Public relations has always played an integral role in helping businesses and nonprofits to achieve their goals. But in today’s search-engine-reliant world, digital PR know-how has the potential to explode organizations’ visibility before the eyes of prospective customers. Unfortunately, too few PR pros understand how backlinking and search-engine optimization (SEO) work, and their importance in achieving their clients’ aims. By way of providing an introduction to this complex and rapidly evolving aspect of PR, I’m going to offer some insight into how we’ve helped enhance the visibility (and improved the bottom lines) of our clients.
Why Should PR Experts also be SEO Experts?
At Circa, our clients are institutions of higher learning, and much of our work involves elevating our clients’ professors and teachers as thought leaders. We do this, in part, by using traditional PR skills and tools to reach out to publications to arrange interviews with these professors and publish their content. Not only does this achieve the goal of increasing brand awareness, but it also accomplishes an increasingly critical goal for any successful business in the digital age: improved search engine visibility and rankings.
Our clients share a straightforward goal: to enroll more students into their university programs. In order to achieve this goal, they need to increase their brand awareness, and increasing awareness requires accomplishing two very specific tasks: showcasing the university’s value and also boosting its digital presence. By following our specific link-building strategy, we not only establish more credibility among our target audience, but we also rank higher in relevant keyword searches conducted by prospective students. Our strategy is one that could apply to any business that relies on PR to increase its overall brand awareness.
How to Leverage Digital PR to Gain More Digital Visibility
In the digital world, links are critical. Links help to boost a webpage’s rankings and ensure that search engines like Google recognize the page as genuine and credible. In the past, it was possible to buy or acquire links of little relevance from low quality websites in order to achieve a high search-engine ranking. That’s no longer possible. These days, web pages need to feature a select amount of natural keywords and links from other viable and relevant sites from high quality sources. The focus is quality of links. Acquiring these types of links can be challenging, especially since it requires establishing relationships between various content sources. However, this is a task that PR professionals are naturally equipped to tackle.
Using traditional tactics, PR professionals can actually generate significant digital results for their clients. For instance, a PR pro can pitch a reputable publication or website—one that’s relevant to the client’s specific interests—with the hopes of landing interviews or media placements. Once the PR professional is able to successfully land an interview or place a client-written byline in a publication, then it’s up to the PR professional to also achieve the crucial end-goal of acquiring the link to the desired webpage within the media placement.
Obtaining a link back to a desired page can be challenging depending on the publication, but it is certainly possible in many instances. Oftentimes, the best way to gain a link is through commonsense approaches. For example, a PR professional can ask a publication to link back to a specific site as a means of attribution. Additionally, the link shouldn’t be overtly self-serving—it shouldn’t take a viewer to a landing page, for instance, that pushes them to purchase something. Instead, the link should feature valuable, useful and relevant content.
If the client is a college, for example, and a PR professional is able to arrange an interview with one of the college’s professors to appear in a publication, then the link placed on the interview page should take the viewer back to the program’s homepage, giving the viewer a chance to learn more about the institution and potentially sign up for more information. This type of link placement strategy is fairly effective: the client receives a form of attribution and a natural link, but the publication won’t feel that it’s promoting the institution in an obvious or attention-grabbing way. When it comes to placing links, it’s all about common sense: PR professionals should use their networking and communication skills to ensure that their clients are properly attributed within the specific content.
In our experience, using expert commentary and byline opportunities coupled with keyword-based search campaigns and SEO-optimized webpage content efforts has helped to generate impressive results for our clients. For instance, our expert commentary efforts in publications like the Huffington Post resulted in over 2,000 social shares and 10 backlinks for one client, and the University of Wisconsin saw program inquiries jump by 33 percent because of our use of SEO-optimized content efforts .
In short, PR professionals can use their tried-and-true PR tools to not only boost their clients’ brand, but also influence search engine rankings. As long as PR professionals are willing to remain flexible and adapt to the demands of the digital world, they will be able to leverage their valuable communication skills to generate their desired results.
Joseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.