Is online press coverage the best form of SEO?


When analysing Google SERP results, you often find that the top ranked pages are press articles.  And press articles that have been published very recently.

Given all the recent kerfuffle about online press releases and the whole “no follow” links issue, it made me realise that perhaps PR and SEOs are barking up the wrong tree.

Isn’t online press coverage one of the most potent forms of SEO available?

Let’s take an example. If you search on Google for the phrase “social media analytics” (at least in the UK), then the page you are likely to find occupying the top slot (or in the top 3, because all results are personalised) is this one:

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jun/10/effective-social-media-analytics

This is an article published on The Guardian site on June 10th of this year.

Why is this page ranking so highly  ?

MajesticSEO

One of they key factors is clearly domain authority.   According to MajesticSEO, The Guardian site has an overall Trust Flow score of 92 out 100. Given that domain authority is generally accepted as still playing a big role in SERP ranking, that would probably partly explain why this article is doing so well

Also, the content of the piece is clearly relevant to the search query.

But what is the PR (or media relations) value of this article?

I confess I have a vested interest in talking about it.

The piece refers to a number of people and organisations. I’m pleased to say that I was one of them.

In an ideal world, the article would have contained a link back to my website. I could have then used this to measure exactly how many people were motivated by the story to find out more about my consultancy and possibly gain me new business.

However, there is a way of indirectly measuring the impact of the article on brand awareness – brand search volume to my own site.

Looking at my Google Analytics reports, I could see that brand search volume on the terms   “escherman” and “Andrew Bruce Smith” rose 4 fold on June 10th and 11th compared to my average daily volumes for the previous 6 months (and certainly higher than compared to the same period last year).

Better still, using attribution analysis, I was able to deduce that a combination of a branded search on June 11th and a subsequent visit via my blog led to paying business via a website generated enquiry.

 What was the input cost for the online press coverage?

I could argue that the cost to me was the 20 mins I spent on the phone to journalist Danny Bradbury who was writing the piece. So what is 20 mins of my time worth?

Compared to the value of the work generated, I could argue that my ROI on that piece of press coverage is around 50:1.

Of course, there are a number of caveats here.

First, although I know that branded search increased in the time period, and I’m fairly certain I can attribute that to the press article, did everyone discover that article via search? Clearly the link was shared on social networks, so the content wasn’t necessarily discovered by search. But given the overall search volume on Google for the term social media analytics, I think can at least attribute a portion of that to search discovery.

Also, although I only spent 20 mins on the phone to Danny, I have also built a relationship with him over 20 years or so – if I was being purist, perhaps I should factor in the investment made in that in order to arrive at the I of my ROI equation.

But setting all of that aside, I do think the above example has some key points for PRs looking at the interplay of media relations and SEO.

What are the implications for PR?

One of the key things to take away from this is that although SEO typically focusses on techniques to get your own or your client’s content to rank highly, you shouldn’t discount the fact that relevant press coverage on high authority sites may well stand a far greater chance of ranking highly in SERPS. The investment in time, money and resource to get your client’s own content to rank highly on certain keyword terms may not be justified. However, getting your client written about and linked to on high trust, high authority media sites may well have a far greater chance of ranking well.

Not only that, if that press coverage does contain a link back to your own or your client’s site, you have an incontrovertible way of measuring the click throughs, as well as the behaviour of those visitors in relation to a defined goal with an economic value – either sales, leads, content consumption, etc.

Even if the coverage doesn’t contain a link, so long as the brand is mentioned, there may be a way to isolate the impact on branded search – and again, to see what contribution this has made to goals with values attached to them.

Things to consider when pitching a story to a journalist from an SEO perspective

The story you pitch clearly remains paramount. But think about the keyword phrases your client wants to rank well for. Are you building a credible story that will compel the journalist to use these phrases?

Also, always be thinking about how you can persuade a journalist to include a link to a relevant client page. Simply asking the journalist to link is probably not the answer (although some may argue that if you don’t ask you don’t get).

A better way is make the use of the link vital to the story.  The journalist will always be asking the question: “is this link going to provide additional value to my readers?”

Helping clients to understand the value of a great story pitch and helping to create the compelling supporting content on their own sites that will make journalists want to link to the client’s content should be a mindset more PRs should adopt.

In summary, online press coverage can be your most potent weapon in gaining great SEO results. Given Google’s stated desire to reward content that sits on high trust, high authority sites, getting online press coverage on well respected media sites should give you a triple win – trusted awareness, genuine traffic from real and relevant human beings (either directly or by branded search) – and a means of measuring real economic outcomes rather than the reaching for the easy crutch of OTS and impressions.

One trick ponies make good glue (CIPR Conversation)


(This post first appeared on the CIPR Conversation).

The debate around PR and SEO refuses to go away. However, recent Google algorithm changes seem to have pushed the discussion to the fore again. A common theme is emerging – namely, that, more than ever, high quality, relevant content on trusted, high authority sites is crucial to good SEO – and PR professionals may be better placed to create that content than many SEOs.

Simple, yeah?

One Trick Pony?

Well, not quite. As ever, reality begs to differ. I was particularly reminded of this by Dr Peter Meyers of the Chicago based firm User Effect who has written some excellent blog posts recently on the subject of SEO.

Specfically he points out that: “Every week, without fail, I hear someone ask where they should put their SEO budget – in on-page tactics or in link-building. Unfortunately, there are plenty of SEO companies and consultants lining up to give them the answer – and that answer just happens (“coincidentally”) to be whatever the company/consultant is good at. When you’re an expert with a hammer, you start to think you can nail anyone (wait, that’s not right).”

And of course, these kind of comments could equally apply to PR. If your expertise lies in media relations, then naturally you’ll find it hard not to recommend to a client that a media relations solution is the way forward.

But I agree with Dr Meyers when he says that the honest answer is: “It depends”.

And of course, that is the answer that no client wants to hear. They want “an answer”. Or more specifically they want “THE answer”. That someone is going to take the pain away and deliver the silver bullet solution.

In a similar vein, people sometimes view training as a quick fix. Send someone on an SEO training course and they’ll come back with “the answer”.

Clearly, you have to start somewhere – and for PR professionals, the CIPR already offers workshops and webinars that will provide a rapid fire introduction to SEO basics (as well as other areas of the digital marketing mix such as social media and analytics).

But this is merely the first part of the journey. You can spend your entire life just reading about SEO or attending training workshops. However, there comes a point when you actually have to start doing it.

So rather than waste our energies arguing over whether SEO firms should be doing PR and vice versa, the only real way to find out is as Dr Meyers so eloquently puts it: “Do The F*cking Work.” Sticking with the same core set of skills that may have worked in the past is no longer an option. As I’ve opined before, one trick ponies are going to be a liability. Or as Dr Meyers more colorfully puts it: “One trick ponies make good glue”.

No single blog post or one day workshop is of itself going to solve all your problems. This is your profession and your career. Not only is continuous learning and development a pre-requisite, actually making the time to apply it is mandatory. Even if you can’t immediately find opportunities within your own work to apply these things, then make the opportunities yourself. It costs next to nothing to create your own blog, install Google Analytics and set up a Google Adwords account. Don’t just read about SEO and nod sagely when people stand up at conferences and say that PR professionals COULD have a valuable role in SEO. Actually do it.

A 10 minute guide to SEO and PPC for PR people


I deliver training workshops and webinars for both the CIPR and PRCA. I cover subjects such as SEO, social media, analytics and overall digital marketing – but always in the context of PR.

It is gratifying when attendees tell me that I’ve helped demystify many of the concepts around SEO and PPC – and to help them see how they can either start doing this kind of work themselves – or at least be better placed to evaluate which 3rd party partners may be more appropriate to work with.

I thought it might be worthwhile to have a quick look at how any PR person might go about sanity checking what do with regard to SEO optimisation around keywords.

Let’s take some example seed terms (PR training, social media training and SEO training) and see what tools like Google Insights, Google Keyword Tool and Market Samurai tell us about demand – and guidelines for PR and marketing approaches.

Google Insights

Google Insights is a great (free!) tool for getting a general sense of keyword trends. Is relative interest in a term rising or falling. What are the likely search trends in the future? (if Google has sufficient data to make a reasonable prediction).

Here’s what the chart looks like for our seed terms (in the UK):

Google Insights for PR Training, SEO Training and Social Media Training

A quick caveat – just because the general trend lines are downward, it doesn’t mean absolute search volumes have fallen. It just means that relative to the overall universe of search terms, interest is relatively lower.  To see absolute search volumes, we need to use the Keyword Tool (see next section)

Unsurprisingly, SEO training only appears on the scene in late 2006. Social media training emerges in mid 2009. Though both appear to have overtaken interest in PR training. And the forward trend for SEO training is upward into 2012.

Again, we should treat this data with caution. We are using Google search data as a proxy for intention ie that someone typing in the term PR training is indeed looking for information on PR training – or seeking to buy PR training services. Ditto the other terms.

GI also shows that in terms of regional interest, all three are largely concentrated in London.

Google Keyword Tool

Google’s Keyword Tool provides insight into the number of times a particular keyword term is searched for every month – both on a global and a local basis. It breaks down figures based on broad, phrase or exact match (go here for an explanation). It is important to understand these distinctions. Too often I have seen PR people quoting broad match figures when they really mean exact match.

Looking at our seed terms, it does seem to bear out that interest in SEO and social media training is currently higher than PR training (assuming search volume is a proxy for interest).

Google Keyword Tool

Who currently ranks highest for natural search on these terms and why?

This is where you would now turn to a tool like Market Samurai to analyse who currently ranks highest in Google SERPs for your respective terms (using the SEO competition module).

Here are the screen shots for the respective terms:

PR training

Without going into the nitty gritty detail on each element (why not come to one of my workshops if you want fuller insight?), areas coloured red suggest that these pages have some optimisation advantage – it could be the age of the domain, the number and quality of backlinks, the number of referring domains, etc. The point being, you can see very quickly what you are up against.

For example, if I was starting a PR training site today with a brand new domain, I’d be competing against these current incumbents. You’d certainly have to allow time, energy and effort to outrank these pages and sites. And think of the likely click throughs you would get even if you were to rank highly. Based on current search volumes, the number one ranked page could expect to get around 1000 click throughs a month (this is based on assuming the number one ranked page gets around 42pc of the total broad match search volume. And I fully appreciate that many out there in the SEO world dispute this figure today. Even so, the fact is, the number one ranked page is going to get the lion’s share of the click throughs. So anyone thinking of trying to rank highly for the term PR training needs to understand the competitive landscape. Or  as I constantly remind people, what is the point in ranking well for a term that no one is looking for?).

What about Google PPC?

What if I can’t expect to naturally rank number one for PR training overnight? (Or for whatever your chosen keyword phrase is).  What about paying for attention via PPC?

Again, Google helpfully provides a tool to allow you see what kind of money you’d have spend to gain the impressions and hopefully, click throughs, based on the term(s) you are interested in.

If we take PR training as the example, we’d see that we could expect to pay a CPC of £1.36 on a broad match basis and we might see around 4 click throughs per day. There is a lot more to be said about PPC, but suffice to say even the PR newbie to PPC can quickly grasp where they are likely to get more bang for their buck

PPC Competitive Intelligence

Wouldn’t it be great if you could also see who else is bidding on your keyword terms, what they are paying and what kind of ad content they have been trying? Well, you can. Step forward SpyFu.

In simple terms, SpyFu allows you to quickly see who you are competing against in Google PPC and what kind of ad content others are using. Perhaps more importantly, who are the advertisers that are testing different ads and sticking with formats that work?

In my experience, service suppliers to the PR sector generally don’t seem to test ad content or are largely unimaginative in terms of copy. Which may explain why most dip their toe in PPC and then give up, assuming that it hasn’t or won’t work.

This is just a cursory look at some basic approaches that PR firms can take to beefing up their SEO skills (hint: this should give you a clue as to why many of the claims made about press release optimisation are completely bogus). We should also bear in mind that search is essentially about fulfilling demand rather than creating it. PR clearly has a role to play in helping create demand in the first place – and we shouldn’t forget that.

However, at the very least this first look should help PRs to have more informed conversations with clients and colleagues about what are realistic starting points for planning and discussion around SEO and PR.

And don’t forget, if you want the full nine yards on SEO, Social Media and Analytics in relation to PR, then please do have a look at the workshops and webinars I will be delivering over the next 12 months here and here.

Of course, please feel to comment on any of the above!

Try Market Samurai For Free!

 

“Social media is vital say top SEO firms”. But the bosses aren’t very social…


One of the most frequent comments from search agency bosses in the recent NMA league table of the UK’s top search firms was the importance of social media to search.

The following is a representative quote: “the biggest growth opportunities are in increasing the effectiveness of search by integrating it with areas such as display and social media.”

So are the bosses of these search firms walking the walk, as well as talking the talk when it comes to social media?

On the whole, it would appear the answer is no.

To try and work out just how social the bosses of the UK’s top search firms are, I created a PeerIndex list of the MDs of the top 45 firms as per the NMA league table.

As the observant among you will notice, there aren’t 45 names in this list. This was because I wasn’t able to find a Twitter handle for all of them. This suggests they haven’t got one or they aren’t making it easy to find their Twitter profile (*).

As can be seen by the PeerIndex list, the bosses of the UK’s top search firms don’t appear to be that active in social media.

Of course, I’m fully aware of the argument that bosses shouldn’t be wasting their time Tweeting and Facebooking 24/7 – they have far more important things to do like running their businesses. However, given that the top search firms seem to have a consensus about the importance of social media to their clients, you might think that there might be more of an effort to “lead from the front”.

On another point, I will spare the blushes of the search agency MD who “protects” his Tweets.

As I said earlier, I don’t think anyone is disputing that search and social media need to work hand in hand. And from the PR perspective, if the PR sector wants to “own” social media, perhaps it could lend a hand in helping the bosses of search firms get more immersed in the environment. And perhaps creating powerful intergrated offerings that will deliver more effective, high value and more profitable services for clients?

Agree? Disagree? Have your say below.

(*) I’ll happily add in any search agency boss I’ve missed off if they want to supply their Twitter handle to me

My profile on Google+

Winners and losers in NMA’s SEO/SEM agency league table 2011 + PR implications


Once again, it is time to look at NMA’s annual search agency league table to see what the data tells us about the state of search in the UK – as well as the implications for PR.

As ever, I’m very grateful to NMA for providing the baseline data to look at. As I’ve done in the previous four years, I thought I’d dig behind the figures to see if there are any significant trends to be discovered – and to compare the search sector with the PR sector.

The NMA league table ranks agencies based on gross profit rather than turnover (or top line fee revenue in the case of PR Week’s Top 150). I use the phrase “revenue” in this piece as a synonym for gross profit.

Some initial headline findings:

The number agency one agency again – for the third year running – is Bigmouthmedia.

They held on to their number one slot with a gross profit of £12.61m – a very modest rise of 0.42pc (in terms of PR sector comparisons, bear in mind that this is larger than most top 150 PR Week firms achieve in terms of top line fee income).  Revenue per head came in at just under £74K – a drop of 38pc from £120K last year.

The firm with the highest percentage growth was The Webmarketing Group who returned an astonishing 1600pc increase in gross profit over 2009 to £3.1m (I thought this might be a typo – it has happened before – but the figures seem to match with the previous table). Revenue per head was a more modest £54K.

Other high percentage rises were from iVantage (273pc, albeit from a low start point of £30K) and Smart Traffic (169pc – an increase of £2.2m on the previous year).

And who were the losers?

Surprisingly, the highest percentage fall came from Propellernet – a drop of 32pc. They were one of the top performers in 2009. Back then, they recorded a 64pc rise in revenue and a £113K revenue per earner ratio. Last year, they saw revenue fall by £748K to £1.5m and revenue per head fall to £58K. SiteVisibility also fell by 26pc year on year, coming in with a revenue per head figure of £46K.

The largest absolute fall came from Latitude, which saw gross profit tumble by 22pc (or £1.1m).

Of the 35 firms who were in last year’s table (ie where comparisons can be made), 25 of them saw increases in revenue. And ironically, as we’ve seen, some of the biggest fallers this time round were some of the biggest gainers in the previous year.

So what does all this tell us?

On the one hand, you could argue that the sector overall continues to exhibit decent growth. Average revenue per head in the NMA table in 2009 stood at £49.7K. This has risen to £52K in 2010. But this year’s results also show that creating consistent, sustained, multi-year growth is as difficult in SEO and SEM as it is in any other business sector. As we’ve seen, some of last year’s big gainers have seen falls this year. Conversely, some of last year’s fallers have seen revenues rebound this year.

In comparison to the PR sector, the difference in profit per head is beginning to look less marked. There are still a few SEO firms with stellar profit per employee figures – but the lesson from the previous year is to see how many of these agencies are able to sustain such eye popping revenue per head figures over time. Generally, the SEO sector appears to remain more profitable than PR – but not by the same margin of previous years.

Service-wise, the trend towards natural search vs paid search continues – although it should be noted that a number of firms with more PPC work than natural search seemed to exhibit a higher revenue per employee figure.

From a PR perspective, it is worth noting that a recurring comment from many SEO agency heads was the fact that social media was having an ever increasing impact on search (mobile was another common theme). Many SEO firms are already staffing up around social media related services (as well as continuing the trend of hiring their own PR  people)

If the PR sector believes it ought to “own social”, it can’t ignore the role it plays in relation to search. Savvy PR firms are going to cosy up with search agencies or start rapidly developing their own SEO and SEM capabilities. Those that don’t are in danger of being condemned to a race to the bottom of a commodity media relations market.

In summary, this is just a first pass look at the figures (any errors of analysis are all mine – so if you spot any, please point them out). I’ll pore over the data in more detail and report back in further findings. In the meantime, as ever, all comments and feedback welcome.

Free 46-page Internet Marketing Strategy briefing whitepaper from @E-Consultancy! Download here now!


First things first : E-Consultancy has produced a most excellent 46-page Internet Marketing Strategy briefing dcoument – free to download by clicking on the link (as I’ve said before, E-Consultancy briefing papers are always high value – easily justifies the annual subscription many times over).

I’m blogging about this because E-Consultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein asked me to (along with 30,000 others)  - see below for his original e-mail. As you can see, this is part of an E-Consultancy experiment into content marketing and SEO – and a very clever one too.  We all get something from it for taking part.

So – if you wouldn’t mind – feel free to click on the link above and download the document.  And if you are so inclined, do as I have done and blog/link to the briefing paper with the anchor text: “internet marketing strategy”.

___________________________________________________________________

We’ve just published a 46-page Internet Marketing Strategy briefing which is free to download. It analyses five key current trends: customer centricity, channel diversification, data, social media and content strategy.

It’s a bit unusual for us to make something like this free. It’s an experiment in ‘content marketing’ – a hot topic in digital marketing and something we examine in the briefing itself.

Of course we’re interested to see how many visits and downloads we get, the tweets and social mentions, but we’re most interested in getting links to this page (ideally with the link anchor text Internet Marketing Strategy) to see how this impacts our natural search rankings for the phrase ‘internet marketing strategy’.

Currently we’re nowhere near the first page of Google, or other search engines, for this competitive search phrase. But could we be with a bit of ‘content marketing’? And what value might that drive to us?

We plan to publish a mini case study with the results of this experiment which hopefully you’ll find interesting and which might help put more concrete value to the effectiveness (or otherwise) of ‘content marketing’.

You can help with our experiment…

Of course we encourage you to download and read the briefing itself (we think it’s very good) but, ideally, you would send a link to this page (not the file itself – little SEO value there…) to relevant contacts or, even better, you’d link to the page from your blog, via social media etc.

In an ideal world you’d even use the anchor text Internet Marketing Strategy to the link to the page.

I’m sending this email to around 30,000 of Econsultancy’s members globally so, if you do your collective bit, then we should stand a good chance of building some great, and relevant, links…?

Will we shoot up the rankings as a result? Or get punished for the suspiciously quick build-up of links with the same anchor text? Who knows… watch this space.

Obviously we’re not incentivising you to do this in any way because that would be “paid links”. ;)

All the best and thanks for any help.

Ashley

Ashley Friedlein
CEO
Econsultancy

Recycled Friday: Is £2.5 billion really spent on press releases in the UK?


I was inspired by the following comment from @adcontrarian in his latest blog post:

Because I am a lazy bastard and the thought of writing five posts a week is a constant source of terror, I have decided to introduce a new policy around here. From now on, on Fridays,  I’m going to recycle old posts that I like and that are still relevant. Today is our first Recycled Friday.

What a great idea. Having nearly 600 posts over 7 years gives me a good back catalogue to plunder.

Without further ado, here is a post I wrote five years ago – has much changed? You be the judge.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

New survey conducted by Benchmark Research on behalf of Glide Technologies has thrown up some interesting, if not entirely unsurprising, results about the PR industry in the UK today.

The full report is here:

Glide PR survey

However, the one item that caught my eye was the calculation that  £2.5bn is spent on press releases in the UK. This based on the survey finding that 39pc of PR professionals time is spent on creating, distributing, and following up on press releases – and the estimated total size of the UK PR industry at £6.5bn. Couple that with only 32% of releases received by the media being of genuine interest, then I calculate that means £1.7bn is being wasted on irrelevant press releases.

Although I’d take this calculation with a pinch of salt, it would be fair to say that an awful lot of money is still being spent (and wasted) on the humble press release.

The survey also highlighted a clear discrepancy between journalists desire to be contacted by email and PRs who still overwhelmingly use the phone.

I know the reasons for both sides views. Journalists have been jaundiced by too many wasteful phone calls along the lines of “did you get my press release”, or are you attending exhibition X (see Phil Muncaster of IT Week vent his spleen re: the pre-InfoSec deluge of calls asking him whether he was going – Muncaster InfoSec rant )

On the other side, PRs often feel that they will get more “attention” by actually talking to the journalist. Though of course that still means you need a good enough story to give them.

My take on the survey as a whole is that is shows the same old values still apply to PR in terms of media relations – journalists will give the time of day to a trusted source – but even that doesn’t guarantee they will use a story. Perhaps some of that wasted £1.7bn could be spent on training PR professionals to get better at becoming trusted information sources.

Other findings below:

81% of Journalists on a desert island opt for laptop over a phone

Email remains the most popular delivery format for journalists. Fax, post, newswire, PDA and SMS all decline. RSS and IM emerge.

76% of journalists more likely to use press communication with photos etc.

89% of journalists will visit an organisation’s website most of the time when writing about them

Journalist Complaints

Poor use of email (e.g. sending large attachments) accounts for the two greatest online deterrents to journalists

Only 32% of releases received by the media are of genuine interest

73% of journalists think an organisation is ‘not media friendly’ if its online press information is poor. 60% think they’re ‘lazy’, 50% that they’re ‘incompetent’.

Research conducted by Benchmark Research.

A question for Social Media Experts (and SEO experts). Do Tweets improve SERP rank?


Does Tweeting having an impact on SERP results? Google has certainly indicated that “social signals” have an increasing role to play. However, hats off to Fresh Egg for actually conducting some tests to see whether this really was the case.

You can read a full account of their experiments here.

However, here is a thumbnail sketch.

The term they were looking to rank on was “social media experts”. In their first test, they noted that the SERP position for their target article rose from 395 to number 3 within 24 hours. The key factor appeared to be the number of Tweets containing links to the page (which went from 5 in 5 minutes to 100+ by the end of the first day).

As Fresh Egg pointed out, there were other factors that almost certainly contributed to this such as the good Page Rank of the article itself, the post being fed into Google News, etc.

So the second test was therefore very intriguing. For this one, they put the content in a place that would make it very difficult for Google to index (ie poor Page Rank, no Google News feed, unrelated content context, etc).  The term they were trying to rank on this time would be “SEO vs Social Media”.

Four days after posting this piece, it still hadn’t been indexed by Google. Then they Tweeted a link to the article. It took only 2 hours and 30 mins to get the page indexed. By 12.30pm on the Monday, the page still had no back links. What we can conclude from this, says Fresh Egg, is that “Tweets had played an almost singular role in getting the page indexed. Whilst it is still not entirely clear that tweets alone can get a page indexed or help climb rankings, what is clear is that tweeting out a page on relatively powerful twitter accounts DOES help SEO.”

As Fresh Egg say at the end of their post, “The final test is to rank better for a page which is already indexed and placing well on a competitive term where the content on the page doesn’t or hasn’t changed and this is where you guys come in :) Give it a go and let us know how you get on.”

I’m in. I’ll report back to Fresh Egg and everyone else on what findings I come up with.

In the meantime, I’m going to Tweet about this post and see what impact this has on the ranking for this page around the terms Social Media Experts and SEO experts. How very meta.

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