Tag Archives: SEO

The Cross-Platform Consumer: New Communication Imperatives

A new study titled “The New Multi-Screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior” from Google suggests that reaching your audience on one device isn’t enough.  The research reveals that 90% of people use multiple devices – mobiles, PCs, tablets, smart phones, TVs – to accomplish a goal.

The study concluded there are two modes of multi-screen media consumption:

  • Sequential – where we move from one device to another to accomplish a goal.  An example of this would be researching a destination for a day trip at your PC, and then using your smart phone once you got there to make decisions about which restaurant to visit. According to the study, 9 out of 10 people use devices sequentially.
  • Simultaneous – when we use two or more devices at the same time.  The simplest example of this is watching TV, and tweeting about what you’re watching on your tablet. 77% of people watch TV with another device in hand.

 So what does this mean to marketers?  If anything this underscores the necessity of increasing our clock speeds and adopting an agile approach to engaging our audiences.  This reality is central to why PR Newswire has long advocated a multi-channel approach to distributing press releases and multimedia content.  It’s simply not enough to rely upon a web site or two any longer.

Additionally, Google makes several important conclusions about how consumers interact with information across devices:

  • Search is the connector between devices.  People use search engines to “pick up where they left off,” according to Google.
  • Turn “spur of the moment” activity into valuable opportunity.  The study suggests that 80% of searches from smart phones are done at the spur of the moment.  A great mobile presence can be instrumental in converting that opportunity into a sale.

Imperatives for communicators:

  • Ensure that your web site is not only search friendly, but formatted for mobile devices too.  Be sure your phone number, location and other information people access most frequently on your web site (business hours, menus, products, special offers, etc.) render quickly and prominently for mobile users.
  • Coordinate online and off-line campaigns.   One famous example of a brand failing to do this is the Snickers campaign that featured made up words such as “hungerectomy” printed on a Snickers wrapper.  This campaign was purely analog, appearing on billboards, the sides of busses and in print.  However, the ad’s creators overlooked the fact that offline messaging drives online behavior.  They have any digital presences designed to capture online interest in the campaign, and they didn’t buy search engine ads against the very words upon which the ad campaign centered.  Understand that offline messaging will trigger online activity, and plan accordingly.

The Google study is interesting reading and underscores the connectedness of our audiences and how the advent of mobile devices has significantly changed the decision making process.  It’s critical for brands to develop intelligent presences everywhere their audience is going to look – from search engines to social networks and from print to mobile.

Author  Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

How the PR Team Can Boost Web Site Ranking with Twitter

According to a ground-breaking study (“Revolutionary study: We prove that tweets do affect rankings”) performed by UK digital agency Branded3, there is a strong positive correlation between the number of tweets of a URL, and its corresponding Google ranking.  The study suggests that a web page’s search rankings start to improve when its URL has received 50 tweets, but the real benefits start to accrue after a web site is tweeted more than 1,000 times.

Because much of the content an organization publishes originates with the public relations team, it’s important for communications pros to pause for a minute and consider how they can build rank and visibility for their organizations’ web sites by fine-tuning their Twitter strategy and integrating more strongly with their web marketing teams.

Organize and align PR, social media and search.

Taking advantage of Branded3’s findings to build search rank for a web site will take some planning and organization, and may require some organizations to develop more tightly-integrated communications plans as well as a more well-defined approach for sharing and tweeting press releases and other content on social networks.

  • With your web site marketing team, develop a list of key commercial web site pages your company wants to promote, along with the target keywords the web team is using in their optimization and SEM strategies.  These “target URLs” and “target terms” will need to be incorporated into the content you share socially.
  • Develop a solid Twitter presence, combining content curation with active social interaction and engagement.  Research (and stay current with) hash tag trends and usage in your particular area of interest.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (i.e. RT and mention generously.)
  • Commit to using target terms, related hash tags and related URLs in press releases, press kits, blog posts, backgrounders, pitches and any other communications that could be tweeted or shared.

Make tweet generation the focus of strategies – and outcomes.

Organizations serious about increasing traction on Twitter for their messages will need to make a committed effort in order to achieve success.  There’s a lot more to this exercise than merely establishing a Twitter presence and tweeting the odd press release here and there.     Spending some time developing an understanding of what content your audience values (and will eagerly share of their own accord) is an important first step.  Other important approaches that can help your efforts include:

  • Tweet the target URLs consistently.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Generating 50 tweets (from your brand’s accounts, as well as followers and other industry denizens) won’t be too difficult, but getting to 1,000 and beyond will be another matter altogether. However, if you use the target URLs consistently, while also building engagement online, you will get there.
  • Make “ease of tweeting” a central tenant of your strategies.  When you e-mail a pitch to a journalist or blogger, be sure to include a link they can tweet.  Have your webmaster embed social sharing buttons in your online newsroom (and elsewhere on your web site) to encourage sharing.

Keep an eye on the tweet stream.  Thank and RT people who tweet about your brand.  Keep track of them and build relationships.

Tweet the content your organization produces creatively and consistently.  One press release might contain several different story angles or facts.  Tweet them all, uniquely, staggering them over time and using different (but relevant!) hash tags (if appropriate.)  You will increase the lifespan of your message, and the different tweets will appeal to different constituents.

Generating higher search rankings is a proven way to build sales, increase credibility and drive web site traffic for a brand.   The role of Twitter in determining search rank provides public relations professionals with another opportunity to deliver measurable results that will benefit the organization’s top line.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

We’ve just announced The Crowd-Sourced eBook: The Definitive Guide to Social Influencer Engagement and invite you to contribute.

Image via Branded3.

This Wire Works: PR Newswire vs. PR Web

The summary of press release results, from WolfCom.

 

PR Newswire is a good-sized company, and there’s a lot more to us than the teams of account managers and content specialists, with whom our customers are in frequent contact.

Behind the scenes, we have teams devoted to building the audience for the press releases you issue via PR Newswire.   Our media relations and audience development teams recruit journalists and bloggers for the PR Newswire for Journalists media site, which serves tens of thousands of media professionals worldwide.  Our syndication team adds new web sites to the global network of web sites that source news from PR Newswire.  Our online teams curate and share content on Twitter, building the social audience for news. And our web team is constantly fine tuning the performance and visibility of our web site.

Their work delivers the results you see when you use PR Newswire.   The media views, the online views and the search engine referrals your press releases receive are the direct results of the work one by these folks, who operate behind the scenes, and, let’s face it, are somewhat unsung.

Simply put, we work hard at making the wire really work.

Every now and then, a customer will take the time out to do a comparison between PRN and a competitor, and they’ll publish the results.  We were very gratified when we saw a blog post titled “Wire Service Showdown: PRWeb vs. PR Newswire” on WolfCom’s blog today.

They compared PR Newswire and PR Web in a head-to-head match-up, using identical press releases.

“PR Newswire clearly won the matchup, both in terms of overall performance and in terms of performance per dollar spent. The regional distribution option actually got national coverage and still ended up beating out PRWeb’s national distribution. Most importantly, PR Newswire beat PRWeb in the Google search results, showing that it is superior for meeting SEO objectives,” they noted in the blog post today.

We’re very glad for WolfCom’s business, and are grateful for taking the time out to share the results of their experiment.    As I mentioned, a lot of work goes into the care and feeding of our distribution network, and seeing this post from WolfCom sure made a lot of people smile.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

We’ve just announced The Crowd-Sourced eBook: The Definitive Guide to Social Influencer Engagement and invite you to contribute.

Google’s Knowledge Graph Of ‘Things’

On May 16th Google announced their Knowledge Graph, a change to their search engine results pages that  is, in their words, ” a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.”

The post talks a lot about “things,” nouns, entities, and their relationships to other things, and that is at the crux of the paradigm shift that Google is making. Mixed in with the search results we get back from Google they will be providing not just other phrases that are similar to or in some way related to the phrase you searched with, they’ll be making lateral links to ‘things related to the thing you’re searching for.’

There is  already much being written by others covering what to expect in the SERPs, so I’m not going to rehash that here.  The question I have about this is, what does this mean to content creators working in PR and marketing?

If you’re in content marketing or PR, should Google’s new way of looking at the information on the web change what you do?  And how do we optimize for this?

I don’t have complete answers, but perhaps I can contribute a little insight to move us towards an answer.

Press releases have always had the potential to be good quality search engine fodder: they’re reasonably well structured; they’re a good length; they’re often written by people who can; they’re fresh; they come with images, videos, links, and…. lots and lots of THINGS.

Press releases are packed with things and, importantly, they provide strong signals for Google to understand the relationships between those things.  Here is press release issued by PR Newswire’s parent company UBM plc.

Business4Better Comes to Anaheim, CA to Transform Community Involvement & Engagement

Entities in the Business4Better press release

Entities in the Business4Better press release

The release is about a new conference and exhibition that will help businesses and nonprofits work more closely together for their mutual benefit. In the release there are brands, companies, organizations, places, dates, people, quotes, logos, websites, etc. that all have relationships with one another.

From this release a search engine could learn that UBM plc is a company:

  • that is led by a person called David Levin,
  • is partnering with organizations called OneOC and City of Anaheim,
  • and that owns the Business4Better brand,
  • which is hosting an event in Anaheim CA.

And so on.  Here’s now these entities and the relationships between them might be categorized at a an abstract level that could be used by software:

Press release entity relationships

Press release entity relationships

So if I’m writing a blog post, or a product web page for my site, or a press release, does this all mean I have to do something different?  In the short term I’d say that if you’re writing good quality content that is clear and useful for your  audience, then no.  Everything you do will support Google’s attempts to understand the meaning behind your content.  In the long term all those good things you’re doing will continue to pay dividends, but new content strategies may emerge based on the G-Graph.

What about optimization? How do we optimize for the Knowledge Graph? Basically it’s too early to say.  Not every entity mentioned in every document on the Web will get a Graph, but patterns and best practices will emerge.  For now it’s a case of ‘steady as she goes’ and keep creating content your audience wants to consume and tweak it for search.  If I were to hazard a guess at the best long term strategy though, it would include content that clearly communicates the relationships between entities, and high levels of clarity consistently achieved over the long term.

Press Release Best Practices: Accuracy, Newsworthiness & Illustration

Last week I penned and article for Ragan’s PR Daily titled “The 5 Mistakes Press Release Writers Make” and followed that up with a more detailed post here titled, “The 6 Mistakes That Can Sink Press Release Visibility.”  I shared these on several PR discussion groups and solicited additional feedback from my fellow members, asking what other press release tips they would offer.

Newsworthiness

Newsworthiness was a prevalent theme, and was in fact echoed in a video interview by Steve Farnsworth (@steveology on Twitter) in which he asked EE Times editor in chief Junko Yoshida for her opinion on press releases (see the video at the top of this post.)

F. John Sbrana, Communications Coordinator at Vineland Public Schools near Philadelphia noted, “ I try to write short, interesting news stories and not “press releases”.

Tonya Hayes, a Bay Area PR pro, said “ I say “no” to some press releases. That means having the energy to say “no” to a CEO. If there is no news, it’s better to put the brakes on than to tick off the media. Or worse, have them ignore your next one. “

Images

Tracey Paleo, blogger and editor at Gia On The Move, noted in a comment on the Ragan story the importance visuals play when she’s evaluating a story. “When receiving press releases I almost 100% will follow up with a pr rep or whoever is sending when photos are included. Online readers are visual. So am I. Especially when talking about non-corporate content, i.e. arts & culture, events etc. It’s essential. Often what I see also are embedded links to internal host sites/pages (other than press release sites) where photos or video can be downloaded with a password. It’s a great alternative to getting caught in a spam blocker and completely helpful.”

Kim Stevens, publisher of State Aviation Journal and Arizona Aviation Journal concurred.  “I believe in running photos with every article or brief we use in our aviation journals. I’m amazed at how many releases we get that don’t include any photos or even company logos – and this from major companies or organizations. Fortunately, we’ve built up quite a library, but it is frustrating to send an email asking if a photo is available. Although not my first choice, I find myself hitting delete more often rather than going photo-less or holding a story while we wait, and wait, and wait even longer for a photo.”

Michael Crabtree agreed. “ Always try to include images. From a recent survey, access to high res images was highly valued with 87% (of journalists) saying that’s (very) important.
http://www.pwrnewmedia.com/site09/archives/2011JournalistSurvey.html

Formatting basics:

In an interesting twist, many of the participants in the discussion highlighted issues that could be best described under the header of “Press Releases 101.”  The PR Newswire Content Services team would agree – though the end of the first quarter 2012, they found (and fixed) 27,414 client mistakes in press releases.  In particular, numerous people noted that spelling is a prevalent problem.

Gwen Watkins, the Botswana-based director at entreprenuers for Africa Ltd. was adamant, saying, “ Learn to spell! I sub 10-15 press releases every night for an online marketing magazine and am horrified at the careless spelling. The cardinal sin – misspelling your own client’s name, or company name, followed by misspelling an internationally recognized name or brand. It’s not as if Microsoft doesn’t help – more than half the mistakes are picked up for me by its Word spell check.”

Brevity was also a recurring theme.  From a user (and search engine) standpoint, a 400 word release is more effective than an 1800 word tome.

Yassir Islam, a Washington DC-based communications professional talked about how to combine brevity but still offer detail to those who need it, “I like to keep press releases to one page, if I can. You can always add links to fact sheets for those who want to dig deeper.”

Tactics for keeping the key messages of the press release front and center were also discussed, and to the points I made about developing focused messaging in both articles, I think that these tips are particularly important.

Caryn Starr, NYC-based owner of StarrGates Business Communications, noted that having a boilerplate about the company to keep too much ancillary information from creeping into the release.   That’s an excellent point, and segues nicely into some advice about the lede (or “lead” as some prefer.) Staci Harvatin, interactive communications & media melations coordinator at Saint Louis University Hospital, said, “One of my favorite press release tips is “don’t bury the lede.” Part of this falls under the “don’t lose focus “point, but I think it is important enough to restate. Also, I still write down my top three key messages before writing the release. I know many people do this in their head, but I like checking them off as I go along.”

When combined with the tips offered earlier that were really geared toward driving social interaction and online visibility, I think that these suggestions will really help communicators produce more effective content.  Do you have a favorite tip that we missed?  If so, share it below!

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

Google Webspam Update Means Opportunities for Great Content

Google has started rolling out some of the algorithmic changes geared toward reducing the amount of webspam encountered by internet searchers.  Though this algo change will only affect about 3% of searches, and though the vast majority of press releases submitted to PR Newswire do not run afoul of the rules, there are still some key take-aways for PR from this change in search.

In a nutshell, what this means to the content creators and press release writers out there is that there is one set of rules for developing content. Worrying about keyword density and exact match anchor text links and packing page metadata with keyword have gone by the wayside into the dustbin of SEO history.  Instead, Google is advocating an approach that is heavily focused on providing value to your audience.  Google offers a succinct view on their Inside Search blog today (Another Step to Reward High Quality Sites):

“White hat” search engine optimizers often improve the usability of a site, help create great content, or make sites faster, which is good for both users and search engines. Good search engine optimization can also mean good marketing: thinking about creative ways to make a site more compelling, which can help with search engines as well as social media. The net result of making a great site is often greater awareness of that site on the web, which can translate into more people linking to or visiting a site.”

Professional communicators should be rubbing their hands in absolute glee. This is awesome news for the content creators amongst us, and the guidelines for success in search engines should look pretty familiar:

  • Listen to your audience. Know what’s on their minds and what challenges they are encountering.
  • Speak the language of your audience.  Kill the jargon.
  • Make being interesting and useful key goals for the content you develop. Does the content offer something that the reader can really use?

Watch for red flags and be demanding

If you’re the listener in chief for your brand or organization, it’s imperative that you share with your organization the intel you glean from social networks, web analytics and search results.  If the marketplace is clamoring for information and your organization is studiously silent on the subject, it’s time for a candid chat with the PR team, because chances are good that the silent treatment will eventually stop working. Likewise, if you wind up trying to use content to gloss over a bad product, it’s time to have a candid chat with the product team, using data and conversations from social channels to back up your point.  There’s only so much lipstick you can put on a pig, and let’s be realistic here – even if you do manage to wrassle a hog and keep it still long enough to actually apply the lipstick, the chances of the makeup lasting are nil.  This analogy, awkward as it is, holds true when it comes to trying to use content to mask larger, underlying business problems.   The glossy sheen of the content will soon wear thin.  This is nothing new.  The advent of social media has created an era of transparency unseen previously, and has brought the customer into many internal processes. With this change, Google is upping the same ante.

More changes are coming from Google.  The update announced today is not the “over-optimization” penalty.  However, the signals are clear.  Google is starting to do the same thing the millions of people populating social networks around the world have been doing for a while now: surfacing the most interesting content, which in effect rewards the creators of interesting and valuable information with increased visibility.

Related reading, if you’re interested:

SearchEngineLand: Google Launches Update Targeting Webspam In Search Results

SEO Round Table:  It’s Live: Google Over Optimization Algorithm (3% Of Searches Affected)

Beyond PR: What Google’s Over-Optimization Penalties Mean for PR

Modern PR: The Art & Science of Integrated Media Influence (white paper) – ideas, examples and advice for developing content (and the framework that supports its creation) that will have lasting traction with your audiences.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

Image courtesyof Flickr user Sean MacEntee.

What Google’s Over-Optimization Penalties Mean For PR

Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz offers fantastic advice today for avoiding the coming over-optimization penalties that Google has announced.   You can view his entire video here:

6 Changes Every SEO Should Make BEFORE the Over-Optimization Penalty Hits – Whiteboard Friday

Within the tips he offers are several that anyone who writes press releases should pay attention to.  Below, I summarize the issues Rand highlights, and describe the implications for PR.

1. Keyword stuffed page titles.  Page titles need to be authentic, and they need to sound like they were written by humans, for humans.  Repeating keywords over and over and unnatural phrasing are likely to be red flags.

Implication for PR:  Many newswires and other vendors turn your headline into the page title.  Keep this in mind and write headlines that are first and foremost designed to capture the interest of your audience and convey your story.

2.  Manipulative internal links, such as pointing to the same URL over and over again on one page.  Linking to the same page over and over isn’t helpful  (the first link is the only one that counts anyway.)  Use logical, useful links, link to different URLs, and use links that you want people to actually go to.  And mix up the phrases/words to which you link.

Implication for PR:  When you post a press release to your web site, or run it over a wire service, it does in fact become a web page.   Use – but don’t overuse – anchor text links in your press releases, and use them as a reader service, providing a call to action or more detailed information. Content that is stuffed with links is likely to be flagged by search engines.  Keep links to a minimum – one or two per release.

3.  Link filled footers, or more specifically a  bunch of exact anchor links at the bottom of the page that no one would ever really click on.  This is a decade old tactic.

Implication for PR:  Keep links to a minimum, as noted in #2.  Resist the urge to add lists of links to your press release.

4.  Text content blocks built for the engines.  The weird block of  keyword stuffed junk.  Spammy blocks of text that have no purpose other than to get the keyword into the text.  These will actually drive people away.   It’s dangerous because it provides very poor user experience.

Implication for PR:  Guard against any text that is riddled with keywords – including your boiler plate.  Because most releases include the same boilerplate over and over, it’s important that you dial back on keywords in the boilerplate, to avoid looking like a search engine spammer.  –

5. Large numbers of pages targeting similar keywords with slight variation between them but are essentially the same content.  What Rand is talking about here are pages on a web site that essentially say the same thing, but have slight variation in titles and keywords.

Implication for PR:   If you use a template for your press releases, this could be an issue, especially if there is little variation in your titles and throughout the body of the release.  With the emphasis on natural writing these days, it’s probably time to dump the template.  At the very least, be sure you write a fresh headline and lead, and change up some of the body text.

My theme this week has been “Write for people, not machines.”  At the end of the day, sticking to that simple advice will serve you well when it comes to authoring press releases.

Related reading:

Six Mistakes That Can Sink Press Release Visibility

The 3 Cornerstones of Building Lasting Online Visibility

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

The 3 Cornerstones of Building Lasting Online Visibility

As people worldwide continue to flock to social networks like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter (and Sina Weibo, Renren, Badoo and Orkut) the mechanics of news and information consumption continue to change.  For communicators, the implication is clear – in order to keep brands and messages visible to online audiences, they must practice truly agile engagement, building brand connections by combining real-time intelligence and using that information to swiftly inform their communications strategy in order to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Vaulting to the top of search engine results pages and generating the type of positive conversations online that contribute to the top line require two things: great content, and a well-established social graph for the brand.  I mention search engines in particular, because the calculus they employ to assign rank is dizzyingly complex, changes continually, and increasingly factors in fine details such as natural writing and related social buzz, in addition to more traditional factors such as the number of links pointing to the content or and the relevance of the content on related pages.  This new environment can pose real challenges for communicators seeking to slice through the noise and establish a signal. However, we can identify three key factors common to successful communications approaches and use them as a guide to getting visibility in search engines and generating social traction.  They are:

  • Knowing your audience
  • Generating interest in social networks
  • Cultivating credibility for your message.

At the outset, these three factors appear pretty simple, but in reality, there are no shortcuts to building lasting traction with your online constituents.  To gain a better perspective on why, let’s delve into the tactics underpinning each.

Knowing your audience:

For years we’ve been hearing social media gurus cite the value of listening, and they’re right, for a few reasons.  First and foremost, our audiences are setting the conversation agendas online. As organizations plan their communications strategies and start drafting the related content, it’s crucial to keep audience interest in mind.  Communicating from the audience perspective is crucial – doing so sends a strong signal to your marketplace that your brand is in tune and responsive.  Additionally, your chances of creating content that “sticks” is much better.  Tips for getting to know your audience better include:

  1. Use a social media monitoring dashboard to stay on top of conversation trends
  2. But don’t forget to drill down into focused groups and conversations,  such as those that emerge around a hashtag on Twitter, or engage in conversation on a forum or within a discussion group.
  3. Survey sales teams and customer service staff to surface key customer issues, desires and recurring questions – each represents

Generating interest in social networks

We’ve all heard the term “social graph” used to describe the personal networks of friends, family, peers and colleagues we build when we social networks.  It should be no surprise that your brand needs a social graph, too.   To understand why, we need to step back and think about online content is shared, and how people are using that information when making buying decisions.  Study after study reveals that people turn to their social graphs when researching a product or service prior to purchase – whether it’s a B2B or B2C buy.

“Forrester’s B2B Social Technographics data shows that business decision-makers use social media for business purposes, and when it comes to creating content and sharing opinions, they do it more for business than personal reasons,” noted Forrester’s Jeff Ernst in a blog post this week titled “Time To Shift B2B Social Media Marketing Focus From The “Media” To The “Social.”

From the brand standpoint, this is good news – but there is a caveat.  In order to develop your brand’s social graph, you have to give people a reason to follow/friend/like your brand. You have to get and keep their attention, and the brand needs to interact with them on a human level.

“You’ve got to get personal.” says Victoria Harres, PR Newswire’s director of audience development, and the architect of the @prnewswire presence on Twitter, which currently tallies more than 55,000 followers. “You have to find a way to connect with people on a deeper level than just your great content. This is not a job for an RSS feed or algorithms. This is a job for a real human being who can detect nuances, moods, opportunities for engagement. Someone — the right someone — who can embody the personality of your brand.”

Without taking the time to build your brand’s connections to your marketplace, you risk wasting time, energy and resource with social campaigns. An organization can broadcast messages all day long, but if no one is listening – and if no one Likes, Shares or Tweets the message – the returns on investment will be small. Taking the time to develop presence in the social media lives of your audience is the first step in building lasting online visibility for your brand.

Cultivating credibility
There’s another critical component in this mix, as well – credibility.  The content your brand publishes must be credible in order to earn the trust of your audience, as well as journalists and bloggers in the space.

Creating credible content hinges largely upon the first cornerstone – listening.  If you’re paying attention to what your audience is talking about, and the content you produce is aimed at being useful, solving problems and furthering conversation, then you’re well on your way to publishing the sort of information that people value.  Communicate from the customer perspective (e.g. solving their problems and making their lives easier) rather than the brand POV (e.g. focusing solely on selling stuff) and maintain transparency.  You’ll be rewarded when the content makes the leap from owned to earned, through your audience’s interactions with it.

Search engines notice when content is shared on social networks, interpreting that sharing as a form of recommendation between connected people.  Google, in particular, with its new “Search Plus Your World” focus, surfaces content shared by people in your social graph within search results.  Given this, engaging well connected influentials is even more important.

Pick up of stories by credible third parties, such as media outlets and bloggers, has always been an important PR goal.  In today’s digital environment,  pick up and mentions are important, as are links back to your organization’s web site.  Links from a credible site back to an online asset you’ve published – a press release, a blog post, a white paper, a landing page or a product page – are enormously valuable, informing search engines and driving qualified traffic to that site.

What does this mean for the communicator?  Simply put, publishing content that people will share on social networks, that bloggers will re-blog and that journalists will cover is the ultimate goal and will deliver the credibility that is a cornerstone of online visibility.

How it all works together

These three cornerstones don’t exist in parallel.  They are interconnected.  Through social listening, for example, you can find influential brand advocates, and then use relationships you develop with them to help build out your brand’s social graph and amplify your messages. Develop credibility with your online audiences, and they will show their approval by linking to your blog posts, sharing your press releases and re-tweeting your messages – developing the sort of signals that convey the sort of authority and authenticity that search engines notice and reward.  With care and feeding, your healthy and connected brand will generate lasting visibility with your audience and measurable outcomes for your organization.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

The New Digital Wars: The Conflicts That Are Shaping the Future of Communications

“EPIC 2015″ is a look into the not-very-distant (anymore) future of media and information.

We are now in the aftermath of Web 2.0.  The promise of interoperability and information sharing has been realized.  It has raised enormous opportunities and some equally enormous concerns.  Here are some of the conflicts that will shape where we go from here.

  1. Big Data vs. Big Government

Big data is big news right now.  If you missed this discussion you might think it is about big databases, big servers, big analytics.  It’s not.  It’s about you and me.

The importance of big data is that it is perceived as a way to identify how people behave and thus predict what they are going to do.  What’s pertinent in the business world is what they are likely to be interested in buying.  This is the promised land for marketers.  It also has more than passing interest for all those online properties that built a big audience and now are trying to figure out how to make it pay.

The premise here is that carefully targeted messaging is better than traditional approaches that were by comparison mass scattershot communication.  Can’t argue with that.

But there is one flaw in the plan.  Nobody asked you and me what we think about this.  A lot of us aren’t so interested in having our behavior analyzed and predicted.  In fact we might not be any more interested in this than we were in having hawkers call us at dinnertime to sell us aluminum siding.

So that’s where big government steps in (think of the “Do Not Call” registry).  Government has a lot of things going against it.  It’s slow.  It’s generally behind the times from a technologist’s standpoint.  And it has enormous baggage, an archive of rules and regulations, some so old they were originally drafted on parchment and intended to protect the guy who needed a musket to score his next meal.

But government has got the big hammer.  And when it comes down in the form of “do not track,”  “do not sell,”  “do not even store” data that has not been permissioned by every individual covered, a lot of the industry that has been built up around converting big data into targeting marketing gets crushed.

  1. Google vs. SEO.

Search is a primary means of distributing information.  It is distribution that is owned by the audience.  We like that.  Google dominates.  So we want to make Google happy.  Or,  at least, we want to curry favor with its algorithms.

So what should we do, Google?  We only get a few scraps from Google about what they think but we know they don’t like too many keywords, they don’t like too many links or too many links above the fold, they don’t like to see your stuff in more than one place, etc.  Basically they don’t like SEO at all.  “Create good stuff, put it on good sites and we’ll take care of it,” is what they seem to be saying.  That is when they choose to say anything at all.  Fair enough.

Only trouble is SEO tactics often work.  In fact sometimes they work so well they become a life and death matter for an online based business.

SEO is really about gaming Google.  No wonder Google hates it.  One suspects the tech monolith is dreaming of squashing the whole SEO industry with its enormous boot.  But the thing is that the harder and more puzzling SEO becomes due to Google efforts to eliminate it, the more businesses need it because of the fact that it’s now harder and more puzzling.

I don’t see the end to this one.  This is the digital equivalent of the Hundred Years War, meaning the conflict is likely to be around for at least another 18 months.

  1. The Media vs. the media

Okay that is a little confusing.  Think of Media with a capital M as media organizations, newspapers and their digital descendents, wire services, broadcast outlets, etc.  And think of media with a lower case m as all the different vehicles for storing, delivering and providing information.

If you’re a big M guy you’ve got to be a little ticked off.  You pay all the bills to create the best content you can, but your P+L is hemorrhaging and all the buzz, not to mention eyeballs, is going to the aggregators, the curators, the sharers, the linkers, the little m guys.

NewsRight (http://www.newsright.com/) is the latest venture by the Media to try to get the upper hand here.  It’s hard not to sympathize with them.  If you think of a good book, you want to think the rewards from the sale of that book go to the author.  Most of us think that the primary beneficiary of a great song should be the person who wrote and recorded it.

The cost of big Media became disassociated with a good portion of the revenue it generates when the Media lost control of the distribution of its content.  I don’t think that’s going to prove easily reversible.  Search and social are now fundamental to the distribution of information.  Both work within the context of the free flow of information.

So the Media find themselves in a position of inadvertently limiting and potentially reducing their audience by seeking the just reward from their product.  I’m not sure that moving in the direction of having fewer people seeing your content is the best thing for the future of the business.

  1. Big Technology vs. Big Technology

Does big technology eat itself?  What I’m thinking about here is Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and others.  We all think we know what these companies do and probably have a short but sweet description of how we use them.  I buy presents on Amazon, search on Google, talk to friends on Facebook, network professionally on LinkedIn and so on.

Well it seems like the Earth has started to turn the wrong way.  Amazon is making devices to browse the Web, Google built a social network, Facebook created a feature than looks like Twitter and my LinkedIn home page is starting to look like iGoogle or My Yahoo.

It’s as if Tony, the guy who runs the best pizza shop in town, stepped out in front of his store and saw people going into the nail salon on the corner and the dry cleaners in the next storefront.  So he decided to focus his future business development on cleaning shirts and providing manicures.  Just make the best pizza Tony, please.

Can all of these companies go after everything they see each other doing without losing their focus on what they do best – and why their customers come to them in the first place? A few years down the road will we be able to describe in a few words what each of these companies do or will we need a couple pages of PowerPoint with bullet points to figure it out?  And if we do, what happens to these tech giants?

Author Ken Dowell is PR Newswire’s executive vice president of social media & audience development.

Press Release Optimization in 7 Easy Steps

Rumors are rife in the search world of yet another big shake up of Google’s search algorithms, but whatever happens, one principle remains constant: great content written with a specific audience in mind is good SEO and will increase your chances of being found.  So when you take your seat at the search wheel of fortune, use the seven easy-to-follow steps to improve your press release optimization and increase the chances of your message hitting the jackpot, rather than losing your shirt on a busted flush.

1.  Use these five questions to test and focus your press release’s copy:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the press release about?
  • Where will it have the most effect?
  • When is the best time to distribute it?
  • Why should my audience care?

2.  Once your copy is almost set choose one or two keyword phrases to optimize it for. You can find lots of tips online about keyword research, but to start with just pick the most important phrases that are specifically relevant for the message.   The question “What is it about?” will tell you which these are.

3. Incorporate those phrases in your press release, but don’t repeat them over and over and over, ad infinitum.  Write naturally.  Your readers will thank you, and search engines won’t flag your content as spam. Search engines give more weight to phrases at the beginning of headlines.

4.  Use links to provide a pathway for interested readers to access more information.  Abandon all thoughts of generating keyword-rich backlinks from your press releases.  Instead, focus on delivering qualified traffic to your web site – that act will do more to help your web site’s ranking than almost anything else you can do with a press release, other than ….

5.  Add a photo.  Content that includes multimedia generates better results in terms of online views, and it’s more likely to be surfaced in search results, since you get a second chance at visibility via image search.  Images make your content more compelling.

6.  +1 the release on Google+. Google is the 800 lb gorilla of search and they show activity from people’s Google+ networks in their search results. If your audience is on Google+ your content needs to be too. If you’re not sure, +1 it anyway.

7.  Use your social network to promote your business. Tweet a link to the release using the primary phrase and share the release on Facebook.  All the major search engines value links from real people so retweets, shares and posts from influencers in your industry are important.

That’s it.  Those are my lucky 7 – I hope they are lucky for you.

If the above are old hat to you and you’re looking for more advanced tips, tricks and trends, check out the SEO posts on the blog.

If you have other tips to share post them in the comments below.  If we get enough we’ll post them all together and give you a shout-out.

 Author Rod Nicolson is PR Newswire’s VP of Global Reporting.