How to Use Digital PR to Influence Organic Rankings

Public relations has always played an integral role in helping businesses and nonprofits to achieve their goals. But in today’s search-engine-reliant world, digital PR know-how has the potential to explode organizations’ visibility before the eyes of prospective customers. Unfortunately, too few PR pros understand how backlinking and search-engine optimization (SEO) work, and their importance in achieving their clients’ aims. By way of providing an introduction to this complex and rapidly evolving aspect of PR, I’m going to offer some insight into how we’ve helped enhance the visibility (and improved the bottom lines) of our clients.

Why Should PR Experts also be SEO Experts?

At Circa, our clients are institutions of higher learning, and much of our work involves elevating our clients’ professors and teachers as thought leaders. We do this, in part, by using traditional PR skills and tools to reach out to publications to arrange interviews with these professors and publish their content. Not only does this achieve the goal of increasing brand awareness, but it also accomplishes an increasingly critical goal for any successful business in the digital age: improved search engine visibility and rankings.

Our clients share a straightforward goal: to enroll more students into their university programs. In order to achieve this goal, they need to increase their brand awareness, and increasing awareness requires accomplishing two very specific tasks: showcasing the university’s value and also boosting its digital presence. By following our specific link-building strategy, we not only establish more credibility among our target audience, but we also rank higher in relevant keyword searches conducted by prospective students. Our strategy is one that could apply to any business that relies on PR to increase its overall brand awareness.

How to Leverage Digital PR to Gain More Digital Visibility

In the digital world, links are critical. Links help to boost a webpage’s rankings and ensure that search engines like Google recognize the page as genuine and credible. In the past, it was possible to buy or acquire links of little relevance from low quality websites in order to achieve a high search-engine ranking. That’s no longer possible. These days, web pages need to feature a select amount of natural keywords and links from other viable and relevant sites from high quality sources. The focus is quality of links. Acquiring these types of links can be challenging, especially since it requires establishing relationships between various content sources. However, this is a task that PR professionals are naturally equipped to tackle.

Using traditional tactics, PR professionals can actually generate significant digital results for their clients. For instance, a PR pro can pitch a reputable publication or website—one that’s relevant to the client’s specific interests—with the hopes of landing interviews or media placements. Once the PR professional is able to successfully land an interview or place a client-written byline in a publication, then it’s up to the PR professional to also achieve the crucial end-goal of acquiring the link to the desired webpage within the media placement.

Obtaining a link back to a desired page can be challenging depending on the publication, but it is certainly possible in many instances. Oftentimes, the best way to gain a link is through commonsense approaches. For example, a PR professional can ask a publication to link back to a specific site as a means of attribution. Additionally, the link shouldn’t be overtly self-serving—it shouldn’t take a viewer to a landing page, for instance, that pushes them to purchase something. Instead, the link should feature valuable, useful and relevant content.

If the client is a college, for example, and a PR professional is able to arrange an interview with one of the college’s professors to appear in a publication, then the link placed on the interview page should take the viewer back to the program’s homepage, giving the viewer a chance to learn more about the institution and potentially sign up for more information. This type of link placement strategy is fairly effective: the client receives a form of attribution and a natural link, but the publication won’t feel that it’s promoting the institution in an obvious or attention-grabbing way. When it comes to placing links, it’s all about common sense: PR professionals should use their networking and communication skills to ensure that their clients are properly attributed within the specific content.

The Data

In our experience, using expert commentary and byline opportunities coupled with keyword-based search campaigns and SEO-optimized webpage content efforts has helped to generate impressive results for our clients. For instance, our expert commentary efforts in publications like the Huffington Post resulted in over 2,000 social shares and 10 backlinks for one client, and the University of Wisconsin saw program inquiries jump by 33 percent because of our use of SEO-optimized content efforts .

In short, PR professionals can use their tried-and-true PR tools to not only boost their clients’ brand, but also influence search engine rankings. As long as PR professionals are willing to remain flexible and adapt to the demands of the digital world, they will be able to leverage their valuable communication skills to generate their desired results.

joeJoseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.

How to Build Backlinks to Infographics

In the online SEO world, there are a plethora of ways to build links and drive visitors to your resources. As many professionals already know, the two main ways to drive traffic to a site is through paid and organic search. Paid search involves using a marketing budget to boost online campaigns such as Facebook advertising and Google AdWord, whereas organic traffic is traffic that comes to your website as a result of unpaid search and is often achievable when appearing on the first page of Googles search results. As most of us already know, the number of links pointed to a particular domain has a direct correlation with search engine ranking results. So overtime, as resources and infographics gain more links, they will slowly rise to the top of the search engine results page for target keywords and drive the organic traffic you’re looking for.


Why are Infographics Used?

Many higher education institutions create infographics around breaking news stories or trending studies. They are then able to take a complex subject and turn it into an easy to understand visualization. When infographics are used as a link building strategy, especially in higher education, they can be leveraged to build links since they are educational, informative resources from high authority universities. As I mentioned in my last Higher Education Marketing Journal post, the reason infographics are preferred over other resources is because humans respond better to visual content and statistic show they are more likely to be shared.

Fast Fact: 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text.


Where do I Find Link Building Opportunities?

Now that you understand the underlying reasons as to why infographic resources are used, one of the first questions that may come to mind is “Where do I find a prospective audience who will link to this resource?”

Before you can start finding potential candidates for your infographic resource, you need to breakdown the infographic into topic specific sections. This will enable you to get a full understanding of what the infographic will discuss, and you’ll be able to identify specific niches and buzzwords which can be used to segment prospective bloggers.

After you’ve completed an in-depth analysis of the visual resource, you can start applying the three following tactics to begin your link building process.

  1. Backlink Analyses on Similar Graphics
  2. Capitalize on News Trends
  3. Identify Niche Experts

1) Backlink Analysis on Similar Graphics

Before you can build links, your first step should always be to find relevant contacts in your niche. The best way to do this is by running a backlink analysis to help you discover the sites that are linking to a specific domain.

In order to run backlink analysis, the first step is to find a list of infographics with similar titles or topics to the infographic you’re trying to link build to. For instance, the following infographic describes the leadership hierarchy in hospitals and healthcare.

leadership in hospitals
Using this as an example, you should run a Google search using the keyword phrase “healthcare leadership infographic” and then start browsing the top search results and images for similar infographic that have similar topics.

healthcare leadership

When you have found an infographic that is similar to yours, the next step is to take the specific infographic URL and put it into a backlink analysis tool such as Moz or Ahrefs. Once you place the URL in the backlink analyzer tool, you will be able find the sites that have linked to other health infographics.

You now have a collection of sites that link to infographics within your niche. Next, you need to select the contacts and sites you want to get a link from. If a site has an extremely high domain authority (over 85), the publication will probably not post your infographic because it will not match their editorial guidelines. However, if the resource explains a trending subject in their industry it could still be worth attempting to gain a link from some highly authoritative sites. After you narrow down the most relevant link building candidates, you need to add them to your outreach list and send an email asking if they would be interested in your resource.


2) Capitalize on News Trends

The second link building tactic relies on finding publications that are discussing breaking news or trending stories within your specific niche. Since the news is always timely and constantly changing, you’ll be able find a number of news pegs that relate to your infographic. The main objective of this strategy is to tie in your infographic as an additional resource to what is happening in the news. This is a way to give reporters and bloggers a way to back up their initial stories. As an example, let’s say that you have an infographic that discusses the impact of climate change. You simply search for climate change in Google News and filter through the search results to find publications that are speaking about the latest developments on this subject. Check out this screenshot to get a better understanding of what you will be looking at.

climate change search

As you can see, climate change is being discussed on a consistent basis. These are only the first three results and they could all be added to your outreach list. Now let’s take this a step further. In order to improve the chances of gaining a link, you would want to click-through each article and find the exact author who wrote on the subject. Once the author is identified, you’ll be able to angle a pitch that speaks directly to the writer’s interest, giving you higher chance of landing a link. Always remember that the news will change, but with enough creativity you can get your resources tie in with the trending stories.


3) Identify Niche Experts

With over 2 million blog post being written each day, there are limitless link building opportunities available. Think about that for a second. This means over 1,389 articles are being published each minute. Now all you have to do is find the right people to reach out to, and luckily enough, the Internet has made it possible to contact numerous experts in fields ranging from artificial intelligence, labor outlook, health trends, and everything in between. The best way to find these experts is by searching keywords through social media platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. For this example, let’s use the climate change topic again. A great tool to use to assist you with finding these experts is the Twitter Advanced Search Feature. Once you reach advanced search page, always add your collection of keywords in the first line of the search bar and change the date parameters to only focus on the past year.

twitter advanced search
Once you run this search, you’ll be able to filter through the top post, accounts, photos, videos and more, but in order to narrow down to the field experts you’ll want to segment by accounts. Here are the results that were produced from the above search.

climate change twitter
Each of these accounts are either niche publications or experts focused on developments happening in climate change and global warming. Now that you have a collection of climate change individuals at the tip of your finger, the next step is to scrape the entire Twitter search results and add them to your outreach list.

After using these three link building strategies, you will have compiled a list of highly targeted individuals that have built links to infographics before. To finish this process, the final step is to divide up the publications and experts into niche subsegments so you are able to create a personalized outreach pitch that will intrigue each expert.

I hope you are able to build awareness around your infographic resources, gain an abundance of backlinks, rise up in Google rankings and drive organic traffic! Now it is up to you to create your outreaches and email your list of prospective link builders. Happy link building!



Austin Anderson is a forward-thinking, motivated marketing specialist. Before Circa, Austin ran an e-commerce business and managed online marketing for startups in San Diego. Austin strives to be a future influencer in the world of digital marketing. Connect with Austin on LinkedIn and Twitter @andersonidea.

A Step-by-Step Guide on how to Leverage University Events for Your SEO Strategy

Universities throughout the United States regularly host events and conferences with the intention of bringing awareness to certain topics and causes, while simultaneously building upon their thought leadership within the industry. However, while more organizations and institutions are beginning to leverage online tactics to promote their events, many are still missing out on a key opportunity to build links to their event, which will in turn help with rankings and visibility for the program. Here at Circa Interactive, we have found that using university events and conferences as an SEO and link building tactic can be a very effective strategy in boosting our clients’ rankings and brand awareness. The reason that this strategy is so successful is because featuring relevant industry events can provide great value to a publication’s readership. For example, we recently acquired twelve links over a ten day period for a brain summit hosted by one of our university clients, which clearly proves that this strategy can be a powerful and effective one. Here is a step-by-step guide on how you can achieve the same results for your university program events, including but not limited to: conferences, conventions, exhibits, and university tours.  

Start with Event Websites

You should begin by targeting national event listing sites as these will be relevant to every event that you host and serve to create easy link wins. Many of these sites simply require you to send them the details of the event, along with the URL, so that they can verify whether it is a legitimate event. This is a great tactic to obtain your first batch of links. These links are also likely to be diverse in comparison to many others you may have in your portfolio, thus further increasing the value of these placements. A diverse backlink portfolio with a variety of high quality wins is seen as a positive indicator to Google and will therefore be beneficial from an SEO standpoint. Some national event listing sites that I would recommend starting with are:,, and

Write a Press Release

The concept behind a press release is to share newsworthy content with relevant contacts. This should be used to accompany your link building efforts. If possible, also factor in how this press release will work best from an SEO perspective and how a search engine will recognize your keywords. Your press release should elaborate on the details of the event, discuss the target audience, and note who the key speakers are. Also remember to include any contact information so that media outlets can obtain more information if needed. Alongside this, remind the media contact why this topic is important in a wider context. This can be achieved by using a news peg that is closely associated with your event. Prior to our client’s brain summit, a report stated that the rate of ADHD diagnosis had risen 5% each year since 2003. This data signified the importance of continued brain research and enabled us to provide media contacts with an additional reason to publish information on the event. A press release has the potential to spread far and wide because many media outlets pick up stories from other local media sources. If you can find a few sites that are willing to post your press release, then this could create a ripple effect and you might end up with a number of placements in a short amount of time without having to manually acquire all the placements yourself.  

Look for Local Links

A big part of your strategy should be to target sites that report on news in the area where your event is being held. Being featured on the main page of newspapers, tourism sites, and local news sites can be difficult, but securing a link placement in their events section is certainly possible and very valuable. This provides a great opportunity to land a diverse set of links that may have been otherwise been very difficult to attain. News outlets are also more likely to be interested in an event that is being hosted in an area that they regularly cover and that is of interest to their readership.

Target Industry-Specific Sites

In addition to targeting sites that report on local news and events, it is important to pitch your event to industry-specific sites. If your event is based around the topic of mental health, then it makes sense to target blogs and news sites that cover mental health related topics. However, you should not solely limit yourself to these confines and should not be afraid get creative and expand your outreach whenever possible. Reaching out to sites that cover other medical related topics would not be too far fetched in this case. If you can position the event to be relevant and valuable to the publication’s audience, then you will have a better chance of getting a media placement and link out of it.

Conduct a Competitor Analysis

You are unlikely to be the first organization that is hosting an event or conference related to your specific niche. Discovering where similar events have been posted is a surefire way to find websites that you know are willing to post this type of content. Again, if you are hosting a conference on mental health, searching for simple keywords like “mental health conferences” in Google will enable you to find a host of previous events on this topic. You can then conduct a competitor backlink analysis for each event to discover which sites linked to them. There are a number of tools out there that can be used to conduct this analysis, but here at Circa we use Moz. You simply need to enter the event’s URL into Moz’s Open Site Explorer search bar and from there you will be able to view all inbound links to that particular URL. Moz only allows you to have three free searches a day unless you upgrade to Moz Pro. However, you can test out this software with a 30 day free trial. Once you determine which sites are good quality, a competitor analysis will provide you with an important set of leads to go after. One easy way to help determine which sites are high quality is to reference the information provided alongside the list of inbound URL’s, which includes the domain authority (DA) and the spam score. The domain authority ranges from 1-100, and the higher it is, the better and more high quality the site is. Conversely, you want the spam score to be as low as possible. By finding and targeting sites that have posted similar event information in the past, you will likely save time and resources on outreach while also increasing your success rate.

Follow Up After the Event

Even if you have acquired a respectable number of links prior to the event, your outreach shouldn’t stop there. Some of the best opportunities will come after the event, which is particularly relevant following a conference. The findings from a conference are often a great source of content for media outlets. Conducting searches on Google and social media will help you find individuals who have been talking about topics that relate to your event. Creating a new page on your website which discusses and dissects the findings will also help you to gain links following the event.

George has recentGeorgely joined the Circa team in California following the completion of his master’s in marketing management and strategy degree, where he graduated with distinction from Plymouth University in England. George is a PR and digital marketing specialist who is passionate about creating high level opportunities for professors within national publications. 

The Value in Video









Finding new ways to attract viewers has always been a challenge in the SEO world. When it comes down to it, ranking a website in the long term is not just about building a large number of links. It’s also about creating high-quality content that will attract links naturally over time. It’s the age-long battle of quality vs. quantity, and it has become fairly clear that the newest contender in SEO is online video.

Do your Marketing Basics

The first step in any effective communications-style campaign is understanding your audience. To ensure effective communication, think primarily about the people you want to view the video. Whether you’re targeting prospective students, student parents, undergrads, or professors, each video will serve a unique and distinctive purpose that should not be transparent throughout your other demographics. By putting yourself in their shoes, you will gain insight into what they want to know and how they want to be addressed. With this in mind, the distribution and formulation of your videos should correlate with each respective goal and message in mind. By appealing to these audiences, a video’s sense of quality will increase which will, in turn, lead to more visibility from an SEO standpoint as well.    Video-Marketing-Strategies

Time is Money

Lets talk about Google for a second. One way that Google recognizes sites that are high in quality is by measuring how long a viewer stays on the page. Obviously, if it is an interesting and high quality site, someone’s going to stay for a longer period of time. A high bounce rate could be an indicator of a lower quality page, while a ‘long click’ — more time spent on a page — identifies a better domain in the eyes of a search engine. Needless to say, video offers an unprecedented opportunity to capture and engage viewers in a way that other forms of media simply lack. Placing program overview videos, digital tours or faculty interviews is a great way of implementing this strategy and can be done at a very low cost.

This is a great example of an interactive campus tour video provided by St. Michaels College:

Allowing the viewer to engage with your site is proving to add more and more value as quality is becoming more targeted.

Video on the SERP

Aside from the added viewing time and quality given to your programs pages, video helps to differentiate your brand on the search engine results page (SERP) through a video thumbnail result. Zappos, for example, created 50,000 product description videos in 2009 and doubled their linking domains. It should be unproblematic to take lessons like this and apply them to a schools program/department. Here is a step-by-step walkthrough for getting these video results on the SERP:

  1. Add keywords in a video title such as “Tutorial”, “Review”, “Explanation”, “Tour”, etc. to help identify/organize content and provide a shortcut to what your potential viewers are looking for. Keep it simple and to the point.
  2. When hosting your videos, be sure to use sites such as Vimeo Pro, Wistia, Vzaar or Viddler. Do NOT use a regular vimeo account or youtube as their domains will rank for your video on their site rather than your own domain.
  3. Embed videos via an HTML5 player with flash fallback. All of the listed hosting recommendations above should include this option.
  4. This one’s important. Surround the video with information. Images, links and text help search engines recognize a quality page, so make sure your video at least comes with a text description. A page with only video content on it can look very thin. An easy way of doing this is to provide faculty bios/pictures or student testimonials.
  5. A video sitemap is the main way of giving search engines rich meta-data about your video. Wistia offers sitemap generation at the price of a $25/month subscription. Refer to this video for further sitemap guidance:

Make it Sharable

Let people spread your content. Placing linked social icons on your video page only facilitates the endeavor to get your video into the world. If you’re looking for the basics I’d recommend getting the code from TwitterFacebook and Google directly or throwing the “AddThis” widget on any page. Additionally, make your video embeddable, so others can throw it up and you can get further SEO value. For a quick guide on getting inbound link benefits from embedded videos, see here.

Social Networking Concept

When it comes to video, as with all other content, quality is key. With search engine algorithms getting tighter and tighter, it’s crucial to stand out not only for branding purposes, but to enhance your algorithmic SEO value as well. Along with these simple steps for recognition, having quality content should provide you with a multitude of benefits that can be translated into both the physical and digital worlds.

Why Guest Blogging is Not Dead in Higher Ed

The search marketing world has been on fire lately after Matt Cutts, Google’s head of spam, published this Tweet:


It’s a bold statement, and I’m sure it stopped many of us in our tracks as we were sipping our morning coffee.  It definitely caught my attention.

To quickly summarize the blog post Matt’s Tweet referenced:

“if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop.”

He goes on to explain, noting that like most other effective SEO tactics in the past (think blog comments or forum profiles), people are taking advantage of guest blogging and it’s now a breeding ground for spam.

You know what?  He’s right!

Like any effective SEO tactic, people started gaming the system.  It was only a matter of time before Google started cracking down.

But, answer this: how many of us didn’t already know this?  Between Matt Cutt’s previous blog post along with some notes from Rand Fishkin, it was very clear that this was coming.

So where does that leave us in the higher ed marketing world?  Should we ditch guest blogging altogether?

Well, yes and no.

In my eyes, Matt Cutt’s focus on the “death of guest blogging” is centered around those who are utilizing low quality, low relevance guest blog websites and networks in an effort to generate as many links as possible.

While I can understand why some marketers were seeking these sub-par opportunities, I don’t really think this recent rant on guest blogging from Matt Cutt’s applies too heavily to us in higher ed.  Why?  To be frank, we don’t have to seek out these low quality websites to publish our guest posts.

We are fortunate to work in an industry with reputable clients who are trusted and sought after for their thought leadership and ideas.  A lot of bloggers and publications will jump at the opportunity to feature content created by most colleges and universities.  That said, we must begin to shift our focus on landing big wins, seeking opportunities to secure placements in major publications and/or influential websites in our programmatic niches.

The reality is, we live in a very different SEO world than most other industries – even if you’re working with a small or lesser known university.  Yes, our industry is extremely competitive but due to the brand power that we represent and the simple fact that we have a .edu in your URL, we aren’t always forced to seek out the easy targets like other industries.

Guest blogging was one of the last forms of effective link building that was both scalable and cost effective.  Until recently, it was totally acceptable tactic that worked well.  It still does work, but only if you’re smart about it and seek opportunities that don’t fall into the quality standards we’ve become accustomed as of late.

The unfortunate reality in search marketing as a whole, however, is that it isn’t getting any easier or any less expensive.  If you have been using guest blogging as a way to generate link volume, you probably should start looking into alternate opportunities to generate links.  It would be wise to lower your dependency on guest blogging overall, and if you’re pursuing low quality placements I’d avoid those all-together.

We’re in the midst of a very interesting and challenging time in search marketing.  Visual content is becoming the cornerstone of most marketing campaigns and to be effective, more time and resources are required to create the results you need to be successful.  As education budgets continue to decrease, it’s really going to make search marketing interesting in the higher ed world.

So no, guest blogging is not dead.  When utilized correctly it remains an effective avenue to generate high-quality links, referral traffic, establish thought leadership, and expand brand recognition for your college or university.  We just have to approach the tactic in a different manner and pay close attention to where we’re publishing content.

Moving forward, guest blogging won’t be as quick and easy as it was in the past, but it’s still worth it if done correctly.  You might be surprised where you can get some traction.

  1. Guest blogging isn’t totally dead in higher education marketing.
  2. Stop looking at guest blogging as a way to generate link quantity and start focusing on quality – it will pay off.
  3. Lower your dependency on guest blogging, and balance your strategy with infographics, surveys, video, interviews, and other high-quality content.  Find out what you target audience responds to and run with it.
  4. Get the help of a PR professional and a strong writer to craft highly targeted pitches for your guest posts.
  5. Seek out the “homerun” placements – you’ll be surprised what you can get.

Clayton Dean is the Co-Founder of Circa Interactive, a San Diego-based digital marketing agency that specializes in higher education.  Connect with Clayton on Twitter: @CircaClayton

Higher Education Marketer’s Guide to Infographics

Infographics.  We’ve all heard of them.  Some hate them, some love them.  No matter what side you’re on, you can’t deny that they still work – really well actually.

This especially holds true for colleges and universities, who have the reputation, research, and resources to produce highly sharable and very interesting infographics.  Additionally, webmasters and bloggers may not be interested in infographics from unknown brands but will jump at the opportunity to feature an infographic from a .edu.

My question is, why aren’t more marketing teams making use of them?

In today’s world of higher education, especially for online graduate programs, you must be doing something to set yourself apart.  The market is far too competitive and growing by the day, making the organic search landscape as volatile as ever.  Search engine rankings are still vital for programs to drive and generate high-quality traffic, and the days of relying on basic on-page SEO are gone.  As you’re probably figuring out, your link building strategy must be natural and very well-rounded, and that’s where infographics come in.

The problem is, as most of you know, there are a lot of bad infographics out there.  Marketers think they can quickly throw one together and magically start generating links and social shares.  In reality the topic, content, and design can make or break an infographic.  Additionally, you must have a clear distribution strategy that effectively targets the relevant websites you need but at the same time reaches as large of an audience as possible.

Below I’ll show you why you need to make infographics part of your organic marketing strategy and walk you through, start to finish, how to effectively create and distribute them with the goal of influencing your organic presence.

Why you should be using infographics

When it comes to SEO and rankings, back link diversity is huge in today’s world.  Social signals are also important and definitely play a factor in Google’s eyes.  Fact is, you can’t put all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to where your links are coming from and when utilized effectively, infographics are the perfect solution.  They provide the perfect mix of relevant natural looking links from niche specific sites and major publications, along with a slough of Tweets, Likes, Shares, Pins, and Comments.

Through the use of infographics, you’ll not only be positively influencing your organic presence, but also driving traffic and brand recognition at the same time.  Win – Win – Win.  What are you waiting for?

Infographic Creation, Start to Finish

Topic Research and Creation

The key to a quality, sharable infographic starts with the topic.  For me, this is the most important part of the process and will determine how effective your infographic will ultimately be.  When researching topics, you must always keep in mind the end goal – share ability.  What will your target audience be interested in learning more about?  You must also keep in mind a broader audience, because ideally you’d like the infographic to appeal to as many as people as possible.  Are there any newsworthy or larger conversations around the program you’re creating the infographic for?


1) – Alltop is an aggregator of the top blogs/website that are regularly updated for just about every topic under the sun.  Scan through each category and the blog topics under each.  Which ones stand out?  Are there any topics that are talked about more than others? This is the first place I go to get a gauge on the industry and what’s being talked about.  Not to mention it’s also a great way to find and document potential blogs to target during the distribution process, so keep an eye out.

2) Google news – Throw your infographic topic ideas into Google and see what current news topics render.  This is great for identifying larger trends in the industry and spotting some ideas you many not have thought of.  I personally like to click-through and read some of the articles and usually uncover some new ideas for topics as a result.

3) Google search – search for major publications, journals, or other reputable sources.  This is a great way to get a pulse on the perspective industry and the major topics they’re talking about.

4) Google trends – Google trends is great for gaining an understanding of what people are searching for and is very helpful once you’ve narrowed your list of ideas down to a handful of potential subjects.  Throw them into trends to see if any are relevant now or increasing in relevance.  If you can produce an infographic that corresponds with what’s in the news or what’s popular, you’re life during the distribution phase will be much easier!

5) Schedule time to chat with a professor in the program – This is especially true if you’re at a research university.  These faculty can be a great resource for understanding the industry as a whole, what interests them, and any emerging topics that would be interesting.  Some may even be working on something that could contribute directly to your infographic, who knows.

Tips for Infographic Topic Creation:

1) If possible, try to take advantage of topics that are popular now (if you can turn the graphic around in a timely manner)
2) Ensure the topic is relevant to your target audience
3) Ensure the topic will appeal to as broad of an audience as possible
4) Always keep distribution in mind – ask yourself “will webmasters in the niche be interested in this topic?”

Infographic Research

The research phase of the infographic creation process isn’t rocket science.  The main takeaway here: ensure you’re utilizing highly reputable resources for your research.  If possible, try to centralize your research around .edu, .gov, or highly reputable .coms.  Ditch the wikis, blogs, and other questionable sources.  Better yet, if you can tap into any internal research from one or more of the program’s professors and utilize that data you could really hit a home run.  That way you know you’re working with trustworthy data and during the distribution process you utilize that fact as leverage for the bloggers and webmasters.

Tips for Infographic Research:

1) No wikis, blogs, or other opinion based sources
2) Look within for research conducted by program professors or faculty
3) Don’t self-promote!  No one wants to share that…
4) Ensure your research flows well and tells a clear story

Bonus Tip: When starting your research, first map out the entire graphic by title, then fill in the holes.  In looking at the infographic from a macro perspective, you can get a better gauge of the story you’re telling and ensure it effectively illustrates the topic.


Title: STEM Education’s Largest Hurdles
Section 1: STEM Overview
Section 2: STEM Progress
Section 3: What’s preventing the STEM Initiative’s Success?
Section 4: The Future of STEM

Infographic Distribution

You’ve created a relevant and interesting title, conducted all of your research, and now you’re ready to show it off to the World.  This is where a lot of marketers tend to get a little lost.  It can be overwhelming to figure out where to start, but the sooner you can nail down a process the better.  I always recommend solidifying your process, then always working to tweak and refine the process.  As with everything else, some channels come and go so you must always keep your eyes and ears open for new ways to get your infographic out to the masses.

To help get you started with your process, here’s a brief overview of mine:

1) Submit infographic to infographic promotion websites

Some of my favorites:

A great list of additional sites:

2) Submit infographic to

  • This will advertise your infographic to hundreds of bloggers, and you get to pick who publishes it (before accepting, take a look at the bloggers site first to get an idea of the strength, legitimacy, and trustworthiness of their website)

3) Seed infographic on social platforms

  • Reddit
  • Stumbleupon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • Google+
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Slideshare

4) Buy an ad on Stumbleupon or create a display campaign around the infographic

  • I wouldn’t do this for all infographics, just the ones that are highly relevant and interesting.  You can burn through your budget with this so please beware!

5) Have any connections or relationships in the news publication industry?

  • Pitch your infographic to writers at the major online publications
  • Writers tend to love great infographics – think about it, you’ve already done all of the research for them!

6) Research and create a list of highly relevant 40 to 50 blogs and websites that you can manually reach out to

  • When searching for these sources, I would recommend first starting out by searching for infographics around the topic or industry that websites have published in the past.  If they’ve published one before, there’s a good chance they’ll do it again.

Google search: “infographic topic” / “topic” blogs / allinsite:”topic” / allinblog:”topic” / allintitle:”topic”  – get creative!

Followerwonk: Great tool from Moz that can be utilized to find top influencers in a specific industry.  Seek them out and shoot them an email through their blog or website

A few tips:

  • Keep it personal – don’t mass email
  • Keep it brief – get to the point
  • Provide the embed code and attach the original infographic to the email
  • If you can’t reach them through email, try Twitter or Facebook but don’t overdo it!
  • Request the anchor text and URL you wish to use – I would recommend purely branded anchor text or a combo of branded and target keyword
  • Be sure to follow-up!

The Circa Interactive Top 5

Issue# 1

Circa Interactive’s bi-weekly list of the top five articles and blog posts from around the web geared specifically for higher eduction marketers.

1) Higher Education Searches Rise on Google, Reveal Marketing Opportunity [Study] 

Jessica Lee discusses Google’s recent release of their quarterly higher education search analysis and provides insight into demand trends, ppc, and local implications of the higher education search market.


2) Some of the best higher education copywriting for admissions 

A closer look the messaging and writing styles of university admissions departments, East vs West style…


3) The Top 10 Ways to Generate Traffic and Leads for an Online Degree Program 

Robert Lee provides an overview of the top 10 channels an online degree program can utilize, weighing ease of implementation, cost, and effectiveness.


4) A few excellent higher education information request forms 

Lead forms can make or break a program’s conversion rate, and takes a look at those who are doing it well.


5) Campus – Do We Under Market Our Most Important Asset?

Kyle James examines how you can use your most obvious asset to gain a competitive advantage.


6 Tips for Higher Education Internet Marketers After Penguin 2.0

A few days ago, Matt Cutts revealed on his blog that Google had finally pushed the much anticipated Penguin 2.0 algorithm update.  Regarded as the next generation in Google’s fight against webspam, 2.3% of English based search queries were affected.

Some of you may have noticed changes in search results, and hopefully your own websites went unchanged or maybe even jumped up a little in the SERPs.  If you were hit by 2.0, then it’s clear you didn’t learn your lesson after Penguin 1.0 and subsequent updates over the last year.

Whether your university’s website was impacted or not and as we move forward after Penguin 2.0, it is more important than ever that internet marketers in higher education keep a few things in mind to ensure Penguin 2.0 data refreshes and future updates don’t wipe away all of your hard link building efforts.

Below, I’ve compiled six tips that higher education internet marketers need to keep in mind after Penguin 2.0 to ensure you’re protected from future refreshes and updates:

1)   Quality and Quantity

Given the fact that we work on high trust TLDs (top level domains), quality content (and lots of it) can go a long way in your link building efforts for a program or a university as a whole.  Pay some attention to the architecture of the copy to make the information easier to process for visitors, ensure each page you’re working with is no less than 600 words, and don’t overstuff with keywords – make it natural.  If it has been a while since you’ve refreshed website or landing page copy, get on it!

2)   If it’s too good to be true, it probably is

The old world of SEO is dead, and links are getting harder to come by.   You must be creative and focus on building relationships to effectively link build in the post Penguin world so the one click link building is long gone.  Link building is more time consuming than ever so any quick fixes or promises of lots of links fast needs to be questioned and probably avoided.  Don’t fall into the easy-way-out trap and save yourself some sleepless nights.

3)   Content is still king

Content marketing is king, now more so than ever.  Infographics, eBooks, blogging, etc has proven itself as the most effective way to build links and generate buzz.  Throw in social media and you have a nice cocktail of social sharing, link building, and increased traffic.  My advice: get good at content marketing if you aren’t already.

4)   Be careful where you’re sourcing backlinks

Do your diligence and research each and every link you’re pursuing to ensure you’re not linking your site with one that participates in any shady practices that could get you in trouble (link buying, link networks, blog comments, etc.).  I use Open Site Explorer or Majestic to dig deep into sites that I am targeting and help me decide if their link profiles look as natural as possible.  If something doesn’t look right, stay away.

5)   Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket

Guest blogging is the major link building technique currently in play, and rightfully so – it works!  For some SEOs, however, this is the sole link building tactic they’re currently employing and this could pose problems in the future.  Guest blogging, like many link building tactics in the past, could potentially become a target of Google’s in the future.  Some people are starting to take advantage of its effectiveness and trust me, Google is taking note.  Bottom line – ensure you have a well-rounded link building strategy for your programs so if Google were to target guest blogging, for example, you’re not dead in the water.

6)   Continue to evolve!

Always be on the lookout for new and improved ways to build links.  So many SEOs get caught up in the hot link building trends of the day and forget to keep their eyes open for new ways to be more effective.  Don’t wait for algorithm updates to evolve with Google, start prepping now.

Follow Clayton at @cdeanseo

Launching an Online Degree: Where Should I Invest My Online Degree Marketing Budget?

By: Robert Lee, Co-Founder of Circa Interactive

You have proposed your idea for an online degree program, worked tirelessly at getting the right people on board with it, and it has finally been approved. You just know it’s going to be a success, you took your time and completed all the right research and know there is a large market of eager potential students looking for your specific degree program to meet their personal and professional goals.

You have proposed a budget, and while there was a little back-and-forth, it has also finally been approved. But how is this investment by your already cash strapped university going to get your inbox full of leads and the phone ringing?

Taking this budget and allocating it to the right places is an extremely important first step in laying the foundation for program success.

You are marketing an online degree program; the best place to try and target your program’s potential market is online. While direct mail pieces and taking an ad out in a magazine could be supplemental ways to expand your brand and possibly drive more traffic to your site, it cannot be your core source of traffic and leads.

The following list breaks down the top places to invest your budget. The importance of each of these can differ as each program is unique, but the core of your investment must go into some combination of these sources.

1. Landing Page Development

Landing page development?

This might seem like a very strange first place to invest your marketing budget, but it is by far the most valuable and will pay off ten-fold. Traffic that arrives at a website generally converts to lead anywhere between 1-4%. This can fluctuate due to the type of traffic, strength of brand, and the current conversion process of your site.  So what that means is that if 100 people visit your website, you can expect around 2 leads.

Traffic arriving at a fully optimized website can convert anywhere from 3-25%. The 3% would be for lower quality traffic sources (FB display advertising), and 25% would be for extremely high quality sources (internal high quality referral, repeat visitor). So lets say the average conversion rate on a landing page is 8%.

In an effort to show the importance of conversion rate, let’s use Google paid search traffic as an example. Let’s say you are marketing a Masters in Information Systems, with an average cost-per-click in Google of $10.

If you drive 100 visitors to your un-optimized website, your CPL will be:

100 visitors x $10 CPC = $1,000

100 visitors x 2% conversion rate = 2 leads

$1,000 / 2 leads = $500 CPL

And if you drive 100 visitors to your fully optimized landing page, your CPL will be:

100 visitors x $10 CPC = $1,000

100 visitors x 8% conversion rate = 8 leads

$1,000 / 8 leads = $125 CPL

Your CPL will be 5 times higher if you send the traffic to your website instead of an optimized landing page. The critics of the use of landing pages main argument is that the quality of leads will deteriorate with landing pages as a LPs main focus is just to convert a visitor to a lead. Well, I think that argument does have some merit, but landing pages are a great way to move someone who is earlier in the buying process further down the conversion funnel.

For example, if you produce two leads out of 100 visitors from your website, they are most likely relatively high quality.

From a landing page, if you produce eight leads out of your 100 visitors, you probably have 2-3 high quality, 2-3 medium quality, and 2-3 who are just shopping around. But isn’t 4 medium and high quality leads better than just two high quality leads? And then as a bonus you get 4 additional contacts to nurture in your database for future enrollment.

2. Keyword Based Pay-Per-Click (Google Adwords + Bing Ads)


One of the highest quality leads you can produce is through targeting people who are actively searching for your degree program through one of the major search engines.  The three major search engines are Google (approx. 70% U.S. market share) and Yahoo/Bing (approx. 25% U.S. market share). Yahoo and Bing merged and so they share the same algorithm and paid search platform (Bing Ads).

Most degree programs don’t already have an established SEO presence, which means that the only way to drive traffic to your website or landing page via actual keyword- based searches is through paid advertisements.   Pay-Per-Click advertising is also effective in driving leads almost immediately for your degree program, while SEO will take at least four to six months on average.

When launching a Pay-Per-Click campaign, it’s important to keep in mind  that not all keyword-based traffic is the same quality.  Searchers will use certain keywords in their search query, which will be more or less relevant to your degree program offering. For example, if you were marketing an online masters in public administration, then obviously the most relevant keyword for your target market would be “Online Masters in Public Administration”. But from there, you might try and bid on additional keywords like just “Masters of Public Administration” (no online denotation), or “Masters in Public Policy” (a similar degree program).

You need to think about this when setting up your Adwords campaign and more specifically setting bids for your keywords. If you take a step back and look at your budget as a whole, you probably want to spend as much money as you can on these highly relevant keywords, while possibly allocating the money that you could use to target these secondary keywords to other traffic generating opportunities (display advertising, SEO, etc.).

3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)


SEO is the process of optimizing a website and individual pages for specific keywords so that they rank higher organically in the major search engines, and is extremely important to invest in from a long term perspective. There is a lot of opportunity to drive a large amount of extremely high quality traffic to your website through SEO, but many major keywords tend to be very competitive. An SEO investment tends to work extremely well for programs that fall into the medium competition range, such as a Masters in Social Work or Bachelors in Public Health.

SEO is broken into two parts, with the first being on-page SEO. On-page SEO consists of edits that can be made to a physical website that is trying to rank for certain keywords. On-page SEO must be completed prior to off-page SEO, and generally is a much lower investment than an aggressive off-page SEO or link building strategy.

Off-page SEO (also known as link-building) is the secondary part of any SEO strategy, and can wildly fluctuate in costs depending on the competitiveness of keywords targeted. Content and infographic creation are a major part of the link-building process, as distributing high quality content to webmasters is a great way to build links back to your site.

The main benefit to SEO, and why its ranked so high on this list, is that generally once an initial investment has been made a campaign can float into more of a maintenance mode, which could be as low as $500/month. So if you are able to produce 200 organic visitors to your website, and are only paying $500 per month, your average CPC is $2.50. Your average CPC for paid search is most likely going to be around $10, so from a long-term perspective there are large benefits to SEO.

4. Facebook Paid Ads


While Facebook advertising might not be as cheap as it used to be, and its targeting parameters have actually gotten worse, it is still a great source for driving relevant traffic, especially when targeting a unique market. Individuals include so much personal information within their profiles, and if you really understand your program’s target market then the opportunity is there to create audience personas. You can then use those personas to craft audience segments that can be used to drive targeted traffic to your program’s landing page.

Take for example an Online Masters in Information Systems, with concentrations in Information Security, Networking, and Development. Just based off of the names of the concentrations, you can probably figure out that you might want to target lower level Information Security Managers, Network Architects, and Programmers. You can craft an advertisement that speaks to each audience, and target people based on likes, degree programs, or different IT organizations. This is just the tip of the iceberg though, as you will learn about many different ways to utilize Facebook once you spend enough time in the interface.

5. Google Display Advertising


If you have a generally large budget, then the Google Network is a great way to drive additional traffic to your landing pages. There are three different options when it comes to display advertising within the Google Network, and different types of programs can experience success with each.

Google Contextual Advertising– The Google content network can get kind of complicated so I am not going to get too detailed. The basic idea is that pages that are within their network that include text/content relevant to the keywords you include in your targeting parameters are selected to display your advertisements. So for example if you are marketing an “online mba”, your ad might show up on a site that has an article about online mba’s.

Google Managed Placements- Managed placements let you select exactly what sites you want to target, and can be fantastic if you know the major sites that your potential students visit. Not all sites are part of the Google Network, so there are some limitations, but this can be a great option if you are marketing a Green MBA (target all green/renewable energy sites) or another program that is slightly unique.

Google Remarketing- Google Remarketing is a great way to stay in front of individuals who might have already visited your website or landing page in the past and did not convert. It has been proven that sometimes it takes multiple interactions with a user before they are ready to convert, so this is just another way to nurture the relationship.

6. LinkedIn Advertising


If you have a large budget, and still have not maxed out your spend, then LinkedIn advertising is a good place to test. Sometimes LinkedIn can actually produce higher quality traffic than Facebook, but if you have ever been on LinkedIn, you know the experience is very different then FB. The targeting parameters are very similar to FB, so if you already created user personas or segments you can carry them over. LinkedIn isn’t going to produce anywhere near the volume that Facebook will, so keep that in mind when setting up a budget for it.

In conclusion, each program is going to respond slightly different within each advertising platform. I always recommend that a client implements a landing page and at least a Google paid search campaign just to start building some traffic to their program assets. If your program meets the criteria provided within the “How To Tell What Types of Online Programs Will Be Successful” post, then distributing your budget among the above sources can really help to move your program in the right direction.

About the Author: Robert Lee is the co-founder of Circa Interactive Inc, a San Diego based higher education search marketing and lead generation agency.  Robert is an expert SEM strategist and has worked with dozens of colleges and universities across the US.

Building Online Relationships: An Integral Part of Higher Education Internet Marketing

Establishing and maintaining relationships online is crucial for Internet marketers. These relationships are the backbone to link building and advertising techniques, as well as determine your social media presence in the online community. The marketer’s website must be talked about, shared, and linked to in order to gain the necessary strength to rank in search engines. Marketers of higher education build online relationships for many purposes, including guest blogging, reaching out to experts and bloggers in their niche, and advertising opportunities.

Who Should I Reach Out To?

When faced with the challenge of reaching out virally, many may be overwhelmed with who to target and how to find them. To reach out to webmasters who manage strong blogs in your niche, use top search engines and their advanced searching tools. Using the advanced search tool, you can filter through unrelated blogs and find an accurate list of websites ready to be contacted. These webmasters may be able to offer link building and guest blogging opportunities, advertising space, or may be willing to write about a specific aspect of your university program, which can be shared across social media channels.

How to Contact a Webmaster

It is important to remember that many webmasters do not solely manage websites for a living; they also have full-time jobs and busy lives. Keeping this in mind, it is important to do some research before sending off a generic email. Without careful preparation of a personalized email, a marketer may lose a potential relationship with a webmaster or their email may be disregarded as blatant advertising.

While a template email is important for large-scale outreach, it is equally important to personalize each message to show webmasters you have a genuine interest in their site. In regards to guest blogging outreach, showing the webmaster that you enjoy their website and have read articles they have published can go a long way in establishing a beneficial relationship. The following are a few more techniques when designing a personalized email for guest blogging purposes.

  • Avoid formatting your subject line to look like spam or a part of a generic, large-scale outreach. Certain keywords can automatically trigger spam filters and should be avoided at all costs. Try using niche-specific and creative subject lines to avoid being read as spam.
  • Consider the salutation you use, as this is the second thing a webmaster will see and could be a deal breaker. If possible, locate the name of the individual you are reaching out to. It is also important in this step to not sound too general, such as “Dear Webmaster.”
  • Begin with a personalized comment about their website or a specific blog post you enjoyed. This is where your research comes in handy and where you can show the webmaster that you are a unique individual who is interested in writing for their blog.
  • Briefly explain what program you are working with and why you feel this website is appropriate. It is best not to present yourself as a marketer, but more so a writer who is interested in contributing to this particular blog.
  • Offer a previous niche-specific article you have had published. This article should be recent, well written, and posted on a strong blog that is not overrun with advertisements.
  • Proofread your email. If a webmaster finds a spelling or grammar error in your message they may lose faith in you as a writer.


Social Media and Outreach

Marketers may use social media outreach in place of email, or better yet, can use social media to supplement email outreach. A developed Google+ account can immediately allow a webmaster to research your name and view your online presence. Along with this, a professional looking Facebook account and Twitter can be used for outreach also. Marketers may use the direct message option of Facebook and Twitter to express interest in an individual’s website or the expertise of an industry leader. LinkedIn can also be used along side or in place of email to develop online relationships with others.

Social media outlets should be used to reach out to individuals through the Internet, as well as to develop trust and familiarity by sharing content. If you wish to publish an article on a respected blog, it would be a good idea to follow that blog on Twitter as well as share a few articles you like through Facebook. A webmaster can review this information and see you as a trustworthy individual, not just a marketer merely looking to link build.

Here are a few things to watch out for when reaching out via email or social media channels:

  • Do not create longwinded emails with a lot of text. Webmasters are generally busy, so get to the point.
  • Do not expect every webmaster to want to publish your content, if they do not respond, it is advisable to send a single follow up, but then move on.
  • Do not rush emails and lose trust with spelling/grammar mistakes. This is the ultimate mistake when positioning yourself as a writer.
  • Do not offer articles that have already been written or are not relevant to the website. Research well to avoid this problem.
  • Do not act like a marketer who has no desire to produce engaging content for the readers of the website. Show genuine interest in order see positive results.


When reaching out to others online, it is important to do so effectively to avoid losing potential relationships with prominent webmasters. There are a few techniques that marketers can take advantage of to ensure they are not presenting themselves in a negative light. Being unique and creative through email personalization and original article topics ideas for guest blogging can spark the interest of a variety of webmasters, creating mutually beneficial, long-term online relationships.