What is Digital PR, and why does it matter?
Backlinks, link building, and domain authority are not terms traditional public relations people use or necessarily understand.
But, in our modern world where Google has disrupted advertising, those terms are now part of public relations.
First, Google disrupted advertising, not just search
Google has not just disrupted Internet search, Google has disrupted advertising. Google is the largest advertising platform ever developed, by a mind-bogglingly large margin.
In 2019, the total global advertising spend was $586 billion. Of that, $135 billion went to Google. That’s 23%. In 2019, slightly more than one advertising dollar out of five went to Google, in the entire world. Take a minute and let that sink in.
Public relations has revolved around getting favorable press mentions for brands by maintaining relationships with journalists. By helping journalists, and by helping them do their jobs, public relations people were able to influence the reputation of their brands, through working relationships with journalists.
Digital PR is essentially the same, but in a world where becoming a publisher is so cheap almost anyone can do it. So in addition to journalists, public relations people need to work with influential bloggers and social media influencers.
Additionally, brand mentions come with links to your content, thereby influencing your search ranking, so treating public relations as separate from SEO hurts both.
While some businesses do still treat SEO, social media, and PR as separate functions, these functions are increasingly intertwined.
Even the goals of traditional PR and digital PR differ. It’s no longer enough to obtain favorable brand mentions. Digital PR helps brands obtain backlinks, blog post engagement, and social media engagement.
While building brand awareness is in essence the same as it’s always been, the platforms for doing so have become much more diverse.
Doing Digital PR
Bear in mind that digital public relations is public relations, done mostly online. As such, while digital PR helps build your brand and builds links to your website, the hub of your digital PR efforts is what you publish, and your website is the hub of these efforts.
The principle difference between content marketing with link building vs digital public relations is that public relations is focused on building your brand, rather than focusing on “just” building a strong SEO profile.
And while building your brand includes building your SEO profile, building your SEO profile has not typically included a focus on building your brand.
At the risk of overstating the obvious, strategy #1 is to publish good stuff on your website. Stuff you’re proud to share. Stuff others find interesting and useful.
The other core strategy, as mentioned above, is to share that stuff, to both increases its visibility as well as to obtain backlinks. A principal method of doing this is to be helpful to journalists, bloggers, and social media influencers, where your content helps them do their jobs better.
Having said that, never forget that since your best source of positive feedback is customers who tell others, it’s important to actively listen to what customers say, both good and bad. Customer complaints can be viewed as problems, but are also opportunities. Opportunities to either improve your product or your service delivery in ways existing customers are asking for.
Money spent on customer service is often viewed as an expense, rather than as a marketing investment, and this mindset hurts companies.
I expect most of the tactics listed below are not new to you. All I’ve done is eliminate many tactics from what I’ll call the “usual lists”, to focus on the ones which I believe provide the greatest long term benefit for the effort.
Take care of customers
Everyone says this and most companies do it poorly. Yet your best source of future customers is current customers bringing you new customers. We live in a culture of terrible customer service, across most industries. When you’re the customer this can be frustrating, but since we live in a world where customers have low expectations of what good customer service is, providing good customer service can feel exceptional, and really endear your customer to you.
As a specific example, I’ll use the web hosting provider I currently use, CloudAccess. Over the years I’ve used maybe six or seven different hosting providers. Over the years, various issues have caused me to look elsewhere. On a recommendation from someone, I moved to CloudAccess 7 or 8 years ago.
They’re the first hosting provider who provides good customer service, seriously. I know this may sound strange, but I’ve had hosting providers insist technical problems on their end were the result of issues on mine in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I’ve had hosting providers mess up billing and take weeks to resolve it. CloudAccess takes responsibility for issues, and works the issue to completion, providing timely status updates as they do so.
It would now be near impossible for another hosting provider to convince me to switch.
The key thing here is to LISTEN to your customers.
Create a user forum where registered users can post questions and answers, and anyone can read them. It must be indexed by search engines, and of course, it must be moderated. In addition to being a source of customer questions and issues, this is also an SEO magnet. The discussions are about problems and solutions, and they provide brand name mentions of your products.
In addition to the forum, provide a trouble ticket system where users can submit issues, and enhancement requests. Respond to these tickets. There are few things as frustrating to a customer as submitting tickets into a black hole.
If enough customers feel your product should do X, this indicates an unmet need, so make it do X.
Publishing and outreach for content promotion
This is more the traditional concept of content marketing and SEO. To some degree, you need to turn your website into an online magazine for your industry and publish stuff that people find useful and interesting. Another advantage of the customer forum listed above is that it provides you with content ideas for your website, ideas that come from your customers.
Helping journalists / HARO
The key concept here is HELPING.
Journalists link to your website when it helps them when you help them. So monitor the three daily HARO emails, and when there is a question you CAN answer, answer it. The worst thing that can happen is your answer will not be used, but over time enough answers will be used and will strengthen your backlink profile.
Following journalists on Twitter
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m including this tactic from second-hand knowledge. I’ve seen people who are well-regarded in the industry talk about this but am only just now starting to do this myself.
The basic idea is:
- Have a Twitter account that you use primarily for monitoring journalists, bloggers, and social media influencers relevant to your industry. This might be your only Twitter account, or it might be a secondary account you use for this purpose.
- Create Twitter lists to make monitoring their tweets easier.
- Spend a few minutes every day scanning their tweets for opportunities to be of service to them.
When you see an opportunity to be of service to one of them, do so by answering a question or providing a relevant comment.
When one of your questions or comments is answered or liked, move that person onto your “watch closely” list, and watch them more closely, so you can be of help to them a bit more in the near future.
Then after you’ve been able to do a few favors for someone, ask them for something small (their opinion on something, if they know the answer to some question, etc, to gauge if they’ll do it.
If they do, you now have someone of whom you can ask a favor later, but it’s important not to be pushy. These connections take time to build and can be easily lost.
There are several great paid packages that make analytics and measuring easy, this article talks briefly about a few free tools, with links to help you get started. While there is a learning curve for Google Analytics, basic measurements are not as complex as some people say.
You can get started for free with Google Alerts. If your brand name is more than one word, remember to use quotes to filter your search.
Backlink profile growth
Ahrefs now provides a free tool named Ahrefs Webmaster Tools, which provides Ahrefs metrics, but only for sites which you can verify that you own. This tool sends a weekly email showing differences from the week before. It is easy to monitor the growth of your backlink profile over time.
While there are paid packages that do a much better job than Google Analytics, Google Analytics is free. Having said that there is a learning curve. To find sources of traffic, use the report Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.
Accesses of specific pages
This can also be measured with Google Analytics by defining conversion goals. You define what are called destination (URL) goals in order to measure how often someone loads a specified URL, whether it is a landing page or a blog post you’re promoting. You can define up to 20 Google Analytics goals, so focus on what’s most important to you.
Digital public relations is not rocket science, but it’s work, and it works.
Public relations is tried and true, and digital public relations is merely the movement of PR into the online realm.