Get Credible: The Role of Earned Media in Inbound Strategy

Thanks to search engines like Google and Bing, there’s no unanswerable question.

It’s no wonder search is the first place most consumers go when considering a new product, service or brand. And, while branded content and blogs serve as a good starting point, studies have shown that the most valuable content pieces are earned. Credible, reliable content written by third party sources builds strong consumer trust.

What’s more, earned media amplifies your brand’s story— uplifting search rankings and brand visibility.

With the ever-growing importance of search throughout the entire customer journey, Michael Pranikoff, Director of Emerging Media at PR Newswire, CNW’s parent company, sat down with SEO expert Evan Prokop to discuss the impact of earned media (PR) on inbound marketing.

Prokop is a Digital Marketing Manager at TopRank Online Marketing, and has had experience managing and executing SEO strategies for Fortune 500 companies, across several industries.

Take a look at what he had to say…

Q&A WITH EVAN PROKOP, DIGITAL MARKETING MANAGER AT TOPRANK

MP: Let’s start with the big picture. How is earned media linked to organic search results?

EP: The biggest impact of earned media relates back to what we know about search algorithms. To surface the most relevant, useful content, algorithms are always looking for ways to identify what’s real, what’s coming from credible authorities, and those specific pieces of content people are engaging with.

That’s where earned media mentions come in. Earned media sends a strong signal that a piece of content is actually valuable or useful enough for a third party to share it. Regardless of where the mention is (i.e. on social media, used as a source within an article, or reshared via content curation), the ultimate objective in search is getting content in front of people. Earned media is a win-win in terms of both visibility and search ranking.

MP: What’s earned media’s role during the early phases of the buying cycle?

EP: Early in the discovery phase, it’s general awareness. When you’re in the discovery phase, you’re open to a broad scope of content and opinions. Plus, the big advantage of earned media is its credibility, authority, and additional reach. In this phase, earned media coverage taps into what may be a new audience for your brand.

Depending on the source (think thought leader or your favorite publication), the message can also carry weight later on in the decision-making process—especially if your brand is unknown and someone’s looking for external signals or associations. Earned media at this point in the sales cycle is integral. Someone further down the funnel that has already experience brand credibility through earned media will likely be more open to your message than someone who has not.

MP: So, when speaking to full funnel optimization, from PR to blogging to social, where is a good starting point?

EP:A content strategy should be outlined before you do anything at all. The reason that content marketing is sometimes ineffective is because people don’t realize what it’s intended to do. Tell your teams who your target audience is, what they are creating, and your measure of success. If you don’t outline it, it’s not fair to expect people to shoot for the same target.

MP: Bottom-line—what’s the main goal of earned media?

EP:It’s good to build a presence outside your own network, but the core foundation should be built on an owned platform. The goal is to create high quality content that shows up in earned media.

On a more granular level, the goals of earned media can be broken down at different stages of the buying cycle as follows:

  • Attract:At this stage, the goal is to appeal to the widest audience who don’t know your brand by publishing the right content. This might be newsroom content or blog content, but it’s intended to be useful and engaging. You’re not asking people sign up for something.

  • Engage:The goal is to build trust. At engage, people are looking for a solution to a problem, and are likely comparing other options. Produce and pitch content that answers a question. These will be static pages on the website, like company information or news releases.

  • Convert:Conversion is where it gets most specific. Keywords need to be more specific (i.e. long-tail keywords) and this is where you get more salesy. If owned and earned content speaks to what the consumer is looking for at this stage, it can be extremely effective in getting them to push the bottom, and purchase.

At each stage, ask yourself: would owned content, if repurposed for earned media use, serve the intended goal, and reach the right people? It’s all connected.

MP: All sounds great—so how do we achieve the effects of earned? Do you have any tips for brands to generate more earned media, and thus more inbound traffic?

EP:The most important thing any brand can do is spread SEO best practices company-wide. In the PR department, ensure clarity on targeted readership for earned media pieces, and determine whether content strategy, social strategy and keyword strategy line up.

Just as you would map content across the customer journey, map your keywords—and SEO strategy (including what you need to rank to build awareness early in the funnel and trust later in the funnel, in terms of earned media coverage). For example, use more awareness keywords in a social strategy, so when potential customers or media are searching for pain points, your content shows up. And, in the PR department, define persona-based keywords.

Think about all the moving pieces from a holistic perspective, looking at each strategy as a piece of the content machine with a fixed outcome in mind.

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