Metrics can protect your Web legacy

In addition to PRWeek, I am also editorial director of DMNews, which focuses on direct marketing. During the last few months, I have fielded a number of odd requests.

In addition to PRWeek, I am also editorial director of DMNews, which focuses on direct marketing. During the last few months, I have fielded a number of odd requests.

A few of the companies we cover have been undertaking search engine optimization (SEO) audits (the big ticket version of Googling yourself). When they find an old DMNews story, a story perhaps that didn't show the company in the most favorable light, they will sometimes submit a request to me to remove the story from our archives.

It goes without saying that we do not remove stories from our archives under these circumstances, and most companies that make the request accept that fact. But I wonder how many other media outlets are being asked to do the same. Once something lives on the Internet, it will follow you in perpetuity, to be knocked down the rankings only by more compelling content over time, or by specific SEO investment.

It is heartening that similar requests have not come to me, or any of our editorial team, through PRWeek. I'd like to believe this is because the PR industry understands that you don't control or repair reputation by removing the media coverage that reports on problems.

I suspect that the truth is, however, that the PR industry and the direct industry are looking at online activity from very different perspectives, and that we are approaching a time when we will need a more common understanding of how online marketing is executed in a greater reputational ecosystem.

A few weeks ago I spoke on the topic of measuring online marketing, as part of a panel at an event hosted by The Economist. Crediting Edelman's Steve Rubel as my source, I also talked about four ways of looking at online activity metrics.

First, according to Rubel, there are reach metrics, those numbers that you hear so often like clickthroughs, unique visitors, and total online audience. Second are engagement metrics, including things like social interactions, sharing, and time spent. Third is the direct response activity, when the audience actually takes an action – such as filling out forms and other lead-generating techniques.

And finally, there are reputation and trust metrics, an area where PR is firmly in its comfort zone. This involves evaluating things like sentiment, as well as impact on search. In other words, you can measure to what degree online communications or marketing initiatives might change the search results for your company.

There are some in the PR industry who are able to see this online eco-system in its entirety, not only through the communications prism. Online has demanded a greater accountability and comprehension of hard numbers than the industry had previously embraced. There are some in direct marketing who understand that all online content will not necessarily bend to your SEO will, and that media relations is as much an SEO imperative as are tagging and links.

But the online universe is converging faster than our collective knowledge is, and there needs to be a sense of urgency about promoting better understanding and collaboration across marketing lines.
Julia Hood is publishing director of PRWeek.

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