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By Lee Cullen, Co-Founder& Director, No Brainer

 

How PR can support link building

The times they are a-changin’, and as more content moves online and digital marketing becomes more prevalent, the need for the PR and SEO (search engine optimisation) industries to adapt and evolve has never been greater.

Backlinks have always been an important element of SEO, and PR is a fantastic way to earn high quality links to your site from other trusted websites. We’d argue the combination of these two marketing tools is one of the most important tactics you should be using in any integrated marketing campaign.

The key reason for this is because building links to your website has a hugely positive impact on how your brand ranks in search engine results pages. It builds your domain authority (DA) and can drive referral traffic to your website to boost, among many things, leads or sales.

When it comes to determining your brand’s position in the search rankings, search engines use a whole range of factors to decide who sits where. The exact science behind it is a card that the likes of Google keep close to its chest, but plenty of studies have shown that securing high quality links plays a massive part in bumping up your organic positions online.

Here’s what the team at Moz had to say about search engine rankings and the relationship with backlinks:

“When they are deciding this, the search engines do not just look at the content of the page; they also look at the number of links pointing to that page from external websites and the quality of those external websites. Generally speaking, the more high-quality websites that link to you, the more likely you are to rank well in search results.”

Link building needs to be closely aligned with your keyword research to make sure you’re getting the right kind of traffic. But ultimately, no matter what type of business you are, if you’re getting more of your target customers to visit your website, you’re more likely to be achieving your goals and conversion targets.

Why Google rankings matter

Before we get into the specifics, it’s important to consider the different search engines and the rules everyone really needs to play by. There are other search engines like Yahoo and Bing to consider, but with Google owning more than 85% of the market in the UK, it’s definitely the one that matters most to marketers.

Research suggests that around 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine like Google, so they really are the gateway to your digital presence. But, if your brand awareness (online or offline) is low, how will you be found organically through an online search?

The harsh reality is that if you’re not on page one of Google for anything relevant to your brand, the chances are no one will find you.

Here are a few fascinating stats from the team at Backlinko just to emphasise that point:

  • 75% of people never scroll past the first page on a Google search

  • The #1 result in Google gets 31.7% of all clicks

  • The top 3 Google search results get 75.1% of all clicks

If you want people to find you online, it’s clear you need to be working hard to get as high as you can in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

The fundamentals of SEO need to be right to help you achieve that, which means things like having great pieces of content and optimising text and images, as well as good loading speeds and mobile accessibility on the technical SEO side.

But if everyone is doing the same thing, how can you stand out from the crowd and get yourself ahead of the competition? That’s where combining the power of SEO and PR to secure backlinks can really give you a competitive edge.

Choose backlink quality over quantity

Link building isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been happening for years but historically, it’s been a tactic that has very much sat in the SEO world. However, it’s important to understand a bit of the history behind it to see how it’s evolved…

It used to be the case that SEO experts could buy up tonnes of backlinks from a range of (sometimes pretty questionable) sites and simply play the numbers game to get their clients to the top of page one on Google.

But there was a massive shift in 2012 when Google introduced the Penguin algorithm update, which turned the SEO industry upside down. It specifically targeted link spam and any websites found to be doing this were severely penalised by Google.

So why did Google do it? Here’s a great explanation from the team at Search Engine Journal:

“By better understanding the process the types of links websites and webmasters were earning, Penguin worked toward ensuring that natural, authoritative and relevant links rewarded the websites they pointed to, while manipulative and spammy links were downgraded.”

At the heart of these changes is user intent. Google (and other search engines) want to make sure that every search query gets the best results – first and every time – and that means pushing credible sites with authority higher, while scaling down the visibility of those that just try to play the system.

If you want to rank well, you need to be authentic, you need to have great content and you need to be adding value to the search experience for your target customers and clients. Quality backlinks are seen as clear evidence of all of this.

Make no mistake, earning backlinks isn’t easy. It’s hard work and if any agency tells you they can get you thousands of links in just a few weeks, you should run a mile. Quality links win through every time.

Why PR people are so much better at getting backlinks

I haven’t met many SEO experts that enjoy getting backlinks. In fact, most hate it and actively avoid doing it. The vast majority would agree that link building is one of the hardest parts of their jobs, but they know how important it is too.

The key to earning them is relationship building and thankfully, that’s one of the core skills for anyone working in PR. When you put SEO objectives together with PR outreach, it’s a really powerful combination.

One of the biggest misconceptions I find when it comes to earning links is that every article or piece of coverage generated should have one. That’s simply not the case.

Sometimes a great piece of coverage is exactly that – it’s not about securing a backlink and asking a journalist or an influencer to simply give you one – often the answer will be ‘no’ and it could actually damage the relationship with them if you’re too persistent.

You need to give people a reason to link to your site, and to do that you have to offer something that genuinely adds value to their article or content.

The BBC have offered some really useful guidance on when it would be appropriate for their journalists to link to an external site, and have said they will do so when it is deemed as being ‘editorially justifiable’. Here are five cases where they would consider including an external backlink:

  • For further relevant information

  • Background information

  • Key source material

  • Useful practical information

  • Further informed comment

Although this is a specific BBC policy, the key principles apply to the majority of other news sites too – especially those with high DAs.

Things like eBooks, white papers, and infographics can all fit the criteria and if you have some unique data you can shape news content from, we find that can often work really well too.

We’ve been able to earn backlinks for our clients from the BBC and a whole host of other national and regional news sites through this kind of approach and the benefits for clients are phenomenal.

Generally speaking, the higher the DA of a website (scored from 1-100), the more SEO benefits you will get from earning a direct link. The BBC has a DA of 96 whereas a website created a few weeks ago will likely be under 10, just to put things into perspective.

You need to think about the link type too – links that are ‘no-follow’ bring little or no SEO value compared to ‘follow’ links. There are other benefits from no-follow links and brand citations, but that’s a blog for another day!

The relevancy of the site you secure a ‘follow’ link from can be another important piece of the puzzle. It’s unlikely to impact SEO value as much as a high DA, but as an example, if you’re working on an employment law story, other websites focused on HR topics and content will be ideal. They’re more likely to be interested in your story and from an SEO perspective, they’re really valuable too.

The pace of digital change

This year has been an interesting year in many ways (we’re trying hard not to say the word ‘unprecedented’!), but there’s no question that COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of digital change.

All the website development agencies I speak to are telling me they’ve never been busier, with all types of businesses and sectors pivoting to do more business online. It’s a trend that we were already seeing, but it’s increased over the past few months as many companies adapt to survive. Marketing and PR have to follow suit.

It means the competition online is greater than ever with lots of different companies vying for the same online space, so brands need to be thinking creatively and combining PR and SEO to really get more online exposure and visibility.