PR 2.0, SEO and The Soft Pitch

Public Relations Jun 1, 2006

So much of the talk about PR 2.0 centers around how and whether to reach out to bloggers. While blogging and social networking software clearly plays a major role, it’s just not the most efficient route to disseminating your message. Search is. Yahoo, Google and MSN search are the new ABC, CBS and NBC. It’s the only media you can be sure everyone is tuning into. Through them, you can reach every blogger and soft-pitch them your story. You know your visitor is interested, because they pre-qualified themselves through the search process. And you’re pitching many more people than just journalists. You’re reaching investors, stakeholders, customers and prospects as well.

Currently, there is a clear deal between journalists and public relations professionals. The journalists get early, and sometimes exclusive, access to information. In return, they are receptive to listen to pitches. It is a symbiotic relationship that helps produce better coverage, particularly in technology where every little advance is both news and business.

But pitching every blogger in the blogosphere just isn’t viable–especially with how mainstream blogging is becoming. It’s going to be built into the next version of Word. Sure, you can monitor the discussion with tools like Technorati, and even step into the discussion, and specifically reach out to the most influential bloggers. But having search working for you relentlessly delivering your message 24/7 to everyone who is even casually researching your space is much more efficient. And natural search is better than paid, because when you stop paying for the campaign, the visitors keep coming. I’ve discussed that at length elsewhere on the site. This is about how PR 2.0 is different from what many people think–even Richard Edelman and Steve Rubel.

Anyway, bloggers will never be trained on the clear deal and symbiosis that exists between PR pro’s and journalists, because bloggers are you and me, and your mother, and your boss’ daughter, Joe from down the street, and a 12 year old in Australia. With the exception of those who really do behave and share similar incentive to journalists, bloggers come and go. They might blog for a year, then completely stop. The central core of bloggers within any industry who are there for the long haul really are a lot like journalists, and with them, the traditional rules of PR very much apply… learning their beat, reading their stories, building a personal relationship with them. Not much has changed if your blogger thinks and acts like a journalist. So, the PR folks just need to add a few more categories to their media lists, and treat those bloggers as journalists. This article is about the consistent soft-sell that’s always lurking there right under the surface, like a Paul Graham’s submarine metaphor. But instead of the sub being the based on the PR/Journalist relationship, it’s now ALSO based on the PR/Search Engine relationship.

With HitTail, the PR industry is planting its flag firmly in search engine optimization (SEO). It is perfectly natural, because PR is to SEO what Advertising is to the pay-per-click (PPC) industry. PR is not about clear deals. It’s about big wins at a low cost (at least the branch of PR we specialize in here at Connors–very different from lobbying-style PR). Advertising is about clear deals, but a big win will cost you big bucks–usually in the form of media buys. Again, I talk about is PR/SEO connection a lot of other places, so I will not elaborate here. I will jump right into why HitTail reframes PR 2.0 in a new light.

With HitTail, I reframe the public relations problem in a new way by making the search process itself an integral part to the pitch. And exactly who you are pitching to is abstracted. Instead of pitching a particular story to a particular journalist to get your view in on an article that showed on some publication’s editorial calendar, you are simultaneously pitching the world, throwing your entry into what John Battelle coined the database of intentions. You are part of the discussion merely by virtue of being found when people are most interested. This leads to genuine–some call it “organic” mention of you when the time comes for them to write. And better yet, if they link to you, it’s a completely unsolicited and unreciprocated link–the very best kind. It puts you in the highest position of authority, because you are leaving clues for all the search engines that you don’t need to link-back (a clue that manipulation is occurring).

But doesn’t pandering to the search engines put you at risk of being banned? And isn’t such a soft background sell just too darn indirect for impatient clients looking for their New York Times article yesterday? The answer is no and yes. No, if you take the right approach, you are not only not at risk of being banned, but you are producing a healthy site that is just as valuable for human audiences as it is for search. You are leaving absolutely no “signatures” that mark your site as pandering to search. You are simply putting yourself on equal footing as everybody else. And the second part, yes, a PR 2.0 soft pitch is MUCH more indirect than pitching a journalist directly, and cannot replace it. The “who you know” approach to PR is merely strengthened and verified by the “what you know” approach of SEO. The two are perfect counterparts. Pitch a journalist. Journalist turns to search to research. What they find confirms your message… over… and over… and over… That is truly effective SEO.

But taking this approach to SEO is just too difficult for most business. It’s the principle problem we encounter with new PR clients. We work ourselves through the same technical and editorial projects over and over. This is becoming what is known as SEO “best practices”. It’s all the mechanical things that you do short of over-optimizing: search-friendly URLs, sitemaps, good title tags, etc. We are trying to turn that into just the background of the discussion. These mechanical projects merely level the playing field for your corporate website against hyper-optimized blogging systems like Movable Type, WordPress and Blogger. So, if this is the EASY part, then what is the hard part of SEO?

Interestingly, in the 9 years I’ve been doing SEO, almost no one talks about the real key to successful long-term SEO, where the results can outlive any particular search engine. I have the perspective of when Lycos, Excite and AltaVista had their own unique results. Google wasn’t even on the scene. I had incredible results across the board then, and when Google came onto the scene, my results only just improved. With each major search engine advance, they are doing one particular thing: looking for clues as to what is the best information. Google’s breakthrough was that cross-linking was a clue. New breakthroughs include that domain registration data includes clues. Tomorrow’s breakthroughs will include tying content to domain registrations to real-world business incorporations to professional association memberships (for example). There are real-world clues all over the place about what is authoritative on what topics. Search will take much more into account that a professional researcher or information broker would.

That being the case, how can you isolate SEO down to one simple technique that holds little risk of being perceived of manipulation and therefore subject to banning? How can you simplify it so much that people working in Marketing departments of companies across the world can apply it, without hiring outside firms? How can you reframe the problem so that it no longer technical, and can fit into the realm of PR disciplines, which includes SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), Positioning & Messaging strategy, press release writing, pitching and event coordinating? Easy! You provide a tool that gives you unique insight directly into the minds of your target audience, and you use that to create superior writing that will innately influence search.

Many PR firms are taking the simplest possible road, and “optimizing” press releases. This is merely one piece of a much more cohesive strategy. All PR firms should use matter-of-fact language for their press release headlines (put yourself into the mind of searchers), and should include a full URL. But every company should also blog directly onto their corporate website to facilitate press releases. A press release is itself news worthy of blogging about, and it triggers off the blog pinging system that alerts an a broader audience than press releases alone. But companies should even go a step further, and blog specifically on topics that competitive intelligence TELLS THEM will increase natural search traffic. And THAT is the heart of soft pitching in PR 2.0.

This is difficult to understand at first. But the premise is that search traffic is a finite resource. On any given term, there is a finite amount of search traffic that’s occurring on any term, and even less click-through. Those click-through could result in a new customer, media coverage, landing a new investor or the like. It is a grand competition for this finite resource. The competitive level is now Olympic on the most popular terms. There are 10 gold medals, 10 silver, and 10 bronze (1st, 2nd and 3rd pages of results, respectively). It’s not even worth trying on the more popular terms if you want to see meaningful results in a reasonable timeframe. You should sooner try out for the Olympics. But that leaves the much more plentiful, but less popular competitions around the world. Only enlightened companies are playing the game on this level. That is what HitTail is about. What competitions should you be in? How can you pick your events so you are sure to win? Which events are people even watching?

Some people mistake tools like WordTracker or the suggestion tools built into Google and Yahoo Search Marketing as being the long tail keyword selectors. The fallacy here is that anyone who types in the same keywords gets back the same suggestions. They are not tied to the real traffic happening on your site. There is no competitive edge. A much better alternative is to look at what search hits ALREADY ARE leading to your site, but for which you did not intentionally optimize. This will usually be happy accidents. But these happy accidents created by determined searchers who digs deep into the results to find you, are the most valuable keyword optimization you have access to. Why?

Because it shows where you are teetering on the edge of success. It is real, raw and gritty information. It came from an actual visit from an actual human being to your site. It’s not a term that generally relates to a seed term (the way the keyword suggestion tools work). It’s a term that specifically relates to you and already existing material on your website. By seeing that happy accident occur, thinking of it as an opportunity, and jumping on the chance for a competitive advantage, you can roll out new content onto your website with a much smarter strategy than your competition. Ironically, your competition is often the very ones that are unintentionally giving you their benchmark keywords. See, they search on their important terms, and click on very deep results to see who they are. If it’s YOU, then you just benefited! This is why it truly is competitive intelligence.

So, is simply writing and putting it on your site enough? No, SEO best practices still need to be adhered to, without over-optimizing. That’s the usual check-list of on-page and off-page factors, which blogging software does such a wonderful job with. That’s why we often recommend to just choose one of the blog packages that lets you plant your blog into a subdirectory of your main corporate site, and just use blog posts for the HitTail process. Otherwise, you can research these topics at Webmaster World, Search Engine Watch, or one of the many other sites out there. If you’ve got to fix a corporate website and just want to hire the perfect consultant to be best friends with both your IT department and Editorial staff, consider contacting Connors. We have wonderful case studies and anecdotal stories about how we’ve overcome some of the largest obstacles you will ever encounter for SEO. This is particularly true of organizations who realized their mission was to be found in search, so that their advertising-driven business models don’t end up being a wash. Think about it: if you buy traffic through PPC only to sell advertising, you’re spinning your wheels.

Once the content is on your site, is that enough? No, you still need to do PR, whether it is online or off. Really, you should hardly think of it as online or offline PR anymore. Most publications are also published online. Some of them try to offer unique content on their online version as a special draw, and others leave premium content off their site to help keep the printed magazine subscriptions special. Either way, the person you’re talking with when you pitch is either influential or not. So, who you know really is still just as important as what you know. And also, the quality of your writing and pitching counts. So, HitTail doesn’t address everything yet. It is just a useful tool to help identify the best writing topics to drive natural search. And it is something truly new in SEO.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *