Marketer tries to boost Pittsburgh's internet profile

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Typing in the phrase "The Best City in the World" on Google brings up research giving the designation to Vienna, Austria. But a local Internet marketing firm wants Pittsburgh sitting in the top slot in time for the G-20 summit in September.

Nudging the Steel City's official Web site into first place will require hundreds of Internet sites, forums, blogs and Twitters to play along. The same maneuvering that Web marketing companies use to raise their clients' profiles on search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN could work for Pittsburgh.

The project was cooked up by Eyeflow, a Web marketing firm and search engine optimization company on the South Side that has discovered firsthand that not everyone in the world has a favorable opinion of Pittsburgh.

"Most of our clients are positive, but you do get the elitist ones that don't want to deal with a company out of Pittsburgh, who want an Internet marketing firm in California or Silicon Valley instead," said Eyeflow CEO Phil Laboon, a lifelong Pittsburgh resident. "Pittsburgh doesn't have the best reputation regarding cutting-edge technology."

While the city's gritty reputation has been an issue for years, news of the G-20 summit, in which officials from around the world will gather here, inspired Eyeflow employees to get serious about updating Pittsburgh's public image.

The region's fan base has already responded. The marketing firm put out a news release last week, and within hours, dozens of people were already writing about the subject on their Twitter accounts and blogs.

Meanwhile, the city government isn't involved in the effort but is perfectly happy to back the cause.

"The mayor definitely agrees with this particular company that Pittsburgh is the most livable and the best city in the world, and we're looking forward to welcoming the world in September," said mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven.

Despite the outpouring of support, achieving the goal could be a challenge.

Google's search engine works by considering how many other Web sites link to a particular site, as well as the words -- or anchor text -- that are attached to those links and the importance of the Web site that holds the link.

According to Mr. Laboon, about 300 to 400 links would be needed in order to boost Pittsburgh's Web site to the top search result. There are only about 20 to 30 sites linking to the city's page. In a search for the "best city" phrase on Google, Pittsburgh does not turn up in the first 500 pages of search results.

To improve the city's ranking, he said people who have Web pages or blogs need to set up links to Pittsburgh's official Web site using "The Best City in the World" as the anchor text. In other words, clicking on that phrase would bring them to the city's Web site.

So far, Eyeflow has submitted its news release -- which contains the link to Pittsburgh's official page -- to hundreds of Web sites. Each time the news release is republished, Pittsburgh's official Web site will receive one more "vote" in Google's algorithm that calculates the popularity of the search phrase.

Matt Naeger, executive vice president of operations at Impaqt, a Green Tree-based search engine marketing agency, questioned the ranking's effectiveness, asking, "Are the people [who are] searching for the phrase the target audience that you want to connect with?"

Rather than optimizing Pittsburgh's ranking for "The Best City in the World," Mr. Naeger suggested it might be more useful to target search phrases that people outside the city might look up -- such as "G-20 summit," "economic growth," or "cities prospering in a recession."

In its Webmaster guidelines, Google gives tips for promoting a site's online presence and discourages unethical techniques such as cloaking keywords in the background of a Web page, spamming blogs and guestbooks with links, and paying others to link to one's Web site.

Mr. Laboon assured that Eyeflow's techniques were perfectly legal and ethical.


Liyun Jin can be reached at ljin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1410.


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