PR firms are seeing an increase in work from clients looking to build quality SEO links, a response to Google’s clampdown on black-hat SEO tactics in its latest algorithm update.
Google plans to penalise websites that are “over SEO-ing” by using unethical practices, in its latest Penguin update to its algorithm, and according to PR agencies, this is driving a surge in requests from clients for them to manage their SEO activity.
The update is the first time Google has integrated an automated penalty into its algorithm for over-optimisation tactics, including “unethical” link buying, having previously relied mainly on a manual system that relies on companies reporting others they believe are using such tactics. The response from the search industry has been mixed (nma.co.uk 28 March 2012).
One early consequence of this has been that PR firms are being asked to build quality links for clients through content and engagement, rather than SEO firms, due to their history in building relationships and building links with high-profile websites.
Craig Kronenberger, global MD for search at PR firm Edelman Digital, said the company had seen an increase in such requests from clients since Google’s Panda update last year but a “surge” more recently. “In the past six months, we have seen a significant influx of clients reach out to us because they need people who understand content,” he said.
“Boutique search agencies aren’t traditionally content creators,” he added. “Clients have realised the placement is now very much based on quality and content and linking that to social media. That is why we are seeing such a push from clients because they need this help and are reaching out to their PR firms.”
Debby Penton, director of EML Wildfire, agreed. “When it comes to search, it pays to remember that the core design dynamic of Google is to provide information that is accurate and relevant,” she said. “It’s easy to get hung up on how that translates to alt text, meta data and keywords but in truth, those are just hygiene factors to be aware of so Google doesn’t penalise you.
“The real and growing challenge for search is actually very similar to PR – write things that capture people’s attention, tell them something that sheds light on a topic, target the most influential websites to publish that information, and that will be good enough to stand out from the crowd.”
Tom Malcolm, head of consumer practise at PR agency Diffusion, said around 50-60% of the agency’s clients now had some level of SEO council as part of their brief.
“When we started the agency four years ago, search was a part of what we offered but it was less of an emphasis from clients,” he said, “There is still a job for SEO agencies, particularly for clients that need the quantity of links that they can provide but PR is now very well suited to building quality links because of the heritage for building relationships but matched with the experience in social media and online.”
Not all PR agencies are seeing this shift, however, and while SEO is fast becoming a standard for some, Speed Communications MD Stephen Waddington believes that it isn’t something that has increased any more than usual since the latest Google updates.
“We haven’t seen a great surge from clients to build editorial links,” he said. “Typically, it is part of what we do anyway but this hasn’t increased since the Google updates.”
Waddington said more significant issues were the bad practices around PRs asking bloggers not to use no-follow links in paid-for blog posts – something that Google will penalise bloggers for doing if caught.