There’s always been a clear line in the sand when it comes to SEO and public relations. These two industries are rarely aligned, other than a vague acknowledgment that there are some SEO benefits when you get some media coverage.
However, in my many years of actually doing PR, both working in an agency and in-house, I’ve personally come to see the significant SEO improvements generated by successful PR campaigns. This has gradually led me to incorporate a PR element into SEO campaigns for my own business as well as for my clients.
Before we dive into this, let’s take a step back and flesh out what we mean by public relations.
What is PR really?
Contrary to public perception and poorly written sitcoms, PR isn’t about parties and calling journalists all the time. It is really about crafting stories to help create a narrative through the media that works for you and your client. There’s a delicate balancing act. It has to work for the journalist, their readers and your client. This isn’t always that easy to do.
If done correctly, a proper public relations campaign does two things: it changes peoples’ minds about something, and it helps build positive business outcomes. That’s why I get a little hot under the collar when people call it a soft discipline or dismiss it. In fact, the worst case is when they see it as a necessary evil, so they look almost offended that they need to do PR for their own business.
The connection between PR and SEO
So now that you understand a little bit more about PR, let’s jump into the relationship between SEO and public relations.
As mentioned before, the most effective and useful way to generate media coverage for your brand or yourself is to do some PR. It’s not rocket science to say that media coverage — especially online — is good for your brand, and the resulting backlinks from reputable websites do wonders for your domain authority. If you prefer to measure your website’s ranking any other way, the benefits of high-quality domains referencing your website cannot be denied.
That leads us nicely into how brands can actually use PR to generate those backlinks.
How do you use PR to help your SEO
While I know SEO is not solely about backlinks, it is a major part of the external SEO process, so we’re going to focus on that. I think we can agree that most digital brands aggressively reach out to publications to build backlinks, but most don’t do it the right way.
The usual practice is to try to find broken links, create content to replace those references and then try to convince whoever is in charge to use your resource. Not bad, but based on my experience, it is quite labour intensive and does not have a huge rate of success. Another popular strategy is to try to contribute content, where those reaching out promise “high-quality, SEO content that is relevant to your blog” (this is verbatim from a real email one of my content clients received). It was an immediate turnoff for my client because they knew the sender had never read their content, did not understand their goals and most likely was not a very good content creator.
We usually employ a version of the second strategy, where we pitch stories — not high-quality SEO content — that fit the publication or blog’s narrative. One of our clients is an up-and-coming author based in Australia who was looking to get visibility for his new book as well as drive traffic to his own website. Rather than try to get them as many backlinks as we could, we helped him pitch his story to the media and where possible, crafting narratives that allowed us to naturally insert a backlink to his website into articles. Take this backlink on this travel community website. The story was about authors in Brisbane and where to go if you’re visiting — relevant to our client and to the media. We targeted a relevant audience for our client as well as contributed content that was actually relevant to the publication. It was a rare win-win.
Another thing we do is make SEO and backlinks a major part of our PR outreach from the start. What that means is we include that in our PR process, using internal references where possible in press releases, encouraging the inclusion of backlinks to the client’s homepage and more. This allows us to subtly increase the SEO impact of most of our PR campaigns without needing to create a separate campaign or increase our outreach just to generate backlinks as well. This saves time and effort on our part and reduces the overall cost for our clients without negatively impacting the media to which we reach out.
Why this actually matters
To preface this section, I need to point out that my company works with both publications and provides PR services for brands, so I get to see both sides of the issue. By working with both sides, we have been able to better understand how to add value rather than blindly pursuing numbers — number of backlinks, domain authority of referring domain and more. We blend the value of brand awareness with the SEO benefits of a strong referring domain.
Let’s use Business 2 Community as an example. With a Domain Ranking of 89 on AhRefs (86 on Moz), it is safe to say this is a high-quality resource. The chances of being able to successfully pitch a “high-quality SEO article” to them is slim to none because they have a strong editorial policy, and these articles rarely add value to the reader. Also, it highly undervalues the benefits of being featured in the publication.
With hundreds of thousands of readers and a good reputation, a single backlink without a brand story around it has a lot of missed opportunities. By crafting a real narrative around your brand that is relevant to Business 2 Community’s readers, it gets you the following:
- Good visibility for yourself or your brand to help create top-of-mind recall
- Genuine potential inbound leads from brands or people who resonated with your story
- SEO benefits from backlinks to your business
All three are extremely valuable to any business, so by being purely focused on link building and skipping the “add value” aspect, you lose out as well. By blending PR and SEO together, brands are able to maximise their outreach and add value to the publications to which they are reaching out.
If there’s one thing I want anyone reading this to take away, it would be to experiment with taking a PR-led approach to your SEO outreach. There are generations of perception issues that plague the PR industry, but nothing changes minds than firsthand experience. So, if you get the chance, work with a PR agency, freelancer or even journalist to help you with your SEO.