There’s a lot of buzz in the PR world these days about SEO — Search Engine Optimization — and for good reason. The main reason centers around the fact that SEO has transitioned from being a niche specialty led by website designers and data analysts to one of an integral component in the Digital PR and content ecosystem.
Why all the talk about SEO?
Essentially SEO is focused on improving the odds that digital content, and that includes written or visual content such as images or video, gets in front of the audience that it best matches. It’s very important to recognize that SEO today is not associated with old-school techniques such as keyword stuffing — a common practice used to game the system before the search engines got smart and AI arrived on the scene. In an increasingly content cluttered landscape, the ability to analytically and efficiently help ensure your PR content won’t get missed is what is driving the rapid growth in SEO on the digital PR landscape.
The chief influencing factor driving the practice of SEO in digital PR today is the constantly changing proprietary search algorithms behind search engines such as Google and Bing. These algorithms analyze content in real time and rank and categorize each it with the goal of optimizing audience exposure.
How does SEO fit into the world of Digital PR?
Let’s use a press release as an example. In the past, companies wrote and distributed press releases such as new product announcements using corporate speak and proprietary lingo that made sense to the internal audience, but generally had little relevance or appeal to the target audience. Because distribution channels were relatively few in the pre-web publishing days, basically limited to the newswire or email, this blast approach to a content strategy was accepted by default.
The web as a publishing platform changed all of that. Now, content syndicated via RSS feeds and fueled by social media can appear literally thousands of places simultaneously. This means increased competition for visibility, and this is where the search engines do their best to deliver content to the appropriate audience through analyzing and ranking content.
So, for example, if your press release does not include a commonly associate keyword or phrase relevant to the target audience (and I’ll explain more what this means in just a second), the search engines will rank it lower and it will receive less visibility because the search algorithm has judged that it’s not as relevant as other content that uses strong keyword associations.
To put it another way by playing off of a familiar phrase, content may be king but it’s relevant and engaging content that wins in the end.
So, to cut to the chase and the key question. Does this mean that SEO specialists are going to replace PR specialists? The answer is a resounding “no,” and here’s why. The search algorithms grade and rank content on a number of criteria, and two very important ranking qualifiers are content context and quality.
I know a number of SEO experts, and with all due respect, while most are great at analyzing and optimizing content while slicing and dicing relevant datasets, the fact is that they are not experienced creative writers. Which means that, even though the content may be perfectly optimized for an algorithm to scan and analyze, the content won’t get read because it lacks emotion. And a good litmus test of well written creative content is how much it’s shared or engaged with.
What’s the Bottom Line for SEO and PR?
So the bottom line with regards to SEO for digital PR is that is that it needs to be focused on being interesting and relevant and optimized for the algorithms second. And the creative process of PR content development — such as crafting press releases, blog posts or ghostwriting bylines or OpEd articles, is what PR professionals do — and have done for ages — as a core part of their job. And, as mentioned earlier the search engine algorithms today are very adept at “reading” a block of content not only from an SEO point of view, but also from a contextual and quality point of view.
To sum things up, when it comes to creative PR content, you need an experienced writer first and foremost, and one that understands SEO second, not the other way around. Because content that’s not engaging or interesting is not going to have an impact.
One last comment as it relates to SEO and digital PR. With the high degree of relevance placed on contextual value, how does Google or Bing determine what is relevant to an audience and what isn’t? Think of it this way — search engines monitor millions of searches daily. Each one of those search strings or keywords is a nugget of contextual gold to the search engine. The search engines are essentially learning contextual relevance by what people type into search, connected to what link they click on based on the search results.
So while your press release announcement might have referenced your new product by its model number and internal company description, the “PY-61 Ultra-light Aluminum Extruder,” an actual keyword phrase that should be used in the release might be something like “tool for creating a metal support beam,” because that’s what someone searching might be more likely to type than the unwieldy product name.
How do you find these search terms so you can know to include them? There are a number of paid Digital PR tools and services that streamline this discovery process. But Google itself yields strong insight through the organic search process. Next time you type in a search on Google, notice that Google will begin suggesting terms in the search box. This is Google’s way of telling you what keywords and phrases in its database initially match the search you are performing, and this is based on keywords it has captured from actual users typing searches over time.
Once you’ve identified relevant keyword associations and phrases, the challenging part is still to come – drafting a compelling and engaging piece of content. And that’s a process that is best left to an experienced writer, not an SEO Specialist.