PR agencies are specialists at using traditional marketing channels to generate exposure and drive conversation. Where digital is concerned, they’re perhaps not as comfortable. This is because in addition to the core principles of public relations, a whole other layer of factors needs to be considered.
The rise of Social Media – and how it’s altered how information is disseminated – is one of the most significant developments in the history of the PR industry, but let’s put that to one side for a moment. First let’s consider a channel that’s been around for a lot longer; one that has even greater reach than the likes of Facebook and Twitter. The channel I’m talking about is, of course, search.
The Intricacies Of Search
Search is an avenue that is underutilised by many PR and marketing campaigns. This is in spite of the fact that Google alone sees 88 billion searches each month (source: comScore). This neglect stems largely from a lack of understanding of how Google, Bing, et al, work.
Search is all about language, and matching user input to the most relevant sites and pages on the internet. Every time a user enters a search (also known as a keyword), the search engines interpret it and determine which results best match their query. The process involved in deciding where sites should rank is hugely complicated, but thanks to some amazing technology, it takes only a fraction of a second for a search query to resolve.
Where this poses a problem to PR is that in order for content to rank optimally, it needs to effectively target relevant keywords; a process that falls under the umbrella of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and often isn’t given sufficient consideration by public relations professionals.
The Value Of Search
There are specific things that the search engine algorithms look at to determine the value of an article, and whether it’s the best fit for what users are searching for. The most important of these criteria is keyword relevance (as discussed above), and the number of other sites linking to your content. If these “boxes” aren’t ticked, even the most creative, topical marketing campaign will, more often than not, struggle to gain traction in search.
At its most fundamental level, SEO is about optimising content to rank well in search engines, to attract qualified visits from consumers. Essentially, to increase the exposure brands receive, which is exactly what PR professionals have been doing in traditional media for almost a century, right?
SEO And PR – A Symbiotic Relationship
There are, in fact, a load of parallels one can draw between SEO and PR. Both are all about relevance, both are all about driving engagement, both reward creativity. These similarities mean that digital PR works best when paired with SEO, and vice versa.
Earlier I touched on the impact Social Media has had on PR. It’s opened up an entirely new way of connecting with consumers and driving awareness. It’s revolutionised the way brands get in touch online and dramatically altered the way many people discover and consume certain types of content.
As revolutionary as it is in many respects though, a lot of the basic principles of Social Media marketing have been practiced by SEOs for over a decade. Creativity and relevance are also Social Media buzzwords, and where SEO aims to build links through engagement, Social Media aims to accrue shares and likes. This overlap means that Social Media dovetails with SEO just as well as SEO complements PR. Therefore, it makes implicit sense for SEO, Social Media, and PR specialists to collaborate through all stages of content creation and distribution, sharing knowledge and exchanging ideas as they work towards collective goals.
Analytics And Online Reputation Management
Something else to consider is how these goals are tracked, as specific measurements of success will have to be considered for all distribution channels. If Analytics and Online Reputation Management (ORM) teams are available, they can add massive value here by ensuring these goals are relevant, and helping to keep tabs on all facets of a campaign once it goes live.
Very few Digital PR campaigns are backed by this kind of cross-discipline cooperation, and that’s something that needs to change. Working in silo-teams causes breakdowns in communication and means no one has sight of the bigger picture. It also means that decisions take too long to be made, which leads to scrapped ideas and missed opportunities.
The result is that the overall quality of work is short of where it could be. When talking digital that means less visibility, less engagement, and lower ROI. These aren’t words any brand, or marketer, wants to hear.