Posts filed under ‘Expertise Marketing’

Of snake oil and SEO…

By Sally Saville Hodge

The client was happy. Very happy. He’d just hired an SEO expert to help boost the search profile of his Web-based business.

“Yeah, the guy’s going to do a blog for us. He’s going to get us in all the directories. He signed us up for a service called INeedHits.com. And he’s doing it really cheap!”

The red flags were being hoisted with the word “blog” and reached the top of the pole when we got to “cheap.” It wasn’t an issue that we were the “experts” (because we’re not) and I was being territorial. It was more that these activities were a) not very strategic; b) time consuming (if done right); and c) more appropriate for a broad-based e-commerce concern than a Web-based business with a very narrow audience.

I’m not sure if it all was being undertaken to boost traffic or to improve search rankings or both. I didn’t think the client understood SEO. I wasn’t sure the “expert” did, either – at least according to my understanding of it.

As Mark O’Brien, president of Newfangled, a Web development firm, says, “There is no element of Web strategy that is more replete with misinformation than SEO. SEO is actually quite basic, but a lot of SEO professionals make it more
complicated than it needs to be to stay in business.”

The goal of an effective SEO program is less one of driving visitors to a website, and more one of creating traffic that actually converts, whether into actual business or as a contact that has given you “permission” to reach out regularly (via newsletters, special offers, etc.).

And these days, that’s tied to two things, according to Ryan Evans, whose Rand Media Group specializes in SEO and Web marketing activities. “One is the content on the page. The second is the number of links to that page. So if you’re not generating content that’s generating interest from relevant websites, then you’re not doing SEO.”

The thing is that Google is smart. “It’s searching for the best content to match the search query,” explains Evans. “It’s all about making the search experience excellent. If your SEO program doesn’t contribute to that, then it’s not working.”

A quick look at the specific strategies that the client was so excited about:

  • Blogs. Yes, blogs are a great SEO tool, but only if “they contain original content based on your expertise, what you know, and what your clients and prospects care about,” says O’Brien. In this instance, the blog was aggregating content – credited reposts from experts in aligned fields. Google understands and only indexes the original source of the content. So an aggregator blog is not likely to boost search rankings or meaningful traffic.
  • Directories. “Getting listed on 10,000 directories was an SEO strategy a few years ago, but it really doesn’t do any good,” says Evans. It goes back to the content issue, and is an obvious ploy that Google recognizes as such. A further concern is relevance – if visitors do click through from all those directories, will they convert or bounce?
  • “Hit” sites. “Ineedhits.com? How about Ineedabrain.com?” O’Brien queries a tad sarcastically. “For most websites, unless they’re making money off ad revenue, visitor count is meaningless if it’s not the right sort of visitor. You measure efficacy not by traffic, but by how you engage visitors once they get on your site.”

As in any business, there are SEO practitioners who don’t stay on top of changing best practices and cling to tactics that worked five years ago, but not so well today. Neither they nor many clients understand that, especially in a highly fragmented media world, effective SEO can’t be done in a silo. It requires forging partnerships with PR and marketing experts who can ensure strategies and tactics are in service to the brand.

In this client’s case, Google Analytics showed exactly how well this SEO strategy wasn’t working. Traffic shot up enormously, but in keeping with the scattershot approach, so did the bounce rate (the number of visitors who clicked through and departed the site immediately because it was irrelevant to their needs). The bounce rate actually jumped from a respectable 30 percent to over 80 percent. At that pace, it’s doubtful that many conversions took place – not that I’m convinced that was a goal to begin with.

Our business is very consultative. We can’t be experts in everything, but we make it our business to learn and stay on top of best practices in fields that are aligned to what we do. That way, we know enough to ask the right questions and to try to guide our clients in their thinking and decisions. When you can’t get together on expectations, though, that’s when you part company, as we did with this client, with a Godspeed and good luck.

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July 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm 1 comment

Understanding and responding to the consumer mood

Sally Saville Hodge

Job No. 1 to creating a truly differentiated brand is developing a deep understanding of your customers and using that as a basis for words backed by actions that anticipate and meet their needs and concerns.

That’s true in good times and bad, but it’s a dictum that is particularly pressing in an environment like the one we’re living through today. The public today is both skeptical and fearful, and not particularly trustful of just about anyone in just about any position of authority.

Hyundai got that and got it early. It recognized (while the Big Three sat paralyzed) that people were avoiding car dealerships because they were scared to death of getting downsized and then stuck with a big-ticket financial commitment. Its buyer assurance program – allowing people to return their new cars if they got laid off after their purchase – made a huge difference for Hyundai in overcoming the fear factor that’s keeping pocketbooks shut tight. Its sales rose 5 percent in both January and February as a result.

JetBlue, despite the occasional and well-publicized toe-stubbing on the operational front, has always used its keen grasp of the customer’s relationship with air travel as a basis for its messages and action. It doesn’t want to live up to the typical low expectations that we have for an optimal customer experience.

A big part of its persona is irreverence. Here’s a three part series its corporate communications team produced that’s more than just irreverent. It hits the public sentiment chord exactly with spots worthy of SNL. Enjoy.


April 22, 2009 at 5:37 pm Leave a comment

Is HARO a new PR HERO?

Sally Saville Hodge

After more than a month away from blogging (don’t you hate it when work gets in the way of fun?), the big issue for me was whether to whine about my limited bandwidth or write about a relatively new development in the PR realm that has me intrigued.

One aside, and I’ll then forgo the whining: How the heck does Richard Laermer of the Bad Pitch Blog manage to post with great regularity on at least three blogs, write a gazillion books AND run “an acclaimed” (you can tell he’s a PR guy) agency?

So a few weeks ago, a co-worker forwarded me a new media matchmaking feed called “Help A Reporter Out,” or HARO for short. This free service is a project of Peter Shankman, who bills himself as a “CEO, entrepreneur and adventurist.” (Another one who seems to multi-task a lot better than I.)

Anyone who’s serious about PR knows about Profnet, which until HARO launched was really the only game in town: Journalists can submit, for free, descriptions of articles they’re working on and the kinds of sources they need to help round out their stories. PR folks can respond, but we have to pay an annual membership fee to play. We get e-mail “feeds” a few times a day where queries are compiled by category, and can respond to those that are appropriate.

So now Profnet has a competitor, and not a moment too soon. On one hand, I think Shankman gives HARO a bit too much credit for better helping all us flaks out here to pitch the media more effectively, but it’s always good to have more options.

Having used Profnet for about the last 10 years and HARO for the last two weeks or so, I’ve been musing to myself about their similarities and points of difference. So how do they stack up?

Journalist posters: I see a fair number of redundant posts, not a bad thing, and both services seem to have about an equal number of queries per feed. My sense, however, is that HARO has more “reporters” and “editors” versus the “freelancers” that tend to dominate Profnet. That’s not a bad thing, either; just a difference.

Storyline/media variety: Here, too, both services are fairly equal, and, honestly, it’s almost an issue that’s out of their control. Reporters are often assigned (or choose to write about) topics deemed to appeal to either the lowest common denominator or to those where esoterica is the name of the game. I remember getting hits off Profnet years ago with reporters from the national business press who had fairly sophisticated queries. These days, you rarely see a query on either service from the Wall Street Journal or Fortune, say, unless it’s cloaked. To HARO’s credit, however, Shankman regularly urges his members to spread the word among their journalist contacts and notes the subject categories that could be beefed up.

Personality: Thumbs up to HARO on this front. The more corporate Profnet is “just the facts, ma’am,” while Shankman has enlivened each feed by leading off with a fun message from a sponsor (way to go to make this pay!) and asides. One told of the subscriber who sent him a birthday cake. That HARO T-shirts are on the way. That membership has surpassed 20,000. And, by the way, that Profnet’s not happy with the competition. All delivered in a breezy and engaging writing style.

Functionality: A few years ago, Profnet did a redesign so that each post was essentially an HTML message within the email body. The summary line at the top of each post linked to the detail. Neat on the bells and whistles front, but I, for one, hate it. It takes forever to load in my inbox and in these days of instant gratification, I don’t want to wait for 120 seconds for something I’m just going to trash after skimming in 30 seconds. HARO is just a numbered list of posts by category (business and finance; general; technology; yadda, yadda, yadda); you just scroll down to the right number to get the detail. Thumbs up to HARO for keeping the KISS factor in mind.

Profnet has a full Web site in addition to its daily feeds that presumably enriches the user experience. For some, features like the ability to post profiles of your “expert” client sources may be just fine and dandy. For us, we never saw enough of a return on time expended to put the profiles together to make the effort worthwhile.

It will be interesting to watch this new competition evolve in the months ahead. But for now, HARO’s my hero for a clean, easy-to-use and fun service. (Never mind that I always root for the underdog.) Check it out for yourself!

August 14, 2008 at 3:57 pm 1 comment

Expert media source: how to become one

Jeff Borden

It’s no secret the news media are in turmoil. Newspapers and magazines, large and small, are looking for ways to cut costs, which frequently translates into staff reductions. It’s not much better on the broadcasting side. Budgets are tight there too, and everyone is trying to do more with less. These conditions will only worsen in the near term with a shaky economy bordering on recession.

This creates opportunities for marketing executives shrewd enough to seize them. The reduction in newsroom resources has everyone scrambling even more for good, quotable sources who can bring a level of expertise to their stories. That’s where you come in.

With a number of former journalists working here, we know firsthand that reporters, editors and producers are like anyone else in a hurry. They gravitate to those who can help solve a problem. If you can offer yourself as an expert on a story, whether a large national event or a local issue, you position yourself as a thought leader and, quite possibly, gain a coveted spot in a news person’s Rolodex.

You can do this yourself, of course, but we’ve found that most executives don’t have the time to do this “reporter relationship building” very effectively. We help our clients establish and cultivate these relationships by monitoring the publications in which they would like to appear and advising them on how to connect appropriately.

Once a connection is made, it can be very rewarding, especially if you get a reputation for saying things that are smart and pithy. Ever notice how certain experts are quoted frequently in news reports? News people aren’t dumb. They go back to the sources who have helped them in the past. Connect with a news organization in a positive way and you can join their ranks – and boost your company’s profile along the way.

January 29, 2008 at 4:06 pm 2 comments


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