SEO

Is the secret to SEO just good PR?

By James Gee | September 13, 2021

With endless posts promising easy hacks and quick SEO wins, should we instead be looking towards proven communication techniques to ensure digital success? 

SEO is almost a mirror of PR itself, as it looks for the values of accuracy, trust, engagement and persuasion in its content. As Google says in its search quality evaluator guidelines (essentially their own mark scheme), “the best links come from high-trust, high-authority sites in a natural, editorial style context”. With SEO, we are focusing on Google due to its vast market share and useful connection with social media.  

First, as PR professionals we must question why a website exists – what does it serve to do? Afterall, search simply fulfils demand, it doesn’t create it. So we must make the lives of interested parties easier by ensuring the site appears in relevant searches. To do this, it’s useful to first look at how the Google search engine works.  

Google’s structure involves Crawling, Indexing and Querying. Crawling is Google’s method of exploring the many trillions of web pages available on the internet today. Think of them like sending out lots of individual explorers. They autonomously explore the internet primarily following links between sites to establish those most connected. The more often a Crawler reaches a destination, the higher it will rank – so we can learn that the most interconnected content will be ranked higher on search listings. Next, when a Crawler has done its job exploring, the most successful sites it has come across are indexed into Google’s database – the vast storage cupboard of everything. It’s critical where things are placed and with how much importance, so we can find them later in the search phase. This phase is also known by Google as Querying. Essentially matching Q to A, Querying establishes the best solution to the 5 billion problems typed, clicked and spoken every day.  

Understanding this structure teaches us that we have to make our content easy for Crawlers to navigate, Indexers to store and Queryers to find, if we ever want them to be successful on Google’s platform. 

What’s also valuable is how people interact with Google in the way they search. We know that roughly 80% of all things typed into that little search box are Informational submissions, where we are trying to learn something specific outside of our current knowledge. The remaining 20% of traffic is split equally between Navigational requests for us to find stuff, and Transactional searches where we are shouting to the world we want to buy something. Since search data is the only true honesty in a shallow, multifaceted world, casting our nets to catch those wanting to learn means most of our content should be useful and educational, rather than ramming a poorly tuned ad piece towards people who aren’t there. 

Investing in backlinks can help to push good content to the right places, but don’t be fooled into thinking any old rubbish can be successful with enough investment – Google is ultimately about creating the best and most interactive user experience, so anything that doesn’t support that will fail miserably, even with all the money in the world behind it. 

Looking more towards PR specifically in the world of SEO, here are some helpful pointers to establish tangible success. 

 

  1. Set goals. Unless we can affirm real progress with realistic and agreed upon targets, any efforts will be unsustainable to anyone without an unlimited pot of gold coins.  
  2. Keyword analysis. Doing the homework to understand people’s searching priorities will provide a great basis to work from. If you want a great PR agency, you’re not necessarily going to search “best PR agency” on Google. Instead, you need to understand the keywords around sector specific issues or advances.  
  3. Competitor analysis and benchmarking. If you’re wondering what you’re doing wrong to be at #3 on Google rankings when people search for (let’s say) Tennis Shoes, then don’t. Instead, look what #2 and #1 are doing right, so you can plot where you and your competitors are now and then look back in the future to gauge progress. 
  4. Define activity and resource implications. If you’ve got a tiny budget, you’ll need to be realistic about what your time and efforts can achieve. It may mean readjusting those primary goals or suggesting a more comprehensive budget. Adding to that, a team of ten will be able to support a more powerful content strategy than a solo effort, so that can inform next steps instead of over-promising and under-delivering. 
  5. Evaluate and iterate. All that planning and groundwork is no good without some tangible conclusions and real content to work from. SEO is not a set-and-done exercise, as algorithms and peoples’ search habits change, so must the digital presence of a company. This means constantly evaluating, constantly tweaking and not being afraid to take informed risks with content.  

 Various tools online will make your life infinitely easier and will ensure there is reason behind your madness. Google itself has a suite of tools such as Google Trends, Google Search Console and Google Studio. These are free and readily available, as after all Google wants the best possible content on its platform. Other third-parties have been pragmatic too, with tools such as SEMrush having paid-for versions which allow helpful and insightful dashboards to be created for digital professionals to monitor the wider media. A newer metric is Share of Search, which serves as a proxy for your brand’s awareness online. It compares you against competitors and can be used as a precursor to market share behaviour. It currently runs with data derived from Google Trends and is maturing into a trusty tool in the belt of those managing and monitoring digital activity.  

More recently, it’s noticeable how PR professionals are becoming more aware of indirect digital exposure. Searching for (as an example) socks online may not turn up your client’s sock store straight away – which is a total SEO failure right? Wrong. If the top five results are media articles ranking the comfiest socks money can buy, and your client features in each of those articles with links to your website, who’s to say it’s not just as much of a success. In fact, tools like Visably help you to discover all these proxy rankings, and rate them to give a holistic valuation with an Ad Value equivalent. Since this type of editorial content also has the opportunity to be longer lasting, it incorporates a time-based valuation too.   

One final thing is us as PR professionals making the case for funding SEO commitments. Often seen as the mystical, magical power above, the Google search algorithm isn’t an overlord to succumb to, but a powerful platform to harness – knowing how to do just that isn’t snake oil, it’s good business sense in a digital world. When making the case to those wielding the purse strings, one thing has to be laid bare to everyone: this does not happen overnight. Search Engine Optimisation built on the foundations of accurate, honest and interesting content takes time to produce tangible results, so any campaign requires commitment both financially and through sheer time. The benefits of a well-measured, realistic and purposeful SEO campaign is increased organic demand for your client’s product or service, allowing any work done on the platform to have greater reach and effect. 

There’s no silver bullet to this business case, but similar to performing a branding exercise, one should be realistic with cost and timeframe, but passionate about outcome and future possibilities. 

Just like PR, an honest, researched and comprehensive campaign is the key to SEO success. 

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