Google is forcing a reinvention of PR

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

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.]

Editorial standards