About Lexi Mills
Lexi Mills is a multi-award winning digital marketing expert, with a focus on integrating PR and SEO at both a strategic and tactical level. Her journalism and research work focuses on the ethics, risks, and potential of machine learning and AI within the sector of internet search. Lexi combines technical search algorithm knowledge and psychology to create data-driven measurable communications strategies that maximise influence on human behaviour. She applies this to external and internal communications alongside change management.
In her Learn Inbound talk, she will discuss the recent changes in the publishing industry and what this means for PRs and content marketers. Lexi will then demonstrate her best tactics and strategies for creating explosive content that produces, links, shares, and coverage.
Learn how to minimise the risk of failure
- The difference between making news and faking news (and how much fun this approach can be!)
Adapting your tactics and strategies in light of emerging technologies and AI in order to stay ahead of the game in 2018
Hi. Thank you very much for having me. Dublin is, by far, my favorite place in the world to speak. I always find that people in Dublin are open to new ideas and excited about what things could come and that's what I'm going to talk to you about today. I'm going to talk to you about the future of influence, but most importantly, I'm going to talk to you about why I think the internet, SEO, and communications is a phenomenal place of possibility and hopefully, I can make you as excited about the future as I am.
Now, my job largely is to help agencies and businesses build links like these and get coverage from websites like these. And we do it for a complete mixture of businesses as you can see behind me. So today, I'm going to talk you through a little bit of how I do that. I'm gonna begin with talking about some of the changes in the publishing industry because it's changing a lot. We're gonna look at some tactics and strategies and then we're gonna look to the future. So let's start with publishing. When you look at a whole load of publishing websites, you'll see that everything they're covering is kind of similar. And that's because they're using technology to help them determine what they should be covering. And in a lot of instances, over 50% of their content is being dictated by this technology.
But I knew this about a year ago and I started to monitor trends and make sure that I was always connecting to one. But then the other week, I was having coffee with a journalist and he told me something really interesting. There's another data source that a lot of publications are starting to follow, and that's Amazon. He told me that although a lot of his teams had been amalgamated into one, so instead of having a publication having its own tech journalist, its own news journalist, they had a tech team that served several publications and a news team that served several publications. But he said, "Out of all these teams being squashed together, one had emerged and it's not governed by editorial, and it's not governed by advertising, it's kinda separate. And they do reviews. But they only review things that are top-rated on Amazon."
So if you have a product and you wanna get coverage for it, if it's not a top-rated product on Amazon, you may not be able to because they want the clicks that get them the purchases. So this puts a whole different spin on what it means to have a good review on Amazon. We might want to start faking these again. An automation. There was a client of mine who actually pointed this out to me that Reuters were automating press, which I knew. They use some scrapers and they pull articles together and they're very open about it. And he said something to me, he was like, "Hey, Lexi, don't you think it's hypocritical that they get to automate stuff but if we automate our outreach, we get in trouble?" And I was like, "Yeah, I kind of agree with you."
And then I had a look at the Associated Press and they're automating a lot of coverage. And the thing is it's making them a lot of money, like a lot. And it's also allowing them to cover about 12 times more stories than ever before, specifically relating to business. And this is kind of cool, right? Because it means there's 12 times the opportunity to get coverage but we can't do it by speaking to a human. Interesting. So I've been revisiting the idea of Newswire because a lot of this press is scraped from Newswire or news at addresses and then they are amalgamated to make these articles. So I'm in my early stages of running these tests but they are looking very promising. So we may want to relook at Newswire on a whole new level.
And then of course, Mail Merge. I've always been a huge advocate of telling people, "Find the right journalist, send them a personal email, make sure it's completely tailored to everything they write about." But in light of artificial intelligence and machine learning generated articles, we might need to rethink that. So I asked a journalist, I said, "Is it spam if I just start hitting all the news addresses with my press releases?" And this is what he had to say. He's like, "Actually, no. As long as you don't send it to my personal email address and you're not muddying that, then I'm happy with it."
So that means that we can actually start to do more mass mailing. I'm cautious about how I say this because anything we do on scale tends to work for a while and then stop but at this point in time, I'm finding the results from my tests in specifically in the American market, are showing a huge uptake in coverage specifically on business news. So it's something to consider. So let's have some look at some tactics and strategies. Now, someone asked me something at a conference the other day. They said, "What is PR SEO?" I was like, "What do you mean?" And then I thought about it. I was like, "Actually, this is a term that we haven't really defined." So I went quite quickly from thinking he was a moron to being incredibly smart which I felt a bit guilty about. But actually, when I was working building a PR department, it's Distilled, a digital department had a PR firm Dynamo and then I went in-house, and now I work for both agencies and brands. I still do the same thing.
But on the PR side, I'll look at Google Analytics and find out, okay, what is driving you the most business? What's converting? What's keeping people on page? And then build campaigns from there. Sometimes, I'll use SEO skills to look at a website like this and, you know, Coin Market Cap is not a sexy-looking website. You know, if you say to your client, "Do you wanna be on Coin Market Cap or Wall Street Journal?" What do you think they're gonna say? Until you show them the metrics. And Coin Market Cap is actually surpassing the Wall Street Journal in many areas. So that's one way that I'll use digital in the digital skills for PR. But one of the questions I get asked a lot is how do you use PR for SEO? Okay. Fair enough.
These are the questions I get asked the most: what do journalists want? How do you create content that they will like? And how do you get them to cover it?
And I always say to people, "Stop. You've actually not asked the right question. Let's go back a little bit. What is a journalist trying to achieve?" They're trying to achieve the same thing we all are, engagement. They want to reach as many people as possible so they can get a hook for their story that will allow them to get a lot more clicks. So in many ways, they're not looking for niche. And this is what I always consider when I'm building out ideas.
So I thought I would talk to you a little bit about how I come up with an idea from beginning to end because in reality, a really rocking idea will fly with the worst quality outreach in the world. Unfortunately, coming up with a rocking idea is kind of hard. So when I start off with an idea, I'm always trying to think, "What is the widest group that I can hit?" And I had a client come to me in the crypto space and they wanted to be more well known. So I got quite excited about this and I went straight to Google because that's the first thing I do when I get a new client. And I looked at crypto trends.
Now, if I tell you that on the 24th of May this year, search terms related to crypto hit the highest they've ever hit of all time, how many of you are excited? A couple. You probably have some Bitcoin. But you're forgiven for not finding it super exciting because it's a quiet niche. It's not targeting a wide set of people. But there's a solution to this and it's "The Simpsons." "The Simpsons" are basically an amplification of what it means to be human and I would prescribe watching a lot of it. Now, if we look at Homer's brain here, we see a whole lot of factors that actually make us all connected: sleep, donuts, beer, sex. So let me ask you a different question, how many of you like boobs? Everyone likes boobs. Boys, girls, straight, gay, we all have boobs, right? So what if I said to you, for the first time in the history of the internet, on the 24th of May, interest in cryptocurrency matched that of interest in boobs.
We probably just opened up the whole nature of this market. All of you are now slightly interested in crypto, right? It's because we've taken something from being a niche to being something a lot bigger. And often, data is not the answer. It is not the full story, the context is. And perspective can be far more important than fact. What? Your clients don't wanna talk about boobs? Savages. Fine. Okay. I get that. Not on brand. Let's take another look at Homer. Let's find something less offensive so let's throw sex out. Let's go with sleep and donuts. Let's do a little bit of a brainstorm. And this is exactly how the process went: sleep, dreams, pillows, lost interest. Okay. Donuts, cake, like cake, like cupcakes, like "The Great British Bake Off."
There are very few things in this world as lowly as offensive as a freaking cupcake, right? And we know "The Great British Bake Off" is trending because it was a huge topical subject. So then I thought, "Okay, let's go back and apply this to crypto." And this is what I came up with. Mary Berry may have hung up her "Great British Bake Off" apron in favor of a crypto wallet, a wise choice. New research today revealed that interest in bitcoin has surpassed that of cupcakes and is on target to supersede interest in cats. What we did here is that we took a mountain of an idea, something fugacious, and we made it into a molehill. And this is really important because making a big idea reasonable or brand-friendly is actually far more effective than making a boring idea interesting. And this is why I throw brand managers and account managers out of every brainstorm because their job is to regulate brand and that's completely understandable but I don't want it to start off with cupcakes. I want it to start off with boobs. That's how you create a winning story. And you can also check stories.
I'm a big believer in looking at your tools in a different way. I was always the kid that when I got a toy, I'd unwrap it and I played with the paper and the cardboard box more than the actual toy. Well, I do that a lot with my search technology but, in this instance, when I'm thinking of ideas, I go to things like Gorkana. And I had a client, they said, "We wanna do some content on windsurfing." I was like, "Okay, well, let's just pop it into Gorkana." And what do we get? Well, it turns out there were three publications, two of which have ceased. Well, that's gonna make outreach easy. But let's look at surfing. Now, we're seeing a lot more publications. So what we did in this instance was we took a piece of content that was about windsurfing but included a lot of information around surfing as well so we could optimize for the windsurfing terms but still get the coverage.
This little check takes you seconds and you're already paying a lot for tools like this. It makes sense to get the most value out of it. One of the other things I do is I recently built what I call my "media masterminds" database. Now, my media masterminds database is a whole load of journalists and I just email them and say, "What do you think about this idea." The key here is to make sure you anonymize the client because otherwise, they can't cover your story later on and they'll want to because they want to keep you happy because you pay them to give them advice on your content. But I've highlighted the S here because one journalist isn't enough. You need to ask several. And this is where I see a lot of agencies fall down when they're seeking advice and feedback on content. Make sure you get several. It's not hard. If you're paying a journalist, they'll probably do anything.
Now, if we're thinking about stories, there really is no one better than Steven Spielberg, right? He's the dude of stories, or at least from my era. And he has a beautiful phrase, "I like ideas that you can hold in your hand. If a person can tell me the idea in 25 words or less, it's gonna make a pretty good movie." It sounds great, doesn't it? He looks really cool and sophisticated. What the fuck do you do with that? How do you apply that? You go to the pub. If I can't tell a story about what I'm working on to someone in the pub, there is a problem with the story. If I'm not excited to tell someone in the pub about what I'm working on, there is a problem with the content. Now, sometimes I can't get to the pub and what I'll do is I will just sit in my office and imagine I'm in the pub but it really is a lot better in the pub, so I would highly recommend it. And what you're looking for ultimately is a reaction like this preferably accompanied by words like this. If you get all of those tactics inline, you will have a winning piece of content.
Now, I didn't actually start out in PR or SEO. I started out as a wannabe artist and this is one of my favorite artworks. But the thing that actually makes this artwork beautiful, it's not about the objects that have been suspended. It's actually about the space that it creates in between. By the presence of the objects, you can see something that wasn't there before. And this is really important when working with data. A couple of years ago, I was working with Attractiontix, attraction website. They sell tickets to stuff. And I knew that selfies were trending and I wanted to know how many people were taking selfies and where they were taking them on Instagram. And I looked and I looked and I looked and there was no data.
So eventually, I was like, "Team, we're not going home tonight. We're gonna manually do this." And we came up with the top ten selfie sites and it did extremely well. In fact, it did so well that we decided to audit YouTube and we got the top ten proposal sites and that did equally as well. But the takeaway here is that the moment we realized where the data wasn't, we realized we'd hit exactly what the story was. And sometimes, the gold dust isn't where there is data and Excel is often not the answer, leg work is. And most people when I tell them this kinda die a little inside because what you want is a data set that you can just filter. But the thing is, if that's available, someone has probably already done it. The gaps between are the most important stories you can tell.
Now, over the last two years since I've been working for myself, I get to think about campaigns in the past and work out a little bit about what made them work or not work. And one, in particular, was Bathroomsweets. We had noticed that people can't spell Bathroomsweets and we thought we'd make this great, big, chocolate bathroom to highlight the fact that people can't spell sweets. And it did extremely well. But I wanna show you something here. When you look at the trend terms, what you see is literacy, not nearly as interesting as chocolate, right? Chocolate, the trivial, the human, the Homer Simpson part of the brain, dominated what made the story fly. And this isn't just linked to content. We see this in politics as well. When we look at search related to the U.S. elections, we find that interest in Donald Trump's hair significantly outweighs that of his policies. And I have to beg for your forgiveness for this next slide but the takeaway here is that fun trumps serious.
I learned something else when looking at Bathroomsweets. I remembered something, that when I first came up with the idea, I registered the name under my client, the website name. It says Ian Monk if you do a who.is look up. And then I thought about another campaign I'd run which was, we advertised for a bath tester and we wanted a real duck and it did really well but we also, we put a real advert out. And a few years before that, we were working with SwiftKey and SwiftKey is a predictive text app and we decided to suck in the Queen's speeches over the Jubilee and make an app so you can text like the queen. And that also worked well. And then finally, I looked at the...one of my last projects which was making a gold HTC phone which did equally as well and I'm not sure if you've worked out what the commonality is here but we didn't fake it, we made it. PR gets a horrible name for bending truths, spinning things, but the best PR, the best content is when you actually make a truth a reality.
Did you guys ever used to play Pass the Parcel? It's a freaking rocking game, isn't it? And look at this kids face. He's like, "Give me the parcel." Anyone have PR teams that are like that with content when it's finished? Not really. Content to outreach is a lot more like a bomb and it often ends up going like this, right? And that's heartbreaking because it should be like a parcel that we're desperate to get our hands on but the handover process is challenging but I've come up with three steps that you can do to massively improve that. So often when you hand content over to a PR team, you say, "It will fit on The Guardian." That's not what I allow my teams to do now. I make them tell me where on The Guardian it will fit, like the technology section. Then, what we do is we cut and paste one of the articles and we do a word count. And then I make the content team write an article that would fit on that website based off the content. And this will highlight any issues because if you can't write an article that matches the length, you don't have enough in your content.
And that's not a big problem. It means you can move the launch until there's a trend that you can hook onto and that will make the story or you can add more to the content. But I absolutely promise you, if you do these three things, your content to outreach handover process will be far more like Pass the Parcel than pass the bomb. Now this is my outreach process. I will share it. I refine it constantly but I want to highlight two things here. These two sections here are where I constantly reiterate on our angles because when I look back over all those successful campaigns, the one thing that really struck me was that I kicked every one of these birds out the nest, right? Not one of those campaigns flew on their own. Not one. They all had to be reiterated on in these two phases. Anyone who tells you that they had a runaway success is not noticing the reiterations that they may be subconsciously dead.
Now in this world of overloading data, journalists are being hit by everything all the time. I work on the basis that if I'm not willing to send three pieces of contact to a journalist, I won't send one, not one. The first, for me, is usually the phone. And I know, you speak to a journalist and they'll tell you they hate to be called but it actually works so we should probably keep doing it. The key thing when you make a phone call is tell them what your subject line of your email will be and most importantly, put your trend terms in those subject lines. If you do that, they'll know exactly what your email is...where your email is because the amount of times, you put down the phone and they've got 30 more emails in their inbox. But if they're interested, they'll know what they're looking for.
Now, this is the part that I'm most excited for, is the future of search. What do I think is happening with communications going forward. Well, a couple of months ago, I was working with finder.com and we knew that Internet of Things was trending. So we made a robotic handbag that opens and closes according to peak spending times. And we actually made it with an Irish firm called Colmac Robotics who are awesome by the way. And this is our eccentric fashion designer that helped design the outside of it. And this did extremely well but that's not what I really wanna talk about. What I want to highlight here is that the reason this was really important was not the links. It was not the coverage. What this did was it allowed us to target people who weren't searching for terms relating to impulse spending. If any of you have worked in consumer finance markets, you'll realize that the people who most need financial advice are not searching for it. Creative PR SEO has the ability to deliver information to those who need it, not just those who are searching for it. And I think we're going to see this a lot in the future.
Now, when we look at a lot of big brands, being the answer to sneakers or soft drink means that you're a big brand, right? They're sort of you get them because you're a big brand but you also become a big brand because people think you're the answer to something. And what I'm finding is that there's a lot of new technology areas where people aren't considering this as a target market. So if we look at what is blockchain? What is cryptocurrency? There are hardly any brands in those search results. In fact, this is a page from Finder and this is all there is on that page. You scroll down, there is nothing more. And they rank for "what is cryptocurrency?" And this is really interesting to me because I've started to get a lot of briefs through now for using SERPS as a brand trust mechanism especially within tech. And I find that super interesting that we're gonna start to be manipulating brand rankings or subject rankings in order to shape a brand's identity not to garner traffic or maybe as secondary too.
Now, when we look at the internet, we look for answers. We look often to learn more about ourselves. And a couple of weeks ago, I was sick. I came offstage at a conference and I had a sore throat. So I did what any self-respecting person would do, I got my mobile phone out, went up to a mirror, and had a look at my throat. And I was like, "Oh frick. I have a spot on the back of my tongue." And I flipped because I speak a lot. It's one of my favorite things to do. So I went to Google and I googled, "spot on tongue." Oh dear, not looking good. So I thought, "Okay, maybe wrong search query, user error." What does a healthy tongue look like? Apparently, it looks like this. And then the search result page wasn't very helpful either. So, of course, I came to the logical conclusion that anyone who ever googles a symptom does, is that I have death.
So, of course, I now go back to Google who is a little bit more helpful this time. And I got the number of a GP. I had never seen a GP in America in the three years I had been living there, found one. He told me, "Nope, completely normal. There's nothing wrong with you." I thought, "You're not very smart." So I went back to Google again and I found the only dentist in New York City that was open on a public holiday. And I paid a lot of money, went to the dentist, and she said the same thing. And I was very impressed with Google helping me find this dentist but I still was not convinced. So this was the Saturday. On the Monday, I looked at Google and I found myself an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist and I went and I had an endoscopy. Not a lot of fun, guys.
But it turns out, nothing wrong with me. The ENT specialist showed me this picture. Believe it or not, that's the real natural healthy tongue. I'm not dying. But search should facilitate health, not panic. And at the moment, it's almost impossible to see a healthy reflection on the internet which is worrying. And there's another area of search that I'm concerned about. And I learned about it when I started researching Bryan Johnson. I'm not sure if any of you are familiar with him but he owns this company called Kernel and their vision is to create technologies that cure neurological diseases. Pretty cool, right?
What he really wants to do is put chips in our brains to do this and it looks quite promising. But have you ever googled cyborg? This appeal to any of you? Any of you wanna be this? No, I don't either. But when you look at the definition of a cyborg, it's actually part human, part...well, part organic and part mechanical. And I stood back when I saw that. And I thought, "Ah, well, that's what hearing aids are. That's what pacemakers are." And over 3 million people have pacemakers, over half a million are getting them put in every year. And the hearing aid market is 4.5 billion in value but the search results for cyborg didn't tell me that. They didn't make me think that this was already there.
And I think what we're gonna find in the future is that we're gonna be looking to manipulate certain search results like that of cyborg to normalize the acceptance of certain technologies. If we don't, we run the risk of not adopting life-saving, life-changing technologies. If you know someone with a hearing aid or a pacemaker and you say, "Would you rather not have it and be ill?" They won't say yes. But we're gonna find ourselves looking at some very unusual briefs in the future because the human brain doesn't function well in heightened states of emotion. Their centers for logic shut down and that's why I think we need to look at search results in a wider context because the creative application of SEO could fundamentally change how we manage wellness. And that's pretty exciting and I certainly don't wanna see anyone I love die or suffer because there was a search result that didn't make the new technology acceptable to them.
Now, I've been pretty mean about Google but really, none of us really knew that Google was gonna have this wide impact on the world, both good and bad. I don't think we really knew how many trolls would be on Twitter or that bullying would happen. Facebook really wasn't in a position to know that although it connects us or allows us to share, quite often it makes us feel very lonely and that our lives aren't that exciting and that none of us photograph well. But I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about some of the beautiful possibilities that could come about in health. And one of them is Google DeepMind. Now, there was a lot of controversy when Google acquired a whole load of NHS data.
Now, let's put that to the side for a moment and let's just imagine that we said to Google, "Do you know what? Don't anonymize my NHS data. In fact, I'm gonna give you my IP address. I want you to correlate my health records with my search behavior and I want you to put a button on Google that says how am I." An algorithmic horoscope of how you are on one of the biggest health data sets in the world. It could tell us before we're getting stressed. It could tell us that we've probably spent too much time on Facebook, that we need to see our friends. How cool would that be? To me, we don't control Google but undoubtedly, I believe the SEO skills will play a crucial role in the advancement of technology, human intelligence, and ultimately, wellness and I'm super, super excited that I accidentally Forrest Gumped myself into a career of this nature and I hope you are too.
But we're all going back to the office tomorrow and we can't think about changing the face of wellness in a day. So I'd like you to walk away thinking about using your tools creatively. Be playful because we know that fun will trump and travel. And aspire to be part human and part machine, not just in your personal lives but in your professional strategies. And if we can, let's aim to be the better parts of both. Thank you very much.