Effectiveness of Online PR

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 09/27/2005

A study came out yesterday from MarketingExperiments stating that public relations can be more effective for less money in online marketing campaigns than PPC. Specifically, they talk about the effect of in-bound links. This is an allusion to the fact that search engine optimization (SEO) belongs firmly in the realm of public relations and just doesn’t know it yet. There was also an article today in ClickZ about the convergence of Ad firms and PPC SEM firms. Both these stories state the obvious. In the first example, optimizing your press releases is so year-2000. Of course persistent, virtually free links running on news sites is a better value proposition and yields better ROI than AdWords. And making the prediction that ad firms will converge with search engine marketing firms is saying media buyers will be going to one company instead of two to buy media. It’s only natural.

But what’s more difficult is to analyze the evolution of the PR industry itself. These stories are still discussing the simple tricks of yesteryear involving putting keywords headlines and hyperlinks in body copy. There’s also a lot of discussion of PR folks blogging, and trying to influence bloggers. Blogging is not technically difficult, and feels a lot like the pitching and writing that goes into old-school PR, and is hardly efficient. It’s fragmented media, full of white noise, and growing at a tremendous rate. Where are the efficiencies? All these companies putting out studies, iProspect and MarketingExperiments included, are dancing around central issue. While all other medias are becoming more fragmented, “The Search”, comprised mostly of Google, Yahoo and MSN, is the choke-point. It’s like the 3 big networks again. While its lasts, un-paid natural search optimization is the best deal in marketing.

All-things un-paid on the Internet are firmly within the realm of PR, and SEO is the most important. But for the PR industry to adequately claim this turf, it’s going to have to grow some huge technical competence that’s rare in a PR company—competence enough to take on the really big online projects. Blogging and issuing optimized press releases is easy. Web 2.0 programming that’s required to take the entire Client’s site of the “Invisible Web” is a little harder. Building custom analytics software to cherry-pick the best intelligence off your site to mount a hyper-effective natural campaign is harder still. But these are only the first examples of what I consider baseline activities required to make all other aspects of an online campaign effective. It triggers off the low-cost viral process of Web researchers encountering your site, not once, but over and over. A well executed online campaign will keep corralling your target audience back into your site until they inevitably become a customer. And SEM and optimizing press releases is only a tiny part. You have to be thinking about SEO as part of your public relations campaigns.