can be deep links into your site on whatever words you choose. And bloggers (non-traditional news media) may comment on your release and link to it or your site. All of which enhances the value of your site to the search engines and puts positive upward pressure on your search rankings.
  2. Universal search. In May 2007, Google unveiled universal search. What this means is that the search engine results pages (SERPS) now frequently contain blended results from different sources. Instead of simply listing the top 10 sites as before, depending on the search it may contain only 4 sites, plus 2 images, 2 news items, a video, and local listing. This has huge implications for search engine marketers: There's less page one space for regular site listings, which makes it more competitive, but there's new opportunities to grab more page one real estate if your a broader thinker. It's natural, and in fact required, for SEO's to broaden out into optimization and distribution of other media such as videos, images and of course, news.
There's a tremendous opportunity in PR that may be missed by many PR agencies:

Traditional PR agencies can get up to speed with publishing through online news channels, but they look at it in a different way. Under traditional PR management the value of links, anchor text and effective keyword choice and optimization will be underused or missed entirely.

And it's not just the online news that is shaking up traditional PR. The tremendous growth of social media is a new kind of news. The long tail of news split into a gazillion niches. Traditional media targeting campaigns are losing their punch as many readers opt for popular blogs, forums and social media sites to get exactly what they're interested in, bypassing traditional media altogether.

PR companies need to understand search. When you get picked up by online media, many times you won't get a link to your site. And in print or broadcast? No link either. The news generated by media hits in turn generates search traffic - and our clients had better show up for their company names and the terms used in the story. Whether it's in the organic listings, sponsored listings, or better, both.

SEO companies are better positioned to take advantage of social media and online news, but most have a lot of growing up to do.

Struggling SEO companies will see it only from the other side, looking only for the value of links and immediate traffic. Generally, SEO companies don't yet have the skills in traditional PR, and will miss the opportunities to leverage the tremendous power of the mainstream media.

There must emerge a new breed of integrated Internet marketing agencies that will have excellent proficiency in both PR, Social Media, and SEM (Search engine marketing):

These teams must interact both strategically and tactically:

The PR team will still create their typical media targeting lists, media schedules, pitch ideas, sponsorship ideas, key messages and backup materials.

And working alongside them, the SEO team will create highly targeted keyword lists, and help come up with press release ideas that can include the right keywords, and create a schedule to publish a news releases into the online news every 30 days (to maintain constant exposure).

The Social Media experts will weigh in with ideas on videos, images and multimedia ideas to be included, and add to the media target list names of high profile bloggers and plans to get in or leverage highly traffic sites such as DIGG, Reddit, BoingBoing, or other sites that reach your demographic.

The Web Analytics guys will be consulted in the very beginning to create and track meaningful KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to measure the real success of the campaign.

Tactically, PR will draft all of the releases, and SEO will optimize them for keywords, and place keyword rich anchor text that strategically deep link into our sites. The SEO team will submit them for online distribution.

Some releases will be purely for immediate traffic and links. Others will coincide with traditional media pitches by the PR team. Other articles and new content will be tagged or otherwise submitted to dozens of social media sites.

Everything will be tracked, trended and analyzed for traffic, links, conversions, media hits and of course, sales. This integrated approach is a must to maximize reach in the new world of almost infinity fragmented online media that is eating away at traditional media more every day.


If you want to read more on this, here's two older posts of mini-case studies of online press releases:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Business to Business Online Lead Generation 2008

It's leads, more often than not, that a Business to Business (B2B) company needs from their web site. We don't expect, or even want, to close sales online. Even more frequently with larger sales, they're typically closed on the phone or in person.

But how does our web site generate leads? And when we get them, how do we know where are leads are coming from?

We don't expect an e-commerce site that is ringing in sales all day, but we do expect a steady stream of qualified individuals that our sales team can follow up and close.

We want good leads. But how do we do it?

In a recent survey by Enquiro, 80% of B2B customers found the vendor, vs. 20% of vendors found the customer.

In every industry, every business, people are searching for solutions. As marketers, You have to learn the language of your customer, and be there when they search and where they search.

And search is not just the top 'search engines', like Google and Yahoo. For example, the top 3 business directories are:

  1. Business.com
  2. Knowledgestorm
  3. Thomasnet
And that just scratches the surface. In every industry there are blogs, forums, directories, vertical search engines, associations, trade magazine web sites... and then there's the news. There's Google News, Yahoo News (3x bigger!), industry news, newsletters, news sites and on and on.

When there's something on our mind, we start with search. Most of us have become adept with knowing where to search for what. Want a local business listing? Yellowpages. Need a book? Amazon. A Heath Question? WebMD. A funny TV commercial? YouTube. A Song? iTunes.

Research shows, and it's not hard to imagine, that almost every browsing session includes a search. And that search is usually with Google. Google is bar far the market leader in search and reach.

Our questions lead us to search. And so should our marketing program.

Why? Because everything starts with search. Offline media like television and radio spawns search. News starts us searching. When we need a solution to a very specific business problem? We search.

When our customers are searching for a solution we can provide, we need to be found. Whenever, wherever, and every time they search.

But what are they searching for? That is the key. THAT cannot be understated.

Figuring out what they're searching for is so important we can't just do it once and call it done. We need to do it all of the time. Or at the very least revisit it regularly.

We don't just need to be found or our company and product names. That's just the very beginning. We need to be in front of all of the people searching that have never heard of us, never used our products. But want something just like we have. Here are a few questions to illustrate how the thinking should go:
  • What are the generic names for our products and services? Not some of them - all of them.
  • What do people think the solution to their problem is?
  • What is the result or outcome that you provide?
  • Do your customers typically buy or have something else before they buy your solution? What are the generic phrases around that?
The number of terms in search queries are getting longer and longer as we as a society get better at search. Four word searches now outnumber one word searches. We are getting adept and pinpointing exactly what we want. But we do it in so many different ways. We need to find the most common ways to describe what we have, problem we solve, or what we deliver, and get found for that.

Great. How?

Here's a quick and simple overview:
  1. Understand your audience. Segment into major buying types so you can treat different people differently. You may want to create full blown personas.
  2. Give them what they want. People want to find more information online. More than what's in the brochure. They want to qualify themselves and qualify you before they ever make a contact. Understand what they want so you can give it to them. This is where segmentation comes in. Different people, different roles, need different information.
  3. Be clear about what you want - and ask for it. You'll have to be convincing. What will persuade your different buying types to pick up the phone, send an email, or fill out a request form? A whitepaper? Free trial? Case study, ebook, coupon, online discount, free gift, special offer, free membership, webinar, calculator tool, what else can you think of?
  4. Know what they're searching for. At this step your site plan may have what they need and what you need, but how are you going to be found? You may sell point of sale terminals, but they may be searching for card swipers. You may be looking to lend money, but they want to borrow it. You sell control room displays, they want a video wall. You have to get the words right.
  5. Create the content you need to be found. You may have to be creative to come up with content around the funny ways people describe your solution. But it's not that hard. You can write articles, a glossary, frequently asked questions. You can create your own "University". You can have a section on industry news or information. You can blog about the industry and cover a wide range of topics. How about an entire section that describes the problem that people have before they need your solution?
  6. Decide what you need to measure, set goals, and measure it. You want leads? How many? What kind? From where? Who are they? It's OK to be optimistic, but be realistic, too. How many leads do you get now vs. how many do you want to get? Measure your results every month.
That last point deserves more attention. You must measure what you actually want to get. Don't buy into a search program from a web developer that 'also does search' and wants to measure success by your rankings for phrases that they suggest. High rankings doesn't equal leads. More traffic doesn't equal leads. Leads equals leads.

Remember that like most things, a good search program requires sustained, iterative effort. And the Internet marketing agency must be held accountable for bottom line results. If you follow the six steps above with a good partner, and keep plugging away the results will come.

If you plug away at it, the results will come. It may sound cliche, but it if you aren't doing it, your competitors are. Ask a good search agency to compare you with your top competitors. If you don't know where you stand, you should.

If you haven't started, nows the time. As each day goes by, the leaders in Internet marketing get more entrenched. It's not too late, but the barriers to entry get higher every day.

I'll sign off today with a few thoughts on where the opportunities lie:
  1. The news. Google and Yahoo News get more than 1 million unique visitors searching every day. You can easily publish a press release and be inserted in the online news. There are far fewer press releases on your topic than there are web pages, and recency rules in the news. The premium shelf life of a press release in the online news is 30 days. Publish a new release every 30 days, optimize it for your money words, and you'll be nio the front page every day.
  2. Universal Search. The search engine results pages (SERPs) are changing. Instead of 10 blue links in the SERPS, search engines are experimenting with blended results from many mediums. This is the future. So instead of 10 sites, we'll have a mixture of news, images, videos and sites. If you create the news, tag and distribute images and videos, you have a chance to not be in the search results, but dominate them.
  3. Closing the loop. Knowing where to put your efforts is priceless. Work hard to create a system in your environment where you can track the source of not only every lead, but every new sale. Every new contact in your CRM system should have a source: tradeshow, search engine, keyword used, campaign clicked on, etc. Report on this and analyze it. What is delivering sales? Not rankings, not traffic, not leads, but sales. What is working and what isn't? Know this, and you'll be way ahead. You can optimize it further and your competitors and colleagues will wonder how you seem to be a media buying magician.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

New Thinking After SES Toronto 2008

My mind is racing. I started to write this post as my key take-aways from SES Toronto, but as I fleshed it out it got more infused with other thoughts I've been cultivating. So I've had to change the name. It's no longer "Key Takeaways from SES Toronto", but "New Thinking After SES Toronto."

I really am thinking in a new way.

1: Search has become the center of all marketing - and life.
It's built into human nature - it's the only way to find anything in our over abundant world of choice. Everything is about search more every day. Tivo's are search for TV. YouTube is search for video online. iTunes is search for Music. Netflix is search for movies. Millions of us search for news and weather every day. On your phone you search for everything: people in your address book, a local restaurant in your browser, an address in Google maps.

SideNote: What's search for your keys or wallet? Can someone please give me some RFID tags to put on them and build a phone to search for them? I am joking but I am not.

2: Seriously: search is not an option, but a required component for integrating media. People are searching on words they hear or see in the media to find what they've become aware and interested in. Do you want your competitors gaining from awareness generated by your TV commercials, radio, outdoor media, etc.?

In Fredrick Markini's cogent and engaging Toronto SES opening keynote, he told a story of a company in Norway that ran TV ads but didn't pay attention to the effect in search. Their competitor noticed the increased traffic in the organic results, and bought 50 phrases in PPC related to the TV campaign. They had to shut it down after 30 days because they could take no more business. The company that ran the TV ads gifted thousands of customers to the competitor.

One of his stats:

"40% of people going online because of an offline campaign make a purchase."

3: Vertical search is becoming more important, and it will continue to be so. Giants like Google can't provide the context and expertise that a vertical site can. That's not to say that Google can't buy, build or otherwise own many successful properties, but the point is that people want and need the context provided by vertical sites. Google is used more and more to find portals, directories and other search engines on specific topics.

This means as marketers we've got to search for all of the new places that our audience is searching for someone like us. We need to be in front of our audience wherever and whenever they are searching. All of the time.

4: Social Media is real and it's time to start paying attention. It's so incredibly friggin' big and so friggin' broad. It's the natural evolution of life on the Internet and it will evolve much more. It is not going away. But we are now really getting our hands around it as an industry. Social Media (SM) is different than search in that it shows feelings and expressions, while search shows intent. What can we do with feelings and expressions?

  • Monitor reputation and brand attitudes. Reviews, blogs, comments, videos - there is a lot of discussion and data out there
  • Catch problems in their infancy and allow us to address them quickly before they get out of hand.
  • Join the conversation about our brands and make a positive influence. The conversation is happening with or without us.
  • With creativity and some luck, you can even create a community around your brand. (But really think it though first... that can be a huge undertaking.)
These are all useful from a PR perspective, but without diminishing their value, they are more difficult to draw a straight line to improved financial results. There are other ways to use social to more directly influence the bottom line:
  • Leverage comments, reviews and recommendations as third party proof sources to increase credibility and draw direct line to increased sales. The exact effect of various changes to content and pages used to be hard to measure, but with Google WebSite Optimizer and a skilled hand, it's now quite easy - and statistically provable.
  • Social video like YouTube offers excellent opportunities for improved visibility through optimized postings and clever content on themes directly, or maybe even indirectly, related to your business.

    A directly related example: The company that makes information videos on their obscure product niche. People are searching for it, and there is no other video competition online.

    Indirectly related example: A shampoo company that posts videos about hairstyles (because people search for hairstyles, but shampoo's - not so much)

  • You probably shouldn't get into SM just for the extra links to your site. But you can get a lot of extra links to your site. Links can produce traffic, improved search engine rankings (therefore more traffic), and traffic equates to more sales.
The incredibly targeted advertising promised by the very scary big brother stuff thats being built on demographics, interests and preferences has not really materialized in any big way yet. Facebook Ads are still in their infancy. But this has got a very long way to go, and it is going to get really interesting over the next few years. That's for both the incredibly targeting advertising and the very scary big brother stuff.

But now I have to stop. I have so much more to say but this is getting long and it's getting really late. To be continued....

Google having difficulty delivering to Gmail?

We are doing informal testing on Gmail deliverability today after a report from a client that they are getting some of our mail in their Gmail Spam account.

So far we've sent emails to about 40 different internal test Gmail accounts, a mixture of old and new, and sure enough, a percentage of emails are getting thrown into the junk folder. It seems fairly random so far, with identical emails going to both the spam and to the inbox in the same account.

So I did a few searches to see if anyone else is experiencing the same problem, and we are not alone:

Just this month, Andy Beard noticed false positives, and then while checking his spam folder found a Google email alert in the Gmail spam folder! (oh the irony)

After a bit more research I can see this this phenomena started happening after the new year, and has been continuing since:

January '08: Another Google mail in the Gmail spam folder

February '08: Gmail-false-positives-are-on-the-rise

March '08: GMail spam filter is throwing up some false positives today

April '08: Fish out the false positives

May '08: Are Gmail's Spam Filters Getting OverZealous?

The good news is that it is occasional - the bad is that it's random and so far unpredictable. We've seen message headers, content and IP addresses that are identical being both delivered and junked at the same time.

Can it be fixed? We'll see...