During the recent recession, when marketing budgets were slashed, the big losers were companies specialising in traditional public relations. Study after study showed that companies were spending less on press releases, print advertisements, promotional events and the like – whilst maintaining a healthy investment in online marketing.
The benefits of online marketing are seductive. If you invest in marketing techniques like pay-per-click advertising, search engine optimization, online display advertising and similar, you can keep close track of costs and your return on investment. Thanks to intelligent use of technology like Google Analytics, you know exactly how many people view your online content, and how many go on to buy from you. If you hire a decent online marketing agency, you will even know when visitors respond to an online advert, and then come back via organic search to buy from you.
But where does this leave traditional PR? Is it dying? Among clients who use our copywriting services, there are many that no longer invest in traditional PR at all. Some of them are major players, with a reach that extends far beyond (for example) regions like Winnipeg or Manitoba and – in some cases – Canada.
So what’s going on?
In a nutshell, wise companies want modern public relations, and only a very few agencies are able to offer a full-service package that includes effective online strategy – indeed, a significant number are themselves almost impossible to find in search engines, which is the greatest warning sign of all.
Even so, full-service PR agencies are becoming increasingly irrelevant as they lose their status as the gatekeepers to effective publicity and promotion – greater democracy online means that many companies can safely bring elements of their PR work in-house, and mix-and-match complementary services from outside providers.
Traditional PR loses out to its modern counterpart in a number of significant ways. These are, to my mind, the most significant factors.
Traditional PR still has a number of uses, which may or may not fit your business aims. So don’t give up on it yet.
So, is traditional PR dying? On the whole, I don’t think it is – but I think a lot of traditional PR agencies will.
There’s already a new generation of specialists that already understand and practise modern, online PR – and they approach it from angles such as internet marketing, online copywriting and SEO web design. It’s going to be a lot easier for many of these firms to offer traditional PR services such as press release writing and distribution than it will be for the dinosaurs to play catch up. In fact, many of them already do.
The only missing factor is convenience. But without a PR agency handling all your communications, you get better transparency and competition. Every company is different, but my advice would be for you to consider the following public relations mix:
You will have your own approach, but I think one thing’s clear: the day of the gatekeeper PR agency is over. And the businesses that will be most successful in the next few years will – for the most part – be the ones that already realize this and are doing something about it.
With the speed and power of search, the growth of useful and useless information online and the proliferation of tabloid news everywhere it seems that the users are becoming more impulsive than ever before.
Taking even just a cursory glance at the trending topics and searches for the past few hours is largely indicative of this shift. Earlier in the day the top 10 trending searches were about the trades happening around the NHL. Checking just an hour later however, and everything has changed. And the top 5 searches right now don’t compare even remotely to this mornings news. Starting with the upcoming 2012 olympics logo and followed up quickly by charlie sheen on the today show appearance. Sheen has been in the news a lot lately with lifestyle choices and such, but with the havoc of the storm which passed through the southern states over night, a news station comes in at number 3 due to leveraging their social media strength above the news of an ESPN writer being arrested. Rounding out the top 5 hot searches is adnis dna and how or what do you owe this topic too? Charlie Sheen again as part of a statement made during his Today Show appearance in which he said he was filled with “tigers blood and adonis dna” of all things. Are those name brands now for designer drugs perhaps? The rest of the top 10 hot topics are just incredibly departed from the earlier news trends with Dr. Seuss and even Apollo 11 taking places in the ranks.
The only reason for bringing up all of the strange searche terms is this: the user base of search is becoming more and more impulsive in their queries for what they want. You have only a few seconds to capture their attention if you can get them to your website. Click through analysis done by search engines in the past show that users very rarely visit page 2 of the search results, and most often don’t even scroll passed the top 5 results. If you’re not sitting on page one for your market, and ideally even the top 5, you’re losing out on immense levels of potential business. So when you’re finished reading about Dr. Seuss, Apollo 11 and Nitro’s Law (Google it, I dare you) perhaps you’ll decide it’s time to get your game and website in shape, and where you belong.
There’s an interesting graphic floating around, detailing some interesting facts and figures in relation to business and social media. Not difficult to find, just a quick and simple search will turn it up for you. It’s not the picture itself that’s remarkable, it’s the statistics buried within it.
Statistics like a case study about Twitter usage to leverage business interest for example. There’s the odd news story which can be seen buried a few pages into the paper about how an employee has been reprimanded, or even fired because of an upopular Tweet made about them and their place of business. Some Twitter users who’ve used the service to vent their frustrations have even admitted to receiving rapid responses from major brands when airing their grievances, likely looking to make amends. It used to be when you provide a solid and great service, that person would tell a few friends and if the service was poor they’d tell dozens. Thee ideology is still in place, but the viewerbase has increased to, well the internet. Billions of searches per day on the search engines out there, can you risk not monitoring your brand and image online? The Twitter statistic by the way, detailed that of 53% of users making purchase suggestions for a company, nearly half of their followers follow up on that Tweet.
Another statistic in the graphic was that approximately 75% of small business owners have some sort of social media presence, whether on a social networking site or not, and that adoption of the technology has doubled from the year previous. And that in the past year, 2010, those businesses who’ve focused on local social media and local group sites like Groupon etc, have all boosted their customer base and even their offline sales through their website.
Social media and proper online branding techniques can drive your business exposure by leaps and bounds to your market, both locally and online. To ensure you’re utilizing all of the avenues open to you be sure to contact Winnipegs best online branding experts.
It’s a funny thing, you join a site like Facebook or LinkedIn, make your connections and go on with your day to day. You get up in the morning, have your breakfast, go to work, etc etc. Facebook has become such an integrated part of everyday life for so many of it’s users, and Twitter has forged some cult like followings in some cases, that statements like this:
“It’s a bubble. Social networks have been around for a long time, people get excited about joining a network and use it for a couple of months but once they get to know people they’ll use other communication..”
seem almost silly in relation. What should make things even more interesting to note, is the quote is from an article dating back to November of 2005 about the ‘oldest social media network around’ Friendster. It’s been five and a half years now since the social network bubble apparently, yet here we are eyes deep Facebooking and Twittering to our lives content. How is it that this bubble hasn’t burst?
The coming of age of the first of the digital generation is mostly to blame. If you were born past the year 1995, you could crown yourself a member of this generation. The Facebooking, Twittering, mobile and social media networking evolution of the world.
Sit up and take notice baby boomers, the world isn’t yours anymore, it’s being reworked, remolded and shaped to fit the information and digital generation. Relax, sit back and enjoy your retirement. We’ll take the reins from here.
There’s something to be said about the myths which surround SEO as an industry. In a way it adds a layer of ‘magic’ to the processes which can drive your website to the top of search. On the other hand, it allows the cheaters and snake oil salesmen to get in the door to respectable, naive business owners who only have half an idea.
Let’s face it, the world is going digital and online, the cloud is the next major leap forward as one of it’s goal is to eliminate the need for mass amounts of software on individual machines. Every major player in industry has recognized this fact, newspapers especially which have been hit substantially in the shift to online content generation and consumption. Radio and television have both added online content distribution to their industries, even going so far to use specialty content only available on their site to drive visitors. But they all know, the multi-million dollar advertising industries are slowly shifting their budgets to include online optimization in bigger and bigger steps.
Now if all of the big boys get it, that the world and it’s people are shifting online, what’s with all of the hesitation? Because unfortunately in the end business is ignorant and resistant to change. There’s short cut takers and cheaters in every industry, not just in the SEO/SEM world, and just like every other industry, when they’re caught, they’re thrust out into the light and are left to burn. The growing pains that the SEO industry is experiencing in Canada, Manitoba and Winnipeg in particular, is one of naivete. Winnipeg is a small city on the global marketplace, but with it’s geo-location it should be a significatly larger player that it is. All we need now is for the old, naive, ignorant and resistant guard to change, and let the youth take over. I’ve heard it said a number of times that once you’ve lived in Winnipeg it’s hard to really want to plant roots anywhere else. My reason why (unfortunately) is because Winnipeg just doesn’t change; at least not fast enough to be a global player.
J.C. Penney has had their hand slapped obviously since they were caught breaking the good guy rules, as they should have. But it’s like there’s a white elephant in the room, that topic that no one wants to talk about. The ‘but how couldn’t they know’ side of the equation of their online marketing strategy.
It’s a dangerous loop to become trapped in when there are too many channels for information to pass through. And just like the game of Telephone when you’re a child (the passing of a phrase down a line of people), the message becomes lost in the end. The higher ups in the J.C. Penney organization deny that they knew of any shady business from their search engine marketing company and because of the way information travels it’s (unfortunately) probably true. The most unfortunate part of their whole marketing debacle is it’s just going to encourage the chain to bring all of their SEO efforts in house.
There’s two sides to this issue of course, and both have their pros and their cons. Bringing all of the tech and knowledge in house provides an exceptionally high level of control over the execution of their SEO strategy and much faster implementation of any changes they may desire. Out sourcing has the added benefit of not having to add to your staff and the cost can be offset to marketing, or worse, place the hands of your companies SEO into someone who thinks they can handle it. The very real, and unfortunate result of placing SEO into the hands of someone already within the company who only has an idea as to how best proceed is the likely outcome.
JCP is having their website manually checked on because they broke the rules of the search game. There’s going to be a lot of eyes on their website for some time to come I would imagine. But the violation which put them into this position, would have a very real chance to happen again if they should go the route to bring all of their SEO in house only and delegate it to a current employee who has an inkling of an idea.
Because when you take it down to brass tacks, the real SEO experts aren’t for hire by one company to stake their claim in one place. And a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing to have.
Most people have the memories of growing up, and watching their parents doing their jobs, what ever that may be. Watching your mom or grandmother make breads or mend clothes, watching your uncles fix cars and make the seemingly unworkable, run like new. But with no instruction, would it feel right to attempt the same feats?
Being mentored in a position or being groomed and trained to work in a specific field to meet clients and industry expectations is a vastly different process. To be trained as a chef, even a level 1 chef in the Canadian industry takes a minimum of 3 years to even wear the mantle of ‘Beginner’. To become a dentists assistant, that person who just puts a mirror in your mouth and secretly goes ‘so that’s what you had for lunch’ even goes to school and trains for a year; to become a dentist takes again, a minimum of 4+ years. Doctors go to school for 7 years and up, business professionals go to university and/or college for 2-5 years depending on their goals they’d like to meet. All of the industries crowded with professionals all maintain a minimum level of training in the average area of about 2 1/2 years of some kind of post secondary education.
So curious then, how is it that with just a handful of 1 hour webinars can someone become a search engine optimization expert? Is it possible that just by sitting by and watching the experts work, is enough to glean the necessary knowledge that it requires to be capable in the field? The best practices of SEO are trumpeted from every corner of the web marketing websites on the web so generic knowledge is readily available. But the time spent training your skill set, working on a dozen websites at a time, working over the code of the pages, managing the content and tinkering with the keywords is where the expertise begins to take shape.
The man who’s trained me with all I’ve learned wrote about it some time back, and I believe he said it best. If you think you’re an expert in the search engine optimization field, prove it. Create for yourself, a half dozen websites on various terms of various competetiveness. Then the easy part, make them list organically for each of their respective niches. Work the code, massage the content and prove to yourself that ‘Yes I can do SEO for clients’.
You don’t become an expert, by watching experts work. To even make the statement that you can accomplish the same level of skill in a single sitting that’s taken years of refinement reeks of ignorance. As the boss would say, ‘horses for courses, do what you’re good at’ and stay out of our sandbox lest we get sand in your eyes.
Since it’s all over the news and has been talked about since word broke, here ‘s just another take on the J.C. Penney search gaff. The NYTimes did a piece titled “The dirty little secrets of search” and in it was outlined how J.C. Penney gamed Google into listing them for all sorts of terms, applicable to their stores, but always listing at the top irregardless of the search.
The chief way this occurred was through the value of backlinks coming into a site. When your search engine optimization expert does their work properly, the value of the backlinks coming into your site will be categorically relative to your site. J.C. Penney however had links for all sorts of things on what seemed like any kind of website. When it comes to broad analysis of buying links to link back to your site, Google frowns heavily on the practice and often the links are devalued, or even negatively valued, and your site can be negatively effected in such cases. Matt Cutts was questioned on the occurrence and admitted that although JCP.com was already dealt with three times previous, the most recent and wide reaching offence hadn’t been noted.
Some have said it’s because JCP spends so much money on AdWords, others have said it’s sloppy policing on Googles part. One thing that the NYTimes piece did however, was contact a black hat SEO marketer directly and asked their opinion on the matter, and I believe they hit it on the head the best. Think of search not as a one type tool (search) but as a dual purpose technology; informational and commercial. And while the black hat lauded the strength of Googles informational capabilities, he readily admitted that commercially the results were lack luster, a cess pool was the term used. The Google team has admitted fully that there’s a relevance problem as of late, which has become more pronounced with the advent of both Caffeine and Instant technologies into the Google search algorithm. It also needs to be noted however, that spammers didn’t all of a sudden triple their output, the right set of adjustments just haven’t been found yet to exclude them from the relevant results. Additionally since no one has thought to bring it up, the same (gamed) results would have shown up in Bing or Yahoo as well as they did in Google.
JCP is about to go through some growing pains, and will most likely learn a valuable lesson in search; always make a point to be aware of your hired SEOs track record . You may find yourself on the receiving end of a swat on the nose from the Google team.
In a bit of a change of pace, just a reminder that there are a few key points which need to be considered when working online whether as a new website owner just getting into the search marketing side of business. Or a long trusted brand both on and offline, that’s looking to stake a claim, or reinforce a position online.
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Silly) – Keep your website simple in appearance, construction and use. That doesn’t mean like a printed sheet of paper, but flashy ads, a video clogged front page or fancy fly away graphical menus don’t help your position in the search world. All of the above technologies, without a lot of back work, can actually hurt your online marketing performance.
Relevant Content – Keep your copy relevant and consistent to what you want to be known for. If you’re a plumber, write about plumbing trends, technologies and concerns. If you’re a tailor, writing about style trends, materials and new patterns is helpful. As a carpenter you wouldn’t want to write about small engine repair or microwave ovens, it’s simply not pertinent to your business or your website.
Budget – Ahh money, the one aspect of the business that always seems to surprise people. The thing about advertising, is that advertising in earnest, with the idea to make contact with your customers or clients to earn a living, will cost you money. In North America, Canada especially, online marketing budgets are significantly below what they need to be to see the real rewards capable from high quality, skilled search optimization. It still makes no business sense how a company can have no problem throwing away thousands of dollars per month on a marketing metric which is untrackable (newspapers/radio), versus a significantly lower cost for a completely trackable one (SEO).
A Call to Action – Often the missed point of a newer website owner, a call to action for your visitors is a required point of your website. A qualified and capable search engine optimization expert can bring you traffic, but if your website doesn’t direct your visitors what to do, they will leave until they find a site that does. If the point of your website is to sell, ensure you have a way to sell to your visitors with a Buy Now button, or a catalogue to order. If your desire is to attract people to sign up for your newsletter, make sure it’s prominently displayed as such.
Time – One of the most important requirements for SEO is time. Time for your website to be crawled and indexed, time for Google, Bing and Yahoo to place you within their index and the time it takes to balance your website versus the millions upon millions of pages also within your sector. It all takes time in the end, and if you try to circumvent the time component and go quick and dirty like J.C. Penney did? You’ll get caught, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you’ll be caught.
There’s a massive amount of information on the Internet on absolutely everything, the downside of this of course is the (seemingly) even larger amounts of mis-information. This holds true in any industry, but when it comes to the topic of search engine optimization, it often seems that it’s not so much the fact and fiction mixed up. It’s more akin to the information being tossed in a blender and spread in a mess.
The most antagonizing part of all of the information out there, is that people who partake of what makes the most sense to them, claims to make them experts in the field. It’s from these same sources that the newest experts don’t even learn how to properly 301 a website, or are unable to tell the difference between paid links and paid advertisements. Some of the latest crop have seemed to be of the belief that building websites to rank for obscure long tail terms, is the same skill as being able to rank a client for their desired and preferred terms.
The whole idea about marketing your business is about driving qualified visitors to your website, where hopefully your SEO company has advised you on how to build your site to facilitate conversions. Whether it’s convincing visitors to sign up for your news letter, or to buy your product, or sign up for your discussion forums, the idea of pushing and marketing your site is to increase your bottom line, what ever it may be. Say for example your business is in making shoes, and your website has a built in shopping cart so your customers can buy custom footwear direct. Along comes the newest ‘expert’ in SEO and builds your site around a long tail search along the lines of ‘custom designed walking equipment’. You may shake your head an scoff at the idea, but it happens, and happens far too often.
No, this doesn’t mean that long tail searches are dead in any way, there are users out there who don’t use the Google Instant feature, or simply type out their entire query. But the point of my description was to drive home the idea that search engine optimization isn’t about tricking the search engines, isn’t about spamming on blog comments and posts and it isn’t about tricking visitors into visiting your website. It’s about driving qualified traffic to your site with the decision to purchase your product, or sign up for your newsletter or become involved in your community. Real SEO performed by the real SEO experts drives measurable, qualified traffic to your website to make your bottom line better.