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Search Engine Optimization and Public Relations: The New Brotherhood

Written by | Monday, 01 August 2011 00:00 | Published in 2011 August
On the surface, public relations and search engine optimization (SEO) seem worlds apart. One is based on search engine algorithms, while the other is based on subjective persuasion. However, in today's new media landscape they are brothers in arms.
SEO and PR complement each other. SEO and PR complement each other. Photo by Mountainbread via Flickr

Public relations meets the Internet

During the old guard's golden era, the best PR practioners were those who could reach the "right" top level people and and the "right" mass media publications, either through effective schmoozing, or persuasive messaging. In some instances, having a good rolodex was more important than actual skill. However, this has all changed thanks to technology.

In today's media landscape, good PR practioners need both technical skills and a deep understanding of web culture to be able to harness the power of the internet. While many in the industry will never recover from the digital tsunami, a new breed of PR practioner is being born that is 1/3 web producer, 1/3 journalist, and 1/3 community manager. This combination of skill can tremendously contribute to an organization's digital strategy success, particularly when it comes to SEO. The following are a few reasons of why and how.

As mass media dies, hyperlocal equals SEO gold

Publicity-wise, an article in the New York Times — or any mass media publication for that matter — does not have the weight it used to have. Instead, having articles in popular websites or blogs that are considered "leaders" for particularly niche markets or audiences, is PR gold. As it happens, SEO is gold as well. Not only are you directly reaching your targeted populations, but your site will be linked to by sites/blogs that rank high for a family of keywords you want to be associated with.

Additionally, since information wants to be free, the likelyhood of smaller blogs/sites picking up, or referencing, your information is quite high. For example, a company that sells garden products may get more SEO juice if they are being talked about, and linked to, by high page ranking gardening websites/blogs than their city's newspaper. They may also predict that the gardening website is read by individual gardeners, who may reference or repost the article on their personal sites/blogs. If your PR person is new to this type of strategy, give them a confidence boost. More than likely, if they can pitch a reporter, they can definitely pitch a blogger or website editor.

Brand journalism better than SEOed, stuffed articles

The new wave of PR focuses on brand journalism. Essentially, this means transforming your online presence as the go-to-source for your particular industry or niche by creating such good content that people either go to you directly or find you through topic searches. For example, if you are a therapist specializing in cyberbullying, your blog should highlight recent studies, pioneering experts in the field, including other therapists, events, books — essentially, anything that has to do with cyberbullying.

Yes, I know that for many SEO and web professionals this is old news. However, the caveat is that PR practioners are usually good writers while SEO experts are not. A PR professional who knows how to write for SEO, can produce articles that communicate effectively to both search engines and people. In fact, I can almost guarantee that an article written by a PR practioner has a better chance of going viral than one written by an SEO expert. Why? Because the quality of the content matters. Additionally, their word smithing skills provide them with a better understanding of how to contextualize an article for search engines.

Community Management: the back door to Search Engine Visibility

Anyone who is a techie or who has been online for more than 10 years shudders when they hear the phrase "social media expert". While that reaction is merited, no one can dispute the power of community to achieve any goal, including SEO goals. PR practioners, by definition, generally like people. They are experts in human communication, and thus, relationships. Generally, online relationships translate to people reading and sharing your content through tools such as Twitter, Facebook etc. By default, this also results in your content being linked to in more places, and coming up in social media searches.In other words, PR practioners can organically help build upon the SEO framework set in place, and recruit numerous others to do the same.

Find collaborative, common ground

For many organizations, departments still lack a collaborative work structure that inherently hurts web success. A solid web designer and digital strategist must learn to navigate these challenges and find ways to both connect and optimize available resources. If a PR person(s) is a available, reach out to them. If they are still navigating the digital tsunami, find time to provide them with some training. You'll be surprised what an asset they can end up becoming.

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Sandra Ordonez

Sandra Ordonez

Sandra Ordonez is a web astronaut specializing in digital strategy and website design. She also serves as External Communications Lead for Joomla. She is the founder of Bicultural and Multicultural People Rule and Virgins of NY. Her webiste, Collaborative Nation, focuses on web culture, community management, and collaboration. Previously, she was the Communications Manager for Wikipedia. She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.