Why poor backlink requests are like bad PR Pitches

The SEO vs PR debate continues to rumble on. However, on a very tactical level, it occurred to me that certain SEO practitioners are starting to emulate some of PR’s worst habits – specifically, the bad pitch. Or at least it’s SEO equivalent – the poor Backlink Request.

The key qualities they share are irrelevance and lack of personalisation.

Journalists hate getting mass-mailed irrelevant junk. And in a similar way, if you run a website or a blog (and let’s face it, that’s a lot of us these days), it is just as annoying to get spammy link requests.

I’ve yet to receive a carefully crafted and personalised request for a backlink that shows the person making the request understands what my blog or sites are all about. Or what real benefit might accrue.

It was thus interesting to see Stefan Hull from top SEO firm PropellerNet at the Social Media Marketing event back in June present a case study on the work they’d done to support the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush. A key part of the project was getting quality backlinks. And how did they go about this? By properly researching appropriate backlink properties and then making personalised approaches to try and get the link.

In other words, the kind of work that PRs have been doing for decades with journalists. Substitute editorial coverage for backlink and you get the idea.

This seems to me an eminently transferable skill – and at least for once this is something where PR can bring something new to the SEO party rather than the other way round. I realise some people might think getting a backlink doesn’t have same appeal as getting editorial coverage – but given that SEO firms seem to be better at making money than PR agencies, perhaps one can’t be too sniffy these days.

Does the average UK Facebook user spend 24 hours per month on the site?

According to Hitwise, the average amount of time spent on Facebook by a Briton has decreased from 30 minutes in December 2009, to 27.36 minutes during June and July 2010.

According to Google, the average session time was 26.40 mins – not wildly dissimilar to Hitwise’s estimate. Perhaps even more interesting, Google claims that the average number of visits per UK Facebook user last month was 51 (worldwide average is 33).

On Google’s figures, that would suggest the average UK Facebook user spent 1360 minutes on the site last month – or nearly 23 hours.

On Hitwise’s figures that would come to nearly 24 hours per month.

Given these are average figures, that suggests that some people spend considerably more than a day month online at Facebook.com.

Contrast this with Google’s view of Twitter.com.  Average session time is 11.50 mins – and average number of visits per visitor last month of 13. This translates into around 2.5 hours per month.

YouTube clocked in at an average session time of 23.20 and 17 visits last month. Total session time for July, 6.6 hours.

According to Comscore last year, the average British internet user spent around 29 hours per month online. Perhaps that figure has risen dramatically in the last 12 months. However, it would still  suggests that the vast majority of our online time is spent on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Food for thought.

Reach versus engagement: the new online battleground for PR and media

For decades, PR has been seen by many marketeers as “cheap reach via editorial” – in other words, the goal of PR was to gain editorial coverage that provided the greatest number of opportunities to see – at a significantly lower cost than advertising.

Because the means of providing a verifiable link between editorial coverage and business impact was either prohibitively expensive or just not possible, there has been a largely accepted assumption that positive press coverage is valuable – period.

In the past, the notion of measuring engagement with editorial content was largely theoretical.  Circulation and readership figures were treated as proxies for engagement (if a newspaper has a readership of 2 million, then we assume that a large proportion must be in some way engaged with some or all of the content – we just aren’t sure which content and to what degree. Or whether this engagement results in a meaningful business outcome).

However, you could argue that Google data now provides for a much deeper understanding of editorial engagement. At least online.

For example, by using the Google search “site” command, you can easily see how many pages of a site the search giant has indexed (ie are likely to be found).  And with Google’s Doubleclick Ad Planner tool, you can get a fix on a specific engagement metric – namely, time spent on page. The more time someone spends reading content, the more likely they are to be engaged with – and influenced by – that content (of course, it could mean that people are having difficulty understanding the content – but if that extended to all of a site’s content, you would presume its readership figures would tail off rapidly).

In conjunction with Adam Parker, Chief Executive of RealWire, the online press release distribution service, we took it upon ourselves to analyse a selection of 50 online, newspapers and magazines, examining three core areas:  readership, engagement and UK relevance of content. Adam provides an excellent analysis of the results on his blog, Show Me Numbers.

So what kind of engagement do people have with leading online news sources? (*Full detail and slide presentation of  joint Realwire/Escherman analysis here).

For example, the average UK visitor to The Economist site spends around 122 seconds per page. While the average UK visitor to the Reuters site spends around 214 seconds per page.

So what does a difference of 92 seconds per page mean? If you accept that a typical reader can consume around 200 words of content per minute then in principle, a Reuters UK visitor is going to consume around 713 words vs 406 words for The Economist – in other words, a Reuters visitor is going to consume nearly 75pc more content than the typical Economist reader.

If you look at the average number of pages consumed per visit, there are some interesting things to be drawn out. Across the whole sample, the average number of pages consumed per visit – either globally or in the UK – is around 4.  And if the average number of visits per month per visitor to a site is around 3, then the total number of pages consumed per month by a typical visitor is around 12 pages of content. Clearly, some site’s visitors will come back more often than others. But the likelihood that the majority of news site visitors will consume more than 20 pages of content in a month is low.

However, before Avanash Kaushik beats me up, I’ll be the first to say that all averages lie – and this analysis rests upon averages. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that this is a useless exercise. If the average engagement time per page is 60 seconds, that almost certainly means that some people spend longer reading a page, while others spend less time. By definition, the number of people spending longer reading a page is going to be less than those spending a shorter time than average. Which means that the vast majority of people visiting an online news site are engaging less with the content than the average. The same applies for average views per URL. Some URLs are going to get more views than the average (clearly a big story is going to get significantly more than the average). This means that the majority of URLs are going to be viewed less than than average. Which means an 80/20 principle applies – namely, a minority of a news site’s content, is going to get the majority of the engagement.

The implications for PR are clear. Getting positive client messages into the first few hundred words of a piece is going to be nigh on essential for sites with lower average page visit times – otherwise, the likelihood is that your message just won’t be seen by many of a news site’s readers – all in spite of the effort you put in to get a journalist to write about your client in the first place. Having said that, as a general rule, specialist titles seem to have lower numbers of visitors and page views, but tend to have far higher engagement with content. And what of offline media? In spite of dwindling circulations, a case could be made for the fact that engagement time with a print newspaper may well be much longer than that of an equivalent site visit – and thus the chance to be exposed to more content is higher (then again, the average shelf life of a daily national newspaper is a few hours. At least web content is in theory available continuously – assuming of course that Google indexes it).

Looked at another way, if you are really interested in maximising engagement with a client’s message (as opposed to maximising its theoretical reach), then this kind of analysis may well help you clearly delineate where the ability to genuinely create a causal impact may lie.

Engagement or reach – what will you be advising your clients to focus on?

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