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How Public Relations Can Avoid Failing at SEO

Posted on Aug 3rd, 2011
Written by Lee Odden
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    SEO for Public Relations FailOur Online Marketing agency at TopRank has been providing practitioners in the Public Relations industry information and insight on Search Engine Optimization for nearly 10 years.

    Starting with adding SEO to our media relations services in 2001 to having provided SEO consulting to PR industry leaders like the national PRSA, Cision, PRWeb and Radian6, we’ve been in the thick of SEO and PR for some time.

    The demand for smart Social Media and SEO information from PR agencies and corporate communications organizations has amplified significantly this year. We’re talking with numerous companies, helping them get up to speed with strategy, road mapping and training. One of the most useful insights we can provide is guidance on what to avoid when it comes to incorporating SEO and SMO (social media optimization) into PR content strategies. No one likes to #fail, so here are several things to avoid:

    Shiny Object Keyword Syndrome

    SEO advice is easy to find online including suggestions of doing keyword research using tools like Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool.  There’s a temptation to focus only on the most popular words and phrases even if they aren’t 100% on target. Or worse, if the website that PR staff can contribute to and edit isn’t anywhere near deserving of being known as THE authority for a highly competitive topic.

    Those high popularity count keyword phrases are like shiny objects that distract from the language that is most relevant and realistic to achieve. It’s fine to have highly popular (and competitive), relevant keyword phrases as targets, as a long term goal and contingent that there’s a commitment to creating the content and attracting the links necessary. In the meantime, go after phrases that reflect the intersection of the topic your promoting and the most relevant queries being made. In fact, extend that search keyword research to social topics for more long tail concepts to optimize for.

    Many journalist inquiries are pretty niche. They’re often looking for something very specific, and if you’re chasing high popularity keywords that will take a year to achieve, you may be missing out on a lot of search visibility that could inspire media coverage in the meantime.

    One-Off SEO

    Another temptation is to approach SEO very tactically and try new SEO knowledge on a single web page or press release. There’s nothing wrong with experimentation, but optimizing a single or a handful of documents isn’t what drives significant search traffic.

    An extension of that would be to optimize a newsroom or website  without planning to revisit keyword lists and whether refinement is necessary.  I’ve heard comments like this many times, “Oh, we optimized our site already. In 2004.” SEO, like Social Media and Content is a journey – not a destination.

    Missing Links

    Google PageRank introduced the online marketing world to the importance of links beyond those that simply drive direct traffic. Today, PageRank isn’t as much of a focus, but links are still very important. Especially links from social networks and media sharing sites.  Many PR professionals consider the keyword optimization of web pages, press releases and digital assets all that is necessary – discounting the need to attract links.

    Links are like electricity and help search engines discover new content. They also serve as a signal for use in assigning importance for ranking. PR professionals are in a unique position to attract some of the most valuable links possible – from online media websites. Asking journalists to link back to a website takes little effort and might result in a highly valued link that can send the most significant kind of signal or link juice to what it is that you’re promoting.

    Additionally, sending out press releases through a news release distribution service that are properly optimized with links to content that is being promoted can result in link acquisition as well. Sometimes it’s 5 or 10 links and sometimes 100’s of them.  Optimization with keywords is just the start. Link building and social promotion are what create awareness to journalists and bloggers directly as well as through improved search visibility.

    Falling Short on Measurement

    Improved search visibility is often measured with a ranking report.  With personalization, those reports are not as useful as they once were. Web analytics tracks visitors to a website and where they came from, like from a search engine. That’s about as far as most PR and Corporate Communications pros will go when it comes to measuring the impact of their SEO efforts.

    However, there’s a lot more. Especially since increased, relevant traffic to the corporate website or news content can not only reach the media but end consumers looking to buy. If the content can warrant a link to a “buy page” where a conversion or inquiry can occur, PR practitioners would do well to make sure web analytics tracking is setup so that new business inquiries can be attributed to optimized PR content when appropriate.

    How powerful would it be to show not only media coverage, but improved web traffic and new business inquiries as a direct result of PR’s SEO efforts?

    Waning on Training

    You don’t just flip a switch and become SEO savvy, I’m sorry to say. Achieving SEO competence takes training, practice and persistence. At TopRank Marketing, we have a consulting service but we’re in the business of helping PR firms and corporate public relations staff get up to speed with SEO and Social Media SEO skills. But there are many other places to get useful knowledge ranging from the upcoming SES conference in San Francisco to the online training provided by Market Motive you see in the right side bar of this blog.

    The key thing is to understand that to gain momentum, providing SEO skills training to those in your organization in a position to create content online will be especially helpful. Going it alone as the sole SEO savvy person in a  large agency is tough to scale. However you get that training is up to you, just be sure to get it for yourself and for your team.

    Frugal SEO Tooling

    I’ve noticed there’s a tendency with many PR agencies and departments to be a bit conservative on paying for tools. It’s true that there are many free tools out there, but over time and without a business model to fund them, they get neglected and can become irrelevant or go away altogether. Then you’re up a creek without a paddle, scrambling for some other free tool, not knowing what really works and what doesn’t.

    That’s why I like to pay for tools. I know they’ll be around and will have an obligation to provide some kind of service level and support. Whether its paying for WordStream for keyword research or SEOMoz Pro or Raven Tools for a host of SEO functionality and campaign management, don’t skimp on the tools. The impact of great SEO, especially SEO and Social Media Optimization, can have a tremendous impact and maybe even a multiplier to online media relations efforts. Tools will help you do quality work and more importantly, scale!

    To Be Optimized, You Must Socialize

    A big part of today’s optimization for better search performance means active social media content creation, curation and engagement. Building networks that you can share links with and inspire link propagation is essential for the social link and content signals being increasingly considered by Google and to some degree, Bing. Optimizing social media content improves the search visibility of brand content on the social web. The social network participation on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Quora and Google+ that goes along with brand social media efforts also provides Google with signals that can be used for ranking content on Optimize and Socialize!


    There are many more ways than this to fail at SEO and SMO for Public Relations, but as a foundation, these tips can serve to help PR Agencies and Corporate Communications avoid some of the pitfalls and become more productive, more quickly with their SEO efforts. Realistically, these tips are appropriate for any industry, but the boost in inquiries we’re getting from PR firms and business Comms pros, motivated me to create this post just for you 🙂

    If you work at a Public Relations firm or in Corporate PR, have you hit on any of these areas to avoid? How did you get back on track, or did you?