Google is forcing a reinvention of PR

Google is forcing a reinvention of PR

Summary: Sam Cooke: "It's been a long, a long time coming. But I know a change is going to come, oh yes it will."

TOPICS: Google

Lot's of great discussion around my recent posts about Google and PR. [Did Google just kill PR agencies?]

I've long warned that PR companies would be subject to similar forces of disruption that have been destroying the media sector for the past decade. As with the media companies, their helter skelter basket to hell was waiting for them.

But my friends in PR weren't entirely convinced because there was no clear cut challenge to their business. While they watched the boa constrictor technologies of the Internet squeezing the profitability out of the media sector, the new media revolution had increased their business opportunities.

They were so busy that they hadn't noticed Google's war on SEO, or that it was heading their way.

Now, they have to deal with the might of Google. And Google hates any other business that promotes other businesses because Google wants that money.

PR is a form of SEO; whether the PR industry understands this or not, it doesn't matter because Google certainly does.

In olden days…

It never used to be a problem when Google just looked at links, and who had them and who didn't. That's how it judged the importance of a site, it is described in Larry Page's PageRank patent. With the Panda algorithm update the focus was on "quality." 

In Google-speak "quality" is a proxy for purity. Paid-for links and other SEO messes with the purity of its index, the crown jewels of Google.

Now, with the Penguin algorithm updates, it is looking at more than 200 signals, many of them in social media platforms. There's a lot more ways to muddy the quality of its index.

The quality of natural signals…

Google, above all, wants high quality signals that are naturally produced by the viral nature of the Internet.

Google understands this natural behavior of the Internet very well because it's how it grew to be the best search engine — because it was the best search. It didn't do any marketing because that would mean it didn't have the best search engine.

Whenever I used to meet with the founders and other Google executives, they were very proud that they didn't need any marketing. They didn't even have a marketing chief, and they didn't pay anyone to promote Google as the best search engine. Even today, Google still has no marketing chief in its senior ranks.

Google understood that the Internet can act as a meritocracy, that the cream will always rise to the top — except when people muddy the waters with paid-for promotional activities.

Google tries to find those signals of natural quality that represent a true virality, a truth that indicates the natural importance of a business, a product, a person, or an idea — separate from any promotional signals of quality.

Let the search engines optimize themselves…

I've always advised: "Don't worry about links and SEO beyond the basics. Concentrate on pleasing your customers, let the search engines optimize themselves. If you try to buy links, etc, sooner or later Google will see that and those practices will come back to bite you."

And sure enough, the bite finally arrived, and businesses are scrambling to have millions of back links erased, sending legal letters to some sites. And tearing their hair out trying to regain their lost positions in Google's index. 

[Please see: The Fast Unravelling Web: How Google Is Killing The Hyperlink]

Optimize for your customers and let the search engines optimize themselves. That's all that Google wants, so that it has clean signals, so that it can refine its search algorithm to find the best results for each search.

This is why Google hates paid promotion of any type. It is an artificial boost to popularity and it deliberately harms its index — the holy core of Google. Once discovered, retribution is swift and vicious -- lost Google traffic has maimed many businesses. 

Beyond the press release…

Some commentators to my posts have said that PR agencies do more than create and distribute press releases. It's true. But now that Google is looking for signals in many places, any form of paid promotion, guest posts, paid-for columns, paid-for Facebook friends, paid-for Twitter followers, etc, all have the potential to muddy the purity of its index, and Google hates that. That's what scammers do. 

In Google's world, there is no need to trick its index with PR and false signals of popularity. If you truly do have a better product, service, or mousetrap, Google will make sure that the world beats a path to your door. 

How do PR agencies fit into that world? How do they reinvent themselves?

- - -

Please see: Did Google just kill PR agencies? | ZDNet

[My apologies for stepping away from this important topic but I'm about to head over to the Outside Lands festival with my daughter for three days —  but I'll be back to this conversation early next week with additional posts and some ideas on reinventing PR.]

Topic: Google

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  • Forget SEO, just produce great content

    Tom and I have always been in alignment on this idea that spending millions on efforts to "game" the Google system is largely a waste. Few companies can buy Ph.D. mathematicians by the boatload the way Google can -- so SEO and SEM can only work for a little while, until Google refines the algorithm yet again. The best way to rise in a Google search is to do something that many companies choose not to do -- create compelling content, tell interesting news stories, and put a human, journalism-oriented face on their activities -- in Tom's words, "Every company is a media company." From my perspective, that is the formula to success, not hoping the latest self-proclaimed SEO wizard has a full battery charge on his magic wand.
  • Search and destroy old-boy PR

    Meanwhile, MS's Ballmer promotes Penn, who is still fighting against the forces wanting to impeach Bill Clinton. Good luck with that.
  • The old 80-20 rule

    Many will get disrupted. Some will thrive; and not just because of a larger share of a smaller pie. New business lines will be the spoils to the victorious. Relationships will continue to matter.
  • Google has gone too far

    IMO, having worked the PR system as a client, I think Google has gone too far. I couldn't care less about Google when developing press releases and guest articles for magazines. I'm interested in communicating with the magazine's readership. If Google wants to ignore those listings, that's their right. To "punish" companies/sites for participating in that activity is going too far. That really ticks me off.

    It may put PR companies out of business, but IMO, it'll help put a lot of magazines out of business too.

    I'm not particularly looking forward to the time when everything on this planet is run by google, facebook, and twitter. Frankly, I shudder to think of the world my grandkids will work in.
  • It isn't so simple

    Although I agree with most of what you are saying Tom I have to take issue on one point specifically. It simply isn't true to say that, "If you truly do have a better product, service, or mousetrap, Google will make sure that the world beats a path to your door." We can all think of examples of inferior products that have done considerably better than more able competitors. Sometimes it's because of an incumbent's market power and resources but sometimes it's because the company with the better product is singularly incapable of, for example, communicating the superior features effectively. Producing that effective communication is what all of us in the PR industry ought to be doing and what we ought to have some expertise in (though that isn't always true!).

    The unfortunate reality is that link and keyword loaded press releases WERE effective in some circumstances but that isn't the PR industry's fault, it's simply a symptom of what worked with Google previously. Some in the industry took advantage of that whilst others have taken a longer term view, for the very reasons you have outlined, and concentrated on producing high quality content for their clients and exploiting that in a variety of different ways.

    As far as I can tell Google isn't trying to kill off promotional activity of any kind, it's simply trying to increase relevance. There's plenty of space in that environment for the PR industry and plenty of legitimate tactics.
  • SEO is the outcome of great optimized content marketing.

    Great points on the convergence of social media and seo with PR. Agencies will need to adapt and provide web presence and content marketing metrics as part of their service offerings.
    Chris - gShift Labs
  • No reinvention needed

    Based on the previous comments, it seems many of us in the PR field essentially are in agreement that strong, compelling content has always been and should always be paramount. Many of us have never lost sight of that. Because we never got too crazy playing silly SEO games, we won't have to reinvent ourselves. We'll stay focused on quality and recall the tortoise and the hare parable. No reinvention necessary, thank you very much. And, as some have previously said, PR firms are not focused solely on press releases anyway. In fact, the press release represents 20 percent of my business at most. Thanks, Tom, and all commentors for the insightful thoughts.
  • Whence Ad Words?

    "Google understood that the Internet can act as a meritocracy, that the cream will always rise to the top — except when people muddy the waters with paid-for promotional activities."

    Hence the need for Google Ad Words?

    While I fully recognize the trend you illuminate here, it seems an overstatement.
    Clearly, some kind of "impure" ranking must still matter or it would have shelved Ads with as much of a second thought as it did Reader.