Dorothy Crenshaw June 11, 2018 | 12:16:58

What PR People Should Know About SEO

PR and SEO were once worlds apart, with no overlap between them. A PR team or agency would work to build brand credibility through news announcements and feature stories. SEO focused on getting backlinks and website-stuffed keywords to drive search rankings.

What changed? Now there’s a growing area of commonality as traditional public relations has gone digital and algorithm updates have changed SEO practice. What’s more, PR people are ideally suited to help clients advance their search ranking while driving visibility and reputation. All it takes is an understanding of recent changes in search and content marketing, Here’s how PR and SEO can work together.

PR’s earned media coverage is more important than ever

PR people hate to be seen as mere publicists. That’s one reason why PR agencies like to emphasize the range of what they offer. Yet publicity results, also known as earned media coverage, is still essential. And not just any coverage, but top-tier publications that are recognized. Stories in outlets like The New York Times and Business Insider not only confer credibility, but they have high domain values. That means the stories can turn up in search results for years and boost the page ranking for any brand that’s prominently featured. To be clear, PR is not really about link-building. A good public relations program builds visibility and credibility rather than lots of links. But the ones earned from top publications can definitely help boost page ranking over time.

Brand mentions are “implied links” – an SEO win

Website authority used to hinge on backlinks – until things got out of control with spurious link schemes by shady SEOs. Google changed its algorithm, then changed it again, until publishers started moving to nofollow links for fear of being penalized. Links from credible publishers are still important, and PR people will work hard to secure a link to a client’s website in the stories and profiles we arrange. Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we don’t. But here’s the important thing: even without follow links, brand mentions are now widely considered to be implied links. Google’s panda patent made the change, and the status of brand mentions has been confirmed by its own quality guidelines and webmaster analysts. This has been a slow evolution, and it may seem like a fine point, but it’s not. It’s another big reason why SEO and PR should work in tandem.

Contributed content can work hard for both PR and SEO

Guest blogs, op-eds and especially bylined articles are time-honored PR deliverables that can have a whole new life when PR and SEO work together. High-quality contributed content tends to combine a reasonably tight keyword focus with the authority of top domains, particularly then the content is developed for known B2B and trade media targets. Again, there’s likely to be reasonable domain authority for established trades. And an aggressive PR campaign will expand mentions – and SEO benefits – beyond trade and news sites to niche blogs, review platforms, and social forums. As a bonus, a good PR person can help promote onsite content, helping to obtain organic links.

PR creates fresh content

Fresh content means more content, and more content – in skilled hands – means the right keywords. Google loves frequent updates and will index a given website more often when new content is posted, giving it more chances to be indexed and optimized. But most importantly, fresh content means authority on a given topic. The more we post about productivity software for small business, for example, the greater our authority becomes. This is why blogging is so important for B2B programs, and why posting on forums like Quora can help build reputation and gain authority on relevant topics. The trick here is focus. Content built around niche topics represented by narrow keywords (“b2b tech PR agency” as opposed to “tech PR”) are apt to be most successful.

PR can use keywords – but wisely

This is where the PR practitioner mentality comes into play. PR people are trained to veer away from overly commercial messages or overt brand plugs in favor of more nuanced mentions that position our clients as experts. What some PRs don’t know and can learn from SEO professionals is that despite the blizzard of content around popular topics, there are still opportunities to own more “boring” keywords. In fact, if you’re in a niche industry or want to build expertise on a narrow topic, the search competition may be surprisingly light, as with the “b2b tech PR” example.

Align earned and owned messaging

PR and SEO can truly work together when paid messages and those conveyed in owned and earned media are aligned. For company-generated content, the key is making it relevant. Do readers find it useful? Does it answer common questions and offer solutions and insights that satisfy user intent? If so, bloggers, influencers, and regular users will share it and link to it. Over time, this will build visiblity, credibility, and all-important search position.

By working together more closely, SEO and PR can influence search ranking and even increase site traffic. But more importantly, the two build strong brand associations and drive market authority, helping reach customers at every point in the sales journey.

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