SEO, PR, reputation management revisited

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My post on the relationship between SEO, PR and reputation management got some interesting comments from James Warren and Mat Morrison. I thought about commenting on the original post, but I thought their points deserved a more prominent display rather than parked on the end of the blog post:

Mat Morrison

There’s a famous planning trap that it’s v. easy to fall into: choosing an objective because it can easily be measured.

When we all started out on this digital planning thing (back in the era of the tamagotchi dinosaurs — or was it pokemon?) the thing to measure was site visits. I think there were at least three reasons behind this:

– Our clients had just sunk a load of non-recoverable expenses into their websites, amd wanted to justify this.

– Internet audiences (and therefore site traffic) were set to increase for the foreseeable future, making this a pleasantly positive trend to measure.

– People were talking about “disintermediation” a lot back then, and it was easy for us and our clients to conflate consumer brand marketing business models with publishing and retail business models.

– There were tools to measure things like unique visits and page views. There weren’t many other tools (obviously this was all part of the vicious circle.)

I believe that this obsession with “unique visits” and “page views” acted as a tremendous brake on the progress of our industry. It has kept our clients focussed inwards on their sites, rather than externally on “what their customers are saying about them”

Now — I like (and am inclined to quote) a good search metric as much as the next person. But I also believe that, if we take search as the KPI, we’ll lose sight of our strategic objectives.

The objective for PR (whatever it is) should not be either “increased search volume,” or “increased SERPs for top keywords” or even “increased search-derived traffic on site.” Those are all — I suspect you will agree — too tactical, and will (more to the point) begin to define our tactics.

My point? Be careful what you measure lest it come to define what you do.

Wise words, and I agree with them to a point. This reminded me of the unique users numbers fetish that the search divsion at Yahoo! had. They didn’t realise that all users aren’t created equal and aren’t equally attractive to vend adverts to. This meant that Yahoo! Answers filled up with a lot of expensive-to-clear spam provided by what Wellington would have called the ‘scum of the earth’.

I agree with the points that Mat makes about obsessing on a particular type of measurement. However that does not mean that measurement in itself is a bad thing.

For starters, as an industry we have the reputation of ‘tearing the face off clients’ as a banker friend of mine once put it. One of my best friends in the industry used to tell at dinner parties how they charged clients 8 GBP per photograph developed at Boots the Chemist as they were ‘press quality’ photo prints.

As a junior PR person I have already written on on this blog about how I had gone into a client meeting with a large mobile phone company with no coverage to speak of and seeing the client perfectly happy when the account manager opened up the meeting saying that we had been successful in ‘developing mindshare with key influencers and were confident that this would translate into positive coverage at some point in time, so long as we continued our relationship building activity with them‘.

Marketers don’t like getting screwed over and consequently try to tie everything back to return on investment via proxy measures.

PRs will often fall behind concepts which are quite ethereal like influence and awareness of a brand. Ethereal is unfair because advertising agencies research department can often get their measure – for a cost. However as my friend Graham Brown once said “Awareness means nothing: when was the last time that you bought a Cadillac”.

The challenge is not with measurement as a concept but in the actuality: Ian Jindal put it quite eloquently when I saw him speak at the Sense Loft last week. If you don’t get your data structures right, you are building on sand. The challenge is how do we measure return on engagement in a meaningful way that satisfies PR people, marketers and economic decision-makers.

James Warren

good stuff Ged. two things, loosely related (and i must confess i haven’t had a chance to read wadds’ original post – but i will):

1. PR is offline search optimisation – discuss

2. analysis of search activity, if you think about it, is more driven by ‘traditional PR’ activity rather than digital. because if you read about something online, or are sent something electronically, finding it is simple – it’s just a click, right? you don’t need to search for it. but if you hear about something from a mate or read about something or watch something and want to find out more, then you search for it. so search analysis is actually about offline comms, rather than online

erm, that’s it.

Ahhh the Leo Rayman quote; I agree with the offline SEO quote, mainly because in all but the most simple purchases a search engine is one of the first filters employed on the evoked set. The second point I disagree with though, unlike blogs a lot of online coverage isn’t hyper-linked to death. Secondly it depends on the buying cycle, it doesn’t matter if I read about the new Rolex Sea-Dweller Deep Sea in The Financial Times at the wrong time and then recall it at a later date when I am flush with cash. I then hit Google. It doesn’t matter if that I read it in the online edition or the How To Spend It weekend supplement magazine. We consume content online and offline, the balance changes from person-to-person; but a mix of online and traditional PR techniques would be needed for that ‘surround-sound influence’ (dang, I like that so much I’ll have to register it as a service mark or something).