Is PR the new SEO?

SEO doesn’t have to be a mystery. Quality inbound links achieved through PR will push your site up the search engines.

For some years it seemed that PR had taken a back seat in favour of get-rich-quick link building SEO. The order of the day was to ‘create an article about anything, publish it on any website that will provide a backlink and hand over £30 if necessary’. It was a strange world, back then, and I’m sure we weren’t alone in our bewilderment that 1,000 links from goat herding websites in Thailand could help a company sell more slippers in Slough.

Sadly, the truth was that for a long time even goat websites could push UK slipper sellers up the rankings. The problem was that Google hadn’t put its money where its mouth was. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, kept telling everyone to produce quality content which attracted links from authority websites. But the fact remained that those with the most links – relevant or not – all too often won the race to the top of page 1.

2013 was the year the world was changed for the newly-formed SEO industry. Google updated its algorithm and clamped down on the companies that had benefited from these mass link building techniques.

Many companies faced severe consequences by being knocked off Google completely.

Google sent webmasters a penalty notification and told them to resubmit their websites once they’d got rid of all their bad backlinks. Good webmasters regrouped and did what they were told (or are still in the process of doing so – it can take a long time to get hold of these goat-herders in Thailand, they’re busy people – plus they often want hard cash for the privilege of removing links.)

Search marketers had to find a new strategy. And so began the movement towards PR as a way of creating the content that people like, and earning the links that Google loves.

PR has always been about using the media as a vehicle to reach and influence audiences, often on a massive scale.

The difference in recent years is that the media landscape has changed. PR is now as much about placing stories with bloggers and social media influencers as it is about targeting traditional media titles and their online counterparts.

The fact is, a link from a highly influential blogger can now be more powerful than a piece in the printed version of the national press. A mention from a high profile Twitter user can drive seriously good visitors to your website.

What’s more, as well as providing valuable link juice to boost your rankings, you’re achieving advocacy from an authority source which is trusted by its audience. PR is a multi-dimensional powerful thing, when you put it like that!

But that’s not all.

When Google determines whether a site should sit at the top of page 1 it’s looking at lots of factors, not just inbound links.

How up-to-date is the content? Is the site providing a good user experience? Do visitors stay on the site for any length of time? Do they move around the site? Is it well written and does the content contain the keywords and phrases a company wants to be found for?

A good PR will understand how to tick all these boxes by identifying new stories and ideas that are worth sharing; writing great copy that gives a cohesive message and disseminating this content to the media and other communication channels. They will be familiar with using graphic design, video and animations to bring the content to life.

All this points to another other great benefit of taking a PR approach, namely that it solves the problem of continually creating good content for all your digital marketing channels.

So, as well as issuing your PR content to external sources, you can promote it on channels that your company owns – your website, blog, newsletter, social media. This enables you to build a direct relationship with your target audience (which can include journalists and other stakeholders), building your credibility as a source of authority or entertainment on a particular issue.

This kind of authority is hard-won, but is the holy grail of PR. But what makes it so much more worthwhile – and better value for money – is that it leaves you with greater control over your marketing, and less reliant to the whims of Google’s inevitable algorithmic changes.