Google for Communicators: A Q&A With Christopher Penn

One of Google’s largest successes is the way in which it uses data. The cyber-giant began as the mighty librarian of the Internet, scouring the web and organizing its wealth of information in a user-friendly way. With the way it connects seekers with content, Google could be called the greatest communications tool in existence. Its ubiquity alone makes interaction with the search company nearly unavoidable.

The power of the medium is undeniable, yet it remains amorphous to many because of the perceived technical ability required to check under the hood. A thorough understanding of Google’s offerings is a necessity for any communications professional competing in the digital age.

To help understand Google and all it offers, Christopher Penn, vice president of marketing technologies with SHIFT Communications, and a featured speaker at PR News' Feb. 11  Google Conference in San Francisco, shared with us some thoughts on Google for communicators, where Google can improve and how a lesson from Ninjutsu can help drive experimentation.

PR News: What should all PR pros know about Google Webmaster Tools and their application to their daily work?

Christopher Penn: Webmaster Tools is the only surefire way to determine how people are finding your website through organic, unpaid search. For PR professionals, the work you do at the brand and awareness level should translate here, both in branded and unbranded search.

PR News: When you run across communicators that don’t use or understand Google Analytics, what’s your first thought?

Penn: My first thought is that I question what they're measuring in order to judge program effectiveness. At the end of the day, people have to find the business and then figure out how to do business with you. Google Analytics is useful even for offline brick-and-mortar stores. How many retail store websites have a Store Finder? All of the major ones with more than one location certainly do, and when someone arrives at the site and uses the store finder feature, you can bet they have buying intent. They're not looking for the store just to get out of the rain.

PR News: What new tool or upgrade from Google would you like to see?

Penn: I'd love to see mobile analytics get beefed up. Right now a ton of data is coming from mobile devices that is poorly categorized. Now, that's not only on Google—companies like Facebook, Apple, etc., need to pass on data correctly, too. But the companies that want to encourage business users to use their services will make their data available to marketers and communicators so that we can all judge our effectiveness.

PR News: What is the most relevant lesson you’ve learned from your years of ninjutsu training?

Penn: So many to choose from, but the one that resonates most is from my teacher's teacher's teacher, Hatsumi sensei. He urges his students with a favorite saying: "Understand? Good. Play!" which is a way of telling them to experiment, to try things out, to not be afraid to make mistakes. If we view our work as this rigid, inflexible system that can never change, we can't grow. We can't innovate. If we approach our work as play, as something fun and exploratory, we'll make many more discoveries.

PR News: Can you name just one of Google’s hidden gems that you’re going to cover at PR News’ Google Conference?

Penn: Webmaster Tools now has mobile usability warnings, which is incredible. It will tell you, for example, that items on your website are too close together to be tapped on, which you can fix to make your site more mobile-friendly.

To get the full scoop on everything a communicator needs to know about Google, be sure to join PR News on Feb. 11 for the Google Conference in San Francisco.

Follow Christopher Penn @cspenn