For my money PR professionals – certainly in Scotland – haven’t paid anywhere near enough attention to search engine optimisation.
Known as SEO, this is the “dark art” of ensuring a website ranks well on a series of key words.
For most people ‘search engine’ actually means ‘Google’. And ‘ranking well’ means that when they type something into the search box and hit return, they will only look a the first page of returns. In fact in most case only at the top two or three results.
What’s that got to do with PR? Well for most public relations professionals, very little.
The focus of PR work is still dominated by earning client coverage in traditional media. Increasingly it may also include a social media element, via Facebook or Twitter – and those remain the focus at my own PR agency in Scotland. Holyrood Partnership.
In my experience only a handful of PR people really understand how to build SEO benefits into media coverage and into social media activity.
Shame really, because while it may not be as shiny and exciting as Twitter, a basic grasp of SEO principles can really impress potential clients and deliver tangible results.
With that in mind, I’d guess that most people working in public relations in Scotland would look at me blankly if was to tell them that PR is also a common abbreviation for PageRank. Few, I’d wager would be able to readily explain PageRank, or its importance in today’s internet.
Forgive me if you already know this, but PageRank is the very fundamental basis upon which Google search is built. It underpins the entire algorithm which the search giant uses to decide the importance and relevance of billions of web pages.
Despite the convenient name, the Page in PageRank doesn’t refer to web page. It is actually named after Google co-founder Larry Page. And while good old Larry might have helped us neatly organise the world’s data, he could do with some help when it comes to that other PR – public relations.
Y’see, since Larry and his fellow geek, Sergey Brin invented Google in a suburban Californian garage they’ve mostly left the running of the business end of Google to a man in a suit called Eric Schmidt. For the past 10 years, that cosy – if somewhat odd – little threesome has been the toast of Silicon Valley.
Now that’s all changed. Schmidty is stepping aside and after a decade long apprenticeship, Page will take the helm.
Unfortunately for Page he’s walking into something of a quagmire. Despite being hugely profitable Google has suffered a rocky 18 months in reputational terms. Inthe past year fumbles and setbacks included the ill fated rollout of Google Buzz and Google Wave, both of which tanked. Privacy rows over the hovering up of personal data by Google street view cars also caused woes.
The one time darling of Silicon Valley has been unable to make itself relevant in a social networking age. Trendy upstart Facebook has been eating its lunch – and Google now has an image problem.
So might Googlers be hopeful that the man who invented PR (PageRank) might also have a deft touch when it come to PR (public relations)? Ahem. It seems not.
Danny Sullivan, is the David Dimbleby of search journalism, thanks mainly to his writing at searchengineland.com. He describes Page as “exceptionally” quiet and wrote: “In the past, he’s been notoriously shy. He’s about to enter a new world of publicity. Perhaps we’ll see Larry Page 2.0 emerge and deftly settle into the new role. Perhaps not. Time will tell.”
Meanwhile Ken Auletta, the New Yorker writer and author of Googled: The End of the World as We Know It, has written that Page is “aggressively disdainful of public relations and marketing”.
In 2008 Page told the people at Google’s PR department he would give them “a total of eight hours of his time that year for press conferences, speeches, or interviews”. Yep, that’ll work.
Last monthAuletta wrote in the New Yorker: “Page is a very private man, who often in meetings looks down at his hand-held Android device, who is not a comfortable public speaker, who hates to have a regimented schedule, who thinks it is an inefficient use of his time to invest too much of it in meetings with journalists or analysts or governments.
“As C.E.O., the private man will have to become more public.”
So, to all those PR people out there who think SEO is beyond them – a great, unfathomable mystery – spare a thougth for poor Larry, even though he’s a billionaire several times over.
Learning the basics of PageRank is likely to prove a breeze when compared to the Google man’s challenge: turning a life of privileged privacy available only to the superrich into a newfound love of the news spotlight and “always on” media savvy.
Good luck with that Larry! If you need any help, give me a call and I’ll be happy to share a few top PR tips to help you and Google get your profile back on track. My rates are very reasonable…