How to Use Public Relations to Build Links (SMX Milan)

How to Use Public Relations to Build Links (SMX Milan)

MILAN, Italy — Following my review of the speakers and presentations at SMX Milan 2013 last week, I wanted to follow-up on my promise to present my talk on how to incorporate public relations into a company’s overall SEO and online-marketing strategy.

The full presentation and notes are below — I hope our readers may find them interesting and useful!

Just a few notes:

  • There was a minor glitch right before I started to speak, so I could not access my notes on the PowerPoint slides. As a result, I spoke “off the cuff” from memory — so, there are additional points and links below that I may have forgotten to include in my talk.
  • I want to thank Search Engine Land, Search Marketing Expo, and SMX Milan conference chair Sean Carlos for giving me the honor of speaking at my first SMX.
  • In addition, I want to thank the two other speakers on our specific panel — Chris Silver Smith (moderator) and Matteo Monari — because it was a privilege to share the stage with such esteemed people in the SEO field.

How to Build Links and Win Authority With Public Relations

“I hate PR.”

Now, why would I open this talk with such a phrase? Stay tuned.


It’s All About Strategy

A marketing strategy must align to a company’s business goals. If a B2B company wants more clients, for example, then the marketing strategy would focus on how to obtain more business leads. The strategy could consist of specific tactics such as PR, SEO, and conversion optimization. Since online marketing is increasingly holistic, those three tactics are integrated and bolster each other. Social media, for example, is one channel that supports PR and SEO efforts.

The PR-Based SEO Process

Here’s the strategic process that I will explain more in-depth:

1.) DO something newsworthy.

2.) CREATE something newsworthy about what you’ve done. It’s great to produce quality content for all the reasons we know – but create content that media outlets will find newsworthy as well.

3.) PROMOTE the company via traditional PR and the content via social media and related methods.

4.) GAIN traffic, backlinks, conversions, customers, social-media followings, and more.

5.) Repeat this process as often as possible.

I Hate PR!

Now, why did I say that I hate PR? When I was a Boston journalist, spokespersons were always nice and friendly – and even a bit flirtatious (when they were female). But the moment a caught the city government making a big mistake, they resorted to spinning and outright BS. I hated it. And that’s why I initially went into SEO years ago after my journalism career – I thought that it was an honest form of marketing that didn’t need PR. It was supposedly all about website code, building links, and writing content!

But That’s Not All PR

But what I had experienced as a journalist was “media relations” – just ONE type of PR. “PR” is a vague term that consists of many subcategories such as those you see above.

Reaching Audiences

Public relations can be defined as any interaction with another human being. As such, PR is crucial to SEO today because it is simply a collection of ways to “build relationships,” which is crucial in any business endeavor – especially in any type of marketing.

PR Channels

PR is a set of channels to deliver a specific message to a specific audience. For our purposes, social media is a type of PR that can be used to build relationships that lead to quality backlinks and branding.

Why is PR Important?

Like many people, I thought at the beginning of my new career years ago that SEO was just writing keyword-optimized content, inserting keywords into tags, optimizing a website on a technical level, and building links (ideally — I wrongly thought — with exact-match anchor text). But true SEO is – and always has been – a collection of best practices including web development, content creation, conversion optimization, social media, and more – including PR. It is BUILDING A BRAND.

Why is PR Important? (Positioning)

Whatever it is you do, there are dozens or hundreds of competitors that do exactly the same thing. What makes you different and special? In other words, why should a reporter or news outlet bother to write about you? Think creatively.

For example, take our client iOnRoad, a mobile application that uses computer vision algorithms to measure the to the car in front and instantly pop up with audio-visual alerts whenever the risk of an impending collision is detected. This is useful, but a little boring.

So, we positioned it as an app that is “at the forefront of a movement to leverage the smartphone in the car for safe driving applications and redefines the smartphone-based navigation experience creating an almost magical merger of existing technologies. Its launch is a beginning of an entirely new user experience being enabled with smartphone technology, sensors and accelerometers.”

Using PR: Results

From using PR and analyst relations in the right way, here were just some of the results for iOnRoad.

Using PR: Messaging

Messaging is typically the text that PR companies use in press releases and when pitching to reporters orally. Think about it like the “About Us” language that will appear at the bottom of a press release. This is a great way to use co-occurrence or co-citation (depending who you ask). It’s a complicated topic, and I’d look at the links in the slide for more information. Basically, it’s the prediction that websites will rank highly as a result of mentions – with or without links – on pages that are associated with common terms and themes.

Using PR: Messaging (II)

So, how can you use the idea? Simply put: reporters are pressed for time today. Online-advertising revenue depends on constant new content and visitors, so online journalists and bloggers don’t have a lot of time to do extensive research. So, they will often describe companies based on the supplied text like what is above. If both your pitching to writers over the phone and your press releases all repeat the same text – including your targeted keywords – then it will likely be used on many of the sites that cover you. Your brand will be associated with your desired search terms – even if there is not exact-match anchor text (which you do not want) or any link at all. If you repeat any idea (or set of words) often enough, people will start to believe it (and use them to describe you).

Using PR: Messaging (III)

Obviously, you do not want to get too many – if any – exact-match anchor text links. Write press releases for and distribute them to humans and not random online-distribution services. Your direct goal is to get coverage – not links, which will come later in an indirect way.

Using PR: Targeting

PR firms create specific, targeted media lists to gain coverage in outlets whose readers will be most likely to fulfill a client’s business goals. A PR goal: If a B2B software company wants users, then coverage should focus on outlets whose readers will be most likely to want to use the software. However, a media list from an SEO goal should contain other types of outlets as well (that may or may not compliment the PR goal – more on that later).

What are the most-authoritative and popular websites in your sector, theme, or niche? Sometimes it takes only common sense as long as you know your industry inside and out.

Tools such as Moz and others can tell you numbers for “Domain Authority” and “Page Authority,” but it’s not always useful. Some pages may not have high “authority” in general compared to major news sites, but they are highly relevant for my niche and the aforementioned co-occurrence or co-citation.

In a PR context, the goal is to “build relationships” and “spread the word.” A blogger might not be objectively authoritative as far as what a program might say, but if he or she has large, relevant, social-media followings, then it’s worthwhile to include that target. Researching the keyword themes of various sites is also important for co-occurrence or co-citation. Here’s what I mean.

Using PR: Targeting (II)

Google Webmaster Tools tells us what themes and words are associated with our sites. Hopefully, they match our keyword targets! But we cannot use GWT if we do not have access to a site’s account.

Using PR: Targeting (III)

So, when researching SEO targets for PR outreach, I’d use a tool like Tag Crowd to generate a word cloud for a given site or URL. Here’s what I found for Search Engine Land. Any sites that want to rank highly for the largest terms above would likely want to get links from SEL.

I Love PR!

Take a moment to read the quote on the slide – it’s important.

I opened this presentation by saying that “I hate PR” because I had not understood what PR actually is. In an SEO context, it’s a lot more than just media relations and BSing reporters. It involves social media and everything else that I have mentioned. Today, even as an SEO, I now LOVE PR. More and more, Google is rewarding websites that build strong brands on the Internet as a whole — it’s not just about keywords and links.

When PR and SEO Clash

Although it’s easy to say that PR and SEO should be integrated, it can be difficult in practice. I do not have all the answers to these questions because each company, client, or situation is different – but I think these are issues that will increasingly need to be addressed by the industry.

Say SEO wants certain keywords in the messaging but PR wants other language. Who decides?

Should the PR or SEO/online staff handle social media? In the end, social media is a just a channel, like e-mail or the telephone, that anyone should be able to use for a given purpose. But too many traditional PR people still do not understand social-media best-practices as well as SEOs and others do.

Say a company has a list of PR-priority and SEO-priority target websites and outlets to pitch. How should a company or agency allocate resources towards each set?

It’s often hard to track what work exactly resulted in a given link or other SEO success. But for internal reporting or client reporting, one “department” or another will often have to be deemed as getting the “credit.” How do you decide?

Clients or executives who are unfamiliar with modern online marketing often still place practices in silos. So, a firm may have no choice but to propose X dollars for “SEO,” Y dollars for “PR,” and Z dollars for “social media.” If a client wants to pay only for “SEO,” how will the agency succeed in light of what “SEO” needs today? The same issue arises when an unaware CEO wants to allocate budgets and practices to individual, isolated “SEO,” “social media,” and “PR” departments. Our firm integrates such activity, but not everyone does.

Any Questions?

Comment below or contact me with any thoughts, ideas, or comments! I always love to hear from people in the industry.

Some related essays of mine: Conversion Rates and Conversion OptimizationThe Day the Keyword Died, How to Create an Inbound-Marketing Company Culture, and A Technical Guide to a Global SEO Strategy

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter. See my marketing speaker page or marketing workshop page to have me visit your conference or company!

Tags: , , , , ,