Once you’ve optimised your website copy, you’ll find that the most important part of optimisation happens off the page – where links from external sites back to yours play a vital role in telling Google and other search engines how important your site really is.

Link building works best when you have a one-way link from another quality site to your own. You can try all sorts of tricks to build up the number of links you have, but to maximise your results concentrate on obtaining links from quality sites.

Of course quality links are not that easy to get! But many companies have an under-used resource that could generate hundreds if not thousands of quality links. That resource is public relations.

Good public relations and the online practice of link building are natural bedfellows. First, because the dynamics of each is remarkably similar and second, because when used in tandem with important keywords in mind, they can produce spectacular results:

  • Public relations is the process of building a company’s reputation, largely through the use of positive media coverage.
  • Link building is the process of building a web site’s ‘reputation’ by getting links from relevant and respected web sites.

The processes share some important features:

  • Success cannot be guaranteed
  • Relationships and industry knowledge are important
  • You’ve got to give up some control
  • Results can be spectacular

More news sites are writing about and linking to external web sites of all kinds. What better source of a quality link? Not only will these media outlets have large audiences, but they will be spidered frequently by search engine bots.

And the search engines can be confident that the link and the website that it points to is legitimate. To get there, it had to pass through the eyes of a reporter and an editor.

Who better to get such valuable links than PR professionals? Yet how many times do the PR team and the SEO team sit down together?

Not often, if these examples are anything to go by:

1. Last year, Waitrose did a story on a new range of ‘ugly fruit’. Fruit that was perfectly good, but just didn’t look good enough, and was being sold at a discount. The story was covered here at the BBC and got a valuable link back to Waitrose.com. 

Doing a search today on waitrose “ugly fruit” gives over 300 results. But not one of those results comes from Waitrose.com and the BBC link turns out to be the exception rather than the rule. The story failed to generate links because there was nothing to link to – no story on the Waitrose site, no report, no press release, no corporate blog post.

Lesson: While stories in traditional media are fleeting, online stories continue to generate interest and web traffic for many months, even years afterwards. But you need to have content on your site to capture that interest.

2. In Scotland last week, the Sunday Times carried a feature article based on research carried out by the Glasgow Solicitors Property Centre,“What Buyers Really Want”.

The report itself was newsworthy with a bit of controversy throw in. I for one wanted to know more and searched for the full report online – it was nowhere to be found.

Lesson: A press release based on the results of a report will generate interest not only from the public, but from other interested journalists wanting to check the story out, or find a different angle they could write about themselves. So publish the report on your site for maximum PR advantage.

3. In the US recently, insurance company Nationwide.com published an interesting report. The press release’s title read ‘Nationwide survey shows startling number of Americans guilty of DWD’ .

Now this headline tells the reader (or the search engine) nothing to indicate what the report is about. After reading it becomes clear that DWD is ‘driving while distracted’, a phrase that according to Wordtracker, gets just 5 searches a day.

Lesson: Thousands of stories now compete for the attention of busy journalists and they want to see what the story is all about immediately. So don’t use words that aren’t meaningful and do use keywords that give at least a clue to what the story is all about, and even better attract search engine traffic, especially from journalists researching stories.

There are important strategic insights for public relations professionals and those who engage them:

  • News stories stay online – your news item can still be read with great interest months after the event.
  • The links the story creates not only bring people themselves but also boost your search engine traffic.
  • Online stories can spread like wildfire. Issue a press release online and it can be taken up and commented on minutes later.
  • Smaller niche sites assume a greater importance. They’re read by people who are passionate and informed, not just interested – and the links they bring can be even more valuable than those from mainstream media.

To get the maximum return from any publicity effort, PR people and SEO people need to meet together and look for the synergies that can be created through their respective disciplines.

Ken McGaffin is the chief marketing officer of Wordtracker.com.