The state of SEO and public relations
In 2012 the search engine optimisation (SEO) business was worth an estimated £500 million according to econsultancy. Its 2014 benchmarking report stopped short of estimating the market value but suggested significant year-on-year growth.
Even allowing for the age of the data and a significant error factor, these numbers tell a powerful story. It’s a story that is repeated in many other Western markets.
The public relations business missed this opportunity for search in the last decade. But as Google focuses its algorithms on editorial influence, reputation and trust it has a potent opportunity to grab search budgets.
What are you waiting for?
Google accounts for up to 90 per cent of web searches in many Western markets including the UK and US, and serves results to more than three billion search queries globally every day.
It is the most trusted media source globally according to the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer.
There are two ways of ranking for a search term on Google. You can either buy attention through pay per click advertising or earn it through natural search.
Lines may be blurring but editorial content online, like offline, is more valuable and persuasive.
We focus on the natural results first and foremost. According to Vanessa Fox in Marketing in the Age of Google, 80% of us who go to Google trust and click these over paid ads.
SEO is public relations
The SEO business has grown up alongside public relations. Its goal has been to enable organisations to rank highly for search either by buying keyword ads or building editorial influence through link building.
Updates to the Google algorithm called Panda and Penguin have sought to penalise attempts to game the Google algorithm.
There's also an issue of quality. SEO practitioners targeting links apply different criteria to creating content versus a PR practitioner focused on building the reputation of an organisation.
In the last 18-months we've seen a shift in the market. SEO agencies are turning their attention to the public relations business and are pitching content to media sites in a bid to earn attention.
I was inspired to write this blog post after spending a morning recently with We Need A Resolution's Gary Preston and Stella Bayles.
The pair are focused on building workflow tools for public relations and they have released Coverage Book, a neat app to collate and report on online coverage, and Perfect Fit, a campaign management tool.
We Need A Resolution is spin out from search marketing firm Propellernet that has grown rapidly in the last five years by adopting public relations techniques. It's a strong indicator of how the market is shifting.
How Google works
The truth is that no one knows how Google's algorithm works for sure – apart from a small number of people at Google.
We understand basic principles thanks to the culture of sharing in the SEO community and the rest is trial and error. The public relations community could learn a thing or two from such cooperation.
There are two sets of factors, namely on page and off page, that play a role in how a website’s pages will be ranked for in a search.
Certain on page factors are within the control of the website owner and include issues such as speed, structure, content and HTML mark-up of the website. There are a variety of tools to help analyse a site and recommend modifications.
Off page factors are often said to be outside the control of the site owner. But savvy brands who understand influencer marketing know this isn’t the case. Links from other pages and websites act as votes of endorsement. The volume and quality of the links play a significant role in search visibility.
Opportunity for public relations
Herein lies the opportunity for public relations practitioners to earn links by pitching content to websites with high trust and authority.
“The best public relations agencies lead the way when it comes to achieving amazing coverage that positively impacts sentiment, provides clear endorsements and drives recommendation,” said Gary Preston.
“Earned media drives Google search rankings, and everyone uses Google to research and make decisions.”
According to Preston many public relations agencies are doing the hard work in developing content and pitching it to web sites but simply aren’t reporting the impact this hard work delivers.
He offers a three-point plan.
#1 Understand the link economy
You need to start taking an interest in how your coverage links back to your clients’ website.
What pages does it link to? What keywords do these pages rank for in Google? Are these keywords key to influencing target customers on their purchase journey?
Since your online coverage went live have these pages seen an increase in visibility for key commercial keywords? Are you even considering this?
You are very likely to be generating or protecting key revenue by driving keywords through the editorial coverage you’re achieving.
What do I mean by protecting? The financial impact in some markets such as price comparison between position one and two is huge.
Brands pay big money to ensure their website earns the authority to be number two to defend their share of search from competitors.
Earned media is the key opportunity here. SEO agencies can’t simulate authority anymore. They have to earn like everybody else. This has levelled the playing field somewhat.
#3 Earning attention through content and relationships
Could you start planning public relations campaigns to proactively earn links to areas of your client’s website?
From here it is just a short step to planning activity to earn recommendation to the areas of your website with the highest revenue earning potential. You can even predict the effort and investment required by benchmarking your brand’s authority versus the top sites in Google for those keywords.
SEO for public relations primer
Later in the week I’ll publish a SEO for public relations primer on my blog packed with the latest insight from people including Gary, Stella Bayles and Andrew Smith.