While press releases and creating link bait have been marketed as a great SEO tactic, I’ve finally had my epiphany: Search Engine Optimization is a public relations tactic. Public relations is not an SEO tactic.

As I recently had the great pleasure of attending SMX Advanced, I listened to a presentation on how to use elementary PR tactics as an SEO tool. In addition, SEOmoz recently published a post outlining the potential dangers of SEO managing PR and vice versa: “At the risk of writing with very broad brush-strokes, the PR world still knows nothing about SEO. This ignorance is reciprocal. …As SEOs, we know very little about how public relations actually work, but we should. Applying PR fundamentals can turn your PR Agency into Linkbuilders on Steroids…”

On the surface that is fine; press releases and media relations can produce a lot of link juice if squeezed correctly. But when you begin approaching reporters or bloggers and pitching story ideas with the sole intent of getting a link to your content, you enter into dangerous territory.

Good tactics gone bad

At SMX, the speaker presented several tactics for engaging influentials to garner backlinks. One that he was proud of was to “Position yourself to be a counterpoint to a story.” While this may play well as an immediate hit, you need to consider your image agenda. Do you want to be the perpetual counterpoint? The long-lasting hits on your brand’s reputation might not be worth the inbound links you receive as a source of controversy.

Instead, add value to the influentials coverage, even if it’s not about you. Some industries such as real estate, restaurants and home rennovations lend themselves particularly well to strong media relations, even if you don’t have a steady source of “news.” (yeah, that’s my realtor, my mom’s restaurant and my cousin’s construction company, everybody needs a little link juice)

The speaker also promoted the use of embargoed stories and even exclusives to encourage journailsts to link to your content. As a practice, embargoes are a tough sell. A lot of tech blogs have explicitly said they will not answer them, while others rely upon an explicit agreement and quality relationship before they are even proposed. And I think that “Exclusive” is almost as meaningful as a “yes” RSVP to a Facebook event invite. It is losing its impact as a media outreach tactic and in the world that has “hamsterized” journalism has been losing traction as a content strategy.

Keep SEO in mind

So, how can you make SEO an active part of your digital communications efforts? There are a few key areas to keep in mind when preparing your content:

Link building

As much as it pains me to say it, press releases are still a good way to collect inbound links. Most wires publish press releases to many of the nation’s metro newspapers and news aggregating website. This is pure speculation, but I would imagine that the major search engines are on to this tactic and have devalued those links.

But, what is important is taking a moment to ask the blogger or reporter you’re working with if they could link to your site or announcement and even provide them with the HTML that uses the keywords you would like to rank for.

Keyword optimization

When you look for coverage on your company or client, what words do you enter in the search box? Those are the keywords you want to rank for and use in your content. Chances are, you’re not the only one putting them in the search box. Search Engine Land has compiled numerous keyword research tools and methodologies. Two of its best roundups are Search Engine Land’s Keyword Research Guide and The Giant List Of Keyword Tools. In addition, this is an amazing guide to keyword research.

As I mentioned earlier, focusing on your key messaging (also known as keywords) will help you create content that not only naturally ranks, but is easily linkable and sharable.

Make content that matters

As Scott Stratten, aka Unmarketing is fond of saying, “People share awesome.” By creating content that is actionable, sharable, helps readers solve a problem, you are making something that people will want to share. This is one of the keys  to not only obtaining inbound links, but also acquiring readers and brand advocates, which can help boost your quality metrics.

Tight, grammatically correct content that tells a great story about your market, customers or opinions are content that people want to share. People don’t want to share your press releases. They may read them and you may see the readership metrics that some of the press release distribution services provide, but they don’t want to share them.

As with any aspect of your overall strategy, SEO is just that. A piece of the puzzle. It solves a problem, not all problems. If your messaging is unclear or if your product or opinions are flawed, SEO won’t help.

Let me know your best SEO tactic that communications professionals can utilize in the comments!


About The Geek Giant

I am a public relations guy currently working for a global communications agency. I am trying to master the the intricacies of integrated digital communications while staying true to my journalism roots.

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