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SEO for public relations in 15 steps

Public relations missed out on the search engine optimisation (SEO) market. But it has a second chance thanks to changes to Google’s algorithm.

My recent blog post The State of SEO and Public Relations spotlights the opportunity.

This blog post and deck results from collaboration between myself, Escherman’s Andrew Smith and We Need A Resolution’s Gary Preston and Stella Bayles.

Between us we’ve developed this practical 15 point plan for public relations and SEO.

Escherman is a social media, analytics and SEO consultancy. Smith delivers training in these areas for the CIPR and PRCA, and advises a variety of clients.

We Need A Resolution is focused on building workflow tools for public relations and has released Coverage Book, a neat app to collate and report on online coverage, and Perfect Fit, a campaign management tool.

#1 Health and wellbeing

Use Google Webmaster tools to characterise your site. It will provide you with basic information about your site’s performance, security issues, how users are finding the site via search and the keywords that they’re using. It’s a good place to start.

#2 Site audit

Onsite audits are typically the domain of technical teams but it’s a straightforward task to undertake a site audit using tools such as Google Webmaster Tools or Screaming Frog and identify any issues that may be sub-optimal. Site speed, site map, broken links and poor Meta data are all common issues. Addressing these may result in an immediate performance boost.

#3 Goals

Define your goal but be realistic. If you want to get to the top page of a Google search for a fiercely competitive term, recognise that you’ve got a big challenge. Think about the markets you operate in, who your prospects and customers are, and consider the topics and issues that are relevant to them.

“Understand whether you have a chance of ranking before you start. The SEO competition module in Market Samurai is a key tool. Fight the battles you have a chance of winning,” said Escherman’s Andrew Smith.

However, also appreciate that some brands have big budget pots available to defend their existing high positions as well as challenge for them in the right markets.

#4 Planning

“Having the right keyword target relies on you knowing your target audience well and how they search,” says Stella Bayles. “Understanding their behaviour and motivations will build a picture of how they search and therefore how to get your content in front of them.”

Tools such as AnswerthePublic will help you explore what people are looking for and the types of questions that are being put into Google every day.

Google AdWords Keyword Planner provides a vast amount of data for free that informs how people search for the market related to your organisation.

Use this to prioritise based on the biggest search volumes and align keywords with your organisation and its market.

#5 Natural language

As you explore the keywords for your organisation, product or market think about natural language. We might search for ‘light bulb’ but we’re more likely to search for ‘how to change a light bulb’.

Active search is increasingly how we use search engines and as voice recognition becomes ubiquitous, search terms will inevitably become more conversational.

“Bear this in mind when signposting your content for Google. Your team may be very familiar with a brand product or campaign name but it’s not how the majority of people search,” says Bayles.

“Be descriptive and use the planning tools to help work out the best keyword signposting for content.”

#6 Keyword strategy

If your keyword terms are popular terms such as ‘car insurance’, ‘family holiday’ or ‘London’ you’re going to have a tough job.

Use Google without personalised settings, opening an incognito browser use search and tools such Google AdWords Keyword Planner or UberSuggest to evaluate your competition, see what content currently occupies the top slot for a search term and your chance of outranking incumbents.

A long-tail strategy focused on less popular keywords maybe a smarter approach. You need to be realistic and balance opportunity with investment.

#7 Devices

Check out which devices people are using to access your website. The chances are that they are increasingly mobile.

As Bayles reports, “Google said in March that is will be ranking mobile-friendly sites higher than those that have yet to be formatted. Google wants to provide the best results to the user so if most searches are now on mobile your content has to be device-ready.”

The content on your website should be responsive and optimised for each device. Increasingly content management systems provide this functionality.

The mobile usability reports in Google’s Webmaster can really help understand consumer behaviour, and Google has created a Mobile Usability Tool to help test the basic mobile usability of a site.

#8 Earn links through public relations engagement

It’s highly likely that your planning exercise will have thrown up examples of media sites that you can target for earned media coverage. Earning editorial content is a fundamental of good public relations practice.

You’ll find that many pieces of coverage already include links to your client’s website.

This all helps increase their general visibility. However to gain increases for particular keywords you should focus your online public relations activity to one area of the site. Targeted links to one category or page will help amplify that content within Google search.

Domain Authority and Page Authority (the potential of a domain or site to ranks for search) is the currency of this market. Use tools such as Moz or Majestic to identify related sites with a high trust and authority where you can pitch content. You need to build enough valuable links to outperform your competitive set.

#9 Content

Develop an editorial or content calendar. My personal mantra for 2015 that I tell anyone that’ll listen is stop posting shit on the Internet. The Searchmetrics 2014 SEO Report showed that Google appears to favour long form content, which will always win over limp copy. Frequency is important but never at the sacrifice of relevance. The simple fact is that content that doesn’t resonate turns visitors off and is highly unlikely to earn links.

When you successfully secure online coverage ask for a link back to your site or the web page that you wish to build Google authority for.

#10 Onsite optimisation

Follow best practice for on site content optimisation. Most content management systems take care of this for you. Resist any temptation to game content. You’ll be penalised in the future if not immediately.

Images are a good example. By all means use a descriptive filename rather than a string of letters or numbers but don’t pack the ALT tag with keywords. It’s intended to help blind and partially sighted users navigate a websites and has no value as a mechanism for gaming search.

#11 Spam

Google penalises spam and syndicated content. If you’re distributing content via a newswire that is likely to be posted onto several other sites make sure that you use no follow links. Other tactics such as commenting on a blog and adding a link are simply daft. Avoid spam.

#12 Social

There’s limited evidence to suggest that sharing content on social networks has an impact on how it ranks for search in Google. In crude terms view social as a channel to distribute content that’ll earn you links.

“Google has clearly stated that they don’t use links on social as a ranking factor. However, there is an indirect connection in that links shared via well connected social accounts may well gain visibility with people who in turn then link to that content,” says Smith.

Running an integrated public relations campaign that has a topical reason for sharing and conversation on Twitter has had an effect on search rankings,” adds Bayles.

Google wants to provide the most relevant and fresh content to its user’s queries. If it can see a piece of relevant content has been recommended by influencers and it has a peak of activity on Twitter it often increases the visibility of that content quicker than usual.

#13 Measurement

Life is far more complex than last click attribution. Use an analytics tool such as Google Analytics to understand your customer journey. Track a few metrics that are tied to your efforts and the business or organisations outcomes that you are seeking to address.

Bayles explains, “A good place to start is starting to track all of the links you’re gaining within coverage, the strength of those sites and any social shares; all of which are key signals to Google. CoverageBook.com automates those counts and measurements for you.”

#14 Customer journey

There’s a related pointed. Delivering traffic to a website is typically only the start of a process. In sales terms it’s the start of the funnel. Think about what other means of engagement you need to undertake to deliver a desired outcome or behavioural change.

Google has a tool called Google Consumer Barometer that enables you to explore the customer journey for many markets.

“Each audience decision journey will be different. Working out which elements play to which part of the journey is the challenge. Search is typically used in the consideration phase – it’s where we go to validate the claims made in the awareness phase,” says Smith.

#15 Fail fast

Agile management teaches us to test lots of ideas and rapidly iterate. Get comfortable with measuring the outcome of every effort. Interpreting data from analytics tools such as Google Analytics is a critical skill. The culture of celebrating and learning is commonplace in the SEO community but is uncomfortable for public relations. It’s another area where we could do much better.

What have we missed?

I am genuinely envious of the spirit of cooperation that exists in other industries such as SEO and notable exceptions aside, recognise it as missing in the public relations sector. Help change that today by suggesting areas that I may have missed or your own tips for SEO for public relations.

Search and public relations #PRstack

  1. AnswerthePublic – find out what questions and queries your consumers have by getting a free report of what they’re searching for in Google and YouTube.
  2. Google AdWords Keyword Planner – tool that helps you build search campaigns by finding keyword ideas and estimating how they may perform.
  3. Google Analytics – tool to help understand how people are finding and navigating your web site.
  4. Google Consumer Barometer – tool from Google to help you understand how people use the Internet across the world.
  5. Google Mobile-Friendly Test – analyses a websites and reports if it has a mobile-friendly design and its impact on search.
  6. Google Webmaster Tools – suite of tools to check the health of a website.
  7. Majestic – link intelligence tools to help characterise website search performance.
  8. Market Samurai – link intelligence tools to help characterise website search performance.
  9. Moz – link intelligence tools to help characterise website search performance.
  10. Screaming Frog – on site audit tool to ensure a site is optimised for search marketing.
  11. UberSuggest – generate keyword ideas with Ubersuggest the free keyword suggestion tool that makes good use of different suggestion services.

Further reading

  1. The state of SEO and public relations by Stephen Waddington
  2. CIPR Best Practice Guide by Andrew Smith
  3. The idea that the PR industry’s financial growth is under threat is rubbish by Stella Bayles

Thank-you

With thanks to Andrew Smith, Escherman and Gary Preston and Stella Bayles of We Need A Resolution

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

66 Comments

  1. Good piece. I think the social aspect might get a little underplayed here, in the sense that many companies miss out on their biggest marketing asset: their own people. Harnessing this can have a massive impact on search results and GA Goals.

    • Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment Phil. Hard data is hard to come by. Please share if you’re able to characterise the impact of social on search.

  2. Wadds
    Great stuff – a toolkit for revolutionaries.
    Just wondering if we need to establish the concept of ‘Iteration’ as a distinct mindset from ‘measurement and evaluation’.
    Although the proces of iteration essentially includes measurement – or more precisely getting feedback – as we go along, I feel there is a danger that we have a mindset among PR people of ‘measurement and evaluation being the stuff we do at the end of a campaign’ rather than as being integral within every step that will then influence and determine your next step.
    So, in future, people like the CIPR and PRCA should be offering courses on ‘Measurement, Evaluation and Iteration’ rather than ‘Measurement and Evaluation’. This might sound pedantic but we need to create a disruptive trigger to get people to recognise the difference that we now live in the ‘SEO age of Iteration’.

    • Thanks for your comment Andy. I’m curious as to why public relations repeatedly misses out on opportunities such as SEO. We don’t have a culture of innovation, failure, or knowledge share, as is common in other sectors. Thanks, Stephen

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