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Optimizing Your Online PR Strategy for Search & Social, Part 3: Background Research

Optimizing Your Online PR Strategy for Search and Social

In the first two parts of this series, we looked first at how the online audience differs from the traditional off-line audience. There are several distinct characteristics one has to take into account before pushing content out onto the web that was designed for print.

Next, we looked at the goals of online PR in order to identify key things that online PR must do that are both similar and different from offline PR. Good writing is still good writing, whether you are on- or offline, but when writing online content, you have to treat each piece a bit differently.

Now let’s move on into the next phase of writing online PR.

Background Research

Background Research

Every good story starts with some background research. After all, we don’t just jump right in and start telling a story we know nothing about. We have to do a little digging first to understand the issues, pros, cons, benefits, who the audience is, what their needs are, etc. Only when you have this information can you begin to craft your story.

In addition to the normal background research one does for a good story or PR piece, there are some additional factors that must be considered when publishing content online. You’re not just trying to get your content to your audience, but you have to make your content available for your audience to find.

Instead of always pushing information to people you think need to see it, you want to be able to pull in those who truly do want to read it. This is a bit of a different strategy than most people are used to, but it’s one that does bring in more targeted customers than the “traditional” method.

How People Search

How People Search

Finding content online is all about keywords. We like to believe people think in terms of concepts and ideas, but when it comes to online content, everything gets boiled down to a few words. If someone sees a commercial on TV, they watched a full 30-seconds of information. But, if they go online to look for more information, that entire 30-seconds is going to be narrowed down to a very short 2-, 3-, or 4-word phrase.

The search engines have made finding information so easy that almost anything can be found using just a few words. Sometimes we might get more specific with a 5- or 6-word phrase when necessary, but the starting point is usually those 2-3 words that we feel best captures the information we are looking for.

Because keywords are so important to our online searches, people tend think and hear in terms of these keywords. We listen and reduce everything down to it’s lowest common denominator of what it will take to find the information we are looking for. This makes it important that we integrate keywords that our audience uses into each piece of content.

If you’re talking about “pre-owned cars” because that’s a nicer sounding industry buzzword, you’re going to miss out on a lot of potential traffic. Of course, you only realize this once you know that your audience is searching for “used cars”.

This is the problem. We get caught up using our own internal industry lingo when our audience is using street lingo. While you tout your internal lingo to feel smart, sophisticated, classy, or whatever, your competition is outselling you because they are using words that people actually think, hear, and search for.

If you don’t use the language your audience uses then you’ll be missing your audience altogether.

Find Keywords Your Audience Uses

Find Keywords Your Audience Uses

If you want to use the language your audience uses you have to find out what keywords they type into the search bar to find the information related to what you do.

There are a lot of tools that will help you do this including Wordtracker or Google’s Keyword Tools. Some tools are more helpful than others and each will give you different information. But parsing through that information is well worth the time. I have a blog series outlining keyword research strategies that is worth the read.

The value of keyword research cannot be understated. Not only will you find the broad terms that your audience uses, but you’ll also find a lot of specific phrases that people are interested in. This information can give you ideas and angles to address to ensure you’re targeting as many searchers as possible with your content.

What we often find is that words we would think would be valuable are not, while words that may not have been considered jump out at us as something we should be targeting. By finding these keywords, you are able to develop content that speaks more directly to your searchers rather than to the people who think up fancy words with little meaning to your audience.

It’s up to you to focus your content toward those that are seeking, but you have to use their language, not your own.

Keywords Don’t Always Mean What We Think

Keywords Don't Always Mean What We Think

One of the downsides of the keyword research tools is that they only tell us the popularity of any given phrase. What they can’t tell us is what the visitor is thinking when they type that phrase into the search engines. Keyword phrases often have different meanings depending on inflection, word order, or even singular or plural variations. This is when we have to use our heads to think through the relevance of any given phrases.

One of the best examples of this I have is when I was shopping for a headset for my cordless telephone. Walking through the isles of the Office Depot, I saw a box that read “cordless telephone headset”. Just what I wanted, right? Well, no. I needed a cordless telephone headset, what was in the box was a cordless telephone headset. Same three words, but entirely different products!

The meaning of a phrase can also change just by adding a qualifying word to it. In the image above, all the words in the circles have a single word in common. Can you guess what it is?

The word is “bag”. But the meaning of the word “bag” changes significantly just by adding each of these qualifiers to it. This is an extreme example, but it makes the point that we cannot accept every keyword at face value, we have to look deeper into the potential meaning of the searcher.

(This also illustrates why targeting single word phrases is a bad idea! Just sayin’.)

Knowing Your Audience

Knowing Your Audience

Knowing your audience isn’t always as easy as saying, “my audience is interested in x.” Just because someone is interested in a particular topic doesn’t necessarily mean they are your target audience, nor does it mean that they are all searching for the exact same reasons. Different searchers have different goals. It’s up to you to figure out what those are.

In the illustration above, I have created an example of three different types of searchers, three different types of interests, and three different types of needs. Each searcher may have a different interest and a different need. For example, a particular business searcher may be interested in education in order to develop a strategy, while another may be looking for ideas to give her a better direction. That’s not even to discuss the students or hobbyists!

Your job will be to put together your own list of possible searchers, interests, and needs, then determine which combinations lead to your audience(s). This won’t necessarily be used to eliminate particular segments of searchers, though, it likely will, but rather it can be used to make sure you are speaking to your audience based on who they are, what they want, and what their goals are.

Target Your Entire Audience, Not Just Journalists

Target Your Entire Audience, Not Just Journalists

The one thing PR professionals need to remember is that, when putting out online content, your target audience is not just journalists. Your online audience should be much bigger than a small group of people who may or may not be interested in writing about your PR.

Aside from journalists and information seekers, there are three types of searchers that may be interested in your content. These three groups are built around how people shop for online content, but the principles can apply to all different kinds of searchers, depending on what kinds of phrases they are using to search.

Researchers: The first group of searchers is researchers. These are people looking for information, but they may not quite be sure as to what exactly they need. They are using broad terms that will pull up a vast array of websites and types of content. Many of these researchers are using the search results to help them refine their search criteria. As they scan headlines and content, they get a better idea of what kind of information they are seeking.

Shoppers: This group has gotten enough information to begin to narrow down their search. In the shopping world they are no longer looking for a TV, but have decided on the Sony TV. As they continue to search, read and scan content, they are learning more about their topic and using that to decide what further details do they want or need and then taking that information to perform even more specific searches.

Buyers: This last group are those that are looking for very specific information. Not just a Sony TV but maybe a 52′ Sony 3D 1080p. They’ve gone through the research and shopping phase and now know exactly what information they need to be satisfied. Shoppers use 4-6 word phrases that give them a very specific set of search results to ensure less scanning of worthless content and a greater focus on getting this last bit of info.

Targeting researchers, shoppers, and buyers is critical in drawing in a larger audience, and an audience that might actually be a “converting” audience. Some of these will become customers, some will socialize your information, and others will report on it. All of these are important targets to reach.

Having done your background research on your keywords and your audience, you’re then ready to begin to start writing your content in a way that will reach the maximum number of people on the web. We’ll look more into that in Part 4.

See all posts in this series:

Part 1: Intro / How Print Audience Differs from Web Audience
Part 2: Goals of Online PR
Part 3: Background Research
Part 4a: Crafting the Story p1
Part 4b: Crafting the Story p2
Part 5: Broadcasting the Message / Conclusion

Follow me at @StoneyD and @PolePositionMkg.


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Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm who's pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his bride enjoy and his children. Read Stoney's full bio.

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2 Responses to Optimizing Your Online PR Strategy for Search & Social, Part 3: Background Research

  1. David Ewing says:

    Stoney, would the “buyers” category also apply to a service that you’re selling?

  2. Stoney says:

    Yeah, that category covers products or services, but only when the search term is very specific. Broad searches for a service are still covered in the other two categories.