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May’s Digital PR Trends and Updates: backlinks reclassified, ranking Reddits and Google dies (again)

Google reveals that backlinks are not important

Google’s Gary Illyes recently confirmed that Google needs very few links to rank pages. The importance of backlinks has been a hot topic in SEO for years, and on the surface, this is huge news.

But while some people are predicting the end of digital PR, we’re thinking the opposite. This is Google’s way of cracking down on spammy, paid link building – which to us, isn’t true digital PR. In its place, authoritative, multi-channel reputation-building.

What does this mean for digital PR?

For anyone using spammy link building techniques, it’s bad news. Illyes has confirmed what the rest of us already knew – farming poor quality links at scale isn’t sustainable (or particularly effective in the long run). But if you’re doing digital PR properly, this shouldn’t change a thing.

It also means that you should push back on anyone asking for guaranteed links. We’re working in earned media; there are no guarantees. That’s why earned, editorial links are better for SEO: because they’re harder to gain. It’s about securing relevant coverage in the places your audience is spending time that is far more meaningful.

Reddit taking up more Google search real estate

Since Reddit’s new deal with Google, posts and threads from the forum have been ranking more prominently in search results. Google denies showing a preference, despite one experiment showing a Reddit post in the top 10 within 5 minutes of being published, outranking more established, reputable titles.

Some of the DPR and SEO community believe this directly conflicts with Google’s demand for E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authority and trust). Yes, Reddit posts are written by real people in their own words – a welcome relief from the ever-growing sea of AI-generated content. However, Redditors don’t necessarily have the experience or expertise that Google’s looking for – so how can they be taking up the top spots?

What does this mean for digital PR?

If Reddit posts are ranking well, they could be nudging us business down the SERPs. So we need to examine them. Why are they answering the query better than our own content? How can we better meet your audience’s intent? How can we better demonstrate real experience and expertise? Can we earn our way authentically into conversations like that?

Is SEO dead (again)?

It’s a perennial question that pops up every time there’s a notable change in either the Google algorithm or in audience behaviour (which we’re discussing later this month). It has resurfaced again this month as change is unrelenting: specifically around which technology is best at finding and serving the best results, including chatbots, generative search and AI powered search.

However, Google’s CEO Pichai confirmed that his long-term vision for Search does include websites and search engines. DPRs everywhere breathe a sigh of relief. It increasingly comes down to why people are searching: do people want ‘an answer’ (to a question like ‘How tall is Taylor Swift?’), or are they on a voyage of discovery? In a recent interview, he argues that certain types of queries will always need the diversity of opinions inherent on the web.

What does this mean for Digital PR?

Digital PR is the intersection of PR and SEO, originally designed for the ’10 blue links’ era of search: we built links for brands so they would rank better. So, if ranking is no longer as powerful or relevant of an objective, we need to evolve too.

We should be as obsessed with the quality of the publication and the story as we are about the link in it (if we’re not already). The coverage may be what ranks in one of these many places, after all. The more consistent, varied and brilliant our output, the more findable we are.

Article written by Ben Eaglestone, Energy PR's Data Lead.

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