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Deborah Gray Public Relations - PR articles

Working the web

At the core of public relations lies a very simple idea: get your message straight, and get your brand name out there. And in today's challenging economic climate, visibility is more important than ever before.

Obviously, as we approach the end of the noughties, digital marketing is central to any PR and marketing strategy. For most people nowadays, the web is their first point of call for research on any subject.

You may place an article in the local or national press, yet if the public can’t look your business up on the internet (or, worse, if what they find is negative!) the article's impact is diluted. You may invest in leafleting door-to-door, but without the promise of extra information online, the public will feel short-changed. The process of public consultation will be far easier with a website to channel feedback.

In fact, there are a million and one ways to use new technologies to support your overall marketing position. From a basic website through to email marketing campaigns, social networking, computer games, interactive presentations, YouTube videos, online polling, maps, wikis, mobile internet, blogs and live-chat, the options are myriad – almost confusingly so.

Yet the basic rules of communication remain the same as in "old" media. Keep it short. Keep it simple. Keep it professional. And target it precisely.

Let's start with websites. There are two main ways in which a business will want to use a website. The first is to communicate positive and current messages to people who may already have come across the business and are keen to find out more. This could include neighbours, planners, potential partners and, most obviously, prospective customers, not to mention anyone who has come across your communications or heard of you in the press.

The second is to make the business easy for prospective partners or customers to find – and appealing when they do find it.

Good websites, of course, will do both.

At the heart of findability lies the behemoth that is Google – a brand that has long been a verb in its own right. Around 90% of internet searches in the UK are conducted through Google – predominantly www.google.co.uk but also www.google.com. Of the alternative UK search engines, many use Google search as the basis for their own search.

So it makes sense for any British business to make your site as Google-friendly as possible.

Given the amount of competition to become Google-friendly – and the sheer volume of dubious websites aiming for the top no matter what – Google keep the precise methods by which their search works extremely well-hidden.

However, the basics are as follows. Google sends out automated programmes – webcrawlers, or spiders – to review many of the billions of web pages that are available online. They report back. They compare results. And the pages that appear to suit searchers’ needs the most move up the Google rankings, and towards the Holy Grail, the first and second pages.

At its most basic, what Google aims to do is to ensure that searchers find what they want. It will look at the website name, the page titles, the descriptions of the website and the web page, the site’s keywords, and the first 50-60 words on each page. It will assess how many other sites link to that site – counting each link almost as a vote – and how many people have chosen to click on the site when it is offered to them.

But what is a keyword? I hear you cry.

Keywords are the search terms that individuals enter when searching the web. Consumers might search terms such as "composters", "composting bins", "potting compost", "computer disposal" or "recycle juice cartons". Businesses and local authorities might search for "food waste management", "green waste management", "soil conditioners", "WEEE disposal" or "polyethylene recycling".

An effective online strategy will centre on identifying a range of keywords which speak to your target audience, and ensuring that it is easy for Google to find these keywords. (That does most definitely not mean filling your webpage with them. Google's crawlers are wise to tricks from invisible keywords to lengthy repetition, and over-egging the pudding can lead to exclusion from the rankings, not to mention boring your intended target rigid.)

To ensure visibility, it is key to ensure that a business appears on many different pages, from business directories to news sites. (That does not, obviously, mean writing oneself up on Wikipedia or forging positive reviews on comparison sites.)

And it is critical to keep your presence both positive and updated. You would be surprised quite how many websites feature contact email addresses that do not work or are not monitored, how many out-of-date phone numbers figure on online directories, and how many "news" pages date back a year or more.

If you are unfortunate enough to find negative comments about your business on web forums, introduce yourself, open a dialogue and find your way to the heart of the matter. Respond to positive comments, too.

The content and design of your website should be fully integrated with your key messages and branding. Too much text is a no-no – many experts recommend as few as 90 words per page. Professional images are a must. And, given the average UK internet user will leave a site in a fraction of a second if they do not like the feel of it or understand its message instantly, the home page should be clear in the extreme.

Yet, after that, the sky’s the limit.

Is educating young people part of your strategy? Why not offer a children’s zone, with online quizzes, computer games and artwork? You could show videos of educational visits, and upload them to the video sharing site YouTube, so parents, children and their teachers can share your links and raise your business profile as they do so.

Does your business have to handle complaints from neighbours? Why not have a constantly updated news site, an online feedback page, offer updates via email, RSS or even Twitter, and keep your messaging positive with educational videos, informational downloads and dynamic reports showing the benefits your business brings to the environment each day?

Would you like to reach out to other local businesses? A good networking strategy will be backed by listing your events online, placing your business on local directories and local area maps, and using national and local business networking sites, such as linkedin.com.

Would you like to humanise your business? A blog can be engaging and show a company’s human side – as well as showcasing your achievements in a subtle and engaging way.

Then, of course, there is email marketing. With your mailing list’s permission – and only with their permission, unless you want to be classed as a spammer – you can create an instant and almost 100% traceable marketing campaign.

Using industry standard email software, one can track and trace not only who opened the email and when but which link or links they clicked. That means you can monitor in real-time exactly what your customers care about, and revise your strategy accordingly.

Online advertising can, when strategically deployed, be a useful part of your business approach. At its simplest, investing in a targeted set of Google Adwords – the paid-for links that feature above and beside Google – can build a profile and generate rewards. Strategically placed banner advertising – perhaps for giveaways, open days or events – can also help generate clickthrough.

And, as often online, you can monitor the results of this kind of advertising with real precision, counting how many individuals saw your advertising, how many clicked your link, and how many progressed beyond that first clickthrough to order or make contact.

All in all, the new world of digital has much to offer all green businesses. The key thing, as with all PR, is to identify your public, target them precisely and listen to what they have to say, as well as talking.

Web Design and Search Engine Optimisation by ClearCut Web Solutions Ltd