In my work with my client, Schipul - The Web Marketing Company, I''ve learned a lot about Search Engine Marketing. Now, it''s becoming clear just how important search engines can be in helping organizations track and manage issues and proactively work to prevent them from bubbling into full blown crises.

Many organizations, including DPK Public Relations, are using search engine marketing -- both optimizing search engine performance and placing paid listings on Google Adwords, Yahoo Search Marketing and LookSmart -- to spread the word about their products and services and position their brands as leaders. However, relatively few are using those same techniques as part of an issues management strategy.

That might be a big mistake if you consider the findings of a study by Converseon, which looked at the top 20 search engine listings for the BusinessWeek 100 brands in July 2005. They found that 39 percent of the top search listings were derived from consumer-generated media such as blogs. Based on this study, Converseon estimated there are 16,000 flame sites web-wide and growing.

If your organization is treading into some difficult waters, here are some winning strategies that should be considered and can be employed at relatively low cost.

  • Develop a landing Web page that specifically deals with the issue in question. I know this will be a tough sell for the people in the corner office. After all, they want to pretend that the issue does not exist. As if closing their eyes and covering their ears makes everything alright. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of the time, the best way to manage an emerging issue is to directly address it. A great example of this is what Wal-Mart has done to address questions about its labor practices and other sticky issues at Instead of standing by and letting others define them, Wal-Mart is taking steps to ensure people who are interested in these issues have both sides of the story.
  • Optimize the landing Web page for improved search engine performance. Just as you would optimize your site to perform well when prospects search a particular word or phrase, you should ensure the search terms being used by those interested in the issue in question are reflected in the content on your issue-specific landing Web page. For instance, in Dallas, the big issue is the possible repeal of the Wright Amendment (full disclosure: I have signed a petition supporting the repeal of the Wright Amendment). If you search "Wright Amendment" on Google, the top listing is, which is a clear indication that Southwest Airlines understands the importance of search in issues management.
  • Implement a search enging advertising strategy. That same Google search for "Wright Amendment" shows the following paid listing, "Wright Amendment Concerns
    Learn how the Wright Amendment causes high air fares for consumers," with a link to Neither American Airlines nor DFW International Airport, the two primary proponents of preserving the Wright Amendment have placed paid listings, the cost of which is based on competitive bidding. As a result, as of 11/8/05 Southwest is only paying $0.10 per click for that listing. Considering the enormous financial implications of the Wright issue, this is a no-brainer.
  • Consider issuing news releases that are intended for Web consumption, not media placement. Traditionally, public relations pros have focused on earning third party endorsements from journalists or trusted community organizations. That''s still important, but a fact that has been lost on many public relations practitioners is that the search engine themselves are now perceived as trusted third parties. Having your message placed atop Yahoo! News or Google News carries a considerable amount of weight, particularly for the people who are searching for information about your issue. The funny thing is that you''ll wind up reaching journalists this way, too.