Digital PR and the marketing mix: How to use PR for SEO success

In this piece, Jess Hawkes of Impression looks at how small businesses can make the most out of the digital marketing channels available.

Digital PR and marketing can seem a little overwhelming sometimes. There’s so many elements that contribute to its success, and so many ways to collaborate these channels together to make the most out of the marketing mix.

In the early days in search engine optimisation, an old school marketing activity such as PR and press outreach was relatively separate from SEO. This changed when Google realised people in digital marketing, namely SEOs, were manipulating the system in order to improve search rankings. Since having links back to your domain positively helps with your search rankings, SEOs would focus on purchasing spammy and low-quality brand mentions and links on poor quality websites that didn’t mean much at all other than the static link factor.

However, in 2012, Google introduced Penguin updates to its algorithm which penalised websites for having multiple poor links. Sites that had previously purchased a great deal of spammy links suddenly plummeted and needed a way to gain back their ranking strength through good quality coverage. SEO suddenly needed a way to gain legitimate, relevant and earned links. Having quality branded mentions and coverage in the media become one of the prime ways to get these, and employing traditional press outreach suddenly sat at the forefront of SEO strategy.

Using PR in SEO strategy today

Today, backlinks are still seen to be one the biggest parts of the ranking algorithm. The higher quality the website that features a link to your site, the more your domain ultimately benefits from the SEO ranking benefit. This means higher level authority sites such as the Guardian and the BBC are the most desirable for a variety of reasons. Not only does it mean quality brand awareness in national media, it also improves the SEO ranking authority and provides referral traffic back to the website. In this way, PR today continues to sit at the heart of SEO strategy in more ways than just gaining backlinks.

Outreaching content has become one of the key strategies in gaining these quality backlinks then. But PR has got more complicated, as there’s now new metrics at stake. In traditional PR and journalism, any brand mention was positive as it ensured that all elusive ‘brand exposure’. However, these days we need the inclusion of a link to gain a real result in SEO.

How can we ensure this is included when we can’t force journalists to provide links in their articles? It gets even more complicated than that, because today journalists and bloggers can add a little bit of code called ‘nofollow’ to a link which allows it to work from a user perspective, but Google won’t recognise it and it won’t help towards the SEO benefit at all.

In fact Google has issued guidelines that say any link that has not been ‘earned’ should have this ‘nofollow’ attributed to it, otherwise it will be penalised. This includes anything such as paying for coverage, or giving away product samples for reviews for example.

There are extensions you can use which will help you check whether or not your link has been ‘no-followed’. NoFollow instantly highlights which links are nofollow, and therefore less value from an SEO perspective.

The link challenge

Traditional tactics such as outreaching content, providing comment pieces and offering guest posts and feature articles will help towards this, but this is where digital PR gets a little more tricky than traditional PR. Not only do you have to make sure there’s a reason or resource for journalists to link back to, there’s also additional guidelines limiting your exposure opportunities.

Providing a valuable resource onsite in the form of creative or informative content heightens your chance of gaining a link, as it provides a legitimate reason for the journalist to link back to. This means creative content campaigns are increasingly popular amongst digital PRs.

If getting the journalist to link in the first place didn’t seem enough of a challenge – there’s additional metrics to consider here. Which page the journalist links to on your site makes a difference to how each page ranks.

Make sure you take the time to review where links are pointing to; the ideal SEO situation would be a landing page, product or service page which you’d like to promote but this can be tough, so making sure the linked to page is in a place where it passes value across the website is important. Integrating promotional content within landing pages could be a great way to achieve this.

How far down into the text the journalist links makes a difference too. A deeper page link is seen as more legitimate and valuable from an SEO perspective than an author bio link. And finally, the text that the journalist decides to attribute your link through also makes a difference from an SEO point of view. We call this the anchor text, and it’s more likely to contain relevant keywords if your article is featured on a relevant industry site.

A lot of these challenges you can get around by offering to write the entire article for journalists, and you can place the links in the exact format you like. Journalists are exceptionally busy and will gladly accept pre-written content if it is relevant and good quality.

Relevance of publication

Choosing the right publication to feature in also becomes harder too. Although having PR acumen on targeting the right audience and publication is vital here, you also have to consider the domain ranking of the site that is ultimately going to link to you. This becomes a challenge where smaller vertical industries do not have a strong web presence yet as they have primarily focused on off line print publication until recently. This means that offline magazines have a relatively low domain authority, despite being in the heart of your target market.

In digital PR then, it’s important to find the balancing act between finding relevant industry publications that have a decent level of authority and can deliver the maximum amount of exposure and SEO benefit for your site. Knowing your audience inside out, and what publications they are reading online will help position this.

Brand awareness

And what happens if they don’t link? Does the brand exposure still count towards anything SEO? Industry experts have been debating this for some time; Tom Capper from Moz spoke about and wrote an article last year on how he believes branded search to be an increasingly vital metric in search rankings. As Google gets more advanced, he predicts, links may decrease as a vital source of information for the Google algorithm, replaced perhaps, by brand mentions.

Featured snippets

There are innovative ways of improving your visibility on Google beyond links. Over the last year, there’s been a rise in the amount of featured snippets, whereby an answer box, a news carousel or some form of featured note is pulled from the page and displayed at the top when a specific question is asked. Many people believe these featured snippets is Google getting ready for voice search. These can be taken from informative FAQs or blog content onsite, however these can also come from informative answers that are presented in published articles.

There are other hacks for using PR in SEO. Optimising your content and articles from an SEO point of view will mean any outreach that you have had featured is more likely to show up in search for keywords that you are targeting. This is particularly effective if you’re getting featured in publications that have a lot higher domain ranking than your site, or for very competitive keywords, as news sites are favoured in these instances. In fact, if you notice that a high authority publication is ranking for a key term, it might be worth pitching your content to these so that you have a chance in ranking too.

Be adaptable

The most important thing to remember in using PR in SEO is that Google’s algorithm is always changing and links may not be the main ranking factor in the future. A new factor could come into play at any point, such as positive brand signals. When using PR as a tactic in an industry as fast paced as SEO, it’s important to not be afraid of trying new things and being ready for change.

Jess Hawkes is digital PR specialist at Impression

Further reading on digital PR and marketing

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