Today’s public relations is certainly not the same process as was practiced during the golden ad age of Mad Men. PR has almost completely morphed from the way it was taught and implemented –just a few years ago.
Before the recent digital age (or to define more specifically) –before 2007 and the unveiling of the smartphone and mobile devices—PR was a completely different animal. And from a similar viewpoint, just a decade ago there was a wider chasm of understanding and general lack of linkages among PR, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). More than a decade ago, content marketing wasn’t even a recognized term.
Certainly the rise in mobile devices—from smartphones to Ipads—contributed to pushing PR into a more digital realm. Social media—another baby birthed in this same time period—has catapulted the practice of PR into a world where journalists, media and celebrities aren’t the only ones ‘owning’ communication forums and platforms. During the early 2000s and before this time, publicists, agencies and PR firms were the main conduits for pitching article ideas to big-name media, as well as regional or local media. But (almost) overnight the average Joe next door and his kid became self-professed authors, town criers and many times obnoxious over-sharers on their own blogs and social media channels.
At this same time, the Internet became much more mainstream and the print media landscape got smaller and smaller. The surviving media and the new arbiters of content started moving at a much more rapid and nimble pace. It’s these companies and content leaders that now are labeled both the survivors and influencers.
Search marketing, SEO Cowboys & Algorithms
SEO in very simple terms is necessary for most every organization’s web site that wants eyeballs, consumers or clients to look at its content for either awareness, lead generation or conversion to actual sales. Search Engine Marketing (SEM), which should now be more accurately termed search marketing, includes search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) and link development. Not too long ago SEO, search marketing and PR stood more as silos than connected allies. Traditional PR and marketing directors typically viewed the SEO guys as maverick geeks who fiddled with web sites and meta tags to make them stay live and hum.
In today’s environment, Google is looking for pages containing high-quality, relevant information about the searcher’s query. These SEO and search marketing cowboys are now working more closely with the Chief Marketing Officers (CMOS), Content Marketing Officers and all other acronyms close to the C-suite that deal with the practice of marketing and promotion. (At least in more successful companies that is).
Google’s continuously-changing ranking algorithm makes it difficult for many marketing professionals to know the latest changes and even if they can spout off the latest tech and search engine trends, many times they do not have the technical background to understand and adjust their digital content strategies accordingly.
While the SEO guy may not make pitches to journalists or the media and while the PR guy may not optimize the back-end of web sites or do keyword analysis and optimization there’s a fuzziness that actually works when the disciples and their disciplines all work cohesively. Many times one may actually do some of the others’ work—especially in smaller marketing divisions or companies.
Earned, Owned & Paid
Before we get deeper into some actual work that’s done on this front, earned, owned and paid content needs to be defined. In the old days of PR there was typically a clear delineation among these three types of media. There are now hazy lines drawn around these types of content as well as the parties involved in each.
Earned media can involve word of mouth (if it’s good that’s the best kind, of course), a news story by a third party (media or blogger for example).
Owned media is content you have created or ‘own’ from blog posts, social media posts, infographics, white papers, research, etc.
Paid media traditionally meant paid advertising. Sponsored content, native advertising, paid blogger content etc. has surfaced in the past few years and has extended the original concept of paid promotional content.
As in days past, viewed separately, earned and owned content or media is the best and looked upon more favorably by Google than paid content alone.
The combination of earned, owned and paid media, however, can be the shortest route to lead conversion. Link building or legitimately getting other high-authoritative sites and sources of media to link to your very valid and meaningful content is a good practice where PR, SEM and SEO successfully intersect.
It’s common knowledge among savvy marketers and SEO professionals that manipulative link building should be avoided. For some time now, however, rumors claiming that all external links are no longer important are inaccurate. Links have always played an important role in every SEO model and according to a recent study conducted by Moz, backlinks are still very substantial and one of the largest factors in Google’s organic ranking algorithm.
The biannual ranking study determined the top 50 Google search results for 15,000 keywords and allowed Moz to assess which factors correlate with high search rankings and how frequently those factors or characteristics show up. The relationship between Google rankings and number of external links showed a positive correlation. Higher correlations mean a higher chance that a page with that factor will outperform pages without it. Bottom line: your web site needs external links (good ones) to rank.
Penalties for the bad links
With updated algorithms and guidelines on manipulative link building (starting with the Penguin update in 2012), Google has attempted to separate good, editorial links from bad ones that Google considers manipulative. Adam Thompson, 10x digital’s Director of Digital and SEO Specialist, states, “Google has algorithmic (automatic) and manual mechanisms for detecting unnatural links and punishing websites that get them. Having Google penalize your website can be catastrophic for a small business, because recovery can be a very long road.” Links that don’t meet Google’s guidelines are often easier to obtain and may provide good results for a time, but usually the results will crash and then you’re left with a penalized website that won’t rank on Google. Google’s guidelines can be frustrating to interpret, but there are a few underlying principles that guide them:
● Backlinks should be editorial – each backlink should represent a qualified human editor who is endorsing your website;
● The user comes before SEO – every backlink you obtain should first and foremost be offering maximum value to the reader, with SEO concerns coming second.
The Intersection for Success
Link-earning is the ultimate best practice for PR, SEO and search marketing success. An editorial approach, or content marketing, can help tremendously with SEO efforts, earning backlinks, driving social metrics and traffic, increasing engagement metrics and contributing to brand awareness and brand building.
Many global companies and bigger brands expect this link earning to be achieved via high-quality content related to their target market on high-authority domains with strong editorial control.
Content should be crafted with both primary and secondary research for best results and should definitely target your audience. For Adam Thompson, link earning starts with content: “In order to obtain editorial links, your first step needs to be making your website a resource that other websites will want to link to. Brainstorm ways to make your website a trusted resource in your industry – original research, educational infographics, free events, etc. Your PR and SEO team can work together to create valuable resources and pitch these resources to editors with the goal of obtaining backlinks from relevant websites.”
It is truly the holistic approach that will help companies stay competitive digitally. Traditional PR didn’t analyze where or how a media source ranked on a search engine. The successful digital marketing and PR strategies in use now welcome the latest SEO and search marketing tactics.
Many companies share this common goal: rank high on page one of a Google search for their industry. Not only is this strategy important for their industry’s top keywords, but successful search results are based on their geo and/or demographic targets. Thus, this more complete, combined approach to content marketing, PR and search marketing is critical for all organizations–from entrepreneurs and start-ups to established B2B or B2C companies.
Rollins is the President of 10x digital, a digital marketing, content and SEO firm. She is also Senior Editor for Carpe Daily, hollymrollins.com and is named one of the top content marketers globally by the Content Marketing Institute: 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Rollins has more than 20 years experience in strategic marketing, content marketing, digital marketing and public relations
Her prior work experience spans international healthcare to national and regional nonprofit organizations, including Agfa, the Horatio Alger Association, the Upstate SC Alliance and many other companies. She earned a master’s in journalism/global PR from USC and a BS in graphic design/marketing from Appalachian State University.
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