If you’re a comms professional, you’ve likely developed a clear idea about what PR can and can’t achieve – to the point that you’re tired of explaining it to stakeholders.
Want to support the sales process through building awareness and reputation? Great! Very doable. Want a target audience to see the company name in a trade publication and then immediately buy your full suite of products? Also doable, but not always in a predictable or repeatable way.
Still, while there are certain things PR will probably never be suited to, it does evolve like any other discipline, and over the past few years it has become abundantly clear that the value that PR can add to the business is expanding in a new direction. More specifically, if you use PR to support your search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts, you can create a consistent, reliable source of leads for your marketing department. I’m absolutely blown away by how few PR agencies have cottoned on to this.
Why should you even care about SEO?
Search engine optimisation is simply the process of making your website more appealing to search engines and people. By doing so, you ensure that when prospects search for your types of products or services, your site appears at the top of the search rankings, they land on your site (at the exact point when they are in the market for your types of products or services) and they are then quite likely to buy from you.
A properly optimised site is lead gen gold dust – rank first for an important keyword, and over 30 per cent of all searches for that keyword will end up on your site. That’s more search traffic than will be attracted by all eight ads combined on the search page (and you won’t have to pay for the clicks).
But ranking first is no small feat. Only one website can rank first for a search term, which means your SEO strategy needs to better the strategies of all competitors trying to rank for the same term. When you get there, you can’t rest on your laurels. You need to defend your number one position against those competitors as they try to oust you.
This might sound like a Sisyphean endeavour, but in most industries, the reward of a number one ranking is so great that it’s worth investing in. And the good news is that SEO is very easy to do badly, and most of your competitors are probably messing it up.
How to get that coveted number one ranking
If you don’t want to be one of those companies failing at SEO, then you need to start by understanding how search engines work. Search engines – Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. (but mostly Google) – want to make sure users see only the most accurate, relevant results when they enter queries into the search bar. To do this, they use special bots called "spiders" or "crawlers" to examine the content of each webpage on the internet to get an idea of what it’s about.
In order to decide which pages rank where for which search terms, Google throws an algorithm at them that considers over 200 ranking factors (such as content and links from other sites). Google gives away very little information about its algorithm, but it does offer tips to website owners and marketers on how to optimise their sites for top rankings.
Search engine optimisation is a whole discipline that starts with choosing the best keywords (ones that will result in leads and that you have a chance of ranking for), ensuring these keywords are correctly populated throughout the site and keeping the site relevant, active and up to date.
This on-site activity is essential and is never a one-off project (on-site work should be ongoing and evolutionary), but it only represents a small proportion of the activity required to increase your rankings.
Arguably the most important part of SEO is generating links from other sites across the web
Arguably the most important part of SEO is generating links from other sites across the web, as Google takes these links as endorsements of your website, and they play a major role in the ranking algorithm. In fact, Google’s Andrey Lipattsev recently admitted that number of links is one of the company’s top two ranking factors – whether it’s #1 or #2, you don’t want to neglect it.
What does that have to do with PR?
By now it should be obvious: the best way to generate those hallowed links from external websites (the more authoritative the site the better) is through PR. The best links are those coming in from the most reputable sites, and those tend to be media, government and charity sites as well as good blogs.
Chances are, your SEO agency isn’t too good at generating those links. They may have had a crash course in PR to supplement their technical knowledge, but it won’t be their strong point (trust me, I have been on many SEO courses, some run by some of the UK’s leading SEO agencies and the PR module has never been better than primary school level). But your PR agency should know a thing or two about getting your company featured on these highly sought-after websites, and they should be requesting links to accompany every piece (whether or not you actually get a link is still down to the website owner’s discretion, but it’s always worth asking – our hit rate is between 30 and 35 per cent).
So, if you can turn the comment pieces and articles you’re already placing into a steady stream of links to your site, you should see a tangible improvement in your site’s rankings (assuming you are doing all the on-site stuff properly). Note that there are two kinds of links: ‘nofollow’, and ’followed’ links, and where possible you want to be generating the latter type – as these are the ones Google uses to attribute its legendary PageRank (link juice basically – the more you’ve got the better off you are).
In many instances, good PR is the only way to get links from a media outlet
In many instances, good PR is the only way to get links from a media outlet, and the more links you accumulate, the more your site’s own authority and rankings will improve. And these aren’t the only benefits of links: when you’re featured and linked to in relevant media, you’ll generate referral traffic to your site, which is generally great for business.
There’s also value in simply getting people talking about your company. Even if you can’t secure a link, ’branded mentions’ can be an effective supplement to your SEO strategy. If you’re being featured in publications or blogs, mentions of your business’ name alone can help boost your ranking (although this is highly unlikely if you’re not already running a solid SEO strategy). Google treats discussion as an indicator of search relevance, so when you’re mentioned in the text, it’s could arguably count as an ’implied link’.
When your PR efforts improve brand recognition, they also make users more likely to click on your branded search results – and your ‘click through rate’ has a direct relationship to your overall rankings for search terms.
How to measure the SEO benefits of PR efforts
SEO is ultimately about helping your business grow. So the most important metric with which to monitor the success of your strategy is organic leads – i.e. leads generated from organic search traffic. A good secondary metric or KPI would therefore be organic website traffic. The disclaimer would be that both the leads and organic traffic need to be suitable for your business – the wrong type of lead and traffic from a country you don’t operate in probably won’t be much help. If your PR agency is running a combined PR and SEO strategy (and they absolutely should be), these are the two primary metrics they should be reporting on.
If your PR agency is only charged with the off-site element of your SEO strategy (which is appropriate if you’ve got someone who knows what they’re doing running the on-site bit) then they should be measured on number and quality of followed links generated. We use Moz’s Domain Authority (a number between 1 and 100 that indicates the SEO-value of a website) to judge link quality: the higher, the better.
It sounds daunting, but the plain truth of the matter is this: if you have a good PR function, it should be contributing to your company’s search strategy already. When you know about it, you can leverage these contributions to boost your sales (and justify your value) even more. Modern PR isn’t just about coverage: it’s about putting that coverage to work. Know your SEO, and it’ll work even longer and harder.
If you want to find out more about SEO, download The Essential B2B Guide to SEO now.