How to use PR after a Google penalty?

How to use PR after a Google penalty?

22nd January 2015

So your website has suffered the ignominy of a manual penalty from Google.  After the initial shock of your organic traffic falling off a cliff you have had to disavow most of your links and, frankly, there is nothing left at all.

Google lifts the penalty but now you have practically zero organic search visibility.

Faced with the prospect of revenues decreasing you need to find a solution.

How a typical penalty and recovery might look like using PR


Step forward PR. In this blog post we will look at how public relations can be used to mount a serious SEO recovery.

Why PR?

Any SEO worth their salt knows that PR is a great way to build links and drive branded search. PR can be deployed pretty quickly and its impact can be measured. Put simply, the links from PR coverage can replace the old links which might have been disavowed post penalty.

Should you do ‘big content’ or tactical press office activity?

The answer in short is: do both. Big content is great but takes time to plan, propose, get signed off develop and then launch. I’ve seen that whole process take up to three months. Perhaps even longer.

In the meantime, if a website has been hit with a penalty, there will be a three month period without any revenue from organic search.

So while you are planning your big content, make sure you get your press office activity sorted and focused on link building.

SEO-focused press office activity must be an urgent first step. For those wondering what the hell ‘press office’ means, in PR agency circles this term is used to describe an outsourced press office service.  It includes press releases, features, opinion columns, research and other quick and tactical pieces of media relations and blogger engagement.

Big content certainly is fashionable in digital marketing circles. Content marketers and inbound marketers are desperate to get ‘big content’ to work for them.

PR campaigns lend themselves perfectly to help shape the themes for big content and this content marketing approach can reap dividends. My fellow State of Digital blogger wrote this blog post on Big Content in case you wanted some examples.

I’d recommend working with your PR team or agency to develop a strategy with clear objectives and editorial themes that all marketing teams can deliver.

The press office activity can kick off in the first week post penalty. This will generate links and drive branded traffic while the big content is being developed.

In which sectors is PR an effective post penalty link building strategy?

It is true that some sectors are easier to secure links for than others.

The majority of clients can legitimately target national news desks and most consumer brands can reach out to women’s lifestyle media (a media category which has an abundant supply of media outlets which can link out to a client’s website).

Links can be earned very quickly and in relatively large volumes from very authoritative domains like The Telegraph, The Guardian or Mail Online.

For example, if I were representing a supermarket which had suffered a penalty, I’d look to develop a big content strategy and while that was being developed I’d be looking for as many ways as possible to generate links via a press office strategy.

In fact I have helped websites recover search engine visibility just by using press office strategies because the client’s budget couldn’t stretch to ‘big content’.

Can PR generate enough links?

Depending on how deep the disavow file has cut into the link profile of the website will dictate just how many PR links are needed.

I’d say it depends on the niche of the brand as to whether PR can generate enough links. Consumer friendly brands are always easier to PR as there are more media outlets out there to target, but certain B2B sectors can benefit from using PR as a link-building tool. In fact, B2B niches are often easier to support post penalty because they often take fewer links to get back into a competitive position.

There is, however, always the odd niche b2b media sector which doesn’t link out enough. In which case you need to think creatively about where else links can be earned. For example, we undertake outreach campaigns to higher education sector by legitimately targeting Universities with relevant content campaigns.

Give me an example of the type of PR you would use

Let’s quickly look at supermarkets as an example. A cursory look around that niche shows that wine reviews seem to be a great way to get SEO friendly links from places like the Guardian and The Telegraph, so I’d create a campaign around wine, making sure the best wines are being tasted and reviewed by the media.

I wouldn’t stop at the wine category either. Food, money and any other interesting product categories could be pitched out to the media.

I’d be commissioning research too, focusing on social trends linked to these niches. Research is nothing new in PR but the key is how you target the media niches for maximum linking potential. The story must appeal to mums, dads, niche interests and consumer groups of all shapes and sizes, for example.

If the research can be segmented then there is no better way to broaden out the potential link opportunities.

The trick is to get granular and reach as many media categories as possible.

What is different about doing PR to build links post penalty compared to traditional PR?


PR can help even in examples of complete deindexisation like this.


The main change is that these campaigns focus less on building a reputation or a brand and more on targeting links.

The strategy wouldn’t necessarily focus on difficult reputation building articles that a PR might normally prioritise. Instead I might aim for articles that might be deemed frivolous and be forgotten in a day or so, but it doesn’t matter if the link has been acquired. These are quick and easy wins.

Of course, the perfect solution is to hit reputation objectives and link building targets in one fell sweep.

How do you target media outlets?

Post penalty, I’d recommend building media lists using Gorkana and Buzzstream. I recently wrote this blog post about these tools should you want more information. and then we’d recommend checking the trust flow of all media outlets in Majestic and look at domain authority in Moz. If your PR agency doesn’t know what these tools are then there is a job to do here to educate them.

Clearly there are other factors in play when compiling a list of media targets, e.g. relevency of their target audience, circulation of their print editions or online readerships, but in the case of a penalty we’d want to secure links from websites with a domain authority of over 30, so SEO metrics are the primary consideration.

So you have been convinced to use PR ‘post penalty’. Do you choose any agency or do it in house?

The answer is ‘it depends’. Maybe there is a good in house team or agency in place. Or, perhaps, there is no PR resource? Or, maybe the existing PR team are not that digitally savvy and frankly, up for the job.

As the person responsible it is not only your job to sell the idea of using PR to your internal stakeholders and convince them to spend big on PR, but you also need to make the right decisions about the people to bring in to do the job in the first place. As we know, not all PR people are equal and there are still many that don’t understand the value of a link and its impact upon search.

It is your job to work out whether the team will take your direction about a PR campaign with a link-building objective, or whether you need to find a different PR resource.

What if you already have an active PR team or agency?

If you already have a PR team in place and it is already active then one would hope that the links that they have been securing over the past few months or years are enough to ensure the website bounces back into the SERPs in a reasonably healthy position. If so maybe there is not so much of a ‘post penalty’ job to do.

I’ve seen clients, who have had a very activity PR strategy in place for the two years previous to the penalty, bounce back into the SERPs quite nicely thanks to the PR and historic ‘natural’ links. Clearly, the rankings are several positions lower than where they were, but those historic SERP positions were unnaturally high. The good news is that by focusing the PR team more on link building, this original position can be clawed back but it will take a lot of work.

If this is the case then maybe the existing team is doing OK, after all they understand the business and have been getting coverage, it is just that they haven’t been securing as many links as you’d like.

This scenario is not too bad. With a little training about the value of links a PR strategy could be tweaked and shaped to help acquire even more links.

Do PR people understand enough about Google, the value of links or good and bad SEO practice etc?

Search metrics recovery
When combined with a disavow PR can quickly help visibility recover after an algorithmic ‘filter’ has been lifted.


Hopefully by now most PR professionals know the value of a link and can use Moz, Majestic, Searchmetrics and Google Analytics to assess the impact of their efforts. If they don’t, maybe it is time to train them up? Or look elsewhere.

The difference between ‘old’ and ‘new SEO friendly’ PR is not that much of a leap.

Can you ‘do it yourself?’

The SEO community is very ‘DIY’ orientated and I know of some great SEOs who are very good at PR and have learned the trade over time.

If you think you are good at PR then you could give it a go yourself.

Maybe, however, straight after a penalty is not the time and a place to experiment.

Do you have to wait for an update to regain traffic?

I can only speak for the examples I have worked on. However, I found that after Penguin 3 the sites that I worked on recovered very quickly after a three or four-month campaign of sustained PR which generated a good volume of links.

I’d imagine that the really competitive niches would take a lot longer, of course.

The trickier campaigns have been those that have suffered an algorithmic penalty. These sites haven’t received a warning in webmaster tools. Therefore, they might have done one disavow on the website and then undertook a PR campaign but their rankings have not come back.

In this instance it might be the case that another link analysis and disavow is needed because maybe some legacy links were missed the first time. This happens more often than you would think.

What other benefits can post penalty PR have?

It is well worth remembering that links and non-branded search traffic are only a small part of the picture.

PR is about reputation building and brand building. If you can create an SEO PR campaign that builds links and simultaneously builds a brand then you are onto a winner.

So what are the take aways for people considering using PR to recover from penalty

Clearly PR is a great way to help a site recover from a penalty, especially if the site has had limited levels of PR before. PR can’t work across all niches but it can be just as effective across B2B and consumer channels.

Big content is important but don’t forget to get granular and tactical. Big content can take time to plan and implement whereas shorter news and features can be turned on and off very quickly and can drive considerable levels of links.

Turning to a PR agency that gets SEO is always an advantage but it is not always necessary if an SEO can have control over the project.

And finally. If you have had a penalty, either manually or algorithmically then good luck! You’ll need it.


Written By
James Crawford is an award winning B2B and consumer PR practitioner and has worked with at some of the biggest PR agencies in the UK. He focuses on using reputation and ecommerce metrics to track the ROI of PR.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.