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July 12, 2013

How PR Affects SEO

In the old days of SEO, the impact of PR on page rankings was rather straightforward: It was all about building links. A good PR strategy centered around the goal of enticing just about anyone on the web to link to the company’s site and/or press release.

Today’s campaigns are in large part much more complex, thanks to Google’s ever-evolving algorithms. The current reality is that Google cares about the quality of content and credibility over a sheer volume of links and keywords. PR strategies must now cleverly incorporate the social stratosphere as well, leaving the two departments of SEO and Public Relations in a prime place to work together.

Successful SEO revolves around stellar content, and successful PR equates to an enviable network. Since SEO needs that network to thrive and PR needs great content to have something to crow about, the marriage of these two disciplines is now a no-brainer.

Networking and Citations: The Keys to Success

Many companies focus PR around two main areas: press releases and social signals. Both are critical to generating word of mouth, links, and overall buzz, but at the heart of success lies the quality of your network.

The first priority of any PR professional should always be networking. If your digital rolodex consists of a myriad professionals in your industry, with credibility and author rank galore, you are off to the races. It’s of course ideal to have journalists at national publications like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times on your list, but this just isn’t realistic for many. That’s OK; what’s most important is that your network be brimming with experts in your niche that will favorably plug your site through targeted citations, press releases, and related content. Credibility is absolutely paramount.

In the world of SEO, Google has increasingly placed more emphasis on author rank, and less on keywords. Why? Keywords can be manipulated, and author credibility far less so. If a journalist with a significant readership who consistently blogs about fashion trends writes about your online jewelry store, you’ve acquired an ally worth far more than a bundle of less-relevant links or mentions.

The Power of a Press Release

Once you have a network of trusted and credible professionals (which admittedly is a never-ending task), it’s time to master the art of the press release. Ted Ives from Search Engine Land intelligently outlines why putting the cart (press release) before the horse (your network) is an unwise idea:

“Let me start by saying that a press release written, issued and leveraged properly, can result in word-of-mouth, articles paraphrasing the release, and at a minimum, at least some backlinks. But, a press release alone will get much less exposure than one coupled with outreach to individual journalists and bloggers directly prior to issuing it.”

In other words, don’t just launch a press release and hope the content is so engaging that the links will just start flooding in. Be proactive about engaging your network before launching your your campaign, and incentivize them to spread the word.

Writing an SEO-Friendly Press Release

One could write for hours about press release best practices for writing headlines, placing keywords, calculating reader drop-off rates, and crafting the ideal headline length, but these are really elements where practice helps make perfect for your specific brand and message. Instead, let’s go over the critical elements of a successful press release, especially as it relates to SEO.

First and foremost, think long and hard about the topics you deem worthy for a press release. Ensure they are truly newsworthy, and will be seen as valuable and interesting to folks outside of your immediate company’s sphere. There are many good reasons to send a press release, including website launch announcements, new products or services, executive hires and bios, survey or case study releases, and/or new corporate partnerships.

Make sure your headline clearly defines the key problem or benefit, or your SEO needle won’t move an inch. The headline of your press release is in many ways even more important than the content itself; not just for SEO, but to engage your network in linking back to you, and entice readers to go deeper. A subheading should further emphasize the point.

A great press release almost always includes credible quotes from related professionals too. The higher up (or well-known) the party with the quote is on the food chain or company you are discussing, the more credible the citation will be, to both readers and Google.

Remember to include a press kit or link to images and artwork. If you want others to link back to you, they may require company logos and the like to do so; make this as easy as possible for your network. Finally, ensure your company’s privacy policy, terms of use, contact information, executive listings, and other related information is current and accurate on your respective websites and release. This sounds like a small thing, but mistakes happen more often than you’d think, and for both credibility and SEO reasons, it’s an abysmal error.

Why PR and SEO Experts Should Work Together

As critical as it is to write a brilliant press release every time, it’s obvious that fine-tuning individual pieces of content is by itself a shortsighted strategy. PR pros should also be working hard to maximize their company’s website and social reach. SEO these days revolves around a user-friendly, content-rich website experience, so combining the analytical mind of an SEO whiz and the social, networking mind of a PR guru is a match made in digital heaven. Incorporating PR into SEO strategies is a tactic most companies are currently not utilizing.

PR Newswire VP Sarah Skerik puts it this way:

“In most cases I’ve seen thinking about SEO starts and ends with the optimization of a particular message, with the goal of getting the press release itself to rank in search engines. In reality, we should be thinking about how to help our brands’ web sites rank, not individual messages. PR sells itself short when the focus on results is too narrow.”

The moral of the story is simple: PR and SEO go hand-in-hand. Because they each adhere to the same three critical strategies – links, social signals, and citations/author rank – professionals from both disciplines should absolutely strategize together. SEO rankings don’t reach high levels without scads of social mentions, nor do PR campaigns. The same is true for link building and for creating a credible network of quotes and citations. By considering the big picture before you launch a press release or SEO tactic, you improve your chances for both areas to enjoy another bite of scrumptious success.

Tell us about your experience with press releases and your SEO success or failure in the comments section.

Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and true cooking diva. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.