What the Heck Is SEO?

If you own a business you probably have a website (if you don’t, get one…fast!). If you have a website, then you have undoubtedly heard the term “SEO”. Well, what exactly is “SEO”? It’s a question I ask people regularly and I am still amazed at the myriad answers that I receive. The simple answer is that it’s an acronym for “Search Engine Optimization”. Most people get the search engine part; it’s the optimization part that usually has them stumped. Regardless of their level of understanding, the typical response is “I’m not really clear on how it works, but I know I should be doing it.” And they’re right! If you’re not optimizing your website for search, you’re missing out thousands of potential business leads!

So what is it? SEO is a unique, and highly effective, approach to internet marketing that aims to improve the quality of leads driven to a company’s website via search engines. More technically, SEO is the strategic and thematic alignment of specific keywords with content and HTML code. The goal is to increase the relevance of keywords within the text copy so that search engines will view it as pertinent and easy to index. Put a bit more simply: it is the process of making a website more attractive to search engines. The more attractive it is, the higher the rank.

seo1As an inbound marketing strategy, SEO takes into consideration two things: the nature of search engine spiders and how they crawl the web, and the way in which a potential consumer will search for services. Research shows that people are inherently drawn to the top five entries on the first page of a search result. The higher the search rank the more credible the source is perceived. Imagine if your company’s website came up first when a potential customer searched for the specific services you provide or the products you sell. Your company would be perceived as the best, most relevant source for whatever it is you sell or provide.

The purpose of any company’s website is to attract online users and business, and numerous studies have shown that the majority of online users find what they are looking for via search engines. This means amazing possibilities for business lead generation! In today’s Web 2.0 world, people want to find information on their own and be engaged by it. They do not want to pick up the phone and listen to a sales call when they can search for the information they want, when they want to search for it. As a business, that means that you want to be front and center whenever a search is performed on your particular services. Let your customers find you on their own – which they happily will – and when you ask them how they heard about your company, don’t be surprised when they say “Google”.

Beer goes well with anything… especially the internet!

You know that commercial for AT&T, where the salesman tells the brewer “You sure can brew it,” and the brewer responds, “yeah, but can you sell it?” Great spot. But that’s probably just because I love beer, and I’m generally excited about anything relating to the selling, marketing and promoting of beer.

 

And I’m not alone. Beer lovers are typically fanatical about their beers, particularly home brewed craft beers, and everyone loves those excellent beer tastings at local liquor stores and festivals. Hop fanatics love to mingle with other bar flys and argue about the best India Pale Ales and German Lagers out there. Most of them even brew their own beers at home. Heck, even Kid Rock’s now in the game:  http://tinyurl.com/cy4tdh

 

Nowadays there are hosts of ways to get the word out about your beer online; sites that help promote where you can find it, how you should drink it, and why you should try it. Mashable put together a great list last May of the “13 online tools for beer lovers,” http://mashable.com/2008/05/26/13-online-tools-for-beer-lovers/

but the possibilities are really endless. Today’s online environment is dominated by social networking sites, and ensuing online social interactions. What better way to lighten the mood or get the weekend rolling than by starting a conversation about beer? A quick scan of TweetGrid found close to 35 mentions on “beer” on Twitter in just a 10 minute span. A Twellow search pulls up over 1,850 Twitter users who have the word “beer” included somewhere in their Twitter handle or bio. 

 

Clearly, there are some serious connections to be made, and conversations to start, if you are trying to shop your beer around the internet.

 

Some breweries, like Boston’s Harpoon, do an excellent job capitalizing on both traditional and new media tools on the web to help grow their business. Leveraging an excellent website and a free, inbound marketing-style “friends of Harpoon signup-program”, the brewery engages current customers with e-mail blast promotions of tastings and other events, a detailed Facebook page, a host of YouTube videos and a Twitter feed—all with the intention of spreading their message of rapturous beer consumption as quickly as possible to generate sales and expand their market. If it’s any indication that it’s working, the brewery’s Facebook page is littered with requests from users in cities like Dallas and Savannah, asking when, and how, they can start stocking up on Harpoon in their hometowns.

 

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But I feel that we’re still only at the tip of the iceberg here when it comes to what the power of the internet, and particularly new media, can do for beer makers. Beer, and alcohol in general, has always been an innovative industry when it comes to developing advertising and marketing campaigns (think of all those great Budweiser campaigns), so it wouldn’t be farfetched to guess that they’ll be one of the leaders as we delve further into the era of new media communications.

 

Just think about if for yourself. I challenge you to come up with an engaging way to leverage a new media tool to promote a beer. You should find that it might take up some time, but that it isn’t too hard to come up with a concept.

 

But be careful. As with any form of communication, you probably won’t want to drink and tweet.

Are you on the right track?

So why would you use social media to market your products?  Is it because it’s what the cool kids are doing? I hope that’s not your rationale.  If that is your reason, then you’re probably not using it to its full potential.

Granted, the cool kids ARE doing it, but that’s not the point.  Social Media Marketing is an incredibly effective tool with a reach that is ultimately beyond being truly quantifiable.  Nevertheless, there are techniques to track many of the results of a Social Media Marketing campaign and use those results to determine ROI.

It’s not always easy, but it is absolutely essential to running a successful campaign.  More to the point, it’s essential to get your client’s CFO to sign off on that campaign.  We all understand the profound value of Social Media Marketing campaigns, but the reason we’re successful is because we know how to communicate that value to the campaign’s beneficiary.

Here is a quick primer on some of the more basic ways to track a Social Media Campaign:

1. Site Traffic: If the goal of your campaign is to increase brand awareness, then benchmarking and measuring spikes in traffic to your website and blog or numbers of followers on Twitter can serve as a rough indication of how a campaign is driving brand impressions.

2. Conversions: Similar to what you might do with an SEO campaign, having your Social Media Campaign tied to specific conversion goals on your site can provide you with very specific success benchmarks in the form of highly-qualified leads.

3. Backlinks: If the goal of your campaign is to build a general following, then you should be measuring increases in backlinks to your Website, blog, wiki or whatever happens to be the epicenter of that following.  They can be easily tracked with Google and give you a great feel for who’s taking you seriously enough to link to you.

There are much more involved techniques that we use, but these represent some simple ideas to start with.  I’d love to hear feedback and suggestions for other basic techniques!

What Reporters Should Know About “The Dark Side”

I read an interesting blog post yesterday entitled “What all PR people should know about journalists”, written by Rohit Bhargava on his Influential Marketing Blog. The post had been “re-tweeted” by someone I follow on Twitter. As a former journalist who came over to the PR “Dark Side” 12 years ago, I was naturally intrigued. Mr. Bhargava listed six lessons that he has learned that “most journalists know and many PR professionals are blissfully unaware of.”

The six lessons are as follows: 1) Your BS is obvious 2) Timing trumps all 3) Reputation matters 4) Features are not as important as an angle 5) Speed and contactability make the difference 6) Peer pitching works. The writer expounds on this list here: http://tinyurl.com/7s3vxj, but if you’re a successful publicist, Mr. Bhargava’s insights will fall into the “duh” category. If you are a PR professional and this list is eye-opening, then you are either right out of school (you get a pass) or you really suck at your job and it’s people like you that give us flaks a bad name… But I digress.

My reason for writing this post is not to knock Mr. Bhargava’s blog post – he writes a very successful and generally insightful blog – rather, I’m tired of always hearing about what reporters think about us “annoying” publicists and how WE can do a better job. It’s about time we PR professionals enlighten you journalists about what we think about you and how YOU can do a better job. As someone who has worked on both sides of the phone, I have some lessons that I have learned along the way that, to turn Mr. Bhargava’s statement around, “most PR professionals know and many journalists are blissfully unaware of.”

Here’s my Top Ten List of What Reporters Should Know About “The Dark Side” (in no particular order):

1. The “Dark Side” is not that dark. I know it’s hard for many reporters to believe, but for the most part, PR folks are not evil like Darth Vader. OK, so Lizzie Grubman didn’t do us publicists any favors when she ran down a crowd of people in the Hamptons with her Mercedes several years ago shouting “F**k you, white trash”. That was really more of a “class warfare” issue anyway. Regardless, I can name plenty of reporters that have given the Fourth Estate a bad name. Does Jayson Blair ring a bell? So, please cut us some slack. We don’t look down on you, so please don’t look down on us. We’re just doing our job.

2. We don’t think you’re stupid. Contrary to what you may think, we’re not out to dupe you. There are some reporters out there that I’ve encountered over the years that truly believe that every pitch they receive is a ruse. We understand that if we don’t have an existing relationship that you’ll need to be more thorough in vetting the pitch, but trying to pull one over on you is not in our best interest or the best interest of our clients. Our reputation in this business is all we have. If a publicist loses their credibility, then they’re all done. Most good publicists understand what’s newsworthy and won’t waste your time overselling a great story about our client’s “new coffee flavor” for instance! We’ll save that story for when you owe us one.

3. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Whether you want to admit it or not, you need us as much as we need you. If this wasn’t the case, there would be no need for query services like PR Newswire’s ProfNet or Peter Shankman’s HARO. You need sources and story ideas and we have them. What’s more, a good PR agency contact can be a direct conduit for multiple sources – one stop shopping!

4. Some day we may represent Bono or Bill Gates. OK, so we don’t always have the sexiest clients, but just as you may start out covering selectmen’s meetings for the Carlisle Mosquito and end up a columnist at The New York Times, we could some day represent a client you would desperately want to write about. Keep that in mind when you’re pooh-poohing our pitch about the new coffee shop that opened on Main Street.

5. We are just as busy as you are. You’re busy, we get it. So are we. Please don’t always act like you’re in the middle of breaking Watergate when we call. Just as you have editors riding you, we have clients that expect the cover of Time magazine. When we call, it’s usually just a quick follow up on something that we sent you. You can spare 60 seconds. Now, if we call you with a stupid question at 5:00 p.m. when we know that you are on deadline, please, feel free to blast us.

6. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. If our client is on the hot seat, we will unequivocally do everything we can, short of lying, to protect our client’s name and reputation. This is what they pay us for. At this point, all friendships between reporter and publicist must be suspended. We understand this and so should you. Getting the dirt and deciphering our “spin” is your problem. There is nothing unethical about putting a spin on the truth. Understand that we all carry the labels “Flak” & “Spinmeister” proudly. When the dust settles, we can be friends again.

7. You can’t always expect an exclusive. Just because we also gave the story to your cross-town rival, doesn’t mean we screwed you. While there are some stories that may deserve an exclusive for various reasons, most of the time it’s not a big deal if the other paper runs the same story on the same day. If you write for The Boston Globe, your readership isn’t reading the Boston Herald anyway. It’s safe to assume that if we don’t say ahead of time that we’re giving you an exclusive, then we’re not.

8. Please don’t call our clients directly. There’s a very good reason why our clients hire us, please don’t cut us out. We make our livelihood by publicizing CEOs and their companies. If they had the time and expertise to do this effectively, then they wouldn’t need us. When you go directly to our clients, it either really annoys them and we hear about it or they begin to wonder what they need us for – even though we’re the ones who initiated the relationship. Please call us if you want to talk to them.

9. Just because you didn’t think about it doesn’t make it a bad idea. PR professionals are a pretty creative bunch. One of the best methods of garnering press for our clients is to lump them into a larger trend piece. When we bring you an idea for a trend piece, please don’t turn your nose up at it. You can take credit for the idea. If you do decide to use it, just please include our client prominently in the story.

10. Don’t make us do your job. Please don’t send us interview questions for our clients to fill out the answers to. Some PR folks may disagree with me on this, but from my experience, this interview method creates more work for everyone involved and the answers to the questions are never as good as if the reporter spent 5 minutes on the phone asking the questions themselves.

Well, that’s my list. I’m sure that there will be plenty of people who read this who will disagree with some of my points. Conversely, I’m sure there will be others who feel I left out some critical insights. Either way, I welcome your feedback!

Twitter Breaks News While Traditional Media Sits in Midtown Traffic

When a major news event occurs, naturally, news stations and websites are often the first place readers go to get the latest information. With society and technology changing, however, social media has taken a step ahead of traditional media and has proved to be a reliable source for breaking news information.

When U.S Airways Flight 1549 crashed into the icy waters of the Hudson River last week, witnesses watched from their high-rise buildings, trying to decipher what had just taken place. The jetliner with 155 people on board had lost power in both engines after hitting a flock of birds’ shortly after departing from La Guardia Airport. Now national hero, Pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger, landed the plane safely (miraculously) in the river avoiding a disaster and saving the life of every passenger and flight attendant on board.

News of the crash spread instantaneously over the micro-blogging site Twitter, by New York City-based users witnessing the crash live. They were sharing pictures and first-hand accounts well before any TV networks were on-site. The first Twitter feed was a post by Janis Krums of Sarasota, Florida who had arrived to the scene on ferry just a few minutes after the jetliner had plunged into the Hudson. He had posted a picture on TwitPic (a tool that allows you to share photos on Twitter) just ten minutes after the crash, with a caption reading, “There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.” It was one of the first photos posted about the incident and has now been viewed by over 90,000 people.

Janis Krums' Photo of US Airways Flight 1549 in The Hudson River
Janis Krums' Photo of US Airways Flight 1549 in The Hudson River

The power of social media continues to connect people, media and technology. By embracing this power, sites like Twitter and Facebook are becoming an essential part of modern society and communication, and are playing a role in the diminished usage and relevancy of more traditional media outlets.

The Hudson crash is yet another example of social media out-performing traditional media.