How PR and SEO work together and why you don’t need a link

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Today just about every SEO firm claims to do PR. They’ve often got a very shaky grasp of what public relations is, but they claim to do it all the same.

Today, some PR firms claim to do SEO. Some do. Some do it very well. Some don’t do it well. Some don’t even do it at all!

But the reality is every corporate communications, public affairs and public relations professional should understand the fundamentals of SEO and be able to just do it.

SEO stands for search engine optimisation. It’s something that is constantly changing and evolving as Google and Bing update their algorithms to stay one step ahead of those selling SEO services. What worked a few years ago, might not be so effective today.

Search algorithms are secret.

Even the most expensive SEO firm in the world doesn’t know all the secret of Google’s or Bing’s algorithms. If they did it would be too easy to game them and render them useless. What they do know are techniques that they, and others, have used which boost the search ranking of keywords and phrases. What they can’t say definitively is to identify the exact contribution of each single technique as it’s the myriad of techniques that works. A good PR professional is just as capable of doing many of these things (better in some cases) as an SEO expert.

Both Google and Bing do publish guidelines on what constitutes best practice and things to avoid, but they don’t give enough detail for you to know exactly what value they place on all the things they mention.

You don’t need a link

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Contrary to what many people asking you to do SEO think you don’t need a link to help boost your search rank. A mention or citation also works. Technically they are know as implied links, as opposed to express links or hyperlinks.

If I type https://www.stuartbruce.eu it’s clearly a link to my business website, but I could also have used anchor text to mention Stuart Bruce Associates to link to my home page like this or even better anchor text that says communication measurement and evaluation experts and links to the specific communication measurement page on my website. However, even just a mention that says “public relations consultancy Stuart Bruce Associates” or “PR consultant Stuart Bruce” has SEO value.

This means that traditional media relations (still the bread and butter of some PR people) already improves search ranking. Don’t believe me? Both Google and Bing have said it themselves:

“Years ago, Bing figured out context and sentiment of tone, and how to associate mentions without a link. As the volume grows and trustworthiness of this mention is known, you’ll get a bump in rankings…” Duane Forrester, formerly senior product manager at Bing speaking at SMX West 2016.

“Basically, if you publish high quality content that is highly cited on the internet – and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions…” Gary Illyes, Google webmaster trends analyst speaking at Brighton SEO in 2017.

Implied links have been important ever since Google’s Panda update where Google’s 2012 patent even specifically refers to implied links:

“An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g. a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource but is not an express link to the target resource.”

The implication of the words “target resource” is that there should be some owned content on your own site, which doesn’t mean marketing bull, but something that is worth mentioning because it is valuable to humans – funny, helpful, useful etc.

It’s important to caveat implied links and say it doesn’t mean links are unimportant, just that they aren’t the only game in town and your editorial coverage is still valuable for SEO, even without the link.

Nobody knows precisely how important implied links are, but we do certainly know that they are an important trust signal that both Google and Bing take into account.

How you can maximise the effectiveness of implied links?

Brand mentions are another term for implied links. Your brand will have more search authority if it is cited (mentioned) on other sites, such as media sites.

Implied links aren’t just important for brand mentions. They are also important for the actual keywords and terms that real people actually search for. For example if people are searching for “sustainable energy” and more people end up on a specific page then it becomes a virtuous circle as Google takes this an indication that this is the most useful page for people and therefore further boosts its ranking.

It means that when you get a great article published it’s not necessary to badger the journalist or editor for a hyperlink. Doing so can be incredibly damaging to real, human relationships. If you can ask for a link without risking relationships then it is certainly worth asking, but be careful. In this article former journalist and current media relations consultant Fiona Scott explains why a good editor’s response to a request for a link is likely to be “Foxtrot Oscar”.

The secrecy of the search algorithms mean that it’s impossible to determine precisely just how much more valuable a mention on the BBC or FT is compared to a popular blog, trade publication or regional news site. But remember the intention of the algorithms is to determine the content that the human who is doing the search will think is best. So logically the algorithm should determine that a mention on a trade publication, alongside lots of similar quality content, is more ‘valuable’ than a mention on a bigger traffic, but less relevant popular site. It’s the same logic as a public relations professional should be using. Asking “what’s the most important site” for the stakeholder or audience they are targeting.

There is an argument that brand mentions aren’t implied links, as they don’t become implied links until someone actually uses it to search and visits the result. The challenge with that is accurate attribution is impossible. If the search is immediate, or relatively quickly, after seeing the mention then attribution might be possible – especially if you’re embedded in the Google ecosystem and using Google search and its Chrome browser. Someone reading an article and seeing a mention that they then recall six months later is unlikely to tracked.

We don’t know how well the algorithms do this. We do know they are getting better all the time at understanding what humans want. Therefore the type of SEO that public relations people are really good at is becoming more important all the time, because PR’s job is to understand people.

Use owned content to get implied links and hyperlinks

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Ironically one of the most important ways to maximise the effectiveness of implied links is one that also helps to get you those coveted express links. It’s by creating owned content that third party sites will want to talk about and even link to because it is so relevant to what their audience wants.

If your site has content or an asset that people will want then you’re providing a reason to mention it and crucially even link to it. It could be anything that is valuable to the reader or visitor to the site where you want to get the mention or link.

That content or asset could include photos, images, videos, infographics, white papers, cartoons, research, how to guides etc.

An even better asset is something that is interactive so to get the most value out of it people actually do need to visit the site. For example an interactive map people can search or zoom in and out on. The full detail of research you’ve done so people can analyse it and interrogate it for themselves. A quiz or test.

You need to give journalists and editors a legitimate reason for mentioning your brand or linking to your site.

It’s also far better not to hide your asset by creating a barrier and forcing people to register for it first. If you’re creating free content then it should be genuinely free content. Don’t make it private and lock people out to force people to give you their email address as the key to get it (besides GDPR legislation now makes that scam harder, but not impossible).

I never cease to be amazed at the number of news stories I see about research, reports etc, but when you go to the website of the company or organisation responsible you find absolutely nothing or just a news release. It’s missing a huge opportunity.

If you want to know more about how to integrate SEO into your PR then please get in touch for a free, no obligations chat about my public relations and corporate communications consultancy services and training courses.

Stuart Bruce

International Public Relations Adviser | Trainer | Author | Media Commentator | Conference Speaker | University Lecturer | Online PR | Digital Corporate Communications | Crisis Communications | Digital Public Affairs