Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Understanding the basics of SEO for public relations

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a discipline that public relations professionals should have some awareness of. After all, search engines, in addition to people, are reading our words.

SEO has a strong intersection with public relations and social media, given the importance of online presence to brands. If SEO is new to you, this overview will be helpful.

Search engine optimization definition

According to Search Engine Wiki, SEO is "the use of search engines to draw traffic to a website. It's the technique of attaining a higher ranking in search engines and directories via alteration of website code and copy to make it more search engine compatible."

SEO is important because 75 percent of users never scroll past the first page of search results. I know that's generally the case with me. If I'm really digging for something, I'll go all the way to page four.

Keyword research

Keywords are the most crucial element to SEO. Search engines work to match queries that have appropriate keywords in them with the most relevant content on the Internet.

Keywords are phrases you wish to target. They are the terms that potential website visitors would use in search engines. As an example, think about what you would type into Google to find an excellent Italian restaurant in the Twin Cities. You might type in "Italian restaurant Minneapolis," "Italian restaurant St. Paul," "best Italian restaurant Twin Cities," or "best Italian restaurant Minneapolis St. Paul."

To come up with relevant keywords for your project, think about your target market. Is there a specific geography, age or gender with which you want to connect?

Write down as many keywords as you can think of, and then do some research to find out how frequently they actually are used. Some tools to determine how popular keywords are include:  Google AdWords, SEMrush and Raven Tools.

Optimizing press releases

Like it or not, search engines don't have a sense of humor, and that impacts how clever one can make the headlines and copy in a press release. One aspect of effectively optimizing a press release going out on a wire service (Business Wire, PR Newswire, etc.) is to use a clear (not necessarily clever) headline. Another important tip to take into account is to place your key messages at the beginning of the press release, as search engines consider the copy near the beginning of the release more important than the rest of the copy.

To use the most appropriate number of characters for readers (and online news services like Google News), noted writing expert Ann Wylie recommends keeping the headline length to eight words or fewer, the deck/subhead length to 14 words or fewer, and the lead paragraph to 25 words or fewer.

Now back to the relevant keywords. Hyperlinks to the respective page on your organization's website are important to the algorithms of search engines.

The keywords that you consider important should be hyperlinked in your press release, but use caution. Yahoo! Finance, one of the leading Internet news sites, has placed restrictions on hyperlinks in a press release, such as: one hyperlink per every 100 words, a maximum of six links within a press release, and a maximum of three consecutive words can be hyperlinked.

Using photos for SEO opportunities

Search engines are visually impaired, which is why keywords are so important. Search engines can read the words on a page, but not see photos.

However, a related way that search engines can "see" photos is the associated text that can be assigned to each photo. In a press release, the associated text comes into play when publishing a multimedia press release using a wire service. Remember to use the keywords that you deemed relevant.

Understanding META tags

META tags are HTML tags that are in the code of a website. I mention them here just because they are important to SEO, and you see them everyday in search engines.

In the example above for Sparkweave (a client that I work with through KC Associates), the TITLE tag is the top line, and the META description is the phrase that starts with "Sparkweave" and ends with "today." Other aspects of META tags include the keywords tag and ALT IMG/associated text for images. (The keywords tag and the ALT IMG/associated text don't show up in search engine results, but are in the HTML code.)

Optimizing your online pressroom

Having a pressroom that is very easy for journalists to find and has the information that they need can make the difference between your organization making the cut in a news story or not.

In research that I conducted with journalists for an article (opens PDF) that ran in "Tactics," here's what I found:
  • Keep it simple.
  • Make media contact information prominent.
  • Ensure easy access from your company's home page.
  • Provide RSS feeds.
  • Keep your online pressroom organized.
  • Use the terms "media" and "press" in your online pressroom.
  • Offer a search box.
  • Provide more than just press releases.
I shared these SEO insights at the Public Relations Society of America Midwest District Conference on July 25.

Monday, July 15, 2013

When CEOs leave: how to calm the storm

CEO resignations are not new in Minnesota. High-profile changes in company leadership at
ceo responsibilities
Minnesota companies in the last 12 months haven't gone unnoticed. These transitions made national news headlines, sparking conversation among consumers and raising red flags for investors. With such important company news, preparing for a C-level departure before the word gets out could make or break a business.

What can a company do internally and externally to prepare for a CEO transition and avoid potentially damaging messages?
  1. Be transparent. Once a CEO resigns, analysts and investors begin to assume the decision could be based on growing competition or financial distress. Transparency is key in reassuring stakeholders that a CEO's resignation is not related to a company's operations or financial controls. While companies are quick to limit the release of damaging details, telling the truth is often less damaging in the long run than covering it up.
  2. Listen to your stakeholders. Companies don't own brands. Brands are co-owned with customers and advocates. Successful companies give these stakeholders the ability to manage and build the brand together, so it's important to ask your customers for feedback. With an active presence on social media, companies can monitor what customers are saying about their brands online. In times of crisis, monitoring the social chatter can help companies ensure that their messaging isn't confusing stakeholders, leading them to draw inaccurate conclusions. Communities are not a threat to a brand; it's these interactions with a community that define the brand.
  3. Have a plan for the media. The media is looking for a face for the company, so it's essential to centralize a spokesperson for interviews. A spokesperson needs to be credible, believable and authentic. Ideally the best candidate is someone on the executive team. Equally important is notifying employees on how to handle media inquiries in advance. For large corporations, with employees in geographically diverse locations, it is important that everyone is aware of where to send a reporter's call. Finally, be human in your response. Make your messages as transparent and authentic as possible. Don't be afraid to apologize. In the end, equity is built through actions, not words.
  4. Update all online properties with accurate information on the issue. Keep consumers, investors and the media in the loop by providing updates on allegations and plans for the future. By keeping your website and social media channels consistent, updated with recent developments and key messages, you can control the messages put out and keep the facts straight.
  5. Restore confidence by focusing on the future. Reassure employees that even after recent challenges the company is moving forward and will rebound. Demonstrate commitment to the right path. This quick, future-oriented action instills confidence among stakeholders.
Through preparation, companies can preserve, maintain and grow their reputation. It's imperative to have a crisis communications plan that clearly addresses these best practices. In times of crisis, preparing a message of viability through trust and transparency, with feedback from stakeholders, is the best way to mitigate the risk of losing employee engagement, investor trust and customer sales.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Twinkie defense

the twinkie defense
With boxes that bear the tagline "The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever," Twinkies are set to return to shelves July 15.

Let's flashback to 1978, when Twinkies had to make a minor comeback thanks to something that became known at the "Twinkie defense." Laurie Garrett's book "The Coming Plague" provides a brief perspective of the issue from the perspective of the gay rights movement:
In November 1978, the U.S. gay rights movement attained that dubious notoriety offered to all grassroots efforts whose leaders are assassinated because of their beliefs. Harvey Milk, by then the city's first openly gay elected official -- a member of the Board of Supervisors -- was shot dead in his office, along with the mayor, George Moscone. The assassin was another supervisor and former police officer, Dan White, who would later get a light sentence based on his creative plea of temporary insanity, caused by the overconsumption of sweets (Hostess Twinkies). The jury's acceptance of the so-called Twinkie defense would be interpreted by the gay community as an obscene display of homophobia.

Milk's murder placed the political fate of the gay rights movement in the United States solidly in the ranks of other civil rights movements.
In reality, Twinkies were barely mentioned at the trial. White's longstanding and untreated depression was the main point to the defense's argument, and the defense argued that the previously health-conscious White was now eating a diet of junk food.

Akin to the "Telephone" game, the media simplified the defense's argument to suggesting that junk food was the cause of White's depression, rather than an indicator of his depression. Supposedly moms nationwide began eliminating Twinkies from their kids' lunches as a result.

Today the "Twinkie defense" is used as a derisive term for an improbable legal defense -- and Twinkies are making a sweet comeback.
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