But SEO can be a great PR tool as well, provided agencies and internal communications departments alike understand both how it works and the importance of integrating SEO throughout a PR program.
“From press materials to the blogs posts that we recommend our clients write, we always keep an eye on SEO,” says Todd Defren, principal with Boston-based Shift Communications. “Because Google is the place where everyone starts these days.”
Noah Elkin, VP of corporate strategy at New York-based Steak, a digital agency specializing in search-based communications, stresses that SEO for PR is more than just ensuring keywords and phrases are repeated in press releases and other materials.
“Think about a search engine as the equivalent of a newsstand where you walk by and see headlines,” he explains. “Even though it may be just a snippet, you still want your headline to stand out and to reflect the core message you're looking to get across.”
Elkin says that many SEO strategies are really PR basics – finding ways to get news and content out when no major product or company announcement is on the horizon.
Because search engines like Google reward sites with fresh content with higher results listings, Elkin says adding a new section to a Web site and then figuring out ways to link that to other sites and blogs is essential.
There are a number of search engines that you can target with an SEO program, including some global brands such as Yahoo and Live Search (formerly MSN Search). But experts say Google remains search's 800-pound gorilla.
“Given Google's dominance of the market, if you're doing your optimization with an eye toward Google, the chances are you will [see] results on the others as well,” says Stephan Spencer, founder and president of Madison, WI-based Netconcepts. “I'd much rather focus on the number of different vertical engines being run within Google than optimize for other search engines.”
Spencer adds that optimizing for Google Product Search, Google Books, Google Image, Google Blog Search, and Google News end up serving a dual purpose: “You not only get the benefit of getting visibility on vertical engines, those searches end up on the universal Web search results as well.”
Although search engines are viewed mainly as a consumer or b-to-b tool, Defren notes that SEO can also be great for media relations. “Journalists often use Google as their first resource for any story.”
SEO once had a shaky reputation, because some early optimization experts relied on “black-hat” tactics – nefarious tricks such as endlessly repeating or hiding words on a Web site – to artificially boost the likelihood that a site ends up at the top of a keyword-based results list.
Google and other search engines take a dim view of such tactics. But those operators are still out there, so it's important to perform due diligence before hiring an SEO firm.
“It's a risky proposition to use ‘black-hat' operators because they'll provide a short-term solution,” Spencer says. “The only sustainable approach is the ‘white-hat' approach, and so you should always make sure you're working with a solid SEO professional and not with some fly-by-night operation.”
While marketing and PR work in their own silos, Spencer stresses that SEO needs to be a companywide commitment. “The marketing side should know that there are great press releases going out, and can leverage social media PR by putting an MP3 into a podcast interview so blogs will pick up your release,” he says. “You should be looking to advantage the opportunities on all sides.”
- Integrate keywords into press releases
- Think vertically when optimizing for Google searches
- Update your Web site regularly
- Use “black-hat” SEO tactics or operators
- Silo your SEO activities
- Only target smaller search engines