SEO – the Glaring Gap in the PR Skillset
Let’s face it: most PRs probably don’t have a grasp on search engine optimisation. They might have heard of the term and may know a little bit about Google’s Keyword Tool and on-page optimisation, but how many PR firms could actually hold their hand up and say that they could offer a full SEO programme beyond just content creation?
By this I mean website re-architecture, link building, keyword position tracking and all those other things that help organisations compete effectively on search engines?
This is not a post on ‘how to do SEO’, of which there are thousands already online and would take an eternity to explain fully, but more about why PRs should clue up about SEO because they need to understand search to remain competitive and credible. As I highlight in my recent podcast on PR and SEO with Lucy Freeborn of digital agency Leapfrogg, SEO should not present a threat to PRs, but rather an opportunity to make the most of the masses of content they’re already creating. Acting in isolation SEO specialists typically understand search while PR firms understand influencers. Marry the two and you have the perfect online PR agency.
Why PR and SEO are inseparable
PR and SEO go hand in hand for many reasons. PR’s job is to generate good coverage and brand advocacy, which also creates inbound links from authoritative sites as a by-product of great coverage (so long as the link’s not hidden behind a paywall). PRs are also traditionally in charge of messaging and content creation, which means that anything that they create should be optimised before being shared online to make that content work even harder for the client’s brand.
Google recently altered its algorithm to reward sites which contains what it perceives as ‘quality content’- as opposed to so-called ‘content farms’, sites which are loaded with optimised content to draw in hits but offer little value to the surfer. As chief creators of content, PR people need to ensure that press releases, white papers, images, blogs and – increasingly, video – content is optimised and tagged correctly according to agreed keywords and phrases their clients want to rank highly for. Sharing this content on social networks to attract retweets, comments and inbound links all help that page’s SEO.
With terms which are not competitive a simple piece of well-optimised content can make all the difference, when combined with good site architecture. Below are recent diagrams of my keyword performance as they rank on Google for my company site, www.planetcontent.co.uk, according to Searchmetrics [disclaimer: client].
The top of the graph represents the highest rank on Google, and – although I’ve omitted the exact terms for competitive reasons, you can see that it’s possible to enter straight into high positions with well-optimised content. This would indicate that there was low competition on those terms, but if you are struggling to reach page one of Google you can focus your efforts at generating content and inbound links around relevant terms to help push them upwards. [Post continues below graph...]
The challenge for PRs
To ‘own’ SEO PRs can face an uphill struggle. The client may already have a search specialist in place who is wary of losing their work, the client may not understand SEO and need education. They may get the importance of ranking but be obsessed with branding definitions – e.g. “market leading solutions provider of …” ad nauseum – rather than terms that Joe Public actually use when searching online.
PRs also need to see analytics data for the client’s website, which is vital for any kind of accurate assessment of keyword performance, and many clients will be reticent to give this information up.
If your clients are resistant to change, throw statistics at them! Preferably their rivals’ stats on where they rank for keywords. SEO performance is trackable and can be articulated in graphs where PR performance has always been notoriously hard to quantify. Marketing managers love graphs and so do their bosses!
SEO, PR and social media are intrinsically linked and any modern PR company needs to ensure that its staff are digitally- and search-literate throughout the organisation to really practice what they preach. SEO should not be an afterthought and neither should it be perceived as a threat. Quite the opposite, it’s a massive opportunity for PR companies who are serious about offering the full service in the era of the Social Web.