How PR and SEO Work Together to Build Your Brand
PR and SEO. Who doesn’t love a good acronym?
If you’ve read any posts on the PR Superstar blog, you’ll know all about PR, or public relations. But SEO, or search engine optimisation might be less familiar. A complex but increasingly important part of modern public relations, SEO is a handy weapon in your marketing arsenal. Do it right and it can get your brand tons of high-quality publicity, while pushing down negative material that could harm your reputation.
Not sure how these two fields collide? This guide will explain how PR and SEO working together, can take your brand on to the next level.
What are SEO and PR?
Let’s start by defining what these terms mean, explain some SEO best-practices, and deep dive into why they work so well together.
First up, PR. Public relations is all about reputation management. It’s about protecting, enhancing and building your reputation to positively influence people’s opinions and behaviour. For more, read: Why is Public Relations Important?
How about SEO? Search engine optimisation is the practice of tweaking your web content to ensure it ranks high in the results of Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines. It’s done to get more eyeballs on your website, and enhance your reputation.
Let’s explore this in more detail.
In the early noughties, SEO used to be a battle between search companies and business owners desperate to claw their way to the top of Google. Brands stuffed their websites with nonsense keywords and paid other, equally low-quality sites to link back to them.
This practice ended with Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013. The new algorithm put the end user’s experience first, concentrating on abstract ideas such as authority, engagement and legitimacy rather than simple technical metrics like how many keywords were used.
In other words, the quality of content became the deciding factor in how highly a website ranked.
So what constitutes high quality content?
The term ‘high quality’ is bandied around, but what does it actually mean? Here are a few pointers:
1. Write for your readers, not for yourself
When producing content, it’s important to take into consideration what your users want to read about. And what problems or issues are they trying to fix that led them to your site in the first place? High-quality content will help them solve that problem.
To find out what problems your readers are trying to solve, or information they’re looking for, you need to conduct keyword research, which brings us neatly to the next point.
2. Conduct keyword research
Keyword research is a fundamental SEO task that involves identifying popular words and phrases people type into search engines to find the information they need. Once you know what people are searching for, you can focus your content around those topics.
In terms of how to conduct keyword research, that’s a whole blog topic of its own. But this beginner’s guide to keyword research by HubSpot is a good place to start.
3. Make your content readable
Another golden rule is to make your content easy to read. This means thinking about the structure of your text and the words you use. Endless pages of unbroken text can put people off. Use headings, subheadings and paragraphs to break it up, and keep your sentences short. Also, try to limit the use of difficult words.
All of these things can slow the reader down and make your content harder to understand.
If in doubt, use a free Flesch-Kincaid readability test to see if your content needs simplifying.
4. Incorporate images and lists
Images and lists can break up content, add variety, and make websites more visually appealing. Similarly, a 2016 study by Wistia found that videos doubled visitor’s average ‘dwell time’ (how long people stay on a page), which can help build your site’s authority.
Four ways SEO and PR work well together
When mixed with SEO, public relations is one of the most powerful ways to make an impact online.
This is due to:
- the free publicity SEO brings
- the fact that both passively bring in new audiences
- using SEO to quell a PR crisis
- how good ol’fashioned PR work makes SEO work more valuable
Let’s look at each in turn.
1. Strong SEO equals excellent publicity
SEO is great because it gets you free publicity – the lifeblood of PR.
Google is the world’s de facto largest media agency, and bigger than both BBC and CNN. Whether you want to publicise your brand or spread awareness, getting high in Google’s search engine results will drive up visitors to your website.
Crucially, though, not all exposure is created equal.
For example, companies often bid to get their sites in the sponsored results at the top of Google searches with paid ads. This is a lot simpler than SEO and PR work, but it’s also far less valuable.
Research by Google found that, ‘81% of ad impressions and 66% of ad clicks occur in the absence of an associated organic result on the first page of search results.’ In other words, paid results only see real success when nobody is out there doing SEO. Not a ringing endorsement. And in terms of reputation, the sad fact is, nobody likes paid advertising. A 2020 Ipsos MORI study found that ad execs were the single least trusted profession in the UK, after politicians. Ouch.
SEO, in contrast, builds high-quality brand awareness, the kind every PR campaign is aiming for.
Plus, the fact your business or brand is high up on the search engine results page will make people trust you more.
Think about it. When you search for news, the top results (and the ones you’ll click on) are from respected sites such as the BBC, The Guardian and The Telegraph, rather than conspiracy theorists like David Icke.
That aura of respectability carries over to other searches: people naturally see ‘organic’ results as earned, and therefore authoritative.
This idea, called ‘social proof’, is well-attested in psychology. If lots of people do something, we assume they’re doing it for a good reason. For example, when the UK government mentioned in letters that nine out of ten people paid their taxes on time, repayment rates spiked.
In the same way, getting to the top of Google becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Effective SEO increases your audience and your reputation. All for free.
2. SEO can help you through a crisis
PR crises are never good. They can hit when you least expect it and can undo years of work building a reputation, in minutes.
Take British brewery and pub chain, Brewdog. In an open letter to the company on Twitter in 2021, a disgruntled ex-employee accused them of having a ‘toxic attitude’ and promoting an internal ‘culture of fear’.
As a result, Brewdog’s index score (a mark of perceived quality, value and reputation) tanked from 18.9 to 4.7 overnight.
It also affected their Google rankings. Now, when searching for Brewdog on Google, one of the first things consumers see is the scandal:
Brewdog’s response? A rather poor Twitter post that came a week and a half after the fact, that barely anyone read.
The takeaway? Every brand needs a crisis comms strategy. Find out what a good one looks like. Read: Crisis Management in Public Relations
So, how can you get SEO and PR working together to minimise the damage of a crisis?
The first thing to know is that building a high-quality digital presence takes time, so it’s a good idea to be proactive.
Here’s a simple plan for using SEO to prevent a PR crisis:
- Identify the areas where you’re most likely to receive criticism
- Put out high quality content using keywords related to those topics
If you can build up a library of good, high-authority content in the problem area, scandals will have a harder time snatching up the top search results.
3. PR’s human touch helps SEO shine
Many people think SEO is a numbers game, where hard data is king. There’s little room for the ‘soft’ skills of traditional PR, right? Wrong. As mentioned earlier, search engines have moved away from data-driven metrics. What matters most now is your ‘EAT’, a term from Google referring to your site’s expertise, authority and trustworthiness.
One of the most effective ways to increase your EAT is through backlinks. This is where established, well-known websites link to yours. In the same way that a respected trade magazine reviewing your product well will increase your reputation, a 2020 study from Backlinko found that backlinks from authoritative sites correlated positively with high search rankings.
In contrast, tit-for-tat schemes or directly buying backlinks will get you downgraded, or even blacklisted, by the algorithm.
Okay, but how do you get these precious links? It comes down to three things: outreach, outreach and outreach. You need to convince respected editors and content creators in your field that you’re worth talking about. That’s not easy. But that’s where PR agencies come into the picture.
PR Superstar has written about pitching to traditional media press before – and it’s equally as valid for online media: How to be Pitch Perfect: 5 Golden Rules for Pitching to the Press
In short, be:
- Interesting: if you can’t find anything to say about yourself, neither will journalists
- Relevant: if you’re a fashion company, don’t waste time trying to get featured in a foodie blog – regardless of how many followers they have
- Restrained: don’t spam every inbox you can find, unless you like being ignored
When you incorporate online PR, your SEO becomes a lot harder for someone else to replicate. As your site’s inbound links are based on genuine relationships rather than artificial technical metrics, nobody can muscle in on your digital territory without putting in an equal amount of work.
4. PR and SEO are both low-investment, high-reward
In recent years, PR mainstays like content marketing have become less effective. According to a 2018 report from ProfitWell, the cost to convert a single customer through content marketing has increased by nearly 50%.
What this suggests is focusing your efforts on building new audiences will suck up your budget for a poor return on investment.
What you need is a way to passively draw in new audiences. No prizes for guessing that online PR and SEO fill that role. This is because they’re both perfect examples of compound interest.
Every hit you bring in increases your EAT — even if only by a tiny amount — which in turn makes it easier to get new views. Think of what was mentioned earlier, about how hitting the top spot on Google is a form of ‘social proof’ that feeds back into itself. SEO and PR form a positive cycle from which you can eventually reap massive rewards.
Of course, the downside is that it’s hard to get the ball rolling. Google takes time to index new sites, so you’re going to be pumping out content to an audience of zero for several weeks at least, possibly months.
You can counter this by building a ‘seed audience’ before you go live. These are people you already have some connection to, rather than random web surfers, and they provide the initial momentum that attracts a wider general readership. Examples include:
- Past and present customers
- Business partners
- Your team members
- Friends and family
PR and SEO build on each other’s strengths here. Past PR work builds a network of contacts in the field that SEO can passively grow into a wider audience.
Of course, as Forbes wrote in 2020, SEO is never ‘done’ — you can always find something to tweak for better results.
The power of PR and SEO working together
SEO is a powerful tool. We’ve seen how it can become a key part of your PR campaigns. If you’d like more help figuring out where it all fits into your business, get in touch today.