For more than 100 years traditional public relations sent news releases to “the press” and engaged in media relations to generate publicity. But, a funny thing happened in September 2002, when Google launched the beta version of Google News. When you did a news search, you could find press releases in the results along with articles from traditional news sources. This meant that “the public” as well as “the press” could find and read news releases that had been well optimized for relevant search terms.
This fundamentally shifted the focus of public relations. It also drastically disintermediated the media.
In early 2003, SEO-PR was founded to seize this opportunity and we pioneered several techniques, including adding campaign parameters to URLs so we could track Custom Campaigns in Google Analytics. We called our innovation “press release SEO.” But, in 2006, Tad Clarke, the Editorial Director of MarketingSherpa, called our innovative approach to getting optimized press releases (that included tracking links) found in news search engine results “the tactic known as SEO PR.”
But, whatever it is called, this innovation was a game changer because it generated website traffic, business-to-business (B2B) leads, and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales as well as publicity.
Rutger’s case study: optimized press releases for the launch of an online Master’s in human resource management
Let me share a case study that I presented on Sept. 19, 2019, at “Telling Y/Our Story,” Intrado’s second annual digital media client summit in New York City. (That’s me, in the photo up top.)
Objective: generate revenue through enrollment
Our latest case study features the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR). In January 2019, SEO-PR helped Rutgers SMLR to launch an Online Professional Master’s in Human Resource Management (MHRM) program. Our objective was to generate 30 applications by Aug. 1, 2019. Students can complete the 12-course online MHRM program in as few as 18 months and as long as 5 years. And tuition is $3,174 per 3-credit course, or $38,016 for 12 courses.
Preliminary research: identify the target audience
We used keyword research to find out what people were searching for, but we also used Google Surveys to find out why. Google Surveys give you a quick, cost-effective way to get valuable insights into the mind of your target audience. You can ask up to 10 questions and select from a variety of question formats, like multiple-choice and star-rating. And you can run your survey on Google’s network of publishers or mobile app, then filter participants based on demographics or set up screening questions.
Now, Rutgers SMLR planned to target human resource (HR) professionals, managers, and supervisors with 4 or more years of experience who wanted to advance their careers to senior HR or management positions. But, Google Surveys found that we should also target professionals in personnel, staffing & recruiting, and talent acquisition. This insight more than doubled the total size of our target audiences.
Respondents with 4 or more years of HR experience also said the following factors were important when selecting a university that offers an online Master’s degree in Human Resources Management:
- “No GRE/GMAT required,”
- “Top-ranked university,”
- “Fully 100% online program.”
Tools: optimize and track
So, we emphasized these key factors in the subhead of our optimized multimedia release, which also included a video and photo of William G. Castellano, the Chair of the Department of Human Resource Management at Rutgers SMLR. No, the video didn’t “go viral.” But, as you will see shortly, it helped us to generate measurable results that were important to the success of our campaign and for Rutgers.
We also used Google’s free Campaign URL Builder tool to add campaign parameters to URLs in the release to track our Custom Campaign in Google Analytics. This enabled us to track the number of users, new users, sessions, bounce rate, pages/session, average session duration, conversion rate, conversions, and goal value generated by our optimized press release.
The launch: in the press and news sites
Steve Flamisch, the press officer at Rutgers SMLR, shared the release with Emily Bader of ROI-NJ and David Hutter of NJBIZ under embargo the day before it was distributed. Both Bader’s story, which was entitled, “Rutgers launches online master’s in HR management,” and Hutter’s story, which was entitled, “Rutgers launches online MHRM graduate program,” included natural links to SMLR’s landing page.
Debbie Vogel, the Director of Marketing and Communications for Rutgers SMLR, created an optimized landing page about the new Online Professional Master’s in Human Resource Management program. She also posted a copy of the optimized release without multimedia to the news section of SMLR’s site.
Doug Lederman, the editor of Inside Higher Ed, wrote a roundup story on Feb. 20, 2019, entitled “New Online Academic Programs.” It included a high-quality, relevant link to the copy of the release that had been posted in the news section of the Rutgers site.
Although the optimized multimedia release was distributed to 271 news sites, Google only shows the one without multimedia on the Rutgers site in its SERP, not the “duplicate content” on the 271 other sites. So, Google does good job of choosing which version of duplicate content to show in its SERPs.
Results: enrollment boosted by $380K
In late June, we used Google Surveys a second time to measure the impact of our campaign. We found that the percentage of respondents who said they were “familiar with” Rutgers University had increased from 13.8% pre-launch to 18.5% post-launch. And we found that the percentage of respondents who said they were “very likely” to recommend Rutgers to a friend or colleague who was interested in getting an online Master’s degree in Human Resources Management had increased from 16.7% pre-launch to 19.0% post-launch. So, the campaign had increased familiarity with and the likelihood to recommend Rutgers.
Looking at Google Analytics, we saw the campaign had driven 8,337 new users to the Rutgers Online Professional Master’s in Human Resource Management landing page.
- 361 new users (4.3%) had come from New Jersey.
- 3,215 new users (38.6%) had come from the rest of the United States.
- 4,761 new users (57.1%) had come from the rest of the world (113 countries).
Taking a closer look at Google Analytics, we also saw that our landing page generated 694 leads (people either clicked on the Apply Now button on the page or the Apply tab in navigation).
- 200 leads (28.8%) had come from New Jersey.
- 228 leads (32.9%) had come from the rest of the United States.
- 266 leads (38.3%) had come from the rest of the world (45 countries).
We also evaluated the source/medium of the new users and leads in Google Analytics:
- Tracking links in our press release had generated 1% of the new users, but 8% of the leads.
- Google organic search had generated 3% of the new users, but 19% of the leads.
- Google Ads had generated 11% of the new users, but 18% of the leads.
- LinkedIn ads had generated 81% of the new users, but 37% of the leads.
More importantly, the campaign had generated 38 completed applications, worth up to $1,444,608 in tuition over the next 18 months to 5 years:
- 33 graduate students were starting in the Fall 2019 semester.
- 4 graduate students were starting in the Spring 2020 semester.
- 1 graduate student was starting in the Fall 2020 semester.
As this case study illustrates, without our optimized press release and the duplicate version of it that was posted in the news section of SMLR’s site, we would have generated about 28 applications, not 38. This not only means that we would have fallen short of our goal for the campaign, it also means that Rutgers SMLR would have missed out on up to $380,000 in tuition over the next 18 months to 5 years.
This explains why our case study has been shortlisted for the 2019 US Search Awards in two different categories. The 2019 awards will be presented at a gala dinner and awards ceremony on Oct. 9 at the SAHARA Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.
In the Best Integrated Campaign category, our case study demonstrates that PR, SEO, display advertising, and PPC advertising can increase brand awareness and generate leads at the same time. So, the distinction between above- and below-the-line marketing is obsolete.
And in the Best Use of PR in a Search Campaign category, our case study demonstrates that the combination of digital PR and SEO generated 4% of the traffic, but 27% of the leads. And measuring digital PR and SEO using the same set of metrics and KPIs used for Digital Advertising—including pay-per-click (PPC) advertising—is a game changer. It means that we no longer need to treat digital PR or SEO as “faith-based initiatives.”
In other words, digital PR’s ability to use optimized press releases to generate measurable results that are important to the success of a campaign or an organization makes it a vitally important part of the digital marketing mix. And that’s a lesson that a lot of people should be interested in learning. ∞