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Forward-thinking PR agencies are quickly learning that by adding comprehensive search engine optimisation (SEO) to their range of services they can differentiate themselves from their competition and deliver significant additional value to their clients.
As an SEO, my work with these agencies has increased in line with this development.
Why have PR agencies started to embrace advanced SEO?
The Google algorithm development rewards websites securing high quality links and mentions from dominant websites, giving PR agencies a new advantage over traditional SEO agencies.
PR agencies already maintain relationships with media organisations and industry influencers, making it possible to utilise these relationships to the clients’ advantage.
This is particularly the case when compared to traditional SEO agencies that have built their business around lower quality links from blogs and such to improve their clients’ ranking ability.
Closing the knowledge gap
The gap between current, and required, SEO campaign knowledge is a challenge for PR specialists looking to provide SEO as a client service.
In my experience, the expertise of in-house PR agencies is generally limited to understanding that keywords, meta titles and external links help with improving search rankings,
There tends to be a shortfall when it comes to the detail of these and other, more complex, ranking factors.
In the rest of this article I’ll cover some of these more advanced ranking factors that an effective SEO in a PR environment should know about.
Let’s start with an overview:
SEO: An Overview
Search Engine Optimisation is a process that aims to improve website organic search rankings. SEO covers a range of activities, and these fall into three main categories:
1. On-page SEO
On-page SEO refers the content on your website's pages, including what keywords you are targeting, and how much and what type of content is on the page.
2. Off-page SEO
This refers to ranking factors which are usually outside of your direct control, and include external websites that link back to your content.
For an in-depth look at this topic, book yourself onto Econsultancy's Building Backlinks Workshop.
3. Technical SEO
Technical SEO covers the coding and build of the website, the hosting and the download speed. The majority of technical SEO work is carried out by website developers.
I’ll cover these three areas (and how they relate to PR) in more detail below.
Off-page SEO factors: Links (and mentions)
Let’s start off with something that's understood by most people who have a basic knowledge of SEO: external links help websites rank.
Link building is the name for getting other websites to link back to your site. In general, the more links you have, the greater chance of ranking for the target keywords. Think of each link as a vote for the site.
Links and mentions are a PR agency's best opportunity to utilise its core expertise, incorporating SEO indicators to an outreach program. Here’s what you need to know...
What is a link?
A link (also known as a backlink) is where one website inserts a hyperlink to another website. Generally, these links are contextual, and point from one of their webpages to one of your client’s webpages that is relevant to the linking page.
While links are key to improving search rankings for client websites, not all links are made equal - some links carry significantly more ranking power than others. A good SEO practitioner can prioritise potential target websites.
To evaluate these websites, you need to understand how Google evaluates links.
The factors that Google uses include:
- Relevancy of the linking domain and article to the link target.
- Strength of the linking domain and article.
- Whether the link was paid for or editorially driven.
- The location of the link on the page.
- Whether the link uses a 'nofollow' HTML tag.
- How many links there are on the linking page.
- Is the article positive or negative?
- The link's anchor text.
That’s a lot of information to evaluate, and you need a fair amount of specialist SEO knowledge to be able accurately prioritise your shortlisted websites for outreach.
What is a mention?
A mention is very similar to a link except that there is no actual link between sites. Usually mentions are made in the context of a quote and citation, and the citation consists of the name, role and organisation of the person quoted.
Google gives credit to the citations as many powerful websites have an editorial policy not to link externally. Without being able to measure mentions, there would be a big hole in Google’s ranking algorithm.
While a mention doesn’t give you as much credit as a link, they should not be ignored. Mentions on large media websites carry weight.
Just like links, Google uses multiple factors to evaluate the quality of a mention, and it is very important to ensure that the organisation brand and niche is clearly noted or the Google algorithm may not give your client the credit that they deserve.
On-page SEO consists of the words and images on each webpage that Google uses to evaluate the purpose and quality of a page.
Google also evaluates all pages on a domain in total to identify the main purpose of a website, so pages outside of the main topic of the website are less likely to rank.
On-page SEO is really important to get right. I regard it, along with technical SEO, as permission to play with the big boys in search.
The principles are pretty straightforward to grasp and once you are used to implementing them you will quickly find yourself automatically writing optimised SEO content with a greater ability to rank in search.
When looking at on-page SEO it is important to remember that it all starts with using the keywords (and synonyms of these keywords) that users are searching with.
The easiest way to search for the most relevant keywords is with Google Keyword Planner (you need to sign in, but it is free).
Information from Google's Keyword Planner on search term 'London PR agency'
Once you have identified your primary keywords, find a range of close synonyms for each keyword to give yourself the chance to rank for a range of search terms (and avoid being penalised for overuse of your primary keyword).
Once you have identified the keywords you want to rank for, do a Google search for these keywords and evaluate the top three results.
As a minimum you want to aim to match the quality of these results with your page.
It’s important to remember that Google wants to give searchers the best answer to their query.
Titles, URLs and headings
Once you have decided on your primary keywords and synonyms you should put some thought into the structure of your page.
It is important to use your primary keywords in the title, URL and main heading, but once this is done you only need to use your primary keyword a couple of times in your sub-headings and main content to get the job done, and synonyms elsewhere.
It is important to break up your content into logical sections using headings and sub-headings, and I recommend that all lists are bulleted.
This makes content easy for users to scan quickly to find what they are after. Make sure you use a few instances of your keywords in the main body and headings, but don’t overdo it.
Make sure you incorporate synonyms of your primary keywords as well to help you rank for related search queries.
It’s important to keep in mind that, on average, top three search results are over 2,000 words in length.
It is important to optimise your images for SEO – Google can’t see what an image is yet, and large images can slow down your website and affect your rankings.
- Use relevant, descriptive words in the image filename.
- Use alt text to describe the image.
- Optimise the image size and quality for web (i.e. make sure the file isn't too big)
As the title suggests, this covers the technical aspects of a website's performance, some of which are obvious to the user, some of which aren’t.
These factors include:
- Website load speed.
- Website page size.
- The number of page calls and redirects.
- The number of pages indexed in Google.
- robots.txt file.
- 404 pages.
- 301 pages.
- Navigation design.
- URL structure.
Technical SEO really needs to be undertaken by a specialist – it can get quite complicated.
The good news in that once a technical SEO audit has been carried out and recommendations have been implemented, technical aspects of SEO usually only need to be monitored.
There shouldn’t be any changes to your technical website performance unless significant technical changes are made to the website.
To summarise, I believe that there is a huge opportunity for PR agencies to incorporate advanced SEO into their day to day client activities.
Google has introduced search algorithm changes recently which have created opportunities for PR agencies to embrace SEO and expand their client offering.
I believe that the PR agencies who do this will differentiate themselves from their competition by creating additional value for their clients.
This additional value will help secure their long term client relationships, and also make it easier to win new business.
For more information
Econsultancy has a range of Search Marketing Training Courses to suit all levels and requirements.
And to get it all from the horse's mouth, Google's Webmaster Guidelines is the first step to developing a good understanding of SEO.
You could also check out Google's Search Quality Rating Guidelines. Just released, Google's previously confidential internal guidelines are used by the company's website raters to manually analyse and rate sites for quality.