Along with branding, public relations is one of the few things that save you and I from commoditization. Every business (and business model) has flaws, hidden costs, value propositions, and has stories to express the delivery of value. PR aims to minimize the downsides of the flaws while making the upside look much larger than it is. Alternatively, public relations can also be used to diminish the upside of competitors while making their flaws look much larger than they are.
The Idea of a Fair Market
Is buying links fair? Is buying and holding domains fair? Is linking to a friend's site or your own new site fair? Is buying out competing sites fair? Is syndicating your spin through your own media outlets fair? Business does not care about the concept fair. It only cares about results.
The word fair is typically used to manipulate people. Markets are not fair. Humas have a bias toward that which they have an affinity to, and business is self-serving and inherently dirty.
PR aims to exploit the media and our inherent biases to create an affinity for a brand or product while viewing other brands or products lowly. Low kicks are allowed, though not recommended unless you thought through the potential consequences ahead of time.
Like governments, most successful businesses use PR.
Search engines are so powerful largely because they are so good at public relations. Every week you see Google partnering with someone, fighting for a cause, or talking down competing companies like Microsoft.
People and search engines have to trust something. Good public relations campaigns target the trusted parts of the web, by targeting either general authorities or related topical experts.
PR is hard to duplicate. Each story has a main storyteller. Another people retelling your story wont make the right people want to talk about them. Other SEO techniques, such as link buying, are much easier to duplicate and much easier to penalize.
Some of the best PR stories get to be told over and again by the main storyteller, surfacing that person as a topical expert whenever their field comes in focus of the media. Awareness builds relationships, which allows you to spread other stories.
Media exposure gives a sense of credibility. My landlord called me to tell me he read about me in the Wall Street Journal. It is much easier for him to view me as a topical expert after reading that article.
We Love You
Good public relations campaigns spread so well because they make the target want to share the story, by making them feel important, sharing their bias, and/or giving them some incentive to spread the story.
Salary.com created a story about how much work at home mothers should be paid, high-balling the numbers. Every year they re-release the same story and the media eats it up as though it is new.
All of the blog value calculators high-ball the value of the blogs to get people to want to talk about how great their blog is.
Many smaller companies make a name for themselves by stating how impure competing businesses are. Creating a common enemy makes it easy for people to identify with you.
The key is not to rant, rave or bash the enemy, but to provide an underlying theme that shows youâ€™re all in it together against the enemy. When framed that way, youâ€™re not a salesperson; rather, youâ€™re a comrade who can lend a hand. Establishing a thematic enemy allows you to focus on providing solutions without coming across like youâ€™re hard selling, and is a perfect technique for white papers, tutorials and blogging in general.
In some cases small market players can garner support when businesses attacks them. Once lawsuits are filed you never know how much support the competitor will get. When I was sued by Traffic Power my fight was for freedom of speech online and saving blog comments. It was an easy story to want to share, so people did. Within days of my blog post about it, the story was featured in the Wall Street Journal.
When we submitted a story about the fall in the value of the US Dollar to Netscape the story was titled How Bush Devalued the Dollar. They like political stuff on Netscape, so the story quickly shot to #1 on their homepage, stuck there all day, and sent over 15,000 visitors to our site.
Please Hate Us
Some public relations ideas play both sides of the coin - creating controversies then fixing problems they created. For example, PayPerPost went lowbrow with their marketing, offering unmarked editorial blog posts as a service, then came up with their Disclosure Policy site to correct the problem they created. They got press on the way down and the way up. They probably would have never received VC funding if they were not so lowbrow with their marketing.
Love him or hate him, he is great at public relations. Most Weblogs Inc. content is at best average, yet he got a nice payout for it, and he used the PR machine again to launch Mahalo.
Weblogs Inc. worked because it got so much link equity from the media, which wanted to tell a story on blogging.
Jason maintained that all you needed to be successful was great content, but they had first mover advantage, paid low rates, and scraped by on profitability by selling spammy links.
Jason got a lot of press for Mahalo by claiming the death of SEO. Mahalo is a human compiled scraper & the URLs are seo friendly.
Just like SEO, public relations can be used to push things that are good or things that are bad. Seth recently published my favorite marketing rant post ever. Here is a quote:
I believe that every criminal, no matter how heinous the crime, deserves an attorney. I don't believe that every product and every organization and every politician deserves world-class marketing or PR.
If you get asked to market something, youâ€™re responsible. Youâ€™re responsible for the impacts, the costs, the side effects and the damage. You killed that kid. You poisoned that river. You led to that fight. If you canâ€™t put your name on it, I hope youâ€™ll walk away. If only 10% of us did that, imagine the changes. Imagine how proud youâ€™d be of your work.
PR Watch highlights some of the misuse of and abuses by the public relations industry. They also publish videos to YouTube. I marketed some really dirty stuff when I was new to the web. As I learn more about the power of marketing, I am less willing to market things that only sound good when ignoring the hidden costs.
This video is 15 minutes 17 seconds long. Directories are easy sources of links, but links from lower quality web directories may not get indexed by some major search engines, may not carry much weight in Google, and may put your site in a bad community. This video covers evaluating the quality of a directory as a link source.
Search for your keywords, related keywords, or your keywords + directory. Sites that rank might be decent link sources (depending on other quality signals).
Look at inbound links pointing to competing websites.
Use lists of directories. Please note that many directory lists are nepotistic (recommending their own directory as being the next best thing) or heavily influenced by advertising, and small niche high quality directories that are not on lists of 1000 cheesy directories are probably better than lists of directories commonly used to spam search engines. Each list will have some good directories and many junk ones. PageRank is nowhere near as important as other quality signals. Here are a few lists: Strongest Links, SEO Company, ISEDB, and Search Engine Guide.
If a directory does not charge a submission fee take extra effort to make sure your description and title are clean and proper (ie: factual and not keyword stuffed). Emulate other listings.
It is important to mix your anchor text and descriptions to make your link profile look natural. Emulate other listings in your category, and try to use your keywords in some of your link anchors if the directory will allow it.
Directories count more in verticals where the competition is weak and not well integrated into the web. If your competition is frequently mentioned in the active portions of the web on news sites, blogs, and social sites then you will need to be mentioned on there as well if you want to compete.
An established site well integrated into the web which already has a clean link profile can be more risky with what sites they get links from, whereas a new site or a site with limited authority would likely do better building links from the higher quality sources first, then maybe getting lower quality links later, only after their site has proven trustworthy.
Some documents and websites build self reinforcing authority that make them hard to beat for their targeted search terms. This video explains how that works and gives examples of some self reinforcing market authorities, as well as tips on how to make these types of sites and pages.
A long time ago I made a keyword research video which was WAY too long and came out a bit grany. I recently bought the latest copy of Camtasia Studio and am thinking about making a few short SEO videos. Here are some possible topic ideas:
what are quality links
what web directories are worthwhile
link baiting and how do I appeal to web 2.0
how to use SEO for Firefox
how to do competitive research
how to find the most profitable keywords
how to write page titles and meta description tags
how to do on the page optimization
how to structure a website to be search engine friendly AND convert well
how do I pick a niche
how to evaluate the health of a website
So the question is... what topics would you like to see me make short tutorial videos about? I can't guarantee I will make them all, but I will try to make at least a few, and then listen to feedback to make a few more that are hopefully a bit better.