If you’re a PR leader, you’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about SEO. Why? Because you’re getting mixed messages. While some experts tell you that search engine optimization is obsolete, others will tell you that this marketing technique is more important than ever. As a PR leader, which perspectives should you follow? The short answer: neither and both. The long answer: keep reading to find out.
In this guide, we’ll demystify the jargon, share some SEO basics, and give you some pointers for high-impact decisions to make. We’ll walk you through a little bit of backstory, along with tips showing how SEO can fit into your strategic PR agenda. From there, we’ll recommend some specific tactics to try. Let’s get to it.
Some SEO Backstory: UX, Relevance to PR, and More
Search is where your target audiences go when they have a question or need information, fast. If your website populates among Google’s top-3-results for a high search volume keyword, you’ll generate an influx of free, organic, and relevant web traffic. In terms of traffic acquisition, high search rankings are a marketer’s dream.
That’s why, years ago, marketers and shady search engine optimization specialists started “gaming” Google’s algorithm by paying for links, writing spammy content, and using aggressive tricks–a term that veterans of the industry call “blackhat SEO.” It wasn’t a pretty ecosystem, and tactics frustrated users. But companies were able to generate significant web traffic and make a lot of money—that is, until the wrath of Google’s Panda algorithm.
Almost overnight, Google destroyed the universes (and revenue streams) of millions of shady marketers, and ever since, the search giant has been releasing a series of algorithm updates that make blackhat SEO even more impossible.
This series of changes has raised the strategic question of whether SEO is still relevant. Some marketers have made the claim that “SEO is dead” and that it’s better to stop thinking about it altogether. But this approach can be detrimental to your company’s marketing strategy. The biggest reason? You’ll be missing out on key opportunities to reach target audiences.
Key SEO Questions for PR Leaders to Ask
As a PR leader, your goal is to make sure that your company is present during key moments when your target audiences have questions. SEO is simply that: a process for ensuring that your valuable content is discoverable. The key is to stop thinking about SEO as a marketing tactic. Instead, dig into the ‘why’ of the topic, focusing on the following user experience questions:
1 – Is my messaging using the right keywords?
You’re probably going to begin answering this question with another question:
“What are the right keywords?”
Back in the day, SEO meant finding high search volume, low-competition keywords on Google. But today, the market is saturated. So how do you focus on the right keywords for your company? The answer is as simple as it is challenging: figure out the words, and similar expressions, that your highest value customers are seeking out when they find you. The “right” keywords aren’t ones that you’re likely to rank for. They come from 3 sources:
- Expressions that your customers and prospects are using in everyday conversation
- Keywords that your competitors are using and ranking for
- Phrases that are related to topics within your industry
It’s not magic. Choose keywords based on understanding and empathy–not what you think search engine visibility will be.
2 – Are my technical bases covered?
Search engines may be complex machines, but their end goals are simple: they exist to match digital audiences with relevant, helpful, high-quality information. If you look at every single one of Google’s algorithm updates, you’ll see that all changes were made to support these three areas.
It’s technology that enables your website to rank within these search engine results page (SERP) listings. You need to make sure that your site is easily crawlable and Google can figure out what’s up. Here are some steps to take as part of a technical audit:
- Are your URLs, meta descriptions, and title tags in a format that Google can easily crawl to better understand your content?
- Are you using the right keywords in the right places in terms of your page title, headline, body text, URL, images, alt tributes, title tags, and meta descriptions so search engines know what’s going on?
- Do any issues come up in page crawl diagnostics?
- Are there duplicate content issues between your website and others?
SEO is a discipline that is technical in nature. In addition to optimizing the right keywords, you need to make sure that your technology is in order. Google needs it to understand and connect audiences to your website.
3 – Who’s linking to me?
If you’re a marketer, you’ve probably heard the expressions “pagerank” and “backlinks.” The idea is simple: the more inbound links you have from quality sources, the more reputable your website is likely to be.
Back in the pre-Panda days, marketers took this assumption on behalf of Google and completely distorted it. Rather than producing and promoting high-quality content, SEO marketers started paying for links.
With Panda, Google’s algorithm caught up, with detectors for recognizing paid for and bought links. These websites received a link penalty that tanked revenues overnight. Ouch.
As a result of this history, many marketers have begun to shy away from the idea of building links. Instead, they create content for promoted through email or social channels, only. But this approach ignores a powerful distribution opportunity: relationships.
Start by taking a look at your link profile. Who’s linking to your website, what resources are they linking to, and why? By understanding your strengths, you can create more content around them. For instance, you may have written an in-depth guide to public relations. If you notice that these guides are popular, ranking highly in search with a healthy backlink portfolio, you should produce more.
You should pay attention to your competitors’ backlink profiles, too. If you come across a directory or a website or article that’s linking to websites like yours, for instance, you can reach out and ask to be included. Just don’t look at this outreach from the perspective of link-building. Remember that you’re forging human relationships, first and foremost.
Essential Tactics to Try
As a PR leader, you stand at the front lines of your company’s SEO strategy. There are several, subtle steps that you can take to impact your company’s rankings. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
- When you gain a PR mention, recommend some links back on your website. Ask the journalist if he or she would be willing to link to a piece of relevant content. Make sure to share data about why your content is helpful, so that the journalist feels comfortable sharing it.
- Publish some internal stats. Is your company gathering compelling data about your customer base? If so, you can publish this information as part of an internal study that lives on your website. Journalists and writers are always seeking interesting stats and metrics to cite. Publish and build visibility to your own reports.
- Pitch your resources. If you’re in PR or marketing, you’ve probably come across a wealth of in-depth resource or link roundups, wondering why yours didn’t make the cut. Instead of sitting back and wondering what you could be doing better, get proactive: reach out to these blog posts’ authors, point to your resource, and ask for a link. Chances are, these bloggers haven’t yet seen what you have to offer.
- Create visuals. Digital audiences are hungry for visual content, but often, these resources are time-consuming and expensive to create. Why not create a few infographics and give you audiences permission to use them? Infographics can help generate links back to content on your site. With attribution back to your company, everyone wins: you build awareness for your brand, and the person who is linking to your website gets a free visual to use.
The ultimate SEO question: “am I doing everything that I can to help my target audience?” Empathy has become the backbone of SEO strategy, and with human empathy comes a strong foundation for customer acquisition and growth. If you have a favorite question to ask or tactic to try, share it with our audiences in the comments section below.