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Public Relations: Link Building On Steroids
Caution: This starts as a mean spirited post, but there is some humility forthcoming, please persevere through the rant. The following is a rough recollection of a conversation I had with a PR professional recently about BusinessWire’s press release services that come chock-a-block full of SEO promises:
Her: “You need to switch your wire service to get more SEO out of your press releases.”
Me: “Really, how much SEO are we getting from our press releases now?”
Her: “Well, I don’t really know how this stuff works, but you should be doing keyword research to make sure Google can find your content. The tool does that for you.”
Me: “So, as a PR professional, you are suggesting that we need a special tool to write things that people are interested in reading?”
Her: (the irony starting to settle in) “Well, . . . the tool puts links to your website in your press releases which will then go all over the web and you’ll get all these links pointing back to your site. This will get you more SEO.”
Me: “More SEO! Awesome. We need lots more of that. If only I had learned about this earlier. Perhaps we should write more press releases.”
Now, my conversation wasn’t with a BusinessWire salesperson; this was an actual experienced and successful PR executive who had been sold a box of SEO rocks and was genuinely trying to help me by getting me some more SEO. (If only I could get that stuff in Costco-sized retail boxes.)
There are lots of services out there that attach the “get more SEO” pitch to their product, just like adding the word was “turbo” is used to market everything from food processers to paint remover. Despite my intuition that this was a waste of time, I decided to scratch my curiosity itch to see what could get “more SEO on my website.”
Yes, they are really espousing the use of bold face, italics and bullet lists to “enhance the visibility of the release to search engines”. Now this is good stuff, but wait, there’s more: “combining coding and craft to strategically boost the long-tail online visibility.” I haven’t seen this many buzzwords in one sentence since business school.
Embracing at least three layers of irony, the link to their “Text Optimization Tool”, which will ostensibly help me find keywords to write about, returns nothing:
Additionally, the link to their “Press Release Builder” returns . . . wait for it . . . yup, a press release about said Press Release Builder. I still can’t locate the actual builder itself, suspect it is 2009 vaporware.
Fortunately, they offer a simple do it yourself tool on a “powerfully optimized platform” called Enhanced Online News. Let’s check this baby out . . .
According to their documentation, EON will transform my press release into an “interactive webpage to be found, seen and shared“! (my emphasis). And, to add further value, this webpage will be “indexed and served up in search engine results pages by major search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing”. All for only $225 a page! The mystery of how to get more SEO is now solved. (I hope my boss doesn’t find this page, he’ll replace my salary with an EON press release budget.)
Time for some humility . . . there is a deeper lesson here.
As the story shows, most individuals and industries have troubling understanding and keeping up with the technical and fluid nature of SEO. At the risk of writing with very broad brush-strokes, the PR world still knows nothing about SEO. This ignorance is reciprocal.
As SEOs, we know very little about how public relations actually work, but we should. Applying PR fundamentals can turn your PR Agency into Linkbuilders on Steroids, without the pesky side effects of uncontrolled rage, impotence and prodigious body hair growth. If you don’t have an agency, you can bolster your own SEO efforts by understanding how to inculcate PR fundamentals into your Linkbuilding tactics.
First, understand that from an SEO perspective, PR is your primary channel for securing those otherwise impossible to get high value links. Sure, you might stumble across a Mashable or Wall Street Journal link though good luck, but systematically making those types of links happen requires the press-hungry savvy and creativity of a PR mindset.
To secure these extremely hard to get links, you need to understand the perspective of a reporter – the traditional reporter – the journalism major, who smokes too many camels, drinks too much espresso and is driven by her desire to break stories.
Learning to work these individuals and give them an opportunity to shine is at the heart of public relations. Each creative story you can generate is an opportunity you can gift to a reporter to “break a story”. While this is an overly simplistic explanation of PR, it provides a foundation for SEOs to understand how to use PR tactics to generate both stories and links.
Consider these two simple PR concepts to orient you to the reporter’s mindset.
An exclusive PR pitch is just what it sounds like. You work with one reporter and provide that reporter with exclusive in-depth access to the story. In return for supplying the reporter with exclusive access to lots of information you generally get larger and more public coverage – think front page instead of the back of page 17B. These larger stories tend to include more links . . . .
An embargoed story is one in which you pitch multiple reporters ahead of a news event, briefing all of them similarly and having a set date and time for when a story can go live. Embargoes should be reserved for really large news events or product launches –unless you are a massive organization, no reporter wants to share coverage about the appointment of a new VP of Product Development for example.
Coverage in these first tier outlets has a secondary benefit – many second and third tier reporters (along with bloggers) get their story ideas from these major outlets. Coverage in the WSJ, for example will spill into second tier papers across the country over the next 1-3 days, all nicely rewritten with their own delicious links to your site.
Almost all traditional reporters and many large online outlets (Mashable, etc.) will honor these exclusives and embargoes; however, the lower down you go in the press hierarchy (think freshly minted mommy bloggers), the more you run the risk of someone leaking your story on a third tier blog and then all of your other targets may pull out of their promised coverage. I’d recommend asking if they’ll honor the embargo before spilling the beans – I’ve been burned by at least one blogger (who no longer gets information from us.)
Another tip is to make it very easy for reporters to access (and link to) detailed information about a story. Instead of just emailing story background data, consider posting very detailed information on your domain. Most reporters are journalism majors and have been trained to site sources whenever possible.
For example: in 2007 a judge threw out the lawsuit against Avvo by a lawyer who wanted to silence us for publicizing his unflattering disciplinary history. We posted the judge’s decision that yes, the first amendment is still alive and well, on our blog, gathering a few more juicy links from reporters covering the story. (http://avvoblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/order-granting-defendants_-motion-to-dismiss-dec-18-2007.PDF)
Embrace PR. It can be your best friend. Help PR embrace SEO. Take your agency out for coffee. Explain the difference between a no-follow and a URL. (OK that was mean, but again, you are probably just as ignorant about their world.) It will pay dividends in your linkbuilding efforts.
OK – now back to work for me; off to see if I can find some more places to get some more SEO on our site.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.