Aug 16, 2011

Building Enthusiasm & SEO: A Worthy (and Measurable) Outcome for PR

The hobbyist blog "Robbie's Kitchen" trumps big brands in search engine results.

Increasing buzz and positive sentiment around a product, concept or idea is nothing new to the field of public relations – at its core; PR is all about influencing opinions one way or another.  In today’s digital age, we’re able to more strongly tie influence to outcomes.  In the past, clip books measured the degree to which messages saturated media.  Sentiment analysis and the volumes of conversation in online channels take it a step further, indicating whether or not conversations with the desired tone are on the rise (or, conversely, dropping, depending upon the desired outcome.)  And we can take things a step further, by focusing on building and harnessing authentic enthusiasm.

From a search engine and social media standpoint, it feels to me that we’re finally coming full circle with respect to the power of user generated content and the interconnectedness of social networks.  In other words, building (and linking to) enthusiast content, and connecting that content with key audiences is fast becoming a very good idea.

There are a few reasons why this is the case, and I’ll start with search engines.  I’ve been musing on a series of blog posts appearing on SEOmoz earlier this month.  If you’re a frequent Googler, you’ve probably noticed the results you see “feel” different lately, as the big engine continues to tweak its algorithms. I’m not expert enough to quantify what I perceived as different on the SERPs (search engine results pages) my searches generate, but the folks over at SEOmoz are.    A recent blog post titled “A Theory About Google: Authenticity and Passion as Ranking Signals,” nailed it.

In the post, author and SEOmoz chief Rand Fishkin noted he’s “…been getting the sense that there’s something new in Google’s algorithm – a metric or set of metrics that looks for some form of authenticity in a site and passion in the content created on a page.”  Common traits of the sites he’s spotted in high in the SERPs that don’t seem to fit the profile of a traditionally optimized web site include:

  • The web site is often a small, personal or niche website and is a lengthier article or piece of prose, usually rich with images and well-formatted
  • There’s almost always a sense that the piece is less commercial and more personal than other results, particularly in commerce-focused queries
  • The result feels like it has no SEO whatsoever, often not even a focus on keyword targeting or on-page work. It almost seems to rank in spite of itself, or the lack of knowledge the author/creator has about the rankings process
  • It’s almost always interesting and enjoyable; like stumbling across a great independent shop in the midst of a big-brand retail district (emphasis mine.)

So, to boil this down, Fishkin is saying that Google is somehow managing to show honest and enthusiastic content that doesn’t tick the boxes on the usual criteria for high rank in search results.

This is good news for anyone who creates content, including public relations.

All around us are people who love, geek out on and are passionate about the topics our brands and organizations are promoting – even the most seemingly mundane.

To experiment, I searched a number of mundane terms that I don’t believe I’ve ever used.  I upped the ante by using my work, rather than home, computer, because I don’t do much non-work-related searching on that machine (important, because Google personalizes search results.) I also logged myself out of Google.

  • Search query:  “laundry tips stains”
  • Result: A link to “Robbie’s Kitchen,” a hobbyist blog, was ranked #4.
  • Search query: “vegan tips”
  • Result: The VeganHacker blog was number 6 in the results.
  • Search query: “hiring a CIO”
  • Result: A link to tech enthusiasts Scott Burkett’s blog was number 5 on the SERP.

These blogs all had strong competition from big brands and publishers. Yet all had managed to land “above the fold” placement in search results, ahead of some of the big names.   In my mind, this underscores the absolute requirement for brands to develop authentic voices – both in social networks, and in the content they produce.   All shared the characteristics Fishkin noted.

Ultimately, good content is appreciated by your audiences – it’s eagerly consumed and readily shared – facts which don’t go unnoticed by search engines.   And search engine rank – and the resulting qualified site traffic – are very measurable.

So, from a PR standpoint – and, let’s face it, from my standpoint as the person who’s coordinating a lot of public facing content for my own brand’s social presences – here’s what I’ve taken away as my imperatives:

  •  Enthusiasm is a key content requirement.
  • Redouble efforts to find the enthusiasts within my own company.  Good content needs a heavy dose of true love.
  • Continue to find and connect with passionate people outside the company.   Curating their content – along with my brand’s – and sharing that information with my audience provides value and creates goodwill.
  • Edit for interest.  This will be harder, because anyone who’s edited “corporate” messaging knows it can be horrifically dull and stilted.  I’m hereby holding my red pen to my heart and swearing I won’t approve boring stuff.

What tips would you add for amping up the enthusiasm factor in the content surrounding your brand?

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

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