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Two peas in a pod - PR and SEO

Who would have thought the century old profession of public relations would be getting together with the relatively new kid on the block Search Engine Optimisation, but that’s exactly what’s happening.

PR has been around since the 1930s whereas SEO has only just come of age at a little over 20 years - but it’s a perfect match. Here’s why?

The essence of PR is the desire for profile, while growing and protecting a reputation, fostering understanding and influence. It supports trust, relationships and sales, and is one of the stalwarts of the marketing mix.

The value of SEO is increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search results and edging up the pecking order on page one - and this also has a lot to do with fostering understanding and influence. It’s been around for as long as we’ve been searching or Googling (sorry Bing and Yahoo but Binging and Yahooing isn’t vernacular, yet.)

So where’s the crossover?

One reflects the most common action anyone takes when asked a question - they search. The other is the result of the Hummingbird algorithm and the evolution away from keywords and embedded links to achieve SEO power, and the move towards topical authority.

Let’s look at human nature first.

Search is the go-to when an unanswered question arises. We all have access to an online brain, in our pocket or hand. There’s nothing you can’t find out. Searching adds to any discussion. We’ve all done it. What was the name of that actor in…. How old is...etc etc? But only 25% of people venture past page one of a Google search. So if you are not there, you are less likely to be found.

Say you sell e-bikes, a product going gang-busters currently - sales in New Zealand increased by 38% in 2019 compared to the year before, so this is a good example.

People may ask friends about which e-bike is best but they will also search online. If you aren’t on page one, you know the story.

With search being the go-to action, SEO needs to be a priority.

The second reason is the Hummingbird algorithm - a nice name for a bit of Math - it sort of hangs around and hovers while finding juicy bits of nectar or information.

Hummingbird has been around since 2013 and has changed the way search happens.

Pre-Hummingbird, search was more about keywords and links within the content to help you achieve a higher position in any search. The standard of your content was not as important as the engineering of keywords and links.

In practice, content would be written and passed to an SEO expert to make sure it would be noticed by the search engines - this could be expensive, time-consuming and often impacted the overall flow of the content. It also created a potential clash between the technical and creative - masterpiece content would be nipped, tucked and clipped for the benefit of optimisation.

A worthwhile sacrifice maybe, but the issue was the best content didn’t necessarily mean the best search results.

Not so, post Hummingbird. Search now is all about the relevance of the content to the search question being asked.

Wearing my non-technical hat, it feels as though technology has grown up and recognised the value of original content. Keywords and links remain very important but now there’s more balance and emphasis on the writing itself.

Search now recognises semantics, nuance, meaning, the relationship between words, phrases and other signifiers. Even synonyms are now on the consideration list. The need for content to be mechanical has reduced as search has become more human in understanding - and this is good news for public relations.

This leads me onto the importance of topical authority.

A fairer system of search is emerging in that the organisation who shows the most authority on a topic, wins. And this is where public relations moves closer to SEO, and vice versa.

In the past SEO has represented the technical expertise needed to ensure a successful search. This isn’t going away, however, the story telling expertise of public relations, and its ability to create long form content to develop deeper understanding, has become more valuable.

With this comes a rich new seam of public relations activity.

In a pitch meeting last week, I was asked what is public relations? A fair question and I felt a bit like Willy Wonka being asked what is chocolate?

My brief explanation included words and phrases like communication management, growing understanding, developing profile and relationships, driving business, community, changing behaviours, reputation and trust.

I then went on to say for far too long this activity has been associated with traditional forms of media and in this I mean high profile media titles in print, broadcast and radio and their associated online channels. Many PR professionals still see it this way, as well as the organisations they represent. At times, we seem stuck in a traditional media cul-de-sac.

In an age where search has become all important and the first go-to for any question, this approach needs modernising. Media relations will remain important because of the value associated with commentary from a third party trusted source. Journalists are hugely important influencers. However, being found online through search has to rise up PR’s equivalent of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if there was such a thing.

When I first started looking into SEO and how it can work well with PR I was told to read blogs written by Neil Patel and Moz - and I did. It’s amazing what a little bit of search can do!

This is the main point. If you want your brand, business, view, opinion, event or anything well known and understood, you will need good public relations driven content and SEO working well together so you’re found.

PR and SEO are no longer distant acquaintances - in tandem they have the power to drive your business in the direction you want to take it by combining storytelling power with technical ability - two peas in a pod.

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