A PR professional's guide to SEO
Date: 07 September 2011 10:44
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) many not be your three favourite words, but there is no question that being placed high up in the rankings of search engines is vital for promoting your own, and your clients‘ brands.
“Search engines are the most popular sites on the internet and are the jump-off point for millions of individuals,“ points out Nick Garner, head of search for bookmakers Unibet. This is where consumers often start to form opinions on brands. Working on search might not seem as exciting or interesting as creating social media campaigns, but as Garner says, “It’s the targeted nature of search that gives it power and influence over users.”
So where do you start? With one key word. Garner says the core word for a company will be its brand since that's its root identity. Moving on from that, the information you give about the brand needs consideration, as this is your chance to win hearts and change minds.
SEO is key for reputation management. Garner explains: “In the past this meant targeting mainstream media and getting positive PR out from journalists. This still happens, but for many consumers, when they come across bad feedback on a brand, they go online to find out more. A classic example is ‘Nike Sweatshop’, where the brand has not put its case across anywhere on the top 10 results for this sensitive issue.”
Some use of search is to place negative publicity about competitors by harnessing sensitive search phrases. Although Garner believes this is “ethically unreasonable“, he points out that all the mechanisms are the same as with positive reputation management. Because SEO is full of jargon, it is tempting to hire a specialist. However, be careful who you choose. Simon Turton, managing director of agency Opera PR warns: “There is still far too much bullshit out there peddled by SEO agencies charging £000s to guarantee first page on Google, when they simply cannot deliver against this promise.”
Turton gives this example of what can go wrong: “A couple of years ago one car manufacturer (when launching the new version of a popular small car that was famous in the 1960s) thought that having white lettering on a white background would fool the search engines and take the site to the top of Google's organic listings. The white words were all keywords that browsers would use to find this new car online. But, the web-bots spotted the white lettering on a white background and sent the site's ranking to the bottom of the online pile.”
For more sensible SEO advice, see below.
SEO experts offer top tips:
SEO methodology is simple and straightforward. Don't let anyone kid you into believing differently. A 30-minute crash course on the web (YouTube has some great material) will prepare you well for dealing with prospective vendors.
Only work with vendors who can provide you with transparency and real-time progress reports. You should be able to see steady progress all the way to page one of the rankings. Avoid long-term agreements which can lead to complacency.
Know how many man hours per month your vendor will be providing. Many people are confused between on-site SEO and off-site SEO. The majority of SEO vendors have the resources to provide effective on-site SEO (ensuring that your website is optimised). Off-site SEO is the stuff that's going to get your site up in the natural search rankings. Off-site SEO requires the investment of significant man hours over an extended period. Beware of SEO vendors with small staff numbers who purport to offer effective off-site SEO.
Use search tools right at the beginning of a campaign rather than trying to retro fit it later on. This makes it much easier to do SEO marketing further down the line and allows media materials to resonate better with target audiences.
Google is very influential, because users trust it as a “friend“, so PR is important here. Use Google “Insights for Search” to feed into the targeting for regional campaigns. Where are products being searched for? Are there gaps that could be addressed through a targeted PR campaign? This is particularly true with fast-moving consumer products like alcoholic drinks.
Always ask for back-links – if you don’t ask you don’t get. And also encourage reciprocal links on social networks. Build relationships with other trustworthy sites, like you would with a highly regarded print journalist. Trade links with them and start to get some content sharing going on.
Any links back to your organisation from an .ac or .eu website will help you build trust with Google as they are highly regarded websites.
Last, but not least, remember to be interesting, fresh and enticing for consumers to visit you in the first place. Add video, images and other appealing content onto your client’s blog/website. You should also follow this rule for your press material too. By creating compelling content it will encourage people to link to it.
Thanks to Ged Carroll, director of digital strategies at agency Ruder Finn; Graham Day, head of digital at agency Publicasity; Stephen Marks, VP client services (EMEA) at online agency NationalReviews; and Paul Stallard, director at agency Berkeley PR; for these top tips.
Written by Daney Parker