For as long as search engine optimization (SEO) professionals have been working on getting their clients to outrank competitors in Google search, there have been major and minor freak-outs in the SEO community every time Google changes its search algorithm. That’s a lot of freaking out, considering that this month Google rolled out its 30th update to its Panda algorithm (which was released in February 2011).
SEO has always been a moving target, which is one of the reasons that organizations who have worked with SEO firms are sometimes disappointed in the results. It’s no wonder they didn’t achieve the results they expected; optimization tactics, when executed on their own, have not been particularly effective since Google’s major algorithm change in 2012.
It is true that at one time, SEO tactics worked fine, independent of any other marketing or media relations. In the early days of SEO, public relations firms and SEO practitioners could execute tactics to get their clients on the first page of search results in a matter of weeks. They could generate content that could outrank negative news stories or competitor websites.
But as search has become ever-more sophisticated, SEO efforts are ineffective unless they are part of a comprehensive messaging plan.
At the center of the plan should be media relations. For starters, SEO seeks to accomplish one thing: improve search engine rank. But the goal of media relations is far broader than that. Getting earned media such as being interviewed on television or quoted in a news story that appears online can certainly help your SEO (we’ll explain why later), but it also increases your visibility among audiences, whether they are searching online or not. Successful media relations efforts also boost your credibility with your current and prospective clients and customers, as well as your internal audiences.
Second, even though algorithm changes can throw search rankings off-kilter, what never changes is the value of earned media. It’s the most credible media placement there is: more credible than your own website, advertising and forms of pay-to-play advertorial content. News organizations have a vetting process. Not just anyone gets quoted or mentioned in news stories. For that reason, Google’s search algorithm gives a lot of weight to newspaper websites and all of the content within them.
Further, when you are quoted in a news story, the story has the potential to be shared across other news platforms, as well as with the news site’s readers. So now you have all this highly credible content reaching audiences that are outside the news organization’s regular consumers.
Finally, media relations also helps you reach an audience that didn’t know it wanted to search for you until they read your press release, saw you quoted in an online news story or saw you on television.
So, what does Google want?
In the simplest possible explanation, web search works like this: a search engine has “crawlers,” which are part of a program that finds, reads and evaluates web pages. Web pages are evaluated based on a complex and ever-changing algorithm. Once a page has been read, the search engine will rank it and index it, so it has the opportunity to show up on a search results page.
The algorithm gives more weight to sources and content it deems credible, relevant and trustworthy. News websites rank very high, as do governmental and educational domains, so being mentioned on these sites, boosts your ranking as well.
But even better is when you can get a highly relevant and credible site to link to your site. Backlinks to your site boost your SEO, but they boost it even further when the backlink is coming from a site with superior domain authority like a news website.
Some of the other factors involved in Google’s algorithm include, in no particular order:
- Quality of content. Is the copy on the website valuable, or is it a nonsensical, keyword-stuffed, misspelled mess of words? Google can tell the difference.
- Domain age. A 10-year-old website is deemed far more relevant than one that was indexed just 10 weeks ago.
- Though this is becoming somewhat less relevant as Google gets better at identifying content related to certain keywords, whether they contain the actual keywords or not, as a matter of keeping well-organized pages that index well, having keywords that are consistent in the body copy, the page title, in headlines and images is good practice.
- Frequency of content updates. Don’t let your content grow stale. Keep it updated to keep it constantly indexing.
But again, none of these tactics work well on their own. However, when they’re working in concert with a comprehensive media relations, web content/content marketing and social media strategy, the results are often spectacularly successful.
We often recommend as part of an integrated messaging plan a review of a client’s website and keyword strategy, content marketing initiatives, social media tactics along with its media relations goals.
The bottom line is that media relations and SEO need to be front and center in your integrated marketing plan. When these elements work well together, SEO tends to take care of itself.