Apr 28, 2011

The Changing Search Landscape – Tips for Communicators

The changing SEO landscape was the subject of the latest installment of our biweekly #ConnectChat series of Twitter-based chats, and  featured Sarah Skerik, vice president of social media for PR Newswire.

Sarah discussed what the changes in search mean for communicators, and how brand organizations can achieve real social presence.

Following is a transcript of Tuesday’s chat. For info on future chats, please follow @profnet on Twitter, or check back here for details.

The SEO Landscape: What PR Pros and Marketers Need to Know

ProfNet: Today’s #ConnectChat is on “The SEO Landscape: What PR Pros and Marketers Need to Know.” Our featured guest is @SarahSkerik, VP of social media for @prnewswire and blogger for the Beyond PR blog. Sarah is a frequent speaker on social media, SEO and PR measurement. I’ll start things off with a few questions, then open it up to you. Please use the #connectchat hashtag so we can keep track of the conversation. Welcome, Sarah! Thanks for joining us.

Sarah: Thanks! Search is the intersection of customer intent and personal interest. It’s a great moment for a brand to be present.

ProfNet: Let’s jump right in. For those of us who are not SEO experts, can you explain what it is?

Sarah: SEO is the art and science of getting search engines to rank your website at the top of the SERP for specific keywords. Five years ago, SEO tactics focused on page structure, ratio of keywords to text, number of inbound links. Today, engines also look at actual on-page content and social interactions, opening up opportunities for people like us. We can borrow tactics from the SEO playbook to boost visibility of PR, marketing messages.

ProfNet: Why is it important for companies to look beyond search terms and keywords and think more in terms of creating content?

Sarah: @unmarketing said it best: Awesome content is the best SEO. People don’t share “meh” content. You can “SEO” the bejeebers out a piece, stuff it with keywords, and architect it for engines, but if it’s boring –> #fail. So keep the audience front and center as you plan. Be useful. Be interesting. “Bejeebers” being a highly technical term.

ProfNet: How important is audience engagement?

Sarah: Very! First, let’s talk about what engagement really means. It’s more than reading. It’s caring. Engagement is what happens when a reader says, “Wow!” and is compelled to share the content with their friends. Engagement means interaction and sharing, and that’s how visibility gets exponential.

@KristofferHowes: Engagement and sharing is incredibly important, especially when encouraging consumers to “Like” or “+1″ something.

ProfNet: How important is it that your content is shared, and what does that mean for SEO?

Sarah: Sharing is important for a few reasons. Search engines and Facebook reward it; it’s the key to gaining visibility. Sharing is a form of personal recommendation, and when it happens in social networks, it’s credible. Case in point: At the end of #ConnectChat, I’m going to share some articles with you. I bet you read them! ;)

ProfNet: Of course! I read *everything* you share! ;-)

SarahSkerik: I’m glad to hear it!

@ogpr Just because you share something you like doesn’t mean you expect everyone else to like it.

Sarah: LOL! Actually, it does! But my expectations are not necessarily indicators!

ProfNet: What is the *first* thing a company needs to do? What are some basic strategies?

Sarah: Keyword research! You need to understand and speak the language of your audience. And right after that, basic SEO training for anyone publishing content. Align goals and tactics.

@adweekcdn: I’d go slightly further and include interacting with the content, such as replying as engagement, which includes sharing.

Sarah: As per usual, you make a great point! (go #blackhawks)

@gnosisarts: I agree. I think it’s just as important to create conversation as well as to create shareability.

ProfNet: You’ve said companies have to think about how to achieve “real social authority.” What do you mean?

Sarah: Social authority: When you speak, others listen. And act. They RT, share, like. Especially when it comes to tweets in SERPs, the engines take social authority into consideration. Related reading: Facebook and Twitter’s effect on Google rankings: ow.ly/4Hu5N

ProfNet: This is all great stuff! FYI: I’ll provide a recap on this tomorrow for those who want to see the entire conversation.

@adweekcdn: Plus, after we begin conversations, it’ll be easier to continue them in the future, creating longer-term engagement.

Sarah: YES! Conversations = connections that last.

ProfNet: If anyone has a question for @SarahSkerik, please feel free to jump right in!

@KristofferHowes: You need to create content that is REMARKABLE — something that inspires conversation: 4-ne.ws/acRLFJ

@adweekcdn: I would take authority further and that we need to recognize and use the fact that some accounts carry more than others.

@gnosisarts: The engines definitely take social authority into consideration: We’ve done extensive tests to prove this. For example, visit gnos.tk/6j and you’ll see Sarah’s and ProfNet’s tweet about “social authority” in pole position in real-time search. But if I tweet using “social authority” from one of our “no-authority” Twitter accts, you won’t see it show up there.

@ogpr: @gnosisarts Can you expound on what you mean by “no-authority” Twitter account?

@gnosisarts: @ogpr Sure. A Twitter account still with an egg as avatar that talks to itself has zero engagement, etc. Follower-following ratio also has a bearing on social authority on Twitter. For example, you need to work on increasing your followers (naturally, not artificially). Your ratio is such that your tweet didn’t make it into Google’s real-time search for “social authority.”

Sarah: Totally agree. @gnosisarts You need to work on increasing your followers (naturally, not artificially).

@KristofferHowes: Build Relationships, Don’t Pay For Them: 4-ne.ws/gbYcHz

@adweekcdn: I think we’ve all seen contests that temporarily increase followers but then they all jump ship.

@ogpr: @adweekcdn Are you speaking purely about Twitter with that statement, or Facebook too?

Sarah: Both, I’d say.

@adweekcdn: I’m including Facebook as well.

@ogpr: @adweekcdn While I generally agree with you on follower/fan numbers, I think there can be exceptions involving charities.

Sarah: It depends on the objective, I think.

@ogpr: Agreed!

@adweekcdn: Obviously, context is very important. What works for brand x may not for brand y. Charities can be unique.

@ogpr: @adweekcdn Yes — just wanted to make sure you agreed that was a reasonable exception to the rule.

@adweekcdn: @ogpr Completely agree.

Sarah: There is *always* going to be an exception.

@gnosisarts: The main takeaway: Content that engages and inspires followership tends to produce more authority than content that doesn’t. Only Google knows all the social signals to measure authority, but here’s a good article to start: bit.ly/hnJhJ7

@KristofferHowes: You MUST create an experience for website visitors: 4-ne.ws/ckQdBV

Sarah: Yes. Boring content is a waste of time, energy and resources.

@KristofferHowes: Also: tinyurl.com/2vo2c39 for info on social signals SEs look at.

Sarah: Hey, that was one of the articles I was going to tweet! :)  It’s a fantastic read.

@KristofferHowes: LOL, so sorry. It’s one of my favorites. Please forgive me.

@ogpr: @SarahSkerik Have you read “The Thank You Economy”? What do you think of the author suggesting SEO is no longer needed?

Sarah: I’m a big @garyvee fan and read it. And I agree for the most part. Creating interaction by acting human is good. And I like thinking less about SEO and more about real-time communications. Because @garyvee is talking about communicating in real-time — in context, at that moment when people care.

@KristofferHowes: Matt Cutts has said that Twitter pages are treated the same as other Web pages. Links in and links out determine page rank.

Sarah: @adweekcdn There’s a lot of discussion about asymmetric influence — brands have loud megaphones. The prevailing sentiment I’ve heard is that ultimately the truth will out. The crowd will call BS if needed.

@ogpr: OK, so how would you counsel a client why they need a marketing company for SEO work on their website?

Sarah: Actually, I think basic SEO (and social media) skills need to be baked in across the enterprise. Online visibility can make or break a business. If you know nothing about SEO, professional help is probably a good idea.

@ogpr: We don’t disagree. What we mean is, many PR firms aren’t necessarily experts on SEO marketing for websites. So if you have most of the SEO skill set in social media and traditional PR but maybe not across board, professional help is a good idea.

Sarah: Yes.

@MktgGal: Best tools for keyword research are … [fill in the blank].

Sarah: My favorite is a kind of a hack. I really like Google’s keyword suggestion tool. ow.ly/4Huyj

@KristofferHowes: @MktgGal For SEs, use Google’s Keyword Help and @SEOmoz. As for YouTube: ads.youtube.com/keyword_tool

Sarah: Listening to the audience is very important. What info do they seek, what language do they use?

@MktgGal: Agreed — the language of your audience or market is crucial. Also, I read not to exceed a sixth grade vocabulary.

@MktgGal: Thanks for your advice on keywords. Ever use the Google Wonder wheel?

Sarah: Wonderwheel and Google Trends are great ways to gain wider perspective.

@adweekcdn: I’m becoming more and more fascinated by the phenomena of asymmetric influence, as well as the audience’s perception of it.

@KristofferHowes: What businesses need is search engine marketing. It combines traditional SEO with social media and digital PR.

ProfNet: Great conversation on #SEO so far on today’s #ConnectChat. Keep the questions/comments coming!

Sarah: Search, social, PR — they are inextricably linked. SEM, to many, still means display and optimization. The social component and content marketing pieces are crucial.

@KristofferHowes: LOL, “inextricably” … you’re killin’ me.

@editorev: Hello! What role does social media have in an SEO strategy?

Sarah: The social layer is broadly informing what we see in the SERPs. If a brand isn’t present, they aren’t visible.

@MichelleDamico: Sarah, sorry if you covered this. Does posting video hurt your SEO rankings?

Sarah: The question is, do you post or host? Fact is, embedding YouTube video has big benefits. If you embed YouTube video into a Web page, you create a link that engines see.

@MichelleDamico: OK. So it’s probably better to host video on your own YouTube channel? How about link to it from your blog?

Sarah: I wrote (and talked — there’s a video) about video, SEO and social media today: ow.ly/4Hvzu

@gnosisarts: Personally, I think it’s good to both host on YouTube and host on your own site and optimize video XML sitemap.

Sarah: Agree, if you have the chops to optimize the sitemap. YouTube embeds are the quick-and-dirty hack. Use YouTube for shorter “teasers” to build recognition, and drive traffic to the website for the longer video.

@gnosisarts: Agreed, but by optimizing XML, you can rank your own website, instead of YouTube’s, in video search results.

Sarah: Agree — if your organization has the SEO chops. Many PR people have trouble getting Web resource at their companies.

@gnosisarts: That’s a good tip re: teaser video to drive traffic.

@napoleonsuarez: The SEO value goes to the YouTube profile page, but if you link to your site from there, you will get credit.

Sarah: Good point!

ProfNet: What sort of content would lend itself well to this new SEO paradigm?

Sarah: Paradigm! That one is for you @kristofferhowes… Take your most popular blog posts, and build longer articles from them. Q&A pages can be SEO powerhouses, especially if they contain popular search queries. Dispense entirely with jargon. Experiment with clear, plain language and compare results.

@gnosisarts: Good tip. Q&A pages and definition pages, too. Q&A pages rock for SEO.

Sarah: FAQ pages are also great, especially if they also display and answer questions.

ProfNet: What SEO tactics should communicators use?

Sarah: Basic SEO factors: keyword targeting and usage, quality inbound links from a variety of authoritative sources. Keywords: starting the title tag with a keyword. For PR, this means the headline. Good inbound links: Media sites and authoritative bloggers are fantastic sources.

@gnosisarts: What is an SEO tool indispensable for PR professionals to know?

Sarah: Great question. PR needs a feel for the audience, understanding of the social layer and SEO — and the ability to connect it all. It’s about very deliberately setting out to be useful, and create search-engine-friendly content. At the end of the day, tools and tactics mean nothing if the content isn’t useful to the audience.

@BurgessCT: Perfectly articulated.

ProfNet: We’ve got about 15 minutes left in today’s #ConnectChat — if you’ve got another question, get it in! :-)

Sarah: May I turn the tables? Here’s a question for the #ConnectChat peeps: Do you leave SEO to your Web teams, or is it woven into all communications?

@ogpr: It’s a mix between our Web team (for back-end SEO) and what we do for SEO from traditional PR and SM PR angle.

Sarah: That sounds about perfect. And I suspect you may be in the minority. A lot of folks I speak to struggle with this.

@KristofferHowes: SEO can only be successful if there is continuity throughout. This means marketing, advertising, corporate mission, etc.

Sarah: Couldn’t agree more. It’s kind of like social media too (see: inextricable linkages).

@adweekcdn: That’s a great but tough question. Honestly, we focus on quality first and then I usually worry about the SEO.

Sarah: Good approach, IMHO. If you don’t have quality, then SEO will mean diddly. I emphasize content quality because search engines do look at what other sites link to your content. And no one links to boring.

@KristofferHowes: Your Approach to Internet Marketing Must Inspire Consumers: 4-ne.ws/eu2AD5

Sarah: Thanks for the link. Looking forward to reading!

ProfNet: I hate to end the chat, because it’s been so informative, but we have time for just one more question. What’s the one takeaway you hope people get from this?

Sarah: Focus on creating content your audience will love. Their enthusiasm will trump your keyword research every time.

ProfNet: Love that! Thank you so much — this has been a great chat!

Sarah: Thanks! What a great chat. Thanks, @profnet.

ProfNet: And thanks to everyone who participated – the questions and comments were fantastic! As promised, I’ll have a transcript of the chat tomorrow — and I’ll have more info on the next #ConnectChat soon. Thanks, everyone!

Sarah: What a fantastic group. Thanks for your insights and questions.

@contentaide: Great stuff, thanks. Enjoyed listening!

@ogpr: Thanks @ProfNet and @SarahSkerik for a great #ConnectChat discussion on SEO and PR!

@gnosisarts: @SarahSkerik @profnet Thank you for your SEO insights, Sarah. Thanks also to @ogpr @kristofferhowes for the conversations.

@ogpr: @gnosisarts Great connecting with you, too. We’re following you now!

@gnosisarts: @ogpr Thanks, I added you to our “prpeople” list to keep up with you on Twitter. Cheers, Eric.

Sarah: @GnosisArts @ogpr @kristofferhowes @mktggal @adweekcdn @michelledamico Really enjoyed the discussion, thanks for joining in!

@adweekcdn: +1 RT @sarahskerik: @GnosisArts @OGPR @KristofferHowes @MktgGal @adweekcdn @MichelleDamico Really enjoyed, thanks for joining.

@ogpr: @adweekcdn Great connecting with you!

@adweekcdn: @ogpr Likewise!

@MichelleDamico: Me too. RT @SarahSkerik: Really enjoyed the discussion. Thanks for joining.

@KristofferHowes: Thanks to @adweekcdn @sarahskerik @GnosisArts @OGPR @MktgGal @MichelleDamico for fun #ConnectChat this afternoon. Hope to see you all in two weeks.

Update: The following day we learned that Google are incorporating even more content from the social layer, adding public information from Facebook along with content from other networks, including Quora and Gowalla. Read more on TechCrunch.

More related reading:

Real-Time Search & Implications for PR

Authored by Maria Perez, director-news operations, ProfNet.

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