Only a few years ago, Public Relations (PR) and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) rarely crossed paths. But this all changed in 2012 when Google released its Penguin and Panda algorithm updates. Keywords and backlinks became largely ineffectual, while cheap template tactics could actually make web rankings worse. From this moment on, the rules of SEO had changed.
Search Engine Optimisation is the practice of making a website more appealing to the search engine in pursuit of attracting greater organic traffic to the page. It has evolved in recent years from a purely technical skill into one that requires a far more sophisticated approach. This has seen SEO managers increasingly rely on skills deployed by traditional PR professionals, working together to ensure that the right content reaches its target when it really matters.
Google’s Panda and Penguin updates
Google doesn’t explicitly reveal the secrets behind its ranking algorithm – the set of rules behind which sites rank higher on its results page for different search queries. Furthermore, it is constantly making tweaks to improve its core search algorithm. Every day it releases one or more update in order to fix bugs and enhance the search engine’s overall performance. Mostly these are technical tweaks, however sometimes the updates can be so disruptive that they are deemed worthy of a name and receive extra attention, provoking much debate among the SEO community.
Google names its updates after animals. The most famous of these are Panda and Penguin.
The first Google Panda algorithm was one of the most notorious updates, affecting roughly 12% of all global search results. It was brought in to reduce the number of low-quality sites appearing at or near the top of its results.
Panda penalised pages for keyword stuffing, thin or irrelevant content, content farms, high ad-to-content ratio and excessive affiliate links. Despite being released in 2011, further updates were rolled out at regular intervals and Panda became part of Google’s core algorithm in August 2018.
In 2012, Google introduced the Penguin algorithm. It shared the same goal as Panda, although it tackled the issue from a different perspective – backlinking, looking at how many and what kind of webpages provide links to your website.
Adapting to change
While smaller companies have been fast to adapt to the new rules of the SEO game, the corporate world is still getting to grips with change. This is perhaps understandable. Traditionally, corporate marketing departments supervised SEO efforts and collaborated only loosely with corp communications and PR. Over the past few years, however, the value that PR can add to a business has expanded into new directions, including SEO.
This is significant since a company’s web ranking can be affected by an ever-evolving set of different factors. It is the SEO industry’s role to work these out, understand their specific impact and implement an appropriate digital strategy.
The evolution of backlinks
Prior to the release of Penguin, it was all about who had the most backlinks. Companies were buying them en masse and in bulk. All that was required to cheat or mislead the search engine was to hire a specialised service or research easy hacks on an internet forum. But nowadays even properly thought-out SEO tactics might not deliver the intended results. Thanks to Penguin, the trade professionals had to step up their game.
Suddenly, SEOs had to find a new way to obtain backlinks and legitimate relevant or earned links from other domains. At the same time, Google continued to battle against over-optimisation by releasing new updates, making the ranking algorithm even more difficult to manipulate. It was from this moment that the SEO industry first started to notably deploy PR tools and practices to achieve its web ranking goals.
Although backlinks are still considered an important factor in the ranking algorithm, it is now the quality of the referring source that really matters. For example, links from the BBC or the New York Times are more desirable than those from a little-read or obscure blog.
Outreaching content has become the main go-to-tool in generating high-quality backlinks. Providing comment pieces, offering guest posts or authoring feature articles will gain tangible SEO results. Although digital professionals tend to make the best use of technicalities, it is only with the addition of specialist PR skills that the true benefits of SEO can be unlocked.
Ultimately, the best way to generate a good backlink profile is through the implementation of a sustained and targeted PR strategy. The most desirable backlinks come from reputable domains, most notably media sources, government websites, charities and respected blogs.
How to use PR for the benefit of SEO:
PR specialists are well versed in the necessary tactics to obtain positive media attention, however they can sometimes be guilty of not converting this into an effective web presence. Here are just a few pointers to get the most out of your media coverage:
Give a reason to link back
Publish valuable resources on your website. Whether it’s a creative infographic, a research report or a data sheet, this will encourage journalists to add your link as their source. If receiving the link is easy enough, you should also consider what page the link leads to. From an SEO perspective, the homepage or a page with a call-to-action, such as product & services, would be ideal. It is important to make sure that your website is already internally optimised.
Target the right audience
Domain authority, a search engine ranking score, is not the only thing that matters. Targeting the correct audience is also vital. It’s crucial to get the balance right between domain authority and website relevance. In some cases, a link from a medium-sized blog that focuses purely on your industry can actually add more value to your ranking than a link from a general news publication.
SEO and PR managers both have their own media lists that could prove helpful to one other. By uniting them and adding information on a site’s page ranking, visitors can leverage the overall outreach strategy.
With the help of SEO, this staple of the PR industry can be tuned to make your ranking more efficient. By using the correct keywords, you can boost the organic reach of your press release and improve the ranking position of your website for the desired search query. Furthermore, including multimedia and social media will encourage sharing and increase the chances of someone linking back to your website.
No link – no value?
It is of course up to a journalist to decide whether or not to link back to your site in their article. But even if they don’t, it’s not all bad news. It is a hot topic among SEO experts but I believe that, as the Google algorithm evolves towards a better understanding of natural language, brand mentions will sooner or later take precedence over links.
Navigating the digital challenge
Given the pace of change, the most important thing for PR and SEO professionals is to keep up to date. The search algorithm is constantly evolving and it is no longer enough to focus solely on backlinks – there are multiple other factors at play.
By bringing together different communication channels and tactics – both new and traditional – companies stand the best chance of building an effective digital presence.