Author Archives: Sarah Skerik

Copy Quality: New Imperatives for Communicators

New copy quality guidelines from PR Newswire to help improve press release content quality.

New copy quality guidelines from PR Newswire to help improve press release content quality.

How does one determine whether or not a piece of content is low quality?

Since we added copy quality to the guidelines against which we assess press releases and other content prior to distribution, we’ve counseled a number of clients on steps they can take to improve thevalue of their content for their audiences.

Understanding how to build/create quality content is a mandate for all communicators creating digital content.  Google started raising the bar on web content quality in early 2011, when the first Panda algorithm update was deployed.  Taking aim at link farms and websites created to propagate links and manipulate search rank but which offer little to no real use to human beings, the goal of the Panda update is to improve the relevance of the search results Google returned to internet searchers.

The new rules of content quality

Google has kept the pedal to the metal, rolling out changes and updates to its algorithms in an ongoing effort to improve the utility of its search engine by returning better and better results to users, and it’s safe to assume that this won’t change in the future.  Communicators of all stripes publishing digital content and seeking visibility in search engines will have to play by the rules.

So let’s look at those rules.  In a blog post on their Webmaster Central blog, Google offered insights into how, when building the Panda algorithm, they determined whether or not content was quality.

“Below are some questions that one could use to assess the “quality” of a page or an article. These are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves as we write algorithms that attempt to assess site quality. Think of it as our take at encoding what we think our users want.  

Would you trust the information presented in this article?

Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?

Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?

Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?

Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?

 Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?

Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?

Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?

How much quality control is done on content?

Does the article describe both sides of a story?

Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?

Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?

Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?

For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?

Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?

Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?

Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?

 Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?

Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?

Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?

Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?

Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?

Would users complain when they see pages from this site?”

- Google Webmaster Central, More guidance on building high-quality sites

Evaluating the content your brand produces through the lens of these questions will reveal with stark clarity whether or not the content makes the cut in Google’s eyes.   And even if the press releases you submit to PR Newswire adhere to the copy quality guidelines we’ve published, you can tighten the screws on your content by keeping this larger set of quality indicators from Google firmly in mind.

Messages that are useful and interesting to audiences generate results beyond search engine visibility.  They garner mentions, earn media and inspire social sharing – activities which drive brand messaging into new audiences and powering improved campaign results.    Some organizations will be challenged by this new reality but ultimately, overall marketing and communications objectives are well served by more engaging content.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Updated Tactics for Issuing Press Releases Across Multiple Markets

It’s not unusual for an organization to issue similar announcements across a variety of markets. Whether announcing award recipients, regional services or a multi-city tour, developing localized press releases with similar themes for multiple markets is a common and necessary PR tactic, and using a template for the messages has long been standard practice.

However, PR Newswire’s new copy quality guidelines caution against using templates, and for good reason.  Google’s recent Panda update targeted low quality content, and multiple redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations were specifically cited as indicators of low quality content.

So what’s a PR pro to do when faced with the task of creating similar announcements for multiple markets?  Here are some tips for developing messages that won’t be flagged as low quality content and (bonus!) are more likely to garner the attention of journalists, bloggers and local audiences:

  • Create unique messages.  Each headline, subhead and lead paragraph need to be significantly different – merely changing names of cities or people in each isn’t enough.
  • Emphasize different story angles.  For example, if you’re announcing special events at a variety of hotel locations across the nation, emphasize different aspects of each location – e.g. shopping on the Mag Mile in Chicago, touring historic neighborhoods in Boston, waterfront attractions in San Francisco, etc.
  • Localize and further differentiate content by including real quotes from people on the ground in each market.
  • Include market-specific visuals, such as pictures of a local storefronts, individual award recipients, etc.
  • As much as possible, encourage social sharing of the content by local contacts.
  • Stagger distribution.  Don’t unleash a spate of similar messages all at once.
  • Rethink your approach entirely. Instead distributing press releases over the newswire for each market, build more public awareness by creating a rich, compelling and highly visual multimedia press release that tells the whole story.  Then use your media database to identify relevant media and bloggers in the region, and send them market-specific details directly via email.  (Here’s a great example from Honda, announcing the Honda Stage Festival.)

There’s no doubt that creating unique, quality content is more time consuming that simply using a template to crank out messages, but audiences value rich content, causing Google (and PR Newswire) to raise the bar on content quality.  To deliver the best results for the organization, creating unique and useful content is imperative.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Safeguarding Brand Visibility on Social Networks

brand hub

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all public companies, and as such, their primary objectives are to return profits to their shareholders, not drive visibility for the brands that have developed presences on their platforms.  It’s no secret that social networks strive to make their sites useful and attractive to users, employing algorithms to serve up content that will engage their audiences and keep them on the site longer (thus exposing them to more advertising.)  The recent news of Facebook’s experiment in manipulating user emotions by managing what they see in their newsfeeds is surprising to some, but the reality is this:  the brands we represent are not in control of social presences, and while there’s no doubt social media is a powerful communications medium, communicators are at the mercy of the social network companies and their fiduciary duties to their respective shareholders.

Changes in organic reach of Facebook posts since September 2012. Via Moz.com

The social network companies can make (and have made) significant changes to their platforms, increasing and decreasing visibility for brands seemingly at the drop of a hat.   As a result, except for brands willing to spend heavily on advertising, visibility via social networks can be unpredictable.

Here are four ways brands can safeguard their online visibility and social network traction.

Make your web site or blog the center of your content universe. Instead of using social platforms as the primary repositories for the content your brand produces, concentrate key assets on channels the brand controls.

Use social channels to build awareness and engagement, but don’t invest in creating communities on sites you don’t own.  Social networks are great places to find and interact with like-minded people. However, building communities and groups on sites your brand doesn’t own, for example, creates an asset for the social networking company, not your own brand.   If you’re going to invest in building a community, do so using a channel the brand owns.

Build a multichannel strategy for distributing content and messaging.   Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Building a multichannel approach to distributing content is crucial for building new audiences and maintaining engagement with people who are already connected with a brand.  Social media, commercial newswire services, online communities and a brand’s own digital channels reach different audiences.  Employ a mix, and fine tune messages to fit each, to maximize relevant exposure for your messages. You’ll also be creating a hedge against significant changes in the social media or search engine landscapes.

Let your audience do the talking.  Encourage social sharing (but point people back to your brand’s hub.)  As you develop content and plan strategies, make “social sharing” a goal.  Building content and crafting strategies with social sharing outcomes in mind will not only help amplify brand messages – you’ll build credibility through social proof, as well.   When possible, link shared elements back to your brand’s owned channels.

Using social channels to amplify brand messages while at the same time directing audiences towards digital assets the brand owns and controls enables organizations to capitalize upon the important benefits social media delivers, building visibility and interaction with key audiences  while protecting the brand’s investment in content development and outreach.  In addition to limiting downside risk to the organization in the face of changes in how social networks present brand content, smart communicators can develop traction with audiences on their brands’ own channels, developing increasing the return the organization realizes on the content it develops.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

The key to press release success: multiple visual elements [Study + infographic]

Press releases with multiple visual assets generate more views, a study by PR Newswire found.

Press releases with multiple visual assets generate more views, a study by PR Newswire found.

How can you get better results with your press releases?  The data is in, and the answer is clear.  Visual illustration of your message is a key driver of success.

PR Newswire’s analytics team recently updated – and significantly expanded – our analysis of press release types, and the results each produces in terms of online views.  For the most recent iteration of this ongoing analysis, we looked at every press release viewed on PRNewswire.com last year, regardless of when it was issued.  Well over one million press releases were measured. 

For the analysis, we broke the release types into the following buckets:

  • Text Only
  • Text + one visual asset, such as a single image or video
  • Text + multiple visuals
  • Fully loaded multimedia press releases and campaign microsites

The results are clear – visuals drive more content views, and adding multiple media assets to your content (press releases, and anything else you publish online, for that matter) generates even better results.

Why visuals improve results:  

One visual is good, more are better.   There are a few reasons why this is the case.

  • Each visual is distributed in its own right, and has its own potential for garnering attention.  In addition to the distribution of visual content the brand either pays for or executes on its own, each visual also has the potential to trigger social sharing, further expanding the audience for the message.
  • Visuals surface story elements that may be overlooked by readers, giving your messages second (and third) chances at connecting with readers.  It’s easy to overlook a theme that’s presented in the middle of the fourth paragraph. However, calling attention to that theme with a visual – a video snippet or image – can help connect that message with readers who care, and who might have glanced over the message initially.
  • Journalists and bloggers are also hunting for visuals to illustrate the digital media they create. While they may not use the visuals your brand provides in their original form,  they will often edit video to fit their stories or derive new works from infographics.  Additionally, including visuals communicates that the story is one that can (and should be) illustrated visually, which will increase the story’s appeal for many digital content creators.

Many communicators note they don’t have ready access to related images when asked why they don’t use more multimedia in their press releases.  Our new Media Studio tool – free for clients using the Online Member Center to upload content for distribution, enables you to store, organize, size, caption and tag images for use in digital content.

If you’d like to speak to someone on our team about adding visuals to your press releases, please contact us here: http://promotions.prnewswire.com/standout2014.html

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Press Releases, PR Newswire and Panda

New copy quality guidelines from PR Newswire to help improve press release content quality.

New copy quality guidelines from PR Newswire are designed to help improve press release content quality.

In late May, Google rolled out an update to its Panda algorithm that targeted low quality content, affecting a variety of content distributors and press release websites, including PR Newswire.   By “low quality content,” we’re referring specifically to press releases that were used in efforts to manipulate search rankings.   These releases were of little-to-no redeeming value for readers.

In an ensuing audit of the content of our site, we identified the spam press  releases which had had been generating inordinately high inbound links and traffic due to the black hat SEO tactics their issuers employed.  Those releases have since been deleted, and we’ll be monitoring our site content for unusual levels of inbound links, traffic and other red flags on an ongoing basis.

Distribution is about more than just one web site

While we’re proud of the fact that our web site attracts millions of unique visitors each month, it’s important to remember that PR Newswire has also spent years building a comprehensive distribution network that reaches a vast global audience, including:

  • Thousands upon thousands of media outlets, via direct news feeds;
  • More than 30,000 credentialed journalists and bloggers, via PR Newswire for Journalists;
  • Information databases like Factiva and LexisNexis;
  • More than 10,000 websites worldwide, who display feeds of relevant news releases designed for their audiences;
  • The social web, via dozens of carefully curated, industry- and topic-specific presences on Twitter and Pinterest.

PR Newswire has cultivated an engaged and high-quality audience for press release content.

Our media relations and content syndication teams work one-on-one with media outlets, individual journalists and bloggers and website operators to create and deliver feeds of press releases germane to their areas of coverage, interest or beats.

New guidelines governing press release copy quality

To improve the content quality we distribute, we’ve started reviewing all press release submitted for distribution over the wire for content quality. As they review releases, our team will be looking at a variety of different message elements, including:

  • Inclusion of insightful analysis, original content (e.g. research, reporting or other interesting and useful information,)
  • The format of the releases, guarding against the repeated use of templated copy (except boilerplate,)
  • The length of the releases,  flagging very short, unsubstantial messages that are mere vehicles for links
  • Overuse of keywords and/or links within the message.

These new guidelines are additions to our already robust press release acceptance guidelines, which include verification of sources, authentication of the sender’s identity and attribution to the source, among other requirements that all messages must meet before distribution by PR Newswire.

Most PR Newswire customers, who write and distribute press releases with the primary intent of building awareness of key messages and earning media, will be unaffected by our new guidelines.

Press releases are about earned media, building awareness and acquiring audience

It has long been our stated position that press releases are chiefly about building awareness, and we don’t promote press releases as link building devices.   (See: Generate Awareness, Not Links, With Press Releases.)

We believe that the distribution of press releases plays a very useful role in driving content discovery, introducing new audiences to brand messages, seeding and encouraging social interaction, and, of course, earning media pick up.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Reality Check: Meeker’s Internet Trends Report & Notes for Communicators

Almost 20% of press release views on PR Newswire's web site  originate on a mobile device.

Almost 20% of press release views on PR Newswire’s web site originate on a mobile device.

Summary:  Mary Meeker’s most recent presentation on internet trends (given yesterday at the Re/Code Code Conference) emphasized the powerful growth of the mobile web. In this post we summarize key points from Meeker’s discussion in terms of impact for marketing and PR pros. 

As we approach the mid-year point for 2014, it’s worth taking a minute to consider trends in internet usage as we develop our PR and content marketing plans for the upcoming months.   Internet sage Mary Meeker gave a wide ranging view of internet trends yesterday at Re/Code’s Code Conference, and within her data are some findings that demand communicators’ attention.

The mobile web gathers strength

Growth in use of mobile devices – and thus, mobile internet use – is still extremely strong worldwide, but with just 30% of mobile users using smartphones, a lot of upside remains, which means the mobile web will only grow more pervasive – and important – in the months and years to come.

Even more stunning is the spectacular growth rate of tablet sales, which are growing far more quickly than PCs or laptops ever did.  The portability and intuitive design of tablets are fueling the demand for these devices.

The net effect of these trends in hardware sales is pretty profound: more and more individuals are accessing web-based content from smart phones and tablets. Meeker reported that 25% of web traffic originates from mobile devices today, up from 14% a year ago.

Changes in audience behavior

However, folks are not simply laying laptops aside and picking up their phablets instead.  Mobile devices have ushered in new behaviors, enabling people to use time on a train platform, bus or grocery store checkout line to continue following the news stories, researching the products or engaging in the conversations they were having at their desks. Certainly, there’s more competition for attention than ever, however, audiences are devoting hours of their days to online information and interaction, offering marketers new opportunities to connect.

Imperatives for communicators

Ensuring your organizations’ communications are clear and render well across a range of mobile devices is of indisputable importance today.  Rest assured, your audiences are reading your brand’s blog posts, perusing press releases and viewing videos from their phones and tablets. If the content your organization has published isn’t mobile friendly, audiences will go find content that is, taking with them valuable opportunities for your brand to inform, engage and connect with them.   Here’s a simple checklist to help ensure the content your brand is creating will resonate on the mobile web:

  • Use short, tight headlines (100 characters or so) to capture fast-moving reader attention.
  • When selecting visuals, be sure to use some that are simple and render well on small screens.  I.e. in addition to a large infographic, also include a snippet highlighting a key fact that will be easy to read on a smaller screen.
  • Have a chat with your vendors about their mobile capabilities. PR Newswire’s MediaRoom product, for example, is designed to deliver a consistent user experience for web site visitors, whether or not the client web site employs responsive design.  For sites that aren’t responsive, we’ll create a mobile-optimized MediaRoom, ensuring your PR content is usable on mobile devices (even if the brand web site isn’t.)

“Even if your organization’s website is not optimized for mobile or responsively designed, you still have options for creating an online newsroom that provides your growing mobile visitor audience with the best possible user experience,” noted Chris Antoline, our director of customer engagement and an expert in developing online press rooms.

  • Edit large files.  Create shorter (a minute or two) video clips, pull out excerpts from white papers, and break long PDFs into pieces to make it easy for mobile users to get to specific information.

So the next time you plan a campaign, think about your mobile audiences, and build content that works for them, too.  And don’t forget to include a discussion of reaching mobile audience when talking to various vendors, such as design firms, email providers or commercial newswire services, and when you prepare your 2015 budgets.  Developing communications that resonate with mobile audiences is fast becoming a cornerstone of successful communication strategies.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

10 Tips for Developing Your Organization’s Visual Strategy

A look at the data around use of visuals by public relations professionals tells a few different stories.  On the one hand, use of visuals in press releases has increased steadily over the last few years, and the majority of communicators (76%, to be exact) surveyed about multimedia use in PR indicated they plan to increase usage.  That said, the great majority of press releases issued by PRNewswire are text-only, with no visual elements.

MediaStudio-Visual-Storytelling At the same time, data around the effectiveness of visuals is incontrovertible. Press releases with more visual elements garner more views. Search engines and social networks reward visual content, which is one reason why messages that contain a visual element get more views.  But there’s more to the story than just more eyeballs.

Content with visuals also generates better engagement among the audience, arresting their attention and keeping them on the page longer – especially in the case of video. This helps brands build affinity, and encourage important following actions by the audience is engaged with the messages. An additional benefit – when audiences spend more time on your web site, and interact with the content there, it sends a powerful and positive signal to search engines, indicating that the your web site content is valuable.  This contributes positively to search rank.

The case for using visuals in press releases, content marketing and other digital communications is clear, but for many organizations, doing this is easier said than done.  According to the PR and marketing pros responding to our survey, budget isn’t the primary constraint when it comes to producing multimedia messaging.  The principal challenges are time and resources.

The demand for content across the board puts high demands on an organization’s resources.  In-house designers have high workloads and external designers carry high-prices.  Developing compelling visual content also takes time, which can be problematic when a fast-moving team is developing a campaign.

  1. Getting organizedSo how can your organization get ahead of the curve when it comes to employing visuals in your messaging?  A great way to get started is to simply organize your brand’s visual assets, and centralize their storage.  If you’re a PR Newswire customer, you have free access to Media Studio, where you can upload, store and organize images and videos in a secure environment for future use.
  2. Gathering content – getting it out of hard drives, off the intranet and  downloaded from social channels – and consolidating it for easy use by all of your communications teams will help your brand immediately improve communications effectiveness.  Additionally, your organization will realize more value from the content it has produced and teams will save time.
  3. Developing galleries of go-to visuals, such as logos and executive head shots that are ready to go for breaking news and crisis situations as well as for ongoing, regularly scheduled communications.   Pro tip: while you’re collecting those head shots, update the bios too, adding links to published articles, active social presences, slide presentations, etc.
  4. If your company does webinars, check with your webinar provider. You may be able to easily extract elements of a recorded webinar and turn them into the video.
  5. Mine the presentations your employees create for sales meetings and external presentations, for new story lines and fresh content.
  6. Be sure to have screenshots of any web-based services or customer portals created and stored.  Bonus points will be awarded for video demos or walk-throughs.
  7. Infographics do not have to be complex, lengthy affairs. A single data point turned into a colorful graph can be just as compelling as a longer form graphic.
  8. Conversely, if you do produce a long form infographic, be sure to have your designer create stand-alone images of key points.  Large infographics don’t render well on every platform.  A single, highly visual point can also drive attention to your message.
  9. Don’t despair if you don’t have a bevy of great research data with which to build an infographics. Processes, decision trees, and building blocks type learning scenarios also make great fodder for infographics.
  10. Mine white papers and research reports, as well as market research done by product teams, for trends and data that can be turned into simple graphics.  Don’t forget to look into interviewing customers quoted in papers, researchers and others associated with the content – videos add new perspective and can humanize a data-rich story.

So if you’re among the majority of communicators who want to utilize more visuals in campaigns, but are challenged by constraints on your time and resources, start by organizing – and then utilizing – the visuals you have.  Be sure to tally your results and benchmark progress – that data will help you make the case to secure more budget for content development in the future.

And if you’re a PR Newswire client that uses the Online Member Center, learn more about Media Studio here.  This great tool provides you a place to upload, store and organize your visual assets. It’s  available to you now … and it’s free! 

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Why Storytelling Matters for PR

There’s a lot of talk about storytelling today amongst communicators, and for good reason.   In our frenetic, always-on, socially-connected, information fueled environments, information is continually washing over us.  A few things stick, and those are generally stories.

The key to a good story is found in the audience’s ability to relate strongly to something in the story, which naturally builds affinity.  And affinity is important to brands.

A good narrative can also spur the audience to act.  The best social media campaigns are all underpinned with strong stories.

Developing the ability to weave storytelling into unexpected places – such as press releases or executive profiles, for example – can have myriad effects.  Stories can help journalists understand the impact of announcement, and drive news coverage.  A compelling story can inspire prospective customers to act, and engage more deeply with a brand.

Stories are more than flash-in-the-pan campaign tactics.  They build pulling power over time, which means different KPIs should be employed to measure their effects.   Traffic to the web site over time, message virality and the quality of the leads generated over time are all measures that communicators can use to gauge the impact of the stories their brands tell, providing more opportunity to connect PR to top line revenue results.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Google: How Earned Media Impacts Search & New KPIs for PR

Earned media and implied links, visualized by Brawn Media.

Summary:  Brand mentions and earned media comprise the implied links Google has patented as part of its search algorithm, codifying the impact PR has on search results.  lil tweet

In a patent for search engine ranking methods that was granted on March 25, Google codified the role earned media plays in search rank.  The patent describes how the search engine values “implied links,” which it describes as a reference to a target resource [i.e. a web site or web page] such as a citation, but does not include an express link to the resource, as part of its process for determining the search rank of a web page.

What are these implied links?  In a nutshell, they are relevant earned mentions, and run the gamut from media pick up to references on blog posts to mentions in discussion groups.

“What does all this mean? It means that once a connection is made by someone typing in a brand name or other search query and then clicking on a site it creates a connection in Google’s eyes,” SEO expert Simon Penson explained in a Moz.com post about brand mentions. “The search engine can then store that info and use it in the context of unlinked mentions around the web in order to help weight rankings of particular sites.”

The implications for public relations are significant.  The mentions your PR campaigns create in turn generate audience activity, which Google watches in the aggregate and uses to inform search results.   In an excellent blog post on this topic titled, “Google Validates that PR is SEO in Patent Filing,” Christopher Penn of Shift Communications concludes:

“Google is publicly acknowledging that every time your brand gets a mention in a story, that counts as an implied link that affects your SEO, that affects how many links there are to your website, which in turn affects how well your site shows up when someone is searching for your brand. In short, PR is SEO (or part of it). It singlehandedly validates all of the PR that you’ve generated for your brand, all of the mentions and citations that you’ve accrued through hard work, great products and reputation, and effective public relations, even if you didn’t necessarily get an explicit link in the coverage.”

I agree with Penn’s assessment.  Public relations builds awareness and credibility that influence audience behavior.  Part of the ongoing struggle we have with measurement is due to the fact that those coveted media clips don’t capture the follow-on changes in audience behavior they can inspire.

The new KPIs for PR & an important caveat

Don’t assume that more is better when it comes to “implied links.”  Google is a stickler for relevance and quality, and the company is continually refining its search algorithm to deliver ever-better results for users.   In doing so, Google have specifically targeted web spam and are emphasizing the value of authentic earned media. Tactics designed to create artificial references to a brand or organization won’t work, and brands employing them may risk incurring penalties from Google, disappearing from search results altogether.

However, it’s also important to note that what we consider “earned,” has evolved.   While Google’s search chief is on record saying that the company does not use social signals as part of its ranking algorithm, this does not mean that activity generated from social media users has no effect on search.  There’s no doubt that inbound traffic and time spent on a web page are important factors that Google watches.  Driving discovery and social sharing of your brand’s owned content is an important first step in generating the references to your company or brand that comprise the ‘implied links’ Google values.  And sparking social sharing under a relevant hashtag on Twitter, professionals on LinkedIn or interested consumers on other networks will generate the sort of quality traffic and ongoing activity on which Google’s algorithm places high values.

With all this in mind, here are a few KPIs (key performance indicators) public relations professionals should use to gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns in driving lasting value for their organizations.

Search query volumes:  Increases in the volumes of search queries that include either brand terms, or terms strongly associated with the brand, industry or product that lead visitors to the organizations’ web site are difficult to measure perfectly – Google masks a lot of search query data – but some does make it through to the web analytics programs organizations use to tabulate web traffic.   Talk to your web metrics guru about gaining access to the reports.    Important note:  you’ll also need to connect with team handling web site optimization for your organization about what keywords and phrases they’re targeting, and which URLs are associated with each term.    You’ll want to make a point of using those terms (or near derivatives) when relevant to your message and you’ll also want to include links to the related target URL in your releases, too.)

Inbound traffic to specific web pages: We’ve previously discussed the importance of including a URL to specific (and relevant!) web page in press releases, rather than dumping readers onto the homepage and forcing them to search for information related to what they read in the release.  These links are trackable, and working with your organization’s web team, you should be able to measure increases in inbound traffic to specific pages.  (Coordination with your web and inbound marketing teams is crucial.)

Lead quality or conversion rate:  What happens once someone has clicked on a link you placed in a press release?  The next step that visitor takes is an important one on the buying journey, and it’s something your marketing team is paying close attention to.  In many cases, a subsequent call to action on the web page will offer the visitor more content, such as a video or offer of a white paper download. The marketing team looks at the conversion rate (the percentage of time a prospect actually completes a transaction) and they may be scoring the quality of the leads the web site garners along the way.  The PR team can have a tremendous impact in generating an influx of well-qualified prospects to the organization’s web site.   If you’re tracking the traffic PR generates through trackable URLs, you can also track the quality of those leads, and the subsequent conversion rates. This is the sort of data that can be equated to revenue and will make a CFO sit up and take notice.

Improved search rank for key pages: Increases in search rank for key web site pages for specific sets of terms.  Over time, the implied links and earned media the PR team generates should have a positive effect on the search ranking of specific pages on the brand’s web site.  Garnering those results – and maintaining them, which requires sustained effort – are some of the truest measures of the value of the media and mentions the brand has earned.

The power of earned media has long been indisputable, but tough for PR to measure.  With Google’s acknowledgement of its role in determining search results, public relations pros can connect their campaigns to the online interactions that drive revenue for the organization.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

The Right Thing to Do, From Any Angle: Curbing HFT Advantage

I used to live across the street from a fellow who worked for a hedge fund, writing software code designed to machine-read data and execute stock trades in hundredths of a second.   One night, as we were standing out by our mailboxes chatting, we realized that our jobs intersected, an interesting conversation ensued.

We had been talking about emerging news feed formats and the fact that he had figured out how to write code that could machine-read the news announcements about the macroeconomic events of the day (e.g. jobs reports, durable goods orders, etc.) and execute trades based upon that data – automatically and in the blink of an eye.  Our conversation soon turned towards his interest in getting access to our news feeds.

I bring this up because this conversation was similar to one of the many discussions our leaders have had here at PR Newswire over the past decade. We’ve had ample opportunity to sell our direct feed to high frequency trading outfits, and have evaluated doing so through many different lenses.  And our answer has always been no.  Today, we received some powerful affirmation from the New York Attorney General that we continue to do the right thing.

“By going the extra mile to ensure its service is not abused by high-frequency traders – at any time during the trading day and in the moments after the closing bell – PR Newswire has proven itself to be an industry leader,” said New York Attorney General Schneiderman in a press release issued today about the steps PR Newswire is taking to curb preferential access to material news  for high frequency trading firms“High-frequency traders can use information in the milliseconds before it becomes widely available to other investors, effectively skimming from the rest of the investing public. Today’s agreement is another important step toward curbing Insider Trading 2.0, and PR Newswire deserves credit for its leadership.”

The discussion about high speed trading tactics is far from over.  Numerous federal agencies, including the SEC and the Justice Department, are investigating whether HFT practices violate insider trading laws.   In the meantime, PR Newswire is expanding on its long-standing approach to fair and equitable distribution, taking additional measures to protect client and market interests by recommending that public companies disclosing material news at market close delay those announcements until 4:01PM ET to prevent same-day trading on this information.

In the wake of all the developments around HFT tactics recently, I reached out to my old neighbor, who left the trading business several years ago and now writes code for a security firm.

“I think it’s great that you guys didn’t sell your feed to the highest bidder, even if at the time I was trying to be one of your highest bidders,” he told me. “You did always have the long-game in your perspective, and that’s admirable.”

Related: 

Building Shareholder Confidence:  New York Attorney General announces unprecedented steps by PR Newswire to curb High Frequency Traders

AP: PR Newswire Imposes Use Limits on Its Data Feeds

Wall St. JournalPR Newswire to Ask Companies to Delay Late Releases to Sidestep Rapid Traders

USA Today: PR Newswire Curbs High Speed Trading 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek: PR Newswire Reaches Deal With New York in High-Frequency Trading Probe

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.