Having your blog or Web site rank high in search engine is essentially a guaranteed way to convert sales. But as a PR person, how can you help your clients achieve number-one ranking nirvana?

While at the recent BlogWorld Expo, I sat in on a session that proposed the creation of a network of blogs with content specific to the various products or services your client sells. Relevant key words in the blogs’ titles and content will help it rank so that it does not dilute the keywords in other articles.  The strategic use of keyword specific anchor text and linking structures will help as well.

Now, I’m not an SEO expert, but as a PR person, I see the many benefits to this. But there’s a side of me that asks, “Is this genuine?” There’s two sides to this. One of them is black, the other is white. So, I think it’s a gray hat strategy.

The Black Hat

From what I understand, the bad side of this comes in how the blogs are presented. If a network of blogs all have different designs, branding/names, domain registrations and IP addressees, then the assumption is that they are not related. But if all links and referrals point back to a single vendor, this is blatant link farming and search engines look at this extremely unfavorably.

This is a disingenuous method of boosting your page rank. And it does a dis-service to your readers. This will also, if identified by the search engines, end up hurting your ranking and site more as a result of being viewed as manipulative of the search engine results page.

The White Hat

Creating quality content is never a bad thing. But there’s a right way to do this. The theory is sound, but the practice needs to be executed properly.

If you keep the branding and disclose who runs the sites, then the benefits should still come. The underlying premise here is that the content is valuable. Provide information that helps guide a purchasing decision and that will help convert the traffic to revenue.

Technically, there’s more to good content than the words on a page. Ensuring that your site (or sites) is properly optimized with the appropriate links and anchor text, page structure (tagging, linking structure, focused keywords, etc.) and linking out to other quality content are just as important to helping your client’s blogs rank.

Sharing your content is where a different side of blogger outreach comes in to play. Spend time cultivating relationships with other bloggers and sites for content distribution and linking purposes, rather than develop this network artificially yourself. Develop authoritative sites that are on topic and link out to more sites than just your own.

So, in the end, it all comes back to “write quality content.” What do you think of this model, is it unethical? How would you improve upon this model?

~ Extra special thanks to Kristy Bolsinger for her help w/this post. Always good to have a fact checker đŸ˜‰

I recently had the pleasure of sitting on a panel that discussed how to effectively use social media in a federally regulated setting, such as a financial services company, public company or one of the “sin industries.”

A variety of federal agencies exist to monitor the practices of these industries from FINRA, the SEC and even the ATF. But none of them seem to have kept up with the rapid evolution of public relations and corporate communications practices. In fact, the FINRA document regulating online marketing practices for financial services companies is nearly a decade old.

But some government agencies are making strides to enter the modern information age. The SEC recently hired Mark Story to help connect to the new media scene. And its recent launch of investor.gov, a microsite dedicated to protecting and engaging with investors, shows just how far its come.

But there’s still a huge gap between accepted best practices for the use of social media technologies and what the federal government says you can and can’t do. The confrontationalist side of me says, if there are no rules, how can you break them?

But that is a dangerous precedent to set. Instead, we must develop suond practices that help interact with the community, but protect the interests of a company’s investors.

My advice

My simple advice is to know the rules. Then, come as close to breaking them as you can.

For example, about two years ago, the SEC revised its rules regarding the release of material information to include the use of a corporate blog as a means to do releases. So, time to set up that blog network for your audience. I have yet to see a company completely turn off its use of a wire service, however.

Also, FINRA has proposed an update to its rules, which strike me as a bit much. What do you think?

My value add is this presentation. Some of the elements didn’t quite make it into the Slideshare, but they were hilarious. Thanks again to Mark and Shannon Paul for taking the time to do this panel with me.

Alternatively titled: What I learned in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas.

So, there I sat. On a plane. In a town car. In a drive through at In-n-Out. In the Lobby of the Las Vegas Hilton. And then it started…

Hanging in the speaker room before the session.

Hanging in the speaker room before the session.

I started seeing people. I first saw Gregarious “Greg” Narain and Brett Petersel. I saw Lucretia Pruitt, AKA Geekmommy. I saw Aaron Brazell. And, I saw myself. I saw myself in all the new people I met. I got to see some of the “new media” minds that are going beyond social media 101 and into the Ivy Leagues of “Prove it.”

I’m still not terribly sure how to express the thoughts and ideas from the experience. I think the best way is to highlight a couple of people and have you read their words. For now.

Mark Story. Not enough words can be said about this guy. Mark is the Director of New Media for the SEC and was he savior of our panel. He is a smart guy with a personality as big as I am. Mark, many thanks for helping out with the panel and for your words of wisdom and encouragement.

Doug Haslam. Doug is a PR idol. He works for Boston-based SHIFT Communications.

Jason Falls. Falls made this happen. Thank you for letting the motley crew talk about PR and new communications practices in a federally regulated world.

Aaron Strout. All-around good guy. Glad to meet you. And destroy you in the Fatburger eating contest.

Jennifer Leggio. Jennifer is a super-smart blogger and commenter on many different topics. But her perspective on the security and privacy in social networks is priceless. Cuts a pretty mean rug too.

The Ken Yeung. Aloha, bradda! Thank you for your lens that does not filter out based on standing or celebrity. A-listers or E-listers, they’re all in your pictures.

I could really continue this list for a number of weeks. But I won’t. What I will do, however, is ask you to spotlight somebody you’ve met recently in the comments.

Well, I’m not really. No, really.

But I liked the title. I’ve just left the BlogWorld and New Media Expo in wonderful Lost Wages and I’ve come to a fun realization.

My life rocks. I got to meet all kinds of rad people this week and learn a few new things on top of it. I’m going to do an “official” summary when my brain recovers, but for now, just accept my thank you to everybody who made the last few days remarkable.

As I prep for my presentation at this year’s Blog World Expo, I wanted to visit the topic I’m actually speaking on.

“Social Media and Blogging in Federally Regulated Industries” isn’t a really sexy title for a conference session, but it’s one that is absolutely necessary. Industries such as pharmaceuticals, firearms and liquor are trying to figure out how to not only participate on the conversations that are happening, but also how they can capitalize on them.

The challenge

For some companies, the challenge is the disclosure of certain material information, or Regulation Fair Disclosure. Any publicly traded company is subject to scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission and if a company were to publish a blog post committing to a new product and then not meet that commitment, it could be subjected to not only a costly shareholder law suit, but a costly SEC investigation.

Recently, the SEC relaxed its rules (or modernized them depending on your spin) to allow companies to disclose information through their blogs. This is a major step, but seems to be one companies are afraid of taking. I can not find any questionable uses so far, so it seems not many people are taking the risk. Companies such as Google regularly announce new products and Betas through blogs, but when was the last time a pharmaceutical company announced a new drug through it’s corporate blog?

The challenges aren’t specific to big business. Liquor companies need to check the age of their followers on Twitter, tobacco companies have to reign in their marketing practices. I’ve even had the Investor Relations person at a firearms company say they haven’t begun to use social media because they don’t know what’s allowed.

The solution

The solution is simply to take a risk and do something. I know this is a scary proposition for marketers and public relations companies, but by taking informed risks, you’ll find success.

I have advised companies to issue announcements through the blog only. An average distribution for one company I worked with would be nearly $1,000 based on the inclusion of a safe harbor statement and all the other knowledge. Customer wins, product updates and smaller announcements simply don’t need an expensive press release. A blog post with embedded multimedia provides the same value.

Molson-Coors is able to use Twitter to post stories about alcohol awareness and other positive stories, but the bio explicitly asks followers to be of legal drinking age. Ruger, Smith & Wesson and other firearms companies do not maintain corporate blogs. It looks like Ruger might have control of http://twitter.com/ruger, but it’s protected so it’s hard to tell.

Creative marketing and communications practices are important to the success of any campaign. In federally regulated industries, creativity is even more important. Do you work for a federally regulated company? Share some of your best practices in the comments!

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