It all changed with Penguin. Before that, SEO and public relations (PR) were entirely separate entities in terms of Google rankings. Yes, good brand awareness would always improve click-through rates on search results, but in the old days it had nothing to do with actually getting you on the page in the first place.
From an average client perspective, search engine ranking was all about technical wizardry, dark arts and voodoo, practicable only by those with special knowledge. Before Penguin, public relations had started to seem a bit unfashionable to some, with its vague promise of “brand awareness” compared to the hard, empirical facts of SEO rankings and click rates.
But in April 2012 everything changed for the PR profession – though few people noticed straightaway. The sea-change came when Google announced a new update to its search algorithm. The Penguin algorithm was aimed squarely at putting an end to the “trickster’s handbook” of old school SEO and ensuring search results truly “earned” their place on the all-important first page.
Overnight, Google began penalising brand websites for using “manipulative” techniques to achieve high rankings in search results, while rewarding websites with high-quality editorial recommendations from influential journalists, bloggers or social influencers.
In short, Google got smart. Really smart. It was no longer so fooled by the technical existence of a link anymore. It was all about the quality of implied recommendation. And you didn’t even need a link per se.
Always watching, Google now sees brand mentions themselves, in the right places, as a recommendation of rank worthiness. The more influential the journalist, blogger or social influencer, the more Google sees the brand as an authority on the topic in the content, which means it’s more likely to be what its users are truly looking for.
So nowadays, PR’s impact on SEO is a double whammy. Firstly, search result click thru rates will always be boosted by increased overall brand awareness achieved by PR coverage, simply because people are more likely to click a result they’ve heard of before. But secondly good PR coverage will now actually help get you higher in the results in the first place.
So, “that’s awesome”, you say. All I need do is ensure my SEO campaign is backed by great earned media campaign and I’ll shoot up the results! Well, yes and no. The truth is, though brand citations will still boost SEO overall, the real magic does still come from links. This is where PR not only has to be active but also must be really smart.
The challenge is that the more authentic a journalist or blogger is as a source, the more valuable the citation or link is for SEO. But authentic sources won’t include a link to your site, unless they have a very strong reason to do so, which will add real value to their audience.
The solution comes from an integrated approach to PR. The holy grail, from an SEO point of view, is to achieve coverage with an authentic source, where the earned media content you have achieved is enhanced by further content on your owned media – the website you want to link to.
An example might be an HR company that wants to boost brand awareness with its target audiences but also Google rankings. Yes, regular PR about contract wins, CEO interviews and opinion pieces etc all help with citations and brand awareness. But the magic comes when the company conducts a survey into, for instance, “Sociopaths in the Workplace.”
The survey results are pitched with a press release to high authority publications, which is provided with a link to a Psychopath Test hosted on the company’s own website, where interested readers can get their own test results, just for a bit of fun. And then post them on social media if they like.
So, if picked up in HR trade press and also maybe some national newspapers, not only does the journalist have a reason to publish the link, there’s a good possibility readers will re-post their results on their own social media. Result: high quality links galore.
In short, a PR campaign aimed at boosting SEO as well as brand awareness works at its absolute best when it’s a combination of Earned, Owned and Shared activity, working together.
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