Staying Ahead of the Puck that is Google with Michael Cottam [Podcast]

Staying Ahead of the Puck that is Google with Michael Cottam [Podcast]

Staying Ahead of the Puck that is Google with Michael Cottam

“I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” — Wayne Gretzky.

Somewhere in the middle of the PR Talk conversation I had with Michael Cottam he cited this quote in reference to how he approaches search marketing. This means that Michael doesn’t just focus on what Google is doing, he broadens his view to what Google will be doing. There couldn’t be a more fascinating way to think about the ever-evolving topic of search, and especially how it relates to PR.

Michael Cottam is a renowned search engine optimization (SEO) expert who many in the search industry already know. Beyond providing highly-coveted search consultation for clients, Michael is the founder of Visual Itineraries, which he calls his SEO “sandbox” because it is where he tests search theories for clients.

Always full of great information, I am normally talking with Michael either at a busy conference or while collaborating on a mutual client. So I took this dedicated time to really dig in and get my questions answered. Even if my questions are in the weeds or are very technical, I don’t care because it will help us help Veracity’s SEO PR clients!

Battle of the SEOs: Does Michael Agree with Rand About Links?

First, I had to know if Michael agreed or disagreed with Rand Fiskin’s notion that links are not nearly as important as they once were for SEO (check out the last PR Talk interview with Rand titled “The Wall Street Journal Problem” for more context). 

Michael wholeheartedly agreed with Rand. 

The backstory is that Google used to rank web pages higher in search engines by relying on quantifying their external links. But now, Google has improved its ability to recognize quality content within web pages. While links are still important, websites that thoroughly cover specific topics will in turn rank for those specific topics.

 

Google’s E-A-T Attempts to Take the Consumer’s Place

Michael explains that in addition to links, Google is now considering “E-A-T,” which stands for “Expertise, Authority and Trust,” to rank web pages. For example, Google can determine the authority of a web page by attempting to discover who wrote the page and then follow a trail back to previous content by that author. If the author has written authoritative posts and been included (mentioned) as a source in other websites, Google will consider them an expert, thus trusting the page. Therefore, thought leader names are becoming just as important, or possibly even more important, than company names in terms of establishing credibility and resulting SEO.  

Since Veracity handles a lot of guest article placement for thought leaders, I wanted to dig into this concept further. I would think that name credibility could be built by landing many guest article placements. However, Michael said that interviews (or getting names included in articles) by credible third-party sources (such as reporters) are just as important. You want a mix of both to build your thought leader’s name, as well as the company name. 

The E-A-T concept allows Google to mechanically re-create what consumers would see along the decision-making process and ultimately what websites they would click on. In this way, Google essentially acts like a consumer to serve its customers (web searchers).

 

Schema Markup Can Help Us Tier Press Lists

Back to my favorite topics of links, if all else is equal, of course you’d place more intrinsic value on the website article that also provides a followed link to your website. However, we could also review the “schema markup” (a type of structured data) of web pages. This hidden code enables search engines to understand what the page actually is about so it can more readily appear in searches. For example, appropriate schema markup will tell Google that a webpage is really a press article, as well as who published and wrote it. 

PR people should not inquire or advise press/web contacts about schema markup. This is a much bigger deal than simply asking the press to add a link into a previously written article.  Additionally, there are ways we can discover who is using ideal schema markup in order to tier websites/press by using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool or Rich Results Test to see if the site is using structured data (see more about these tools in this Search Engine Land article).

 

Are No-Follow Links the Devil?

For a long time we have been talking about no-follow links not being very great for SEO. However, Mike Rosenberg has been unsure about this for a while, so we posed the question to Michael Cottam.

He said that Google cares very much about “user-generated links” (links generated by others), which are found on social media sites, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, and on forums and places like Reddit and Quora. You want a mix of outside press (links and/or mentions from other websites) and buzz from user-generated links, which are no-follow, because they show what is hot right now.

However, there should be a natural bell curve pattern in the links. You don’t want to do a bunch of Facebook ads to generate comments and links for users at only one time. Ideally, you’d get some outside press coverage first and then share that article on social media (with some budget behind it) to show Google that people are also talking about you, which will increase the search impact of the original article.

 

We talked about so much more in the interview. More detailed questions such as how to approach keywords when writing press materials were answered. And larger topics, such as: 1) how search and PR teams can effectively work together, and 2) if search and PR could ever be combined into one role. That was an easy no!

 

Don’t Miss an Episode

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About the guest: Michael Cottam

Michael Cottam is the founder of Visual Itineraries, a sales closing and lead-generation tool for travel agents, and is an independent SEO consultant, focusing on technical organic search engine optimization, Panda optimization, and Google penalty recovery. The former SEMpdx board member is currently involved in the Rotary Club of Greater Bend, where he recently moved to be closer to the outdoors. 

Connect and follow Michael on social media:

Michael Cottam technical seo consultant

This episode of PR Talk is brought to you by PRSA Oregon

Throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington, PRSA provides members with networking, mentorship, skill building and professional development opportunities – whether you are a new professional fresh out of college or a skilled expert with 20 years in the industry. Check out PRSAoregon.org for more information on how membership can help you grow and connect.

Digital PR: It’s About More Than SEO

Digital PR: It’s About More Than SEO

Digital PR: It’s About More Than SEO

The modern idea of public relations (PR) developed in response to the rapid growth of mass media in the early 20th century. Pioneering practitioners like Ivy Lee, Edward L. Bernays and Betsy Plank were among the first to recognize the benefits of using the media to deliver precise and truthful corporate messages. As the media evolved over the years from print to radio to television and beyond, PR professionals have adjusted their tactics to stay effective. Regardless of the medium, however, the goal remains the same: to elevate the client’s public position.

On the other side of the coin, search engine optimization (SEO) as an industry is relatively new. It started around the early 2000s and has evolved rather quickly. My start in the world of search engine marketing was in 2007 and the only “PR” activities SEOs did was maybe using a press release distribution service to get lots of spammy links. However, the SEO’s goal remains the same as well: to elevate the client’s search engine [Google] position.

 

What is Digital PR?

As our activities continue moving online, PR practitioners have responded with new tactics that take their traditional techniques a step further. Called Digital PR or SEO PR, this approach raises a client’s position online by targeting outlets and opportunities beyond conventional media. Some assume that Digital PR is just another term for link building. While this technique is certainly one tactic in the arsenal, that narrow view often ignores the holistic strategy directing a PR professional’s outreach efforts. When done well, Digital PR not only improves a company’s SEO presence but also increases brand mentions and exposure. 

 

Digital PR Tactics

Traditional PR focuses on media relations and outreach efforts to secure coverage for their clients (or organization for in-house efforts). Historically, these outlets included mostly print publications along with television and radio broadcasters. Digital PR still focuses on traditional media, using the tried and true PR techniques developed over generations. But, the work doesn’t stop there. Instead, Digital PR practitioners also look for other opportunities that didn’t exist ten, twenty or thirty years ago, and broaden their focus outside of traditional media to include targets like bloggers, podcasters and other influencers. These outreach tactics all converge under a broader PR strategy, developed to meet the client’s overarching goals.

 

Link Building

Every PR professional builds a media list to prioritize and track their outreach efforts. With a traditional campaign, media opportunities might be ranked by the type of audience or the size of an outlet’s reach. Digital PR campaigns use the same techniques but also include other online metrics — like a link opportunity and the authority of a website — to help judge an outlet’s value. Under this strategy, domain authority, follow vs. no-follow links and even body vs. bio links become critical considerations. Depending on the campaign goals, the right link could be the main priority and will, in turn, shape the outlets you pursue. Often, this leads PR professionals to uncover valuable opportunities that lie beyond traditional media outlets.

 

Content Marketing

Content marketing is another tactic that PR practitioners use to target media opportunities. By creating articles, videos, infographics and other assets around a strategic topic, PR professionals offer the media pre-packaged content in the hopes of receiving something of value for their clients in return, like a link or a mention. Even if the content isn’t picked up through an earned media opportunity, these assets are also valuable tools for owned media channels like social media, email or a corporate website. If a piece of content is being shared in one way or another, there’s value there.

 

Podcasts

Over the past ten or fifteen years, podcasts have grown from a niche product into a significant media category. More people are starting their own podcasts every day, which means there’s a tremendous ongoing demand for content. Digital PR professionals leverage podcast opportunities in several different ways. Companies can reach large, new audiences by having their people appear as podcast guests. Additionally, there are often link opportunities associated with podcasts that make some shows more valuable than others. Google is also now indexing and featuring podcast content, which makes these shows a critical component of every digital media list.

Podcast SERP

Google search results feature podcasts and specific episodes.

Events

Events have long been the domain of traditional PR practitioners. In this context, media outreach usually takes the form of interviews or profiles in trade publications. As always, Digital PR seeks out additional online opportunities that will add value to these already valuable events. For example, during a tradeshow, there may be openings to collaborate with strategic partners or customers. Other times, it could be an often-overlooked activity like filling out the company’s online event profile with SEO or link-building practices in mind. In any event, a Digital PR strategy takes advantage of every avenue that will extend the life of these limited-duration events.

 

Sponsorships

Many companies actively seek out opportunities to give back to their community by partnering with nonprofit organizations. Digital PR professionals can help their clients evaluate these organizations in several different ways:

  1. Does the organization share the client’s values or goals?
  2. Will the organization be a good partner?
  3. What kind of digital assets is the organization bringing to the table?

Rather than just spending money, Digital PR strategies can help leverage the online elements of a sponsorship agreement to deliver maximum exposure for clients.

 

A Unified Strategy Guides Everything

In the end, Digital PR is not so different from what early practitioners pioneered all those years ago. It’s still about elevating your client’s public position using clear and transparent messaging. But in this case, a client’s public position might also include their search engine results page listing. That’s why every modern PR strategy should prioritize online opportunities and employ the digital tactics necessary to achieve campaign success on every possible front. Otherwise, clients won’t realize all the potential value from their PR efforts.

 

(I just love that image of Marty Weintraub at SearchFest. An internet marketer holding up the results of some very traditional print PR work.)

Will Digital Kill PR?

Will Digital Kill PR?

This question continues to be the topic of a lot of conversation, but of course there isn’t a simple yes or no answer. I recently attended a PRSA event that proposed just this question with guest speaker Frank Mungeam, Director of Digital Media for KGW-NBC News Channel 8. Mungeam led into the event by answering this hot topic question, stating “yes absolutely and no, absolutely not!” From this point on we were hooked to see what his expertise would unveil.

Here are some insights into where the ever-changing industry of both digital and PR is taking us:

We all know by now that there has been a power shift from brands to customers. Yes, brands still do hold an immense amount of power. However, customers have even more as they are the decision makers, the influencers and ultimately can create a paramount of success or downfall for the brand.

The power of digital via social media (e.g., Twitter and Facebook), Google, blogs and customer review websites (e.g., Yelp) provide customers with the biggest tool: the exchange of knowledge. They are able to easily voice their opinions and make their opinions heard through digital — not only by fellow customers but by the brands they are speaking to and about.

As the value of free media is exploding, users are constantly generating fresh content and are sharing it amongst their social mediums. With this being said, whose opinions do we value the most? We value — as we always have — our families and friends, co-workers, mentors and decision makers who influence our choices. And digital mediums have made it easier for those influences to be shared. Companies are realizing this and are primarily focusing on their customers and getting them on their good side and having them stay there.

Yet, without the power and sway of PR professionals stepping in what strength would companies, brands, services and products possess? There is a dire need to have a PR team at your side to help manage the pitfalls and moments of success. Communication is key and no one knows how to finesse the power of the media and customers better than PR pros.

To all our PR professionals out there: what is the most critical component and skill to possess regardless of your occupation? Listening! Listen to your clients, customers and influencers. What are they saying about your client and/or product? They are giving you critical information: talk less and listen more. Cater to what various people and press are saying to get the message that you want out to the public. What is meaningful to them? Then use those finessing skills and personalize your message to the audience that you are appealing to. Without PR would your clients know how to elevate their brand? Storytelling is a skill that is essential in getting your information out.

Yes digital is taking over, but this just means that the PR world is adapting and finding new ways to do their outreach. Just think of us as chameleons, we are ever-changing, always listening and we will get your message out!

“The future isn’t either traditional or digital: it’s a feedback loop between the two. It’s how creative we are in engaging those fans — and keeping them connected…that will determine how potent and profitable we will be in the future.”

–          Kevin Reilly, President of Entertainment at Fox Broadcasting.