Online PR techniques

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Link building

Link building is a key activity for SEO. It can be considered to be an element of online PR since it is about getting your brand visible on third party sites and creating backlinks related to your site.

Link building needs to be structured effort to achieve as many quality links into a website as possible from referring websites (these commonly include reciprocal links which tend to be less valuable from an SEO perspective than one-way links). Your position in search engine results pages will be higher if you have quality links into relevant content on your site (not necessarily the home page).

McGraffic (2004) provides a great introduction to implementing a structured link building programme. The main principle of link building is as follows: ‘create great content, link to great content and great content will link to you’. He describes how you should review existing links, link to competitors, set targets and then proactively enquire to suitable site owners for links.

Reviewing your links into a site

You can use the syntax link:site in Google to see examples of links into a page on a site judged by Google, e.g. site:www.mudu.io. But note that this also includes internal links and is not comprehensive. A better option to display links is the SEOmoz Open Site Explorer tool (www.opensiteexplorer.com). For alerts of new links or new mentions on other sites, Google’s own alerts (www.google.com/alerts) are useful tools.

Blogs and blogging

Blogs give an easy method of regularly publishing web pages as online journals, diaries or news or events listings. Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject. Others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images and links to other blogs, web pages and other media related to its topic. The capability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs. Feedback (trackback) comments from from other sites are also sometimes incorporated. Frequency can be hourly, daily, weekly or less frequently, but several updates daily is typical.

There are many free services which enable anyone to blog (e.g. www.wordpress.com, www.blogger.com) The blogging format enables the content on a website to be delivered in different ways:

  • By topic – in categories or topics to browse. E.g. social media marketing category.
  • By tag – more detailed topics. Each article will be tagged with several tags to help them appear in searchers. E.g. ‘B2B’ or ‘case studies’.
  • By author – features from different columnists who can be internal or external. Guest posting is an effective method for both guest author and blog to increase reach.
  • By time – all posts broken down by different methods above are in reverse date order.

Tagging and folksonomies

A defining characteristics of Web 2.0 is tagging whereby users add their own metadata to content they produce, consume and share. On Flickr (www.flickr.com) and Deli.icio.us (del.icio.us) for example, any user can attach tags to digital media items (files, bookmarks, images). The aggregation of tags create an organic, free-form, ‘bottom-up’ taxonomy. Folksonomies are flat (they have no hierarchy and show no parent-child relationships) and, critically, are completely uncontrolled. A key implication of their lack of structure is that they do not support functions such as drill-down searching and cross-referencing.

Social bookmarking

Sites like Digg, Google, Reddit, StumbleUpon and Del.icio.us allows users to store, organize, search and manage favorite web pages on the internet. With such social bookmarking systems, users save links to web pages that they want to remember and / or share on bookmark hosting sites. These bookmarks are usually public but can be saved privately, shared only with specified people or groups, shared only inside certain networks, or some other combination of public and private domains.

Podcasts are related to blogs since they can potentially be generated by individuals or organizations to voice an opinion either as audio (typically MP3) or less commonly currently as video (video podcasts). They have been successfully used by media organizations such as the BBC which as used them for popular programs such as film reviews or discussions and for live recordings such as the Beethoven symphonies that received over 600,000 downloads in June 2005 alone. Virgin Radio has also used podcasting, but cannot broadcast music (due to copyright restrictions), only the presenters. A big challenge for achieving visibility for podcasts is that content can only currently be recognized by tags and it is difficult to assess quality without listening to the start of a podcast. All the main search engines are working on techniques to make searching of voice and video practical. In the meantime, some startups such as Odeo (www.odeo.com) and Blinkx (www.blinkx.com) are developing solutions.

In a business-to-business context, network provided by Cisco (www.cisco.com) has used video podcasts for its interaction network, which is used to sell the benefits of its services to small and medium businesses.

Photo, video and slide sharing sites

Photo sharing sites which are popular include Flickr (a Yahoo! service), Picasa (a Google service), Photobucket, Webshots Community, Kodak Gallery, Image Shack and SnapFish. These rely on tagging to enable users to find related shots they are interested in and can be used to create mashups using widgets to embed the object into a blog or other site. Some online campaigns for high-involvement products such as cars or holiday now invite customers to submit their own pictures via services such as Flickr to build ongoing interest in a campaign.

Video sharing sites include Youtube, Google Videos, Jumpcut, Grouper, Revver, Blip.TV, VideoEgg and Daily motion. These sites have very similar features to photo sharing sites but some add more features in the form of subscription to channels and offer code to embed the players on social networks and blogs.

Another form of sharing content is important in professional B2B markets in through slide sharing sites such as Scribd and SlideShare.net.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds

RSS is closely related to blogging where blog, news or any type of content such as new podcast is received by subscribers using a feed reader. It offers a method of receiving news in feed that uses a different broadcast method from emails, so is not subject to the same conflicts with spam or spam filters. Many journalists now subscribe to publishes RSS feed for different types of content on site.

RSS is now being used to syndicate not just notices of new blog entries, but also all kinds of data updates including stock quotes, whether data and photo availability. Today, RSS is arguably important integration of content shared from a blog through to social networks like Google, Facebook and Linked In.

Mashups

Mashups are sites or widgets that combine the content of functionality of one website with another to create something offering a different type of value to web users from other types of content functionality. In practice, they provide a way of sharing content between sites and stitching together sites through exchanging data in common XML-based standards such as RSS.

Examples of mashups include:

  • Chicagocrime.org took police data for crime incidents and plotted them on one street maps from Google Maps so that visitors could check in advance where it was the sort of place you might get mugged, and when.
  • Housingmaps.com combine Google Maps with Craiglist apartment rental and home purchase data to create an interactive housing search tool
  • Personal content aggregators such as Netvibes (www.netvibes.com), iGoogle (www.google.com/ig) or Pageflakes (www.pageflakes.com) often incorporate news stories from feeds and other data such as the latest emails or social network alerts. These are effectively a personal mashups.

Social networks

From an online PR perspective, social networking sites can be valuable in these ways:

  • They can be used to assess the ‘Zeitgeist’ i.e. what current trends and opinions are being discussed which can be built into PR campaigns.
  • They can assists in recommendations about brands and products. For example, Hitwise research suggests that a high proportion of visits to fashion retail stores such as Top Shop were preceded by usage of social networks, suggesting that some visits are prompted by discussions.
  • They can be used to solicit feedback about product experiences and brand perception, either by explicit request or observing what is discussed.

It is also important to monitor comments and respond as appropriate.

Widgets

Widgets are different forms of tools made available on website or on a user’s desktop. They are relatively new concept associated with Web 2.0. They either provide some functionality, like a calculator, or they provide real-time information, for example on news or weather.

Site owners can encourage partners to place them on their sites and this will help educate people about your brand, possibly generating backlinks for SEO purposes and also engaging with a brand when they’re not on the brand owner’s site. Widgets offer partner sites the opportunity to add value to their visitors through the gadget functionality or content, or to add their brand through association with you (co-branding).

Widgets are often placed in the left or right sidebar, or in the body of an article. They are relatively easy for site owners to implement, usually a couple of lines of Javascript, but this does depend on the content management system.

The main types of widgets are:

  • Web widgets – used for a long time as part of affiliate marketing, but they are getting more sophisticated by enabling searches on site, real-time price updates or even streaming video.
  • Google gadgets – different content can be incorporated into personalised Google ‘iGoogle’ homepage.
    Desktop and operating system gadgets – Microsoft Windows and Apple operating systems provide dashboard gadgets which make it easier to subscribe to information updates.
  • Social sharing widgets – these encourage site visitors to share content they like, effectively voting on it. Share buttons provided by the networks or aggregators like AddThis.com or ShareThis.com are now essential part of many sites to assist in ‘viral amplification’.
  • Facebook applications – Facebook have created an API known as the Facebook platform (application programming interface) to enable developers to create small interactive programs that site owners can add to their sites to personalise them. Charitable site Just Giving has branded app with several hundred users.

Atomisation

Atomisation is a way of summarising a significant trend in Web 2.0 which incorporated some of the new marketing techniques we have reviewed such as posts on social networks, feeds and widgets.

In a Web 2.0 context atomisation describes how the content on a website can be broken down into smaller ‘content objects’ which are then shareable and can potentially be aggregated together with other content to provide content and services valuable for site owners and visitors.

For site owners, options to consider for the application of atomisation include:

  • Providing content RSS feeds in different categories through their content management system. For example, the BBC effectively provides tens of thousands of newsletters on their site at the level of detail or granularity to support the interest of their readers i.e. separate feeds at different levels of aggregation, e.g. sport, football, premier league football or a fan’s individual team.
  • Sharing social updates, images, videos or whitepapers. These can be embedded from specialist sites like Flickr, Youtube or Scribd using widgets made available by the site owner.
  • Separating content which should be provided as data feeds of new stories or statistics into widgets on other sites. For example, UK retail statistics widget dashboard for iGoogle.
  • Development of web services which update widgets with data from their databases. A classic example is the Just Giving widget (www.jusgiving.com) where money raised by a charity donor is regularly updated.
  • Creating badges which can be incorporated within blogs or social networks by their fans or advocates. The membership body CIPD does this well through their ‘links to us’ programme which encourages partners to add banners or text links to their site to link with the CIPD site. Similarly, Hitwise encourages retailers to link it through its Top 10 Award programme (an award for the top 10 most popular websites across each of the 160+ hitwise industries by market share if visits).

Communicating with online media owners

Forming relationships with publishers or media online gives a way to expand the reach of a brand. These influencers may include traditional journalists, bloggers or celebrities.

Journalists can be influenced online through a press-release area or social media newsroom on the website; creating email alerts about news that journalists and other third parties can sign up to; news stories or releases submitted to online news feeds. Examples of feeds include PR Newswire, Press Box, PRWeb, Business Wire. Press releases can also be written for search engine optimisation (SEO) since they will link back to the site.

An increasing number of journalists rely on blogs and feeds for finding sources for stories rather than traditional press releases, so engaging influencers through these is also important. Charles Arthur, contributing author to the Guardian, says:

I’m not going to read things that are obviously press releases because the possibility of it just being annoying or irrelevant is too great; I’m going to go to my aggregator instead,because I’ve chosen every feed there for its potential interest. I pay more attention to my RSS feeds because they’re sources I’ve chosen, rather than the emails I get from PR companies.

Chaffey, D. and Ellis-Chadwick, F., 2012. Digital marketing: strategy, implementation and practice (Vol. 5). Harlow: Pearson.

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