Google isn’t killing PR, but it may be applying some Weedol

There were two big topics of conversation in the PR world last week. The first was Google’s updated Link scheme guidance on how it treats links with keyword rich anchor text in press releases and Tom Foremski’s resulting post on ZDNet asking if this was the end of PR Agencies. The other was the Channel 4 fakefans investigation showing how some in the PR and Marketing world are buying fake likes and followers to inflate brands’ apparent popularity.

The first issue has particular relevance to us at RealWire. In response to Google’s guidance we have implemented the rel=”nofollow” attribute to all links within releases published from today onwards and will apply it to all links across historic press releases hosted by us over the next few days. We were already planning our response before last week’s “excitement”, however staff absence due to holidays delayed our ability to implement the changes necessary until today (note to self, don’t allow staff holidays!).

We considered limiting the changes to the types of anchor text links Google highlights, as such links are very infrequent in releases our clients ask us to distribute. Ian McKee highlighted this option in his very well thought through post on the whole debate. However given the nature and quality of our client base, we’re confident that any marginal page rank that might accrue from our site for the odd editorially relevant keyword is unlikely to impact materially on their rankings, or feature very highly on their list of reasons for using our service. Taken inconjunction with Google’s apparent preference for all links in press releases to be nofollow, we’ve decided that this approach is both safer for our clients, and avoids any confusion.

It’s also worth noting that a recent report by Searchmetrics (a user of our service) highlighted the increased importance to search rankings of having a mixture of backlinks, including nofollow links, and the reduced importance of links with target keyword anchor text.

So what about the wider questions raised by Tom Foremski’s post? I think these have generally been summed up as follows:

Is this change by Google the end of PR?  No.

Is it the end of PR Agencies? No.

Is it the end of newswire services? No, but it could hurt some, particularly any that are reliant on a client base that has been producing the very keyword rich, link filled, low quality content that Google is out to target.

It’s in this context that I would characterise Google’s action as more like treating a lawn with Weedol. Google is seeking to eliminate poor quality and irrelevant content i.e. spam, from its results, but it doesn’t want to destroy the good stuff.

The fakefans situation is also just another form of spam. The idea that buying fake likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter has any value is just ridiculous. Facebook and Twitter should take a leaf out of Google’s book.

The only thing that professional PR people, and quality distribution services, have to fear from these changes and practices is complacency. We need to make sure that once the weed killer has done its job, the lawn that remains is rich and green.

Finally, on a RealWire note, it may be coincidental but during the same period Google has been making its Penguin and Panda updates our ranking for keywords relevant to our own market has improved. So much so that at the time of writing we are ranked No.1 for “press release distribution” on Google.co.uk, when we were rarely in the Top 10 before Google started its clamp down.

Read into that what you will….

WPP will still be No.1 in UK PR market post Publicis Omnicom merger implies PRWeek Top 150 2013

As pretty much anyone in the Marcoms world must know by now, yesterday Omnicom and Publicis, the 2nd and 3rd largest groups, announced they are seeking to merge. The merger will create a combined group that will overtake WPP to become the world’s largest with revenues of $22.7bn in 2012.

Based on the Holmes Report’s recent Global PR Rankings the combined group will have PR income of $1.8bn, which it estimates will make it the largest PR holding company in the world.

But what about the implications for the UK PR market?

As many of the key agencies and their parent groups don’t disclose UK PR figures the data is rather sketchy – see caveats below. However based on a combination of the PRWeek Top 150 estimates for Brunswick and WPPOmnicomPublicis and Interpublic‘s UK agencies, as well as Huntsworth’s accounts, we can have a decent stab at what the top 5 players will look like if the merger goes ahead.

The table below shows revenue in £m for the key PR agencies within WPP, Omnicom, Publicis and Interpublic from PRWeek’s 2013 Top 150 analysis.

Agency

WPP

Omnicom

Interpublic

Publicis

Weber Shandwick

35.5

Hill and Knowlton

26.5

RLM Finsbury

25.5

MSL Group

25.0

Ketchum Pleon

22.0

Oglivy PR

21.5

Golin Harris

17.0

Fishburn Hedges

14.0

Cohn & Wolfe

13.0

Fleishman Hillard

13.0

Burson Marsteller

10.5

Portland

10.0

Porter Novelli

8.0

Buchanan

6.5

Clarion 3.5

Total

107.0

67.0

52.5

25.0

According to the PRWeek 150 estimate, Brunswick’s 2012 income was £53.2m.

According to Huntsworth’s 2012 annual report its UK revenues were £64.3m. This includes revenues relating to healthcare (Huntsworth Health) whereas for most of the groups above health work is often classified within a different division. The UK healthcare headcount is 23% of the total according to the report. Adjusting for this suggests a public relations UK income figure of around £50m.

On the basis of these estimates the top 5 will look as follows post merger.

1. WPP £107.0m

2. Publicis Omnicom* £92.0m

3. Brunswick – £53.2m

4. Interpublic – £52.5m

5. Huntsworth – £50.0m

Their combined fee income of c. £355m gives these five c. 18-20% of the UK market based on previous estimates from 2011 of c. £1.8bn-£2bn.

*Update – Kreab Gavin Anderson has been excluded from the analysis on the basis that Omnicom only holds a minority stake.

Caveats

All the caveats relating to the PRWeek Top 150 figures apply here, the key one being they are estimates of course!

Also bear in mind that it could well be the case that some of the estimates above include revenues relating to the UK arm of a multinational agency that were derived from work outside the UK. Equally there could be agencies within each Marcoms group that are based outside the UK that do work with UK clients.

There is also the issue of agencies that aren’t labeled “PR” and so aren’t included in this analysis that will be doing some PR based work.

These are just the ones I can think of, there are bound to be a few more.

Are brands going to need Twitter Search SEO now?

Twitter announced yesterday that it’s going to start including selected tweets over a week old in search results. The following is from their post:

“As we roll this out over the coming days, the Tweets that you’ll see in search results represent a fairly small percentage of total Tweets ever sent. We look at a variety of types of engagement, like favorites, retweets and clicks, to determine which Tweets to show. We’ll be steadily increasing this percentage over time, and ultimately, aim to surface the best content for your query. For now, enjoy your trip down memory lane!”

If I understand this right it means that when someone searches for a term in Twitter the “Top” results will include tweets that could go back months, even years.

Now I may be jumping the gun here, but doesn’t this have potentially significant implications for reputation management?

When Google was indexing tweets a couple of years ago there was discussion about the SEO implications of real time results from Twitter, that ended when Google stopped indexing the Twitter firehose in the summer of 2011. But that was never about old tweets appearing, just current ones.

At the moment if you’re a brand and someone tweets something negative about you then your worst case in Twitter search terms is it appears in the results for a few days.  It’s the impact of the conversation itself that you have to deal with, both online and off, and any resulting posts and articles that might rank highly in Google searches in the future.

But with this change to the Twitter search approach, a brand could find that the top search result is a particularly negative tweet that received a significant response at the time. This tweet may or may not have been part of a wider conversation that appeared elsewhere in the online and offline worlds, but one things for sure, replaying it back months later to new people again and again isn’t something you are going to want.

But then how do you respond to this? With SEO if you have a negative blog post or article ranking highly you might seek to produce content and engage in PR that results in other pages pushing this awkward one down the SERPs hierarchy.

How do you achieve this with a highly ranked tweet? Twitter’s post indicates the factors that they are taking account of in ranking older tweets – RTs, favorites and clicks etc. Does that mean a brand will need to try and generate competing tweets that rank higher by these measures? If so here are a few questions:

Will Twitter rank tweets by a brand about that brand highly, or will it filter these out automatically, wishing to show the wider community’s view?

Where will promoted tweets appear in search results? Can I buy my way above the offending tweet ala Google Adwords?

Will this mean that a paid tweet by a celebrity that potentially receives significant levels of RTs and @mentions starts to accrue more value than the generally “here today gone tomorrow” nature of one now?

This is all top of the head stuff, and we obviously need to see what these new results look like, what happens to the levels of Twitter search activity and how users respond.

But could this be the start of Twitter Search SEO?

Apple’s iPhone 5 pre order sales record is only an “as expected”

iphone 5

“Apple today announced pre-orders of its iPhone 5 topped two million in just 24 hours, more than double the previous record of one million held by iPhone 4S”

That’s a quote from Apple’s announcement yesterday about how excited they were with customers’ reaction to the launch of the iPhone 5 following a mixed reaction from the media (something we analysed with our new Lissted application last week).

2m in 24 hours sounds very impressive, and it is in absolute terms.

But all things are relative and when you put this number in context it loses its shine a little. To do this we need some data and a couple of assumptions.

Data

The table at the bottom of this post shows quarterly sales volumes of iPhones since the product was launched. These have been extracted from Apple’s quarterly results from Q/E 30/6/2007 – Q/E 30/6/2012 (hat-tip to @latestgadgetsuk for pointing me in the right direction). These show that total iPhone sales in this 5 year period have been 244.16m.

Assumptions

1. That on average iPhone owners upgrade their phones every 18 months. In reality it will probably be a mix of die hards changing every new model and less ardent fans perhaps changing every two models, with some in-between.

2. That it is only existing iPhone owners who have pre-ordered the iPhone 5. This won’t be the case, there’s bound to be some new converts in there, but if so this would only make my conclusion stronger.

iPhone 5 pre order analysis

On this basis then on average people who bought their iPhone 18 months ago would be looking to upgrade about now. Looking at the table below that means the Q/E 26/3/2011. Apple sold 18.65m phones in this quarter. That’s approx. 200,000 per day.

Given Apple effectively announced the iPhone 5 on the 4th September by their invite I seriously doubt many people went out and upgraded their iPhone 4 to a 4S in this period. In which case by the time pre orders opened on 14th September there would be (on average) 10 days of pent up demand for upgrades. 10 days @ 200,000 per day = 2m.

In other words the number of pre orders is equal to the number of upgrades you would have expected given the number of iPhone owners, likely upgrade cycle and the 10 day fallow sales period that the invite probably caused.

iPhone 4S pre order analysis

And what about the comparison to the iPhone 4S previous record of 1m that it “shattered”. In this case we need to look at the Q/E 27/3/2010 to find the likely upgraders.

Apple sold 8.75m phones in that quarter. That’s approx. 100,000 per day. Invites to the launch went out on the 27th September 2011 and pre orders started on 7th October 2011 – 10 days again. 10 x 100,000 is……you guessed it 1m.

So the level and growth in pre orders arguably represents nothing more than existing customers upgrading at expected levels and the growth in the iPhone ownership base since the 4S was launched.

So watch out whenever the iPhone 6 comes out. If Apple wants to “shatter” the pre-order record again you might just see those invites going out a week earlier!

Apple iPhone unit sales (millions)
Quarter Sales
Q/E 30/6/2007 0.27
Q/E 29/9/2007 1.12
Q/E 29/12/2007 2.32
Q/E 29/3/2008 1.70
Q/E 28/6/2008 0.72
Q/E 27/9/2008 6.89
Q/E 27/12/2008 4.36
Q/E 28/3/2009 3.79
Q/E 27/6/2009 5.20
Q/E 26/9/2009 7.40
Q/E 26/12/2009 8.70
Q/E 27/3/2010 8.75
Q/E 26/6/2010 8.40
Q/E 25/9/2010 14.10
Q/E 25/12/2010 16.24
Q/E 26/3/2011 18.65
Q/E 25/6/2011 20.34
Q/E 24/9/2011 17.07
Q/E 31/12/2011 37.04
Q/E 31/3/2012 35.10
Q/E 30/6/2012 26.00
244.16

Next Fifteen outperforming the market

Click on image for larger version of graph

Next Fifteen SharePriceThere’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of weeks about PR finding it tough. Chime Communications and Huntsworth have both announced that their 2011 results are likely to be affected by the apparent slowdown in economic activity.

It isn’t just PR that’s finding things tough. Huntsworth is a PR group, but its worth remembering that only approx 50% of Chime’s revenues (though 60% of its profits) come from PR, the remainder from other marketing services and the share prices of the major multinational Marcoms groups have also taken a bit of a battering over the last few months.

As of 28/11/11 (16.50) some examples of these reductions from their 52 weeks highs are – WPP (-25.3%), Omnicom (-19.2%), Interpublic (-33.5%), Havas (-32.0%), Aegis (-29.6%) and Publicis (-19.8%).

This contrasts with the FTSE100 which was down around 13% against its 52 week high the same time this afternoon. Not that surprising as Marcoms usually underperforms in falling markets and overperforms in rising ones.

But as the graph above shows one quoted PR company has been bucking the trend. Next Fifteen is actually trading at a higher level than it was at the start of 2007 something none of the others can claim except for Publicis.

Next Fifteen is also the only one of these PR or Marcoms groups whose share price is up in calendar year 2011 (15%). Now obviously Next Fifteen is significantly smaller (market capitalisation £49m) than even Huntsworth (£90m) and Chime (£148m), nevermind the multinational groups but that doesn’t mean that outperforming the market is therefore easier.

In the Evening Standard a couple of weeks ago Tim Dyson, Next Fifteen’s CEO, put their success down to investment in digital and social media. In the analysis of the PR industry for 2010 that I helped the Holmes Report put together earlier this year the biggest success story was Edelman, (arguably) the first of the major PR brands to embrace digital, which climbed to the No.1 spot in the Holmes Report Global Rankings.

So perhaps this evidence demonstrates that though we can almost certainly expect another challenging year in 2012, there is still success to be found and particularly for those elements of the PR industry that are making digital core to their business.