An integrated digital marketing strategy has become essential to the success of nearly every brand’s online presence. It’s no longer a sustainable option to focus on one element of digital marketing in isolation. After all, an exciting content marketing asset is nothing if no one sees it, so it must always come hand-in-hand with a well planned PR strategy. But does this really mean that the two worlds are colliding and become one and the same?
“Media convergence has been accelerating over the last few years and now finally many brands are producing comprehensive multi channel media plans that transcend both on and offline. The key thing for us is that they understand how each channel is performing and have the agility to adapt the media mix swiftly based on near real time performance data.” – Neilson Hall, Illuminate
What’s happening and why?
Search Engine Optimisation took the marketing world by storm when it was first discovered. As individuals began to understand the nuances of the Google (and Yahoo, Ask etc.) algorithms, the ability to tweak a website in order to increase its rankings quickly became a very valuable asset. Fast forward ten years and it’s fair to say that many of the efforts seen today are dictated by the known elements of the Google algorithm. As an industry that relies upon this mysterious, unknown quantity, we have often found ourselves working in an almost entirely reactive culture. At certain points in the last decade, the success of many online businesses has hinged upon the speed on which their SEO efforts can adapt to such changes to the algorithm. The industry as a result, became a sector of fortune tellers, looking to predict new trends and expected updates to future-proof our sites. In recent years the main theme that we have seen in the majority of Google updates and new products they have been creating, is a completely user-centric focus. The time where SEO meant meeting the requirements of robots is over, and today it is a much more ‘human algorithm’ that we are working with. Panda and Penguin, the most well known algorithm updates in recent years, are not just there to make life harder for SEOs. Look at the core of these updates and the objectives clearly relate back to improving users’ online experiences. In short:
- Penguin reduces the impact of, and even penalises, sites which have paid for their link profile in a manipulative manner and therefore, those whose content is not proportional in its usefulness to the volume of links it has. In principle this means it should be the clients with the most link-worthy content for the user that rank the highest.
- Panda on the other hand, looks to limit the ranking ability of sites which are producing duplicate content internally or using substantially similar content to other sites. This encourages sites to produce their own, high quality, valuable content for its audience, once again improving the standard of high ranking websites as a whole.
Let’s now turn our attention to the new products launched by the Google brand. Google Now has turned the people’s favourite search engine into a virtual assistant in their pocket. Recent surveys show that individuals are more likely to trust a snippet from Google for up to date news, than some of the previously most well-respected news publishers online. With this in mind, the next step for Google Now in providing the information people are looking for in such a personalised format seemed almost inevitable.
“Of course SEO and digital PR can, and does, exist in isolation. And I’m sure that some businesses still see the world this way. But bringing the two together must be the way forward for our industry – or that’s certainly our thinking. The ability to deliver our content and SEO aims via targeted media, with targeted messages to audiences that matter for our clients means they win twice.” – Tom Salmon, Epiphany
Driving change: The Evolution of Link Building
The primary catalyst for the present shift in the SEO industry has been seen across the link building landscape. The tactics of buying links from sites with the highest Domain Authority on the basis it would directly lead to higher rankings just don’t work anymore. The rise of articles on how to think like a PR or ask for links from bloggers better has led to new pressures on this branch of SEO to go outside the box and really earn those links, rather than just build them. This is the clearest sign of these two services becoming far closer than they once were, as it has becomes nigh on impossible to gain links from an online form. Instead, the focus is on how we build personal relationships with bloggers, journalists and other sites in order to appeal to the human side of them and the stories we have to offer. This is a skill that so many PR professionals have as it often sits at the core of their work, but it can be and area where the traditional SEO sector is lacking in expertise. However, just because you’re currently lacking the skill doesn’t mean you can continue without it. It’s time to learn and adapt to the ever-changing industry that we work within. At Optimise Oxford, Stephen Kenwright spoke about the approach he takes towards links and the metrics that he now considers to be important…
“Link building is still heavily focused on metrics that don’t mean anything. Even Moz doesn’t suggest that Domain Authority is an indication of how much PageRank is passed from one site to another; it’s a guess of how a website will perform in search results based on the links that are pointing to it. It’s possible to measure more meaningful data, such as how much traffic is referred via a link and whether that links has driven conversions or assisted conversions. Links take longer to build – and so are more expensive than before – so we absolutely need to be as granular as we can be about how much each link contributes to the bottom line.” – Stephen Kenwright, Branded3
Skills in common do not equate to being the same job entirely, however there is so much that these two sectors can learn from one another to help move the industry forward as a whole. So how can we learn from one another?
“They use the same tactics but SEOs need to get with the wider PR agenda and consider message, audience, and reputation rather than being focused purely on links. Most are moving in the right direction. Similarly, pure digital PR people can learn from the technical and analytical parts of SEO. On page SEO is a skill many PRs don’t want or need to acquire, and for many SEOs PR strategy and reputation management are an irritation. It’s the middle, majority ground that has merged, and that’s for the best.” – Claire Thompson, Waves PR
The need for SEOs to understand digital PR and integrate some of the skills into their working habits has clearly increased, so now it’s time to talk practically about which skills to learn now.
There’s often a great deal of emphasis put on generating links after content has already been created, however take a step back and put on your PR-hat before this. When you’re working on a campaign specifically to attract attention outside of your owned assets, from the very early stage of ideation you need to be aware of the type of stories that will get coverage. The start of a creative campaign should not be solely based upon keyword volumes. Instead it should identify who your audience is, and in turn which types of target publications they will be reading. When you know the sites you’re targeting for coverage and understand their audience, you’ll be able to provide journalists with value and know how to meet their, and their readers, expectations. If the publication tends to talk about emotive, human stories rather than tools and infographics, you probably need to adapt how you position your content accordingly. It needs to be about the story underlying it all; A data-based piece without an interesting narrative behind it will likely remain an undiscovered gem upon your website.
Once your campaign has been created with journalists and bloggers in mind, it is time to create the types of relationships that will ensure you get the promotion you want. The short-term game of a quick, nicely worded email will work in some cases, but for the bigger targets we need to think bigger. Each time you meet an individual in a professional environment it’s important to consider the value they may add to your business going forward. It should go without saying but be nice. So often the SEO community can be dismissive of individuals who don’t work closely in the same sector or might not understand the complexities of multi-funnel attribution, but connecting on a human level can add infinite value in the future. When meeting a journalist or blogger for the first time, use the opportunity to see what sort of information they look for in a story or pitch, take note of the typical complaints they have, and make sure you avoid making those errors in your future outreach strategies.
“Understanding that editors don’t care about shiny tools that help users to buy from you, editors care about stories with a conflict/controversy. This quote describes what news is perfectly: “When a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news.” Before pitching to editors your digital asset you need to make sure that it has enough depth for them to write around 500 words. You would struggle with pitches like “Hey, we just build this calculator. Want to write about it?” since there’s probably max 5 sentences editors can write about your asset itself. Press releases are perfect when you want to show how your asset can solve a popular problem. The reason editors will write about your asset is because of THAT popular problem, not because of your asset. If you’re a business owner with different departments still working in silos, you need to get your SEOs and PRs in the same room ASAP. There are so many ways these two disciplines compliment each other perfectly.” – Tanya Korobka, Lucky Attitude
What does this mean for the future of SEO?
“Gone are the days when you could simply build a client a new website. Be it a migration or a new build, a collaborative effort between developers, SEO teams, UX specialists, PR experts and many more interested partners is required. Digital Marketing as a concept is all based around an exceptional website and to achieve this all project stakeholders must work effectively and efficiently together to deliver the best results for the end client.” – Stuart Rex, Ridgeway
The converging trend we see here between SEO and Digital PR is not unique to just these two services. Across digital marketing as a whole the services and teams working within it are seeing closer and closer integration. Look at the quotes in this article; they’re coming from Paid Media specialists, SEOs, Digital Marketing Agencies, PR professionals and Web Developers, all of whom understand that their products and services now work together far more collaboratively than ever before. I would argue that this unification of digital marketing elements is most visible across SEO and Digital PR, hence why I selected it as the focal point for this article. Time and time again in the industry these terms are becoming interchangeable and departmental lines are blurred. But what does this really mean for these two industries?
“I think the core difference is in the frame of perspective and metrics used. PR professionals are focusing on reputation, sentiment, affiliations and engagement, whereas SEOs are looking at SERP rankings, link metrics, traffic and on-site stats. What’s interesting is that SEOs are coming around to the understanding that in order to improve these metrics, they can no longer hack the system. They need to offer relevant, valuable content, communicate effectively with their users (through great UX and onsite content) and build their reputation and relationships with other influencers to boost trust and develop their reputation. What SEOs are realising is that alongside the back-end technical services they offer, they need to start valuing online Public Relations. I think we need to stop worrying about the territorial war between PR and SEO. It doesn’t matter what we call the work we do; what matters is the result of the work we do. And at the moment, that means integrating traditional and technical SEO with an underlying Public Relations strategy and framework.” – Aisha Kellaway, White.net
Does it fundamentally matter if you’re an SEO who’s got a good understanding of PR or a PR who can do SEO? To put it simply, we cannot bury our heads in the sand and keep using the same tactics that we have for the past 5-10 years. But that doesn’t mean that either SEO or Digital PR is ‘dead’. Instead, it means that there has been an evolution of the services offered. The important thing here is that as an industry we are having a positive impact on marketing as a whole, and producing some incredible results for brands.