The convergence of SEO and PR has never been more crucial to the success of an SEO campaign.
Getting SEO buy-in from a PR team can help you to gain powerful links and citations from authority sites. Unfortunately, this is sometimes difficult to achieve, as PR professionals are judged on press cuttings and exposure, not search engine rankings.
In the latest edition of our weekly Ask an SEO feature, I caught up with SEO consultant Patrick Langridge. Patrick has a background in traditional PR and gave me some really good insight into how to successfully combine the two disciplines.
Q) Hi Patrick, could you maybe start by telling us about your current role?
A) Hi Martin, thanks for having me! I’m an SEO Consultant at Screaming Frog; we’re a search marketing agency based in Henley-on-Thames, UK. If the name rings a bell it’s probably because you’re familiar with our own SEO crawling software the SEO Spider, but I’m always keen to remind people that we’re predominantly a paid and organic search agency! My role involves both onsite/technical SEO, as well as the offsite/traditional marketing side of things which includes link building, creating and implementing content, and PR strategy.
Q) How and why did you make the switch from PR to SEO?
A) In a bit of a roundabout way really! After leaving my PR position and looking for a new role, I rather speculatively applied for a job here at Screaming Frog, assuming that I would probably be technically under qualified to ‘do’ SEO. As it turned out, while working in PR I was actually ‘doing’ SEO without realising it – a lot of my PR work was specifically digital PR where there is a growing amount of synergy with SEO. Since the day I was fortunate enough that Screaming Frog took a punt on me, I haven’t looked back.
Q) I’ve often found that getting SEO buy-in from PRs can be tricky, do you have any recommendations on how you can get a traditional PR team or agency to incorporate SEO considerations into their work?
A) It’s important for PRs to understand the long term value of SEO, and how it relates to their day-to-day work. At times PR can be very immediate – it’s naturally great to have an article about your brand feature in the Guardian newspaper for instance, but in reality that newspaper will be tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, as the cliché goes. I’m over simplifying rather, but the long term SEO value that links provide, especially from trusted newspaper websites, is huge in comparison to what might be just a few column inches. A link from the Guardian isn’t just for today, that news article will be archived, the link will mature and the article might even receive references and links of its own which will only increase the SEO value of your own hyperlink.
Q) Do you think that PR professionals are becoming more SEO-savvy?
A) Slowly but surely yes, but in general PRs could be a lot more aware of what SEO is and have a better understanding of the power of links. I wrote a blog post last year about how SEO and PR aren’t all that different, and with a little extra know how, PR agencies could integrate SEO and actually offer it and charge for it as a separate service to clients.
Unfortunately, we as SEOs still see too many press releases without hyperlinks, too many news articles not referencing the original sources or quotes back to the client, and too many wasted SEO opportunities! A lot of PRs still aren’t quite there yet technically, but this is probably down to the fact that links and SEO aren’t even a consideration for some of them; it’s just simply not their job to worry about digital.
I can’t stress enough the importance of SEO and PR talking to each other, whether that’s agency to agency via the client, or just across the room if your marketing team is working in-house!
Q) Do you have any other tips on how to write a successful SEO press release?
A) I’m probably preaching to the converted for any PRs reading this, but for SEOs, you need to think like a journalist thinks. A strong headline and genuinely interesting story with a hook or angle should be a given when approaching press, and then you need to consider who journalists answer to – their editors and sub-editors. What they demand of their staff is to write stories that will sell papers in the offline world, and generate clicks online.
Stephen Pavlovich of Wish.co.uk gave a great talk at the recent Content Marketing Show about how he has been able to get some great links from media outlets and newspaper websites. Stephen’s four pillars to achieve a successful PR campaign are; topical, sexual, controversial and celebrity. If you can combine all four at once then you’re on the right track. As for the SEO side of the press release, I wouldn’t recommend putting out a press release for the sake of a link (i.e. if the release isn’t actually newsworthy!), and don’t go too heavy on anchor text either, as some recent examples have badly demonstrated.
Q) How do you deal with the usual problem of getting SEO recommendations implemented by your clients?
A) It can be an ongoing battle! We are very much a consultancy agency and don’t carry out any development ourselves, so all we can do is hope that our clients’ dev team are on the ball! Strong communication is the key here, it can get the required ‘buy in’ and solve any issues along the way. We provide as much support and guidance as possible in that regard. SEO recommendations are an on-going consideration too; don’t just think that your recommendations in month 1 of a campaign are satisfactory. Constantly review them and reassess how pages are aligned in regard to traffic and rankings.
Q) Have your campaigns been impacted by the Panda and Penguin updates? If so, what have you done to recover?
A) Thankfully we haven’t had any of our existing clients hit by Panda or Penguin, but have since taken on new clients who have been hit by both updates. We regularly receive enquiries about link based problems which makes us unhappy. As all affected are finding, there isn’t an easy, quick fix to recover from Penguin, despite the recent introduction of the disavow tool. Even once the disavow file and reconsideration request have been submitted, and manual action has revoked, that’s really just the first step in a long road to recovery as often you have to start again with offsite strategy and links. Panda provides a different challenge as of course it’s onsite (rather than link based, although we suspect there is a link based element to it! :-)). The issue of course is low quality, thin or duplicated content and the solution is simple, improve or remove! We have had success with recoveries here, but the interesting thing about Panda is that some websites have to come to terms with the fact that traffic might not ever quite reach the levels seen pre-Panda as they were classed as underserving
Q) What are your favourite SEO tools?
A) I really love Searchmetrics and geekily await their update every Wednesday/Thursday! We use SEOmoz’s great toolset in-house, and Majestic is still the best backlink analysis tool out there. Three smaller tools I would recommend, that all do different jobs: Check My Links is an awesome Chrome plugin which allows you to do broken link building at all times, Pinalytics is a great new tool that helps you find the best link prospects via Pinterest, and we’re getting a handle on Buzzstream which looks very powerful and great for scaling outreach.
Q) Rand Fishkin recently predicted the decline of anchor text as a ranking factor, is he right?
A) I think we have already seen a big decrease in the power of anchor text over the past couple of years, you certainly can’t get away with a backlink profile made up of just exact match keyword anchor text links, but I don’t see anchor text disappearing as a ranking factor altogether. Anchor text is still a major ranking factor in Google’s algo, even if the percentage of importance has reduced. Something that I’m noticing from very recent work is that I don’t see any hard and fast rules when it comes to anchor text, it’s dependent on the link profile and trust of the site. If you have a newish site or domain with low trust and you try to point a tonne of exact match anchor links to it, obviously it won’t rank and will potentially hurt you in the long run. But, if you have a trusted domain with a large number of referring domains, with a natural and varied link profile, exact match anchor links are still extremely powerful, and I don’t see this radically changing over the next 12 months.
Q) Any other SEO predictions for 2013?
A) I predict that things won’t die in 2013. There’s a lot of hyperbole spouted by so-called experts about certain link building tactics or ranking factors ‘dying’. If your link building tactics are continually risky and you push Google to the limit then you will deservedly get penalised, but if you’re smart about building links then some of the old-school ‘greyer’ hat tactics do still work. Google’s algo loves a pattern, that’s when it becomes most effective, so if you create a pattern then you’re only on borrowed time – it doesn’t matter if it’s paid links, guest posts or directory submissions. Ross Hudgens explains it well with his example of paid links: “The best time to buy paid links is when everyone has stopped buying paid links. Abuse was downfall, absence may be ascent.”
I also predict that what we’re seeing with rel=author is going to continue to be really important into 2013. It’s not quite enough to ‘just’ rank well anymore, you also need to find ways to earn clicks which rel=author does so well – it humanises the SERPs and adds a layer of trust. Then of course there’s the other side, where citations and links from some authors will be more trusted and pass more weight, based on their specialism.
Q) And finally, who is your favourite ‘SEO rockstar’?
A) I always love hearing what Wil Reynolds at SEER has to say (his personal blog rocks too), I’d recommend catching him at a conference because he’s a great speaker to watch. I’m impressed with what the guys at Distilled are doing too, especially with DistilledU which looks pretty awesome if you want to learn SEO at all levels. In fact, everything on their training page rocks.