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Picks of the Week: Feb. 12-18, 2011

This week, there was some talk about Google — namely, how mega-retailer J. C. Penney gamed its algorithm, and some updates to its social search. In addition to sharing these stories, we offer insight on using content to propel social media efforts, the tale of a “rogue tweet” from The Red Cross, and share some email-etiquette advice based on a Forrester analyst’s evaluation of his inbox.


The Dirty Little Secrets of Search

In this investigative article, David Segal provides a detailed account of a recent J.C. Penney "black-hat" search engine optimization scandal. According to David, "Someone [at J.C. Penney] paid to have thousands of links placed on hundreds of sites scattered around the Web, all of which lead directly to"

As a result, the retailer held the number-one position in Google's organic search results — for terms as general as “dresses” and “bedding” to long-tail phrases like “Samsonite carry-on luggage” — for several months at the end of 2010, the height of online holiday shopping. 

Despite Google's firm stance against artificially gathered inbound links, and its diligent monitoring of such activities, the search engine reportedly failed to detect the campaign before being notified by The Times. Matt Cutts, head of Google's webspam team, assured that Google would take "manual action" to correct the situation. And they did.

  • Feb. 1 — Average organic search position of for 59 terms was 1.3
  • Feb. 8 — Following Google’s algorithm update, average position dropped to 4
  • Feb. 10 — Average position was 52

If you haven’t, you really should read the complete story. And, for key marketing takeaways, see Paul Roetzer’s follow-up blog post, Resist the Dark Side of SEO: A Cautionary Take for Marketers.

Search & Social Media

An Update to Google Social Search

In 2009, Google introduced Social Search — a feature designed to improve the relevancy of search results by adding content created by members of the searcher’s social circle to the bottom of result pages.

On Thursday, Google announced an update to this feature, which incorporates the following changes into search results:

  • Individual results may be annotated with details about who within your social circle has shared the content.
  • Socially relevant content can appear anywhere on result pages, rather than being relegated to the bottom.
  • Google may actually bump a listing up in rank due to its social relevance.

Google users have complete control over what sites make up their social circle, as social networks and blogs can be added or removed directly within your Google profile. In addition, only those searchers logged into their Google account will see Social Search results.

For a detailed review of this update, see Google’s Search Results Get More Social; Twitter as the New Facebook “Like” by Matt McGee. And, for an overview of how social media results are integrated into both Google and Bing, see Keith Moehring’s Social Media’s Impact on Search.

Social Media & Content

Does Your Social Media Department Have a Content Czar?

So, now that we understand social media’s growing impact on search, the obvious question is: What does it take for businesses to do social well?

Neal Schaffer suggests that "part of a successful social strategy, in addition to an engagement strategy, is a content strategy," and that businesses should use social media to fuel their position as industry resources by creating and sharing relevant, quality content. For example:

  • Blog posts
  • Crowd-sourced content, such as questions and polls
  • Stories from fans and customers
  • Interviews with thought leaders
  • Curated content from third parties
  • Videos

To help manage your social content, Neal recommends integrating a Content Czar. Title aside, this person should be responsible for:

  • Creating, and adhering to, an editorial calendar for social media content
  • Obtaining content from internal and external resources
  • Overseeing the sharing of content through the appropriate channels

Read the full post for more insight on how content marketing can help businesses fuel their social and search strategies. 

Social Media

Red Cross Does PR Disaster Recovery on Rogue Tweet

Todd Waserman recounts the story of a tweet accidentally published to the Red Cross Twitter account by its social media specialist:

red cross rogue tweet

(image via Mashable article)

The tweet went up late Tuesday night, and though it was deleted within about an hour, it had already been seen and shared and across the web.

The Red Cross handled the situation well, with status updates from both the corporate account and the specialist’s personal account with apologies, honest explanations and a touch of humor.

Then, an unexpected move came from Dogfish Head brewery (the subject of the “rogue tweet”) when it started asking fans and followers to donate to the Red Cross, using the hashtag #gettngslizzerd.

From the Dogfish Head blog: “Within moments, the online craft beer community stepped up and began tweeting about giving blood and money to the Red Cross... Red Cross chapters across the country were actually tweeting about the whole thing, bars were offering to buy Dogfish pints for folks who could show they'd donated blood… and HootSuite (which the Red Cross twitterer was using when she mistakenly posted from her Red Cross account instead of her personal Twitter account) pledged a donation to the aid organization.”

This is the power of social media, and an example what can happen with real-time monitoring and action.

Marketing takeaway: Pay attention.

  • When managing multiple accounts in platforms like Hootsuite and Cotweet, mistakes can easily be made — double check where an update is going before posting.
  • Listen to conversations, and employ real-time marketing and PR strategies to become a part of them.

Media Relations & Email Marketing

Analysis of my Inbox: 2 out [of] 3 Emails I Get are From a Machine & Half the Pitches I Receive are Irrelevant

This week, Forrester's Josh Bernoff published the first two parts of a three-part series that analyzes his email inbox. In doing so, he discovered:

  • 63% of his messages came from either mass emailings or were computer-generated; only one in three emails was sent by a person.
  • PR pitches accounted for 6.8 MB worth of space, almost one-third of his inbox.
  • 45% of the pitches were completely irrelevant to the areas he currently covers.
  • Of the PR emails received, only 43% included a link or instruction to unsubscribe.

These findings have clear implications for PR professionals who pitch media and analysts, and marketers that use email-driven nurturing campaigns:

  • Media representatives and analysts (and people in general) receive many emails a day. As a result, it is more important than ever to write attention-grabbing subject lines and send relevant, customized messages, tailored to the individual recipient.
  • When pitching, check that the person you’re emailing is the right person to contact, and covers your proposed topic. Read recent articles and blog posts that they have published, and follow them on social media. Only when you’re sure it’s a perfect fit should you reach out with a personalized email.
  • Don’t send large attachments that bog down email inboxes. Instead, offer links to the information where it’s available online.
  • Be aware of Josh’s desire for software that sorts out all automatically delivered emails into a separate area of his inbox for quick scanning. If this doesn't exist already, it probably will soon.
  • Always include the option to unsubscribe.

Check back to the Empowered blog soon to see the third part in Josh’s series: The PR Emailers Hall of Shame.

And, for more media relations tips, see How to Pitch a National Journalist from the PRWeb blog.

What were your favorite articles of the week? Comments are open for your opinions.

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