Why PR is the New SEO (and What You Should Do About It)

January 23, 2021

case-studyLast week I did my annual archival – where I shove all the closed project folders in my cloud storage into an archive, and start the new year with a clean slate. Audits, reports, proposals, all of it.

As I look back at Search Marketing proposals I’ve sent to clients versus those of years past, I’m surprised at the PR terminology that has snuck into my vernacular.

Words like outreach, placement, and influencer have replaced drier mechanics like Page Authority and Anchor Text Distribution. Off-page SEO has changed; I’m sure you’ve noticed.

The last few years have seen a drastic shift in “what’s effective” in the promotion of a web site. It used to be, prior to 2011 and the onset of the Google Penguin update, that marketers could throw a determinable spread of backlinks at a web site, and – voila! – rank. For some years, I actually calculated the amount, and then the weight of links I needed to rank a site.

It Used to be So Easy

Too easy, in the eyes of the Google Web Spam team. For years, SEOs scoffed at Matt Cutts when his broken-record commentary on “good content” showed up at conference after conference, video after video. We all knew that links were a necessity to battle for top positions in search, and content couldn’t rank on its own. Links are still important.

The effective means in getting them however, has changed. The bottom of the barrel (blog comments, forums, directories, article submission) that you could once layer and stack to outpace nearly any web site, just don’t have the same oomph that they used to.

Especially in 2012 and 2013, quality content became the focal point of inbound campaigns again. If you focused on quality content before then, good for you – you were definitely ahead of the curve, and are probably reaping the rewards of your efforts. Promoting that content however, is where Public Relations has a more important role than it used to. PR professionals are well poised to capitalize on SEO budgets, and SEO professionals have some things to learn from the world of the PR pros.

Reason 1: PR Pros Know How to Pitch Content

Link building has always been about an exchange: you give me content, I give you a link. The gate holders of this exchange are now more firmly planted in the sphere of earned media. Enters the power of media pitch.

I’m not suggesting that press releases are going to be all the rage again; PR professionals simply understand the dynamic of pitching a content piece to a specific audience. The content/audience relationship in Inbound Marketing isn’t going away anytime soon. The more PR folks who figure that out are going to start winning more digital marketing budget.

Reason 2: PR Pros are Already in the Business of Outreach

The Penguin algorithm update elevated a whole new brand of SEO tools that which are geared to influencer identification and outreach. GroupHigh, Buzzstream, and Moz are now known for their capabilities that have leaned SEO away from its traditional infrastructure focus and more into content promotion.

HubSpot’s Social Inbox has brought influencer outreach into the heart of its inbound marketing toolset. PR pros already know how to work in this field. They know the process; they know what media outlets want. Getting a more specific kind of link or brand mention only tweaks the questions they ask of their publishing partners.

In creating and pitching a story to influencers, PR has a core skillset which is insanely valuable to your SEO efforts. There is however, one glaring issue that the PR mainstream needs to overcome.

The Disconnect is Metrics

How will your influencer outreach strategy measure success? If the metrics stop at the relationship stage (i.e. how many active contacts in your rolodex), or aren’t segmented away from your current digital metrics, you’re begging for uncomfortable questions from your boss that sound a lot like “What did we get out of this?”

The key to solving this problem takes another sensible cue from the public relations mainstream: organize your efforts in campaigns. With a little structure and up-front planning, the expectation-setting game will be squarely in your court, with the metrics to explain how your new SEO/PR hybrid performs within the rest of your digital mix. If you’re unsure about metrics, take some simple steps to better KPIs:

  1. Create your Content Campaign (If you’re on HubSpot, use HubSpot’s new Campaigns tool. If you aren’t on Hubspot, define an Advanced Segment in Google Analytics which includes the content you want to measure)
  2. Measure Referral Traffic to your Campaign/Segment
  3. Use HubSpot’s URL Builder or the Google URL Builder to segment referral traffic in from your guest posts and press releases, just like you would with any other external campaigns
  4. Check in with your Campaign’s Unique Visitors weekly or monthly to gauge the success of your efforts.

Obviously, the trick is in defining which pieces of content you want to measure (Step 1). If you’re too wide in your definition, you won’t get a picture of how your outreach efforts are moving the needle. If you’re too narrow, you won’t have enough data by which to make a decision.

Connecting the Dots – What to do Now

The recent trends in SEO toward quality content should influence your hiring decisions about who’s going to be effective in fuelling the fire of your inbound strategy. Hiring for an SEO position anytime soon? You might want to consider the candidate with some PR background to help move the needle.

If you’re working with an agency to further your success in Search Marketing, you might beg questions that sounds like:

  • What can we do to be more strategic about promoting content?
  • Who can we partner with?
  • How are we measuring digital earned media and PR?

The resulting conversation will give you the opportunities (and the links and brand mentions that go with them) that widen the gap between you and your online competition.

This article was originally published on the HubSpot Insiders blog.

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