Master Class: What role should SEO play in an organization's overall PR strategy?

This month's panel discusses the role of SEO in an organization's overall PR strategy.


Tim Baker
SVP, emerging and social media, FD kinesis

Ben Finklea
CEO, Volacci

Brian Goffman
CEO and cofounder, Optify

Ron Sansone
Search copywriter, global solutions, Razorfish

Cindy Kerber Spellman
Director, corporate comms, GroupM Search

Recent comScore numbers estimate that 130 billion-plus searches are conducted online per month worldwide. With search being the primary way people are gathering digital information, it's imperative that SEO plays a vital part in any PR effort. In many fields, it's not uncommon to find blogs and other online outlets repurposing a release word for word. A few years ago, this would be an undesirable occurrence, but in today's digital landscape, this can often be a blessing.

Very often, Google and other search engines are ranking blogs and other social media channels on the first page of search results. Should one of these sources misrepresent the facts of a brand's message, the results can often trigger falsehood spreading throughout the Web. Ensuring that a press release incorporates keywords and language that the general population is likely to use when conducting a search can play a huge part in controlling one's message.

Content syndication is also a vital way of incorporating SEO on the PR level. While YouTube may be the largest video network, it isn't the only one. Making sure content used in outreach is placed on multiple video-sharing sites can allow for greater control over a message as it relates to search engine results.

It's also worth noting that in order for SEO to function ideally, all of these pieces must work together. Press releases should also live somewhere on a company's website and include properly tagged hyperlinks. Any official brand presence throughout social media, whether on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, must also incorporate appropriate SEO techniques when necessary.

Every area of communications must have a basic grasp of SEO best practices and how they best fit into one's respective field. If not, it will be very hard to preserve what little control is left related to a brand's online image.

Tim Baker, SVP, emerging and social media, FD kinesis

Traditionally, PR is about crafting strategic messages that communicate exactly what the organization wants people to hear. This activity creates strong brands, but the value of that campaign is difficult to quantify. Now, with search engines, it's very easy to see exactly what value the PR effort brings to the business. 

When an audience is exposed to a message, it can take anywhere from five to 22 exposures before you get action. The problem surfaces when only one or two exposures have been given. Your prospects turn to Google instead of your company to solve their problem.  

If that audience finds you in the search engines, the push worked. Without that final piece to close the PR loop, your hard-won client will find 10 other competitors to do business with. Believe me, your competition is not going to send you a referral check. 

In addition to capturing new business, SEO helps capture mindshare among editors who use Google or Yahoo news services or visit your corporate website to find information. Well-optimized content rises to the top of the search engines, where busy journalists will find you. Blogs, tweets, articles, and press releases should all be optimized and linked into your website's structure to increase the chance that they'll be found.

At Volacci, we blog every day. The best way for visitors to find you is to continue adding more and more content. This will make any company more noticeable in the search engines. Create content that people will want to link to, such as videos, stories, white papers, and pictures. Update your content frequently, as readers are always thirsting for new content.

Ben Finklea, CEO, Volacci

Not leveraging SEO as part of a PR campaign would be a wasted opportunity to improve a company's organic rankings and site traffic. The simple act of distributing a press release on the wire carries great value if you are smart about keywords, landing pages, incorporating multimedia, and taking the time to analyze your results.

Just a few basic adjustments to a press release can have a huge impact on organic traffic and Web presence. And it doesn't have to be a full-blown social media release - a traditional release with a low-cost SEO enhanced add-on can work wonders.

Keywords are crucial. By selecting a few focus keywords and placing them in headlines, as well as early in the body, the release will rank higher in results for relevant searches. Remember that industry jargon is not commonly used for searches.

Another way to maximize SEO for your releases is to utilize multimedia - video, audio, and so on. An online media kit should serve as a central Web page with links to the multimedia, product sheets, and blog. The release should link to this section of the site.

Distribution is also a critical factor of any release, especially when SEO is a priority. You can reach thousands via channels such as opt-in e-mail and RSS. Go further and cultivate a network of blog readers, Twitter and Facebook followers, and make releases distinct feeds added to iTunes, Google Reader, and FeedBurner.

Finally, track performance. Measure success by how well the release ranks in search engines and if it is driving traffic to the site. Embed tracking codes in the links to understand where traffic is coming from, as well as what links and keywords are getting the most interest. These few steps can serve as an important foundation for implementing SEO into the PR mix.

Brian Goffman, CEO and cofounder, Optify

There's a tendency among search pros to confine the role of SEO efforts within PR to mere reputation management, code for keeping the nasty stuff out of branded search results. But search can do much more.

Search engines have evolved from simple query tools into full-fledged communication channels. And search has spawned numerous tools for analyzing user input behavior, keywords, and click paths. This enormous amount of behavioral data can be a great boon to any PR strategy.

Forget sentiment scoring and your typical Google Alerts setups for the moment. Let's talk effective outreach and identifying key influencers. Google Insights for Search trends search data both chronologically and geographically - which is very useful if you're, for example, a travel company looking to promote a new line of eco-friendly cruise ships to the right market at the right time. (Hint: target Florida in the winter and Jersey in the summer.)

Backlink analysis tools not only tell us who's linking to a client and its competitors, they also help us identify advocates and detractors based on the link anchor text and surrounding content. New links coming in can help gauge a recent initiative's success.

Set to exact match, Google Adwords Keyword Tool tells us the frequency and syntax of user queries. So to increase circulation of a press release or appeal to your core, write with the audience's vernacular in mind. For example, search volumes suggest users are more likely to search for green cruises than eco-friendly cruises, so the qualifier "green" should be in the aforementioned cruise line's press release.

SEO provides a wealth of semantic information that can increase any PR initiative's efficacy. From outreach to trend-spotting to monitoring, client teams can take advan-tage of SEO data-mining tools to better understand specific audiences.

Ron Sansone, search copywriter, global solutions, Razorfish

SEO should mean one thing to your company's PR: being found. We spend our careers pushing messages through campaigns we hope get picked up, but often overlook that the Web has redefined coverage.

Surprisingly, adding SEO or expanding its role in your PR strategy is the easy part. The biggest hurdle I've come across for communication professionals is that developing an SEO strategy forces you - and sometimes your company - to step outside your comfort zone in how you think of your brand and the ways you connect with consumers. It makes you reconsider what your company has to leverage in contrast to what your target audience wants to see. It can give you a wake-up call as you start to look at search volumes and explore the terms people really use when they are searching for things relevant to your business.

Recently, a company came to me facing a common SEO challenge - an unfavorable article was ranking higher on the search engines than the entity itself. The company is rich in content (publications, press releases, video, images), so it had the tools it needed to improve rankings. The challenge, however, was more conceptual - what terms are we trying to rank for? Are we comfortable with making our brand more accessible? How does this align with our communications goals?

From your overall communications plan to campaign-specific execution, im-proving your online real estate and creating relevant, sometimes unexpected touch points should be on your checklist. After all, your brand is a star and it always feels good to be discovered.

Cindy Kerber Spellman, director, corporate comms, GroupM Search


The Takeaway

  • In PR, the success of a press release can be directly linked to SEO. As such, the release should incorporate keywords and common terms
  • Developing linkable content, such as videos, stories, and white papers, then placing each form of content on various online platforms, will keep your brand in the searches and help you control your message
  • PR professionals should initially measure the success of the SEO strategy by how well their press release ranks in search engines

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