Last Thursday, I attended two CIPR events in London: the first a free breakfast briefing at CIPR’s Russell Square HQ (sponsored by Glide Technologies) on search engine optimisation (SEO); the second an event at the Building Centre organised by the CIPR’s construction and property special interest group, CAPSIG, which featured a talk by UBM journalist Phil Clark. Both events offered differing perspectives on the relative importance of SEO in relation to public relations.
There has been some debate, particularly among technology-savvy PR people, about how PR professionals need to have a good understanding of SEO and how it relates to them. To this end, Glide invited SEO pioneer Grant Whiteside, technical director at Ambergreen Internet Marketing and digital PR specialist Andrew Smith, of Escherman, to talk about making SEO a more effective part of PR and communication strategies (their presentations are here – registration required).
As one might expect, both speakers talked a lot about Google search engine results, and also about the various free tools that Google makes available, eg: Google Insights. Grant spoke several times about the growing importance of paid-for search results on the Google home page. He also gave a striking example of the power of blogging in relation to Laura Ashley wallpaper, which – mainly because it is frequently talked about by home decorators on their blogs and so has more links back – features much more prominently on Google than a rival company’s products.
As something of a digital PR pioneer (he says he was the second person to send out a news release by email, beaten to the punch by two weeks by Apple; his blog, In Front of Your Nose, is a good read too), Andrew was less focused on the metrics, and talked instead about delivering business outcomes not just traffic. For him SEO was about creating discoverable and relevant content, and required a combination of optimisation strategies. As well as SEO, he advocated DAO, SMO and MMO – respectively, optimisation of digital assets, social media and micro-media – all creatively combined to help target audiences to find content that was useful to them, not just to drive up website traffic.
In the evening, I joined other CAPSIG members for a quick AGM (I am now on the CAPSIG committee as ‘digital guru’!), before settling down for the main event: the thoughts of Phil Clark, digital director at UBM Built Environment (publishers of Building, BD and Property Week), leading a group discussion on how the property and construction sectors can boost PR and communications through greater use of digital media (read Phil’s post about the event).
Given that Building magazine had recently introduced a pay-wall to a lot of the content on its website (following Construction News‘ step in late 2009), it wasn’t surprising that this raised a lot of questions, with much discussion about quality versus quantity, analysis versus news, and so on.
However, bearing in mind what I had heard earlier at the CIPR seminar, it was also interesting to get a journalist’s perspective and to hear some similarities with the views expressed by Andrew Smith. Phil talked first about the ‘pre-realism’ stress on page impressions, unique users, SEO, volume/quantity, breadth and – as far as events were concerned – the divide between digital and live events. Moving on about 18 months in his recent career and looking at ‘post-realism’, he talked more about audience, engagement, value, data, experience and – citing the example of Be2camp – the impact of hybrid live/online events. It did sound like there was less focus, from his point of view, on SEO, and more on optimising the impacts of other digital assets, of social media and of the interactive opportunities arising from events.