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PR And SEO: Why They’re Better Together

As someone who started my career ghostwriting blogs at a PR agency, I’ve long been fascinated by the relationship between PR and search engine optimization (SEO).

While many see PR and SEO as two separate and unrelated disciplines, there are many places where the two overlap. In fact, brands can actually improve SEO with a thoughtful PR program.

What is SEO?

Moz, a leading SEO tool, defines SEO as “practices designed to improve the appearance, positioning, and usefulness of multiple types of content in the organic search results.” In other words, SEO is a technique to increase the likelihood that brand content will rank highly in organic search.

Gareth Cunningham, director of SEO at Mod Op – our parent company – and his team develop SEO strategies that take into account three pillars: technology, content and authority.

Technology – For a website to be successful in terms of SEO, it needs to be search-engine-friendly and technically sound.

Content – To see success with SEO, a brand needs to have focused content that holds relevant search intent.

Authority – The third pillar for SEO success requires authoritative inbound backlinks with a correct internal linking structure.

According to Gareth, PR has an outsized ability to positively impact the authority pillar. As he shared with me recently, “PR validates a lot of what every other [marketing] discipline provides or does. [From an SEO perspective] there are so many off-page strategies that work amazingly well if PR is involved.”

The good and bad of backlinks

In the world of SEO, there are lots of different backlinks, or hyperlinks that point back to a brand’s website. Some backlinks are good – increasing the likelihood a website will rank well in search. Some are bad – causing Google or other search engines to penalize content. The kind of backlinks most likely to be created by PR efforts are known as “editorial links.”

Editorial links are arguably the best kind of backlinks – Google considers them an example of a favorable linking strategy. These links exist on websites other than your brand’s and, as the name implies, are given editorially by other website owners.

As Moz explains, editorial links (especially the kind you don’t have to ask for) are hard to achieve. “Big brands can do it relatively easily, but that’s because they’re a big brand. To use an extreme example, Apple doesn’t have to ask for links when it releases a new iPhone. Journalists, writers, and bloggers will write about it and link to Apple because, well, it’s the iPhone.”

Can PR teams “earn” backlinks?

Many PR teams don’t work for brands like Apple. So if we want someone link back to a brand’s website, we have to give them a good reason. Earned media coverage lends itself well to editorial backlinks, because these articles ideally tell a story. When that earned coverage includes a narrative about a brand, the journalist may choose to link back to that brand’s website to provide more context or access (similar to the iPhone example). When the coverage presents expertise related to an industry, the journalist may opt to link back a resource on a brand’s website. We often generate this kind of backlink through our PR work when we release data from original research.

A word of caution: In PR, links aren’t guaranteed. And reputable PR professionals are wary of asking a journalist for a link unless they absolutely know it will bring the reader value. So, although it may be tempting to follow a PR strategy with the goal of improving SEO, link-building shouldn’t be the sole reason for investing in PR.

Earned media coverage without backlinks

What about earned media coverage without a backlink? Does a great piece of coverage, including target keywords and messaging in a top-tier publication, do anything for SEO?

You might be surprised to learn that earned media coverage without a backlink still benefits SEO.

While it doesn’t substitute for the value of a backlink, earned media coverage that speaks to the specific keywords or larger messaging can help boost the visibility of a brand’s website for those keywords or related terms. As Gareth explains, “the search engine, in their move toward a semantic web, is now more intelligent than we would ever understand and can pick up on these things. A search engine allows specific value for brands that are identified as not manipulating search engine results in any way, shape or form. It will then portion authority and kudos to that piece of work.”

Yes, PR and SEO are two separate disciplines. But when it comes to authority, the overlap is clear. Like other areas of marketing, if you’re implementing both, it might be time to consider breaking down the silos between them and exploring the value they can bring one another.

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