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Should PR now lead search marketing?

Search marketing is moving at a frightening pace, but don’t panic, because some things stay the same and many believe PR is the discipline best placed to deliver results. As David Fraser, founder of PR-for-SEO agency Ready10, says: “The king is dead, long live the king – backlinks are still huge and, as Google’s Andrey Lupattsev said last year, they are one of the top two ranking factors for brands, with another being content. So the good news is: There is one industry in particular that I believe can deliver both of those in the most genuine, earned and creative way… fill your boots, PR people.”

But this does not mean you can remain complacent. Gugs Sarna, head of digital at communications agency LEWIS, points out that with considerable changes in both desktop and mobile search, the level of knowledge required, and ability to keep pace, is significant. “Search has become far more sophisticated in responding to complete phrases and queries instead of stand-alone keywords. On top of this, there is a big increase in demand for personalisation, closely aligned to user intent. We are seeing search engines making great progress in understanding exact user intent, which in turn sees demand from organisations to understand customer intent. What questions do your customers need answered? And what content best answers those questions? Rich answers and snippets directly in the SERPs play a crucial role. Companies need to ensure they utilise structured data mark-up as much as possible, especially if they intend to convert a search query into a sale.”  

In complete agreement that you have to be keep up with constant changes in search, Erin Salisbury, senior project manager in PR firm Ketchum’s digital research and analytics arm, says that pace of change is “astounding”.  She explains how algorithm adjustments and software updates force search and analytics professionals to stay informed to better counsel clients to get the most out of their web properties. “The advancements in search technology allow us to track what people are looking for online, then adjust and optimise our content mix to help drive campaign success and meet our clients’ business objectives.”

Again Salisbury highlights how PR agencies can take the lead: “Whilst search hasn’t traditionally been addressed or implemented by PR agencies, there’s an increasing importance for us to have an understanding of SEO as we work to integrate our PR efforts with other digital mediums (such as paid, content marketing and advertising). This can also help to ensure PR professionals always have a seat at the table during early strategy discussions.”

 Another vote of confidence for PROs being the masters of search comes from Martin Calvert, marketing director at digital agency Blueclaw: “Search engines have evolved to be much more sensitive to manipulation – to the point that SEO really is indistinguishable from PR in many cases.”

Calvert highlights that the traditional skills of PR, creating genuinely newsworthy content and earning coverage, mentions, shares and links from respected publications, sites and industry influencers, are key for effective SEO. This is why SEO agencies struggle to match PR’s expertise. Calvert concludes that although some PR agencies need to improve on their reporting of search results, SEO agencies struggle when it comes to producing content: “Just as not every PR company is switched on about showing their results, not every SEO agency is up to scratch when it comes to creating legitimately great content that amplifies a brand while delivering search value.”

To help ensure PR is ahead of the game, we asked experts in search marketing to tell us about any changes that everyone in PR need to know about right now.

FIve search developments that are changing everything

Voice search 
Jim Hawker, co-founder of PR agency Threepipe: “One of the biggest challenges in the next year will be how brands respond to the rise of voice search and how they develop a strategy to take advantage of this. People search completely differently by voice than by typing, which means brands need to create content matched to a very different set of keywords which are more long tail in their nature. The commercial opportunity makes that investment worthwhile because of the immediacy of the search intent via mobile where people are looking for branded content solutions much faster. PR agencies that can show an understanding of keyword importance and have a mobile state of mind will add real value to clients as they look to adapt their content strategies.”

Featured Snippets
Ready10’s David Fraser: “The evolution of voice search is a challenge the industry needs to tackle, with ComScore predicting it will account for half of all searches by 2020. Taking that to the logical next step, it stands to reason that Featured Snippets – the block at the top of Google that often appears with the direct answer and which are used to drive voice search results – are going to be pivotal to this. I expect a bunfight over these in coming years and with brand content structured to maximise them.”

Discussing personalisation, Fraser adds: “Inevitably, with search moving more to a mobile-only world, there is naturally going to be more of a migration away from text-based search to personalised and image-led results, providing both challenges and opportunities for the PR world.”

Finally, Fraser mentions Eyefluence: “I am very intrigued about what Google is intending to do with Eyefluence (the eye-tracking startup it bought last year) and how human-computer interaction is going to evolve over the coming years and what this might mean for our industry. I’ll be watching this one with interest.”

Michael Palmer, head of marketing at digital agency theEword: “For us, the biggest thing in search marketing at the minute is Fred, Google’s latest update. The Fred update has put a huge emphasis on good quality content. It aims to tackle those poor quality link bait sites that serve no real purpose other than to show us ads. You know the ones, sites with content such as ‘Ten Celebs who Have Put On Weight This Year (you won’t believe it when you see number 6)’. Good luck Google, we hope that you banish them.”

As with most disciplines in PR these days, the rules of great communication remain constant: understand your audience and give them the content they want, but new technologies mean that search experts can never completely relax as there is always a new trick to learn.

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