author
Laura Crimmons
Branded3

About Laura Crimmons

Laura Crimmons is Communications Director at digital marketing agency Branded3 overseeing their Digital PR, Outreach and Social Media offering.

Laura’s background is originally in traditional PR and she now brings that experience combined with a knowledge of the ever-changing SEO landscape to develop and oversee engagement strategies across clients such as Virgin Holidays, Ladbrokes and Vue cinemas. Laura is also a regular speaker and trainer at events such as BrightonSEO, Content Marketing Show and Figaro Social Media.

In her Learn Inbound talk, Laura discusses how marketers are guilty of focusing solely on links generated when briefing or reporting on their Digital PR/Content Marketing activity. Her talk covers the other value this activity adds and how you can demonstrate and leverage it for clients.

Key Takeaways

  • Google doesn’t rely solely on the volume of links as a  metric, so instead of focusing on 100’s of backlinks, you can achieve a better result by focusing on the most valuable ones. The quality of the links, not quantity is what matters.
  • To strengthen digital PR, a focus should be made on the following: creating credible citations, building brand awareness, trustworthiness and expertise, and working on ways to take up SERP real estate.
  • Domain Authority doesn’t reflect the quality of a  website as a terrible website can still rank well. Be sure to check your website’s reputation using a tool such as SEMrush.

Video Transcription

Thank you. Hello, everyone. Hope everyone is feeling refuelled after the break, re-caffeinated.

And so I'm going to be talking about, mine is a bit of a rant as well although hopefully with less swearing than Barry because I don't think I could ever top that. I'm going to talking about what really annoys me about PR and content marketing and that's everyone is obsessed with just measuring it by links and it really bugs me. A disclaimer before I start though.

A lot of what I do is working on strategies to acquire links. So this isn't me standing up here saying let's just forget about links, let's do stuff without it. It's not that all because it does pay my salary so do still pays the links. But what I am saying is there's a lot of really annoying questions that we get from clients. Again, apologies if you are my client that has asked me this or if you are the client asking someone else this, but these are the things that really annoy me.

How many links will we get from that? So we pitch a proposal we say, "Let's do this campaign. Let's do this content marketing piece," and the first question is, "Yeah, I like the idea, but how many links?" Nobody knows that unless you're paying for the links which you obviously should not be doing ever.

But unless you're paying for them, no one can guarantee how many links something's going to get. So anyone that says, "I guarantee you we will get you 50 links from this piece of content," no, they're not guaranteeing that and you shouldn't just measure something by that. That's not the right question to ask. The right question to ask is, okay, where's the evidence that this will engage my target audience?

Where's the evidence that if I give you this money to create this piece, where's the evidence that people will want to talk about it? Want to engage with it? Next annoying one, "Okay, yeah, that's the budget for this piece of work.Cost per link, how's that looking?"

You know. "Oh, it looks high," say, you know, it's a 20 grand project you're telling me if I'm pushed to give an estimate of how many links I think something's worth, you know, might get 20 links from it. "Hmm, so it's a grand a link? Is that good?Is that good cost per link? Is that what we should be aiming for?" No, cost per link is bullshit. Nobody should be asking that because the objective of the piece that you're doing isn't just the links.

You're not literally doing a piece of content to get links and that's the end goal and if you get the links great. Those links are there because you're trying to improve search performance. So you can't evaluate something by cost per link because the link isn't the end result. So then again, bullshit question. Next one, "Can we relate everything to metrics?"

That mean nothing because only Google knows how it scores links. People try and make stuff up and yes good on them because there are a lot of people that do love metrics and if you're one of those people fine, I hope you have a really nice time counting the metrics. That doesn't mean anything. An audience doesn't judge whether they read a website by whether it's got good domain authority.

They don't choose to engage with something because it's got really good authority scores and this actually incentivizes people to do the wrong things. So if you are a client and you're saying every link has to be above a certain domain authority, it's really easy to find sites above that domain authority. Not hard, we could find you a load of sites. They're going to be shit, a lot of them because it's easy to gain domain authority than any other metric.

So you're incentivizing people to find the easiest way to get those sites that aren't going to be right but they'll hate your KPI. If your KPI is that domain authority they'll get you it, but it's not going to be the right kind of site necessarily. It's not necessarily the ones that you want to be on. This is what all these questions do to me. It's a face palm moment.

I was going to go with the usual like Star Trek example, but fuck it, I'm a Disney girl so I went with this. This is how it makes me feel. So what I want to talk about first of all is why we shouldn't just focus on links. Yes, links are important, I'm not up here saying they're not. Annoyingly, for now, they are, but what else? What's the reasons why it shouldn't just be about that?

So reason number one, Google. I know we're talking about search generally, we are really talking about Google. Bing's growing, but ultimately that's who we're trying to please. Google doesn't just want to rely on links so why should we? Google is all about, do what your user wants. Users don't care about how many links a piece of content has got, neither should we. Google doesn't want to.

It knows that it's being gamed, it's trying to work out how they can use citations instead. I'm not saying by the way that this is going to be tomorrow or next week, next year that Google is going to stop using links as its metric, but it's trying not to so we shouldn't really be too hung up on it either. Reason number two, which I've kind of already said, link metrics are bullshit and I say this a lot to clients and they still...some of them have this obsession and it comes from the ones that are kind of old school SEOs and they thought that that was a great way to build links and they still do because they don't understand what PR and content marketing is about.

But these are some reasons why we shouldn't rely on metrics. So a client says every link has to be above domain authority of 40. Here we go. We've got a website, it's above the domain authority of 40. So it's got the metric that they've asked for. If we look at trust flow it's not doing too bad, it has a few things that apparently it's topical for.

This is that website. Now first of all, just taking a look at that site, it looks a bit shit. It doesn't look great it's not the best website, and it is. And the reason that it's shit is because it's a website that's been built by someone to deliberately manipulate Google. So it's built by someone that hangs out on BlackHatWorld and they've basically built this site to test how many bad things they can do and get away with.

Is that still a site that you want to link from? It's above domain authority of 40 which was your criteria, but no, I mean, to take you through how shit this website is it's got these articles about conceiving a baby, how to conceive a baby. Nowhere in there does it tell you actually how to conceive a baby. It tells you if you drink this kind of smoothie every single day you're going to have a baby.

That's not... I mean I haven't had a baby so I can't say with a 100% certainty, but I drink a lot of smoothies and I haven't got pregnant. So I don't think that's how it works. It's bullshit. It's a shit website. It's deliberately a shit website. But they don't know that.

Domain authority hasn't picked up on that. It still thinks it's doing okay. Here's another example to prove that it's not just a one off that I found that's a shit pregnancy website. So this one is doing slightly better. It's got even better domain authority, it's got a lower spam score, it's doing okay. It's got lots of links. Again, it's doing okay on trust flow, you know.

We think that you can go there for society and people, business, all sorts of different things. Here's that site. Again, looks shit. I mean, I don't even understand. It's not my website obviously, but I don't understand what it's saying. If it's not 0800, how many people aren't calling you. Like what?

Like what is that website there to do? It's shit and it's had all sorts of bad things into it. The reason that it ranks. The ways that...so when these websites were purchased they were at very low metrics. So it's not just that they used to look different, and they had good metrics, and they just hadn't fallen. They had shit metrics and then all of this bad stuff was done to it and then it got good metrics.

So the metrics aren't reflecting the things that Google actually wants to count. Reason number three. Chasing hundreds of links is unnecessary and I think I know the reason that we've come to this. So people do a lot of blog posts and a lot of presentations and it's all about, "Look at this piece that we did. Isn't it great? We got all of these hundreds of links. This is what makes it awesome."

Great, but what else did it do? Did it improve search performance? Did it drive any revenue? Did it do anything else that would actually make a difference? Not covered. And I would say the reason that you don't need to chase hundreds of links is because there's not hundreds of websites that you genuinely want your content featured on.

A lot of the time if you've got hundreds of links coming in naturally it's from scraper sites. It doesn't have a genuine audience. It's not actually going to do anything for you. And this is an example from us. So this is a client that came to us, had a penalty that needed removing. So we disavowed over half of their link profile and then we built 20 good links.

So we didn't chase 100 links, we didn't chase any kind of high numbers. We built 20 links on websites that were relevant for them. On national newspapers, consumer magazines, places that could send traffic that could generate social engagement, reach their audience and it helped. The important thing to note is it helped for a while and then it started to decrease again because it's not just a one hit thing.

It's not let's just have one really successful campaign based on visibility and then we'll be happy days forever. It helps and then it will start to decline again. Not all the way to where it was, but it will decline. So digital PR and content marketing is not just about links and it shouldn't be. It's about so many more things. It can be about brand awareness. It can be about brand loyalty, brand love.

It can be about behavior change so making someone think about you differently, making someone behave differently. It can be about search performance which is often what it will be about and it can be about sales. And one of the other things that annoys me is people go, "Oh, yeah, but, I mean, what's the ROI on PR?" You can't say that because you can only do the ROI on the objective.

So note that the objective of PR is not always to generate sales so you can be like, "Well, how do you measure the ROI on it?" You can't measure ROI if your objective is in sales in the same way that you would for something else. Everyone wants to attach the same ways of measuring something and it just doesn't work across different disciplines and different types of activities.

So if it's not just links what should we focus on and where is the value? So citations and brand awareness. Brand awareness is kind of one of the main things that people do PR first that's kind of a given and citations are what Google is trying to move towards in order to understand whether you should rank on or not aside from just links.

As most people will know, Google is not just an algorithm. It also has its search quality raters and this is the document that they've released about what their guidelines are for those raters. So this is the most important factors to a page's quality. Two of them, website reputation, so anything that shows you whether this is a good company or not, and expertise authoritativeness and trustworthiness or EAT as it's commonly referred to.

If we then look at how people work out the reputation, news articles is one of the ways. So news articles, blog posts, magazine articles, all things that you do in PR and content marketing. That all the places that we want to be featured. So this is what we're contributing to. Also interesting, in order to get a high rating you have to have a good reputation.

So you can't get a high rating if a website has a convincing negative reputation. So we need that good reputation to work in terms of what Google wants and it also contributes to the high level of EAT. So how does PR and content marketing do that? And this is an example. So the way in which we work is different for different clients or it can be a combination.

So sometimes it will be monthly activity, sometimes it will be, say, quarterly or bimonthly campaigns and this is an example of monthly activity that we do for this client which is Spreadex. They are a spread betting company and we thought what can we do that would help us to get links and coverage for them? How do we get them talked about so that Google can see yes they're an authority, they're experts, they can be trusted.

And what we do is quite simple. We're doing news tracking strategies. So we have a calendar of events that are relevant. So financial events for example when Tesco, something happens to their share price, it's relevant to talk about, all those kind of things that would affect people and these are the places that will cover it which are great because if you are trying to determine whether someone is an expert on something or whether someone can be trusted, if you've got the Guardian writing about them, Business Insider, all these kind of places, well, that's probably showing you that they are and if you get any citations from them, that's great.

If you get any links that's even better and often it's a link but we're satisfying what Google's looking for and we're doing it in a natural way. We're not chasing websites that are irrelevant. We're chasing ones that people would actually read. So it's satisfying Google search quality raters now and hopefully, will be directly impacting the rankings in the future. The links are already, but we're still helping and hopefully in the future when we move away from just being about links so heavily, this will have an even bigger impact for the clients.

How do we measure brand awareness? There's various ways in PR, there's all sorts of surveys that you'll do, so pre and post campaign, see how many people have heard of the brand beforehand, how many people have heard of it after kind of similar to ad campaigns and one quite easy and free way is just using Google Trends. Is it going up or down? So looking at this, it's on the rise which is great.

It's an easy way just to have a snapshot like are we making an impact here? Can Google see that we are being talked about more? How do we measure reputation? This is one way to do it. So we use Crimson Hexagon which is a social listening tool. There's various that's out there of course, Brandwatch, Radian6. This is just the one that we use.

And this is how we can look at reputation. We can look at sentiment which isn't exact obviously. There's no machine out there that can measure sentiment as well as humans, I know that, but it can give us a good indication as to whether people view our brand positively or not. So you can see over on the left, this is quite a positive reputation. I mean, it's saying it's neutral, but if you look at the kind of emotions with which people are talking about, this topic a lot of it's with joy which is great and none with fear, 8% with anger, but, you know, if you're not angering someone what are you doing?

The one on the right though, the one on the right is for Trump. So it's rather unsurprising that 20% is fear. One in five of us are fearful and I thought that would be higher, if I'm honest. The fact that only 27% are negative was quite shocking to me. But this is obviously about reputation, you know, if you were trying to work out which of these companies is good, which is bad, it's not that hard to make a judgment based on that.

So that's one of the ways that you can keep a check on. Do we have a good reputation, do we have a bad reputation, how do people view us? Next thing we should look at, SERP real estate. So we want to take up as much of the page as possible so that as little people as possible are going to our competitors. People don't often think about the fact that so you'll think about how do we get more pages ranking for that keyword?

How do we get more than one result? And people don't often think about the fact that PR and content marketing can do that for you and not even just with your own website. So this is an example for a campaign that we ran that was all around the cost of sending your child to school and so it's great that that's the thing that they're ranking for. This is actually the coverage from the campaign that's ranking which you might say from an SEO point of view, we don't really want that, we want our site to rank.

True, we do, but we also know from human behavior people believe what other people say about you more than they believe what you say about yourself. So if this is your coverage and that's what people read and they then click through, they're more likely to click through to you from that because it's someone else giving you that endorsement. So what does that give us? It helps us to appear for long-tail keywords which are great and it helps us to steal space from competitors through our campaigns.

How do we do that? How do we think about a strategy for doing that? And so this is from SEMrush, one of our features, where we can look at the different snippets that we've got. So they've featured snippets for the website. So this is an example of one for us the Brand3 and apparently, we have a feature snippet for WhatsApp value at position four and if I take a look, we do.

So we have the answer box for WhatsApp value so we take position zero from our original ranking of position four. So we're taking up more space on that page and that is with our own website. It's not just with our coverage. But it's because we've got loads of coverage of the campaign and links and social engagement with the campaign that it ranks. How do you get position zero or whatever you want to call it?

And there's obviously no exact kind of guide written for that. Google doesn't tell you exactly what to do, but a good start is to start writing content for questions that people are asking. So this is a tool called Answer The Public which is great. I don't know whether you can read much of that at the moment. This is just one for SEO. So basically you can put in any topic that you want and it will bring back all the different questions that people ask about that subject.

So in terms of thinking about long-tail search, in terms of thinking about voice search when that's on the rise, these are the kind of things that people will be asking for. Right? People use voice search more as questions than they do normal kind of typing in the keyword although if you're older so like my mum will write a full question into Google when she doesn't need to because she's stupid.

But if you're using voice search you're more likely to say that. So you're more likely to ask a full question in voice search than you are when you're typing it unless you're my mum. So this is a great tool for looking at that. Remarketing, again something that is not often talked about in terms of PR and content marketing, but massive missed opportunity to me.

So I said that we have two ways of doing PR mainly. So we have the ongoing strategy which is the example I showed before. We then have the campaigns. So this is an example. One of our clients who [inaudible] centers, they wanted something to target car drivers and our basic starting point for anything like that is, okay, well, what engages people?

What do people talk about on the subject of that? And one of the things that often got talked about was the whole can you still pass your driving test? Right? So people often say when you learn to drive, you don't actually learn to drive. You learn to pass your test. You actually learn to drive after your test. And how much do you instantly forget about what was in your driving test?

Would you still be able to pass it? Because people say, "I'm a bad driver than you because, you know, I've been driving for 10 years, but I've just passed my test. I've just learned how to do what I do all properly." Differences in opinion, something that is quite contentious. So we built this quiz. So essentially what it does it takes you through 10 questions to see, which are taken from the driving test, to see whether you could still pass your driving test today and what we do is we track all the data behind that.

So we track how old you are, how long you've driving, what region you're from, and we can then target our press in different ways with that data. What that does is means that we've got lots of lovely coverage. So for how it fits? It's quite a mainstream audience so we want those nationals that can help broad appeal. You know we're not going to niche with this. So these are kind of people talking about it, Mail Online, The Sun, huge amounts of traffic, absolutely great.

And they've embedded our game which is even better for us because it drives lots of direct traffic. So that then does stuff like this. We have a huge spike in traffic and the next step to me is what we do with that traffic after. If you're just thinking about, "Well we got all the links that's great," and you don't think about, "Right, we've got this traffic. How do we make the most of it?"

Remarketing, because the point of PR is not to make a sale straight away. We're not saying, "You can't pass your test anymore, but why not have an MOT?" It doesn't make sense. It was stupid for us to try and make that sale straight away but we know that there are people that have an interest in driving so remarketing to them at some stage is probably relevant and something that's not really connected often enough.

But then there is conversions in sales because there are campaigns that will give you a direct impact. So again same campaign, this is what we got from it. So we got three [inaudible] direct obviously very low, probably to be expected. Like I said, there's not a direct connection between going, "Can you pass your driving test, yes or no? Book an MOT or come and get your car serviced." People aren't in the frame of mind to do that.

If you're doing a PR campaign or a content marketing campaign all about quizzes and stuff like that, people are doing that for fun. They're not in a place where they want to convert straight away but what we do want to look at more is the assisted conversions because that is where the value is in terms of what we're doing. People that then come back later because they've seen our content and this is a slide that I won't go through now which is just for anyone that doesn't know how to do it inn Analytics, that's how you do it, but like I said, we're targeting people that are looking at MOTs ideally with this campaign.

That's a once a year purchase. So if all we do is look at the campaign straight away and say, "Well, how many sales did it deliver?" Probably not that many, like say three direct conversions, not much. How much is an MOT worth? It probably didn't pay for itself, but if you start to look at the assisted conversions over time and track it properly, you can start to see how valuable that was and how many people were converting down the line.

The real value we see from content comes six months down the line. So traffic is good. It is nice that we can see that traffic comes to our content or from our links. This is great but you can see you've got this kind of flat line almost until six months and that's when it really starts to take up and then you've got after 12 months when you really see a spike and it really starts to increase which is good.

Direct returns is better than traffic, right? So sitting there and going, we got you all this traffic, okay, but what did it do? Well you got 25k just from that piece of content that we're talking about. Fantastic, it probably did at that stage pay for itself which means you've, you know, you're at kind of a good point, you've not cost anything. But like I said, looking at the assisted conversions is a lot more important.

Yeah, we only made 25k in direct revenue, but we've assisted with a hell of a lot more and that's really valuable. But if you try and measure that a couple of months after the content went live and go, "Well, what was the return from that campaign that we did or from that content piece?" You're never going to see that. You need to weigh and look at it as a long term strategy and not just go, "Did we get the links? Did we get the value? Did we get the money from it?"

It's not about that. You have to think long term with these strategies. So to summarize, what is the value that we should be looking at aside from links and I'd not put search performance because, again, that's kind of a given? You want to see your rankings going up, you want to see visibility increasing. Improved brand awareness, measure it.

Even if your clients don't ask you to report on these things, measure them anyway and start showing them. One thing that this does help with, I should have said at the start, so my background is in PR it's not in SEO. And although I say that it's now been four or five years so I guess quite a lot of it is in SEO and...but that's not where I came from. So this stuff is more my language, you know, the brand awareness, the softer things is what PR is talk about if we're honest and being able to talk in this language to them will help to build bridges.

One of the key frustrations we often hear are from our clients or just prospective clients or when we talk to people is just how do we get our PR teams to work with us, though? They don't want to work with the SEO team or they're sat in two separate, you know, you've got your digital team which SEO will sit in with analytics and everything and then you've got your marketing team or your comms team which is where PR sits and they're not managed by the same persons, there's no incentive to work together, they're a bit wary of each other.

This kind of stuff helps you to work with them because your helping, your sharing how you're meeting their goals as well. And increased brand affinity and loyalty, really important. We want people to want to come back to our brand, can look at that through things like returning traffic, how many returning visitors are we getting. Valuable citations, so lovely to look at the links but let's look at citations as well.

Just because you didn't get a link don't track it, don't not measure it. Demonstration of EAT. So just demonstrating through your content and PR that you are an expert. There's so much value in that. Featured snippets, like I've said, extra SERP real estate taking it away from competitors. Traffic ripe for remarketing and the direct and assisted conversions and a lot of this is all about just working with other teams.

There's still a lot of silos that we see. All of these things to measure them and to report on them you need to be talking to other teams. You're not going to do remarketing as the PR team, probably not going to do it as the SEO team. There will someone else who's doing that, but talk to them. Let them know that you've got a campaign coming up that you think it's going to get featured and get a lot of traffic. Let them so you set that up in time and then work together to then look at how much extra value you then got from that campaign.

Thank you.

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