I never liked the term link building. In fact I hated it so much that I would spend hours thinking about what else we could call it: Link Fire, Link Flare, Link Blobbing… you get it. Awful right? Part of reason we cringed at the word link building was that it had become synonymous with shortcuts and marketing tactics that resulted in no long-term benefit and ultimately led to Google’s notorious ‘Penguin’ penalties. Exact match anchor text anyone?
It was the field of SEO that typically took on the role of link building because they understood the SERPs and how links work – so why not be the best marketers and try to explore all opportunities that yield results? SEO’s were already experts at the many tactics that link builders had employed in past: analyzing competitor backlinks, using search tools to seek out relevant content creators, finding influencers in communities, forums, groups, etc. They were experts at going down the rabbit hole and connecting the dots. As the game changed, the SEO teams with the best marketing foundations continued to thrive. For everyone else, the writing was on the wall – genuine marketing is and always will be the most effective long term strategy.
So SEO’s began to improve on their existing skill set with skills that would help them get better at building “genuine” links. They perfected their outreach pitches and learned how to build actual relationships… while being a real person. An SEO could no longer hammer blog comments across the web hoping those links would stick. Blog commenting needed to serve a purpose, and would only have a positive impact within the context of that intended purpose. They built up lists of influencers, gifted them when they could, connected them to others that would help them or whom they could help. They nurtured these relationships, growing these connections organically through hard work. They weren’t afraid to pick up the phone and talk to someone.
While they were busy doing all that, they also began to raise the bar for effective engagement on social channels. They recognized that many of the people they wanted to connect with were active on various channels, some preferring Twitter, others active on LinkedIn. This was the best way to communicate with them. They honed their skills on these networks and collaborated to their Social Media Community Manager peers to guide them along the way. They understood that social channels are an extension of customer service, an opportunity to better understand the needs of the audience, and to listen to each community’s frustrations and elations. Community managers’ influencer stalking skills rivaled that of the best SEOs, and they had excellent communication skills as well. They realized that they had much in common with their SEO friends. They realized that they could work together to achieve better results from their collective outreach efforts. The work that SEO’s and SMM’s were doing was overlapping more and more. The technical SEO skill-set could still stand alone or they could choose to become an outreach expert and possess skills traditionally thought to be those of a community manager.
As the SERPs continued to evolve, the value of genuine marketing continued to grow. Links, which were still part of the search algorithm, were something that could be gained naturally when doing real marketing. Links were a form of earned marketing. The traditional definition of earned is something obtained in return for labor or services. That means links would take work and that work would be in the form of a well-executed marketing plan. If your marketing initiatives were full of BS or solely focused on how to manipulate search rankings, you would be missing out on opportunities to provide real value to the people that would be helped by your products or services. Instead of investing time into links, invest time into something useful and interesting. After all, useful and interesting = links and shares.
The SEO-Social Media fields became excellent at outreach, talking to the media and other influencers, experts at building effective campaigns that would keep the company on point with their messaging, add value, stand out from the noise and creative a positive image. Sound like anyone you know?
What is PR? PR is outreach. What it is not? Press releases. Gone are the days of popping a press release up on your website, loading it up on 10 other press release sites (for the links, remember) and then hoping that some media outlets would pick it up. Good luck with that plan. What are you going to measure? Impressions on those PR sites? How do you know the right people are seeing that content?
A press release should be used strategically, and only when there is an announcement that the media is going to actually care about. Did you launch a new product? Did you hire a new CEO who is going to redefine the culture of your company? Those are legitimate reasons to put out a press release.
But hitting “send” in Cision is not where it ends. The efforts around a press release must map to the overall strategy and plan, which will map to activities on social channels (SMM), on the website (SEO) and through ads (more on that later).
“But, PR’s are experts at building relationships with the media, they already know these people and can tap into them at will. How can an SEO-SMM possibly have those kind of connections or that network?”
Here are some factors to keep in mind if this is the first question that comes to mind:
First, SEO-SMMs have already been building those relationships for years. PR is about connecting and engaging and SMM’s are great at doing just that. Talking to people comes natural to them and they know how to work a room at a party. Social channels are just that, a big party that you just walked into. Are you going to go over to someone and hand them your press release? Nope. You would go over to them, introduce yourself and ask them about why they are there and break the ice. When they inevitably ask about you, then you can tell them about your big announcement.
Second, the influencers are constantly changing. One media outlet could be the go to place for a certain piece of content one day and the next day another media outlet takes over. SEO-SMMs know how to work the SERPs, how to look at the trends and most importantly how to utilize that to find the influencers. That means all the influencers, not just the media.
Having a data analytics and “think outside the box” skill-set, a pre-requisite for successful digital marketing, means that you’ll be able to connect your pitches with actual revenue. One client we worked with, the creator of an innovative men’s clothing product, wanted placements on sites like CNN. Well, we got the CNN placement, but we also dug into the data and found a community of niche bloggers whose audience is right in our target-market. So we got those placements too, and guess what happened? They drove WAY more revenue than the CNN placement!
Third, it’s not just who know, but how you use your skills. PR and link building is all about outreach and messaging. An SEO-SMM has all the skills and tools at their disposal to be effective at PR. They have been pitching people for years. They have built up a network of bloggers, media contacts, etc. They have read the articles from bloggers making fun of the horrible pitches they get. The SEO-SMM knows what not to do and what to do. Because they are pro at socializing with folks virtually, they are really good at cutting through the bull and sending meaningful, concise pitches.
In a recent conversation with Jason, the head of our SEO-SMM team at DragonSearch, he mentioned that both he and the PR agency that was working for a client both were pitching the same people (the PR agency refused to share their list – we found out after the fact). Jason secured 8 of the 9 pitches, while the PR agency only secured 1.
In general when PR’s talk about metrics, they talk about one thing: Impressions. Though impressions are a great metrics to look at when we are at the top of the funnel, i.e. building brand awareness, it does little to really understand who our audience is and to tie it back to how they are interacting on with our brand. So that piece in Huff Post might have gotten you 100,000 impressions, but if you are only looking at impressions, what insight are you gaining? An SEO-SMM will make sure other key metrics are mapped to the content and can dive deeper into the analytics to analyze performance. After all, if you are going to spend time pitching media, you want to make sure that content is helping the bottom line.
The modern SEO-SMM is a mix of everything, mashed and whipped into one holistic thinker. They know what metrics are important to better understand if a campaign is successful or not. They talk to the sales team, to the customer, to the influencer, to the technical SEO. They know how to prioritize. They know being able to be agile and shift strategies is critical, how to talk to people on social channels, how to pitch without sounding like a phoney, how to foster a network of influencers, how to keep the messaging on target. They are excellent strategists, but still look to their team to gain additional insight in areas they might not specialize in, building a strategy that comes from the bottom up as much as from the top down.
The more we can break down silos and get conversations going between traditional marketing departments like PR and digital marketers, the stronger our overall strategies are going to be. The modern SEO-SMM is already here – hire them – their cross-disciplinary skills will rock your team.