No, PR and SEO are not the same thing. But for best results, they belong together.
6 min read
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Interestingly, although I lead a PR company, we don’t do SEO. However, I strongly consider SEO know-how one of the most essential advantages a PR business can have. The guiding rule of PR, in my estimation, is to provide relevant and value-add information for the people who want to receive it.
The job of SEO, then, is to direct that content to ensure it is seen. So in that respect, PR and SEO are best friends. As my friend Dan Posner, business development lead for Big Leap, likes to put it: “PR and SEO are like diet and exercise. Why would you attend to one without the other?” I agree.
Since Google updated its core algorithm in September, SEO practices have shifted yet again. And as usual, SEO experts are pivoting to adjust. The Google game is getting more sophisticated and abstract, with forces like BERT and ‘Entities’ making the algorithm ever more intelligent.
Too often, companies are still approaching SEO from a utilitarian perspective, treating it simply as a way to harvest clicks. But forward-thinking CEOs are supporting and empowering their Chiefs of SEO, because that link on Google is often prospects' very first point of brand contact.
Considering that search engine results pages (SERPs) will provide your introduction to many of your future customers, clients and partners, it’s time to start thinking of SEO as an integral part of your PR strategy. Put on your best public face, first by ranking, and then by providing a clickable link that converts. Here’s why this crucial point of contact is good for more than inbound sales.
Related: 10 Fundamentals to Understanding SEO
Stop chasing clicks and build a more authoritative presence
Google has been putting more effort into keeping people on the SERP instead of just clicking through. If you can earn a snippet or an answer box, you'll be the one who answers many users' questions. You may not get the clickthrough, but you’ve still won, by positioning yourself as an authoritative source in the conversation. This can be true even for a high ranking link without a snippet or an answer box.
“A high SERP ranking establishes you as a trusted authority,” says Guy Sheetrit, CEO of Over the Top SEO. “It’s like being quoted in the Times (or the Post. Or even the Journal). Users will automatically associate higher ranked companies with being ‘top of their class.'”
Sheetrit says smart SEO now means putting less emphasis on clickthroughs, and more on brand presence. Of course, this makes it trickier to measure ROI. But the long term payoffs of being an established authority are worth it, according to him.
Google doesn’t want to rank you for free
The SEO game was different when Google pages were comprised of the classic “10 blue links,” meaning the top 10 organic search results, with ads peppered off to the side. But there’s no use pining for the good ol’ days.
According to Moz Data Scientist Pete Meyers, only 3 percent of Google SERPs now feature 10 blue links. Google pages du jour are dominated by ads, answer boxes, snippets, PAA question boxes and other flotsam. “This is not the exception,” he says. “It's our new reality.”
Most people focus a majority of their effort on the high-volume terms that face heavy competition and are plastered with paid ads in the search results. But the people searching for the topics at this end of the spectrum tend to be further along in the buying process, which means they’ve probably already interacted with many of your competitors.
Jeremy Knauff, founder of Spartan Media and contributor to Search Engine Journal, believes there’s a better approach.
“When you create and optimize your content to reach people earlier in the buying process, you’ll have a better chance of forming a relationship with them before your competitors do,” he says. “An added benefit is that it’s generally a lot faster and easier to rank for these types of long-tail terms.”
That’s not all bad. It just means there’s a price for ranking consistently. If you want to be front and center on the SERP, above the fold and ready to make a good impression, you can buy the privilege. Whether it’s worth the price is a question for your marketing team. So make sure marketing and PR are collaborating closely with your SEO experts on shared goals and strategies.
Shore up your reputation with best practices
According to Google, three out of four smartphone users go to search engines first to address their immediate needs. There are 3.5 billion smartphone users worldwide, so that makes for roughly 2.625 billion people who search mobile first. The importance of optimizing for mobile cannot be overstated. Consider this principle as well: The best defense for a strong reputation is to proactively be sure you are “on the record” for who you really are and what you really stand for before a crisis occurs. In many kinds of crises, your attorneys or company policy may not allow you to directly respond. So the evidence that already stands may be for a period of time your best (or even your only) response.
In addition, you should follow the most current SEO and PR best practices:
● A secure website (https://) is now expected, not a differentiator.
● Optimize for voice search so Alexa and Siri are on your side.
● Quality text content should be longer than 2,000 words for optimal results.
● Quality video content should quickly answer users' questions.
● As always, optimize for the best possible mobile UX!
Following these tips will get you a ranking that leads others to conclude that you're at the top. More than clickthroughs, more even than conversions, strategic SEO will make you seem like an authority in your field. Don’t allow yourself to get lost in the technical end of landing SERPs and winning snippets. Allow your SEO team to fret over those. Just make sure the team you choose is aligned with your best PR thinking, to allow the full force of your marketing effort to propel you to the top of the heap.