Why Mike Hancock MP might not think Cuil is “cool” (then again, perhaps he might)

I wasn’t planning to add more to the general hype around Cuil. However, Mr Robert Schifreen has pointed out in another place that the new kid on the search block may have some work do.

Specifically, he is referring to the search term Mike Hancock MP. (WARNING: the results for this term in Cuil may offend some people and could be considered non-office safe).

Perhaps Mike may prefer the results he gets on Google. Then again, according to TheyWorkForYou.com, he has voted moderately in favour of equal gay rights. So who knows.

UK search marketing agencies vs UK PR firms (updated)

NMA recently published its “league table” of UK search marketing agencies – the equivalent of PR Week’s Agency top 150. Admittedly it only contains 36 firms, but it is interesting to compare with PR Week’s list – both for general PR and tech PR.

For example, the number one search marketing agency is The Search Works recording an £88m turnover for 2007. Quite impressive when you consider that the company was only founded in 1999 and employs a mere 64 staff. Number one in PR Week’s league table is Bell Pottinger with fees of £52.5m and 467 people (and before anyone asks, of course, we aren’t comparing like with like ie turnover with fees – but I’ll come to that in a minute).

Number five search agency Steak Media was only founded 3 years ago and has already raced to over £20m annual turnover. Number 5 PR firm Citigate Dewe Rogerson turned over £25m last year – though it has been around considerably longer.

According to my calculations, the combined turnover of the UK’s top 36 search firms is around £330m, employing around 1300 people in total. Contrast that with the top 40 UK tech PR firms who brought in around £71m in fees last year and collectively employ around 850 people.

Of course, the billing model for search agencies and PR firms is different. Search firms business tends to fall into three broad camps – paid search, natural search and other stuff (which can be a mix of anything from e-mail marketing, affiliate networks, etc). Based on the NMA figures, the average search firm seems to get around 50pc of its sales from paid search, 25pc from natural search and 25pc for other activity.

Paid search is renumerated either via commission or management fee basis. As far as I can glean, commission varies between 5 and 15pc (though Google Best Practice Funding is due to end at the beginning of next year). This is a traditional ad agency model and you can thus begin to see a correlation between those agencies with high turnover and the majority of their revenue coming from paid search. For example, 90pc of The Search Works business comes from paid search – likewise Steak Media (around 80pc).

Natural search is much more akin to the PR fee model – so those agencies that tend to do more natural search may well have lower turnovers, but have higher margins than paid search. For example Netrank has a turnover of £1.3m and 35 staff – but 100pc of its business is in natural search.

Various sources have pointed out that some search firms that rely upon paid search (and specifically the Google BPF rebate) may be in trouble come next year. However, those that have taken a management fee approach or are moving more work into natural search seem well placed. Interestingly, the move to a fee based, natural search offering seems to parallel issues for PR agencies. It requires more human beings ie brains to do it properly – and thus you hear from various quarters that there is a growing demand for people with the right kind of skills to be able to deliver on natural search. As far as I know, unlike PR, there are no MAs in SEO and online marketing yet – so the search firms are having to train people themselves.

Nevertheless, it is easy to see why the worlds of search and PR are going to get closer together in the future – to borrow from Deep Throat in All The President’s Men: “Follow The Money”.

As far as I can see at the moment, the profitability of search firms is generally better than PR agencies. Whether that will last remains to be seen.

NOTE: This is an updated version of this post – my thanks to Nick Clarke at Profero for pointing out that I’d got the figures wrong for the percentage volume of their natural search business. I have thus replaced it with Netrank as a more accurate example.  My sincere apologies to Nick and Profero – it’s called looking in the wrong column on the spreadsheet with tired eyes.

IT Pro versus Google: whose site traffic figures do you trust?

I’ve been looking at Google’s new Ad Planner tool. As Google says, it is “a free media planning tool that can help you identify websites your audience is likely to visit so you can make better-informed advertising decisions.”

They could also add that PR firms may want to look at it in terms of building an online media target list.

As ever with Google, the Ad Planner tool reveals a host of interesting data based around demographics and interests as well as access to aggregated statistics on the number of unique visitors, page views, and other data for millions of websites from over 40 countries.

However, one part of the tool that intrigued me was the ability to see detailed info on an individual site’s visitors and page views. For example, take a look at IT Pro (I’m not singling out IT Pro for any reason – just happened to be the first one I looked at). According to the publisher (Dennis), IT Pro has:

311,000 unique users

1.1 million page impressions a month

According to Google, it has:

33,000 unique UK visitors (86,000 worldwide)

120,000 page views (260,000 worldwide)

Google also provides a nice little graph showing daily visitor rates – so IT Pro seems to toggle above and below the 1,000 daily visitor rate in the UK. It also tells you where else visitors to the IT Pro site go – mainly in the Dennis fold it would seem – computerbuyer.co.uk and pcpro.co.uk.

The big question here is: whose figures do you use? Both as a potential advertiser or planning a PR campaign, you’d want to be sure that you were basing your decisions on accurate data. (And Chris Green’s plan to reward freelance journalists on the basis of traffic figures clearly hinges upon this).

So what is the explanation for the wide variance between what the publisher says and what Google says? I don’t know (and I haven’t had time to do an exhaustive analysis to check if this is just a one off or there are universal differences between publisher data and Google’s data).

If anyone has any thoughts on the matter, I’m all ears. At the end of the day, I’m sure the only thing people want is accurate information.

Dan Roam and the 21st century feedback loop

How’s this for a piece of zeitgeist?

I posted yesterday about Dan Roam’s book The Back of the Napkin. Overnight, he picks up a Google Alert about my blog post and in turn, comments – and posts a very nice response in return.

Might need to look at updating my sketch to map the ongoing impact….

How freelance journalists and writers can use Google’s Keyword Tool to get work

I’ve already blogged about Google’s Keyword Tool now displaying absolute search volumes. I thought it would be worth looking at a practical example. I keep hearing from various freelance journalist and writer friends that it is tough finding commissions these days – not just journalistic work but also PR and general copywriting. It occurred to me that perhaps they could put their writing talents to good effect by testing the water with some PPC advertising (this presumes of course that they have a blog or website – and that it is properly set up to capture and convert traffic).

Here’s a quick look at some fairly obvious keyword terms – the first figure shows the search volume in the UK for June 2008 and the second figure the expected cost per click for a 1 – 3 ad position.

Copywriting 33,100 £1.29
Copywriter 14,800 £1.02
Media training 8,100 £2.01
SEO copywriting 1300 £2.76
Web copywriting 1,000 £1.85

Clearly not all of these searches will be from people seeking paid-for copywriting work – but surely some of them will be. Even gaining a tiny percentage of response from some of the more popular terms would hopefully convert into work that would justify the ad spend (I’d certainly suggest setting a nominal initial budget and test from there).

The media training result was also interesting. I know a number of journalists offer media training services – over 8000 searches in the UK last month suggests there is clearly a lot of interest in it – and surely a percentage of that must come from people seeking to buy media training?

On a different tack, I looked at a few phrases containing “How to start a (insert company type)”

The results below are the searches for last month along with the trend:

How to start a publishing company (73) Falling
How to start a record company (46) Falling
How to start a clothing company (36) Rising

I wonder who those 73 people are out there dreaming of starting their own publishing company? I wonder how many journalists are in that number? However, it would seem the current trend is down – as is starting a record company (no surprise there I guess). Though rag trade interest seems to be rising – albeit from a very small base.

Dan Roam’s “Back of a Napkin” approach to visual thinking (and how I bought the book).

Dan Roam’s “The Back of the Napkin” book about visual thinking is a novel approach to problem solving (and deserves a blog post all of its own)

Informative blog too.

However, I thought it worth examining how I went from not knowing a thing about Dan Roam at midday on Saturday, to understanding a lot more about him and buying his book nearly 11 hours later – as well as finding out a few other interesting things along the way.

Here’s the text based version of events (the diagram above is my own pen and paper effort based on Roam’s tips).

1. My wife buys a copy of The Guardian on Saturday. Leaves me the Sport, Money and Work sections.

2. I look at the front page of the Work Section. Feature entitled “Sketch It Out”. I read about Dan Roam’s book The Back of The Napkin – all about visual thinking and how to use drawing as a highly efficient aid to problem solving (Key message: you don’t need to be able to draw). Note: Guardian offers book to readers for £14.99 – I decide to do more research before committing to buying – and will certainly check Amazon first before buying.

3. Intrigued, I decide later that evening to Google Dan Roam. Top result is for Digital Roam, his own company. Spend a few mins looking at website – then check out his blog. Some very interesting posts

4. Download some PDFs of his visual thinking toolkit – Napkin Tools.

5. Watch Youtube video of Dan Roam presenting to Google staff.

6. Subscribe to Dan Roam’s RSS Feed

6. Decide to buy book (£9.99). Go to Amazon.co.uk to purchase. End up buying another book – Garr Reynolds Presentation Zen – purely on the back of Amazon recommendations (and because I was in book buying mood).

7. Via Dan Roam’s blog, go to Hans Rosling’s Gapminder.org and Ted.com video – now that’s how to present data!

You may think this is an extraordinary effort to decide whether or not to buy a book. But it is only when you detail all the various elements that went into this particular buying process that you begin to understand some of complexity of PR and marketing today.

And Dan Roam and Garr Reynolds both got a book sale out of me – although the routes to each one were very different. And Hans Rosling’s work was a revelation. What a wonderful world we live in.

Google reveals keyword search volumes – and why you should care

Don’t know how I missed this one, but last week – and without much fanfare – Google announced that it would now reveal approximate search volumes from within its Keyword Tool.

The excellent Jason Baer at the Convince and Convert blog makes some very good observations as to why this is going to have a big impact on digital marketing. In particular when he says:

“If Google makes the marketing and advertising business as transparent as travel planning and stock purchases, the only agencies that will be able to survive are those that can add real value in messaging, creative, and integrating data into actionable tactics.”

I would of course include PR in the above too. So why should the availability of search volumes bother the PR community? (Or at least the tech/B-to-B world?).

If you accept that 95pc of B-to-B purchase decisions involve search, then you can now put a real figure on just how many people are actually searching on terms that you believe they find important – and are relevant to your business.

Let’s take an imaginary example. The Borked Corporation makes dilithium consoles. Av. profit on a console is $20. The company is aiming to make an additional $1m in profit over the next 12 months. That means selling an extra 50,000 consoles – or just over 4000 consoles a month. All marketing to date has been based around the key term “dilithium consoles”. The company has invested a lot in PR-ing the term dilithium console. Their digital agency has persuaded them to invest heavily in PPC. As of last week, Borked Corporation can see actual search volumes on “dilithium console” – a mere 1000 for the month and an average of 1500 for the last 6 months. It doesn’t take much to work out that Borked needs to answer some major questions – what terms ARE our potential purchasers searching on? How we can understand and influence the non-line buying process and incorporate the most relevant and impactful content at the appropriate juncture? Or more fundamental, is there a big enough market for our products at the current price/profit point?

Let’s not forget that Google’s Keyword Tool can be segmented by geography. For example, here’s the results for the UK last month on the terms digital PR and online PR.

It makes for interesting reading. For example, the keyword term digital PR was searched for in the UK 480 times last month. Online PR got 2400. Exactly 5 times the volume. Or thought of another way, a total of 2880 searches for combined digital/online PR. Or around 100 times a day. And how many of those searches are from people looking to buy digital/online PR services? This is the kind of thinking that helps to bring a forceful clarity to all PR and marketing activity.

Why not see how many times your company/product name was searched on last month? The results may surprise you.

“Online journalism is about more than just writing”: Chris Green, Editor, IT Pro

IT Pro Editor Chris Green has written a very good post regarding the changing nature of online journalism.

(In tune with the zeitgeist, he says he was prompted to write the piece after he made a Twitter comment about his traffic/contributor analysis – and I and others asked him for more detail).

Specifically, he highlights things that he believes freelance writers will need to consider and change their working practices to incorporate. If you substitute the term “PR” for freelance writer, much the same principles apply.

For example, on SEO, Chris says: This is key to the future of online publishing. All writers, whether they are in-house or freelance need to understand the importance of making copy search engine-friendly. That means understanding how search engines interpret content, how they look for keywords and what relevant keywords are popular at the time of writing and publishing. Writers also need to track the online zeitgeist to understand what search terms, themes and trends are popular, in order to incorporate them, where relevant, into an article.”

PRs also need to adopt a similar methodology and mindset.

On Content Seeding – CG: “With publications looking at the audience traffic an article receives as a measure of success (as well as looking at traditional elements such as whether it is well written, accuracy, relevancy and how current the information is), the writer needs to take on some of the responsibility for promoting that article and extending its reach. That means seeding links to content to relevant locations where the links will bring in additional traffic. Also, think about whether the piece you are writing will appeal to the audience of the popular social bookmarking sites such as Digg, Slashdot, StumbleUpon and Reddit. We want readers to submit your content to these services, and it is in the interests of the writer as well for readers to do this.”

The role that PR can and should play in “promoting” relevant editorial content is an interesting one. Or what role PR can have in helping the journalist create the content in the first place.

On comment Generation – CG: “Your piece needs to spark debate among readers. It needs to encourage them to post comments, engage and debate other readers on that site. The conversation should not end with your final paragraph, but should stimulate the reader to participate in the conversation, add knowledge and share alternative viewpoints.”

The PR debate about “conversation” has raged for some time. PR will have an increasing role to play in encouraging and helping clients to get actively involved in these kinds of fora.

On Multi-skilling CG: Online journalism is about more than just writing, it is about providing complete coverage in the most appropriate media form, and doing it in as timely fashion as possible. You are covering an event for a publication; you need to consider visual elements as well as written. Think about how you can incorporate video, audio and images into the piece to maximise the effectiveness of the piece. Waiting for images to be sent over from a company or PR agency may be counterproductive to publishing a timely and informative piece, so be prepared to take your own photos, shoot your own video and record audio content for inclusion in a podcast. You don’t need thousands of pounds of equipment to create audio or visual material that is suitable for publication.”

I absolutely agree with Chris that the tools to produce multi-media content are now cheap and easy to use (as are many of the traditional tools used in PR). But the tools are only 10pc of the issue = it’s the 90pc of skill/training to produce quality content that matters – and who is going to fund the training in these new areas? Simply taking a good print journalist and asking them to suddenly acquire top notch audio and video content skills is a big ask. And is everyone capable of being a great all-rounder? Eg I have a great face for radio.

Some other thoughts:

I wasn’t sure from Chris’ post whether he is assuming that all traffic is equal? eg in the case of IT Pro, are IT Directors more “valuable” in traffic terms than a junior developer? i.e. is it possible to reward a writer who attracts a smaller but high value audience (in terms of value to potential advertisers and/or marketing partners)?

I also wondered whether the traffic/performance measurement analysis and reward process applied to Chris and his editorial staffers rather than just freelancers 😉

Anyway – read Chris’ full post – it is worth the effort.

Do your PR messages consist of 2 or 3 words? And why should you care?

The following stats from Keyword Discovery got me thinking:

Over 50pc of all English language search terms consist of either two or three words.

19pc consist of a single word term.

Search terms with 10 words or more represent only 2pc of all searches.

Search terms with 9 words constitute 0.79pc of all searches.

83pc of all search terms consist of 4 words or less.

What does this mean for PR?

First – remember 2 years ago Lord Saatchi’s pronouncement on One Word Equity?

Well, he was nearly right – if you are Finnish. The Finns – true to cultural stereotype – appear to be the only people who perform more than 50pc of searches for a single word term.

However, in English, Two Word and Three Word Equity rules.

So. Are you able to distill down your PR and marketing messages to two or three words? Given that search now seems to act as a universal gatekeeper to the B-to-B selling process, ensuring that your target audiences are going to associate such brief phrases with you (and not be disappointed by the PR and marketing content that may await them if you get them that far down the conversion funnel) becomes a key goal.

PS: Try typing “outcome based PR” into Google and see what comes up first….

Social networking reduces profitability by 1pc at Edelman

According to BBC reporter Maggie Shiels in a story today headlined: “Firms miss social site success”:

“At a recent corporate executive summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, PR company Edelman revealed that social networking shaved 1% off its bottom line by encouraging its staff to use such websites as a recruitment tool.”

Shaved 1pc off its bottom line? Unless the meaning of shaved has changed, that means Edelman has seen profitability drop by 1pc as a result of social networking.

I presume Edelman or Maggie Shiels meant that costs rather than profits were shaved by 1pc.

In business, it is usually wise to know the difference between the two.

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