Using Search for Public Relations & Reputation Management

Search marketing should go beyond traditional search engine optimization and paid links by bolstering a firm’s reputation and customer image, according to a panel of experts.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, August 8-11, 2005, San Jose, CA.

If you’re only using search engine marketing to sell your company’s products or services, you’re missing out. Both SEO and PPC can be leveraged to build your brand, and in some cases, repair it when it’s been burned.

“News search is a critical component for 21st century media relations,” Anne Kennedy, managing partner of Beyond Ink, announced in her introduction of this session.

Rob Key, president and CEO of Converseon, pointed out the number one reason why marketers should pay attention to using search engines for public relations campaigns. “You’re going to define yourself,” said Key, “or your audience will define you.”

Unfortunately, Key says that many companies aren’t creating a search/PR campaign because “reputation management is in between web marketing and corporation communications, so it falls by the wayside.”

You might be thinking that PR isn’t worth your time. But Nan Dawkins, partner of RedBoots Consulting, asserted that consumer-generated media such as blogs are making reputation management through search a growing necessity.

Dawkins illustrated her point by demonstrating how companies can respond to negative blog postings. She showed that a search on Google for “Walmart and unions” pulled up several blogs that blast Walmart for blocking employees’ efforts to unionize. Fortunately, Walmart is smart. The company created and optimized a landing page for this keyword phrase that ranks #2 in Google’s organic results.

Companies can not only police organic and paid listings for negative press, but launch counter-offensive SEO and PPC campaigns on those keywords to respond to any allegations. Otherwise, the media and consumers will only get one side of the story—typically the side that gives your company a bad image. True or nor, by not responding your company could appear as either disinterested in, or unaware of, the allegations. Neither is going to help your situation.

Don’t wait for organic rankings, however. You can launch a PPC PR campaign immediately to drive interested journalists and consumers to your landing page. Besides, if you’re victim of really bad press why not occupy a paid and an organic listing? At least you’ll be blocking out at least two possible negative listings.

But you shouldn’t sit around waiting to respond to bad press. Instead, be proactive—write and optimize press releases to score some good press.

Greg Jarboe, president and co-founder of SEO-PR, showed how Southwest Airlines generated over $1 million in ticket sales when it announced “22 new flights at $29” in just one press release. And Verizon credited its press releases about its special Valentine’s Day offer for creating a 438% spike in searches for “florists” on the Verizon web site.

Why are press releases so powerful?

According to Jarboe’s presentation, Yahoo News has a unique audience of 24.9 million people and Google News has a unique audience of 7.2 million. Journalists and consumers are turning to the search news channels for information. Plus, optimized press releases appear in the general search results as well.

Kennedy also pointed out, “When your press release ranks well in a search engine, you control more real estate on the search results page. That’s one more spot your competition won’t get.”

But Jarboe warned search optimizers, “optimized press releases are not the ‘secret backdoor’ to top rankings.” Writing for the search engines without writing good content for humans won’t cut it. If you land organic rankings they won’t last long. Worse, they won’t be effective anyway with the real audience—humans—if there’s no story.

Where do blogs fit in?

According to Converseon’s study of the top 20 search engine listings for the BusinessWeek 100 brands in July 2005, 39% of the top search listings were derived from consumer-generated media such as blogs. Based on this study, Converseon estimated there are 16,000 flame sites web-wide and growing. Blogs are giving “the people” a voice, and it’s not always happy.

So use blogs to fight blogs. Because blogs can rank better than corporate sites, Dawkins suggested that a corporate blog could be used as part of a public outreach strategy. She added, “Make life easy on yourself; repackage relevant content from your existing materials. Blogs are a great place for this information.”

Watch it though. Don’t create adoration blogs because the public can sniff those out. Really think through the purpose of your blog and the approach you’ll take with the content. This is not a job to casually pass off to an intern who isn’t up to speed your public relations strategy.

But don’t stop at blog building. Dawkins pointed out, “You need to engage in conversation that’s going on about your company online. Engagement might mean building your own blog. It might mean conducting blog outreach and response. It might mean using RSS Feeds from your main site.”

Key gave the following top 10 tips for managing your reputation on search engines:

1. Create a cross discipline team that bridges the chasm between corporate communications, PR and online marketing.
2. Understand how your company and brands are being searched.
3. Ask yourself if information is reflective of your company’s intended positioning.
4. Review your current pages and look at the full assets of company to determine if content and properties are being under utilized.
5. Engage the “conversation.” Recruit partners, affiliates, other third parties to optimize for your brand.
6. Make full use of your properties, including international domains.
7. Analyze flame sites more closely. Are they cloaking or using other “dark arts” to achieve rankings?
8. Fully optimize relevant, unique content across domains and link content utilizing “best practices.”
9. Continue to publish relevant optimized content (i.e. press releases, etc.); become a content company.
10. Stay vigilant.

Kennedy wrapped up the session by reminding marketers of their opportunity. “It’s one more place your company message can tell your story… or not if you haven’t considered search news.”

This session gave search marketers a new way to consider using PPC and SEO. It’s not just a vehicle to sell something. It’s a channel to say something.

Catherine Seda is president of Seda Communication and creator of the new CD-ROM course Search Marketing Mastery.

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