Traditionally, the objective of PR was to work with media gatekeepers to help brands reach mass consumer audiences – whether via product launches, press releases or publicity stunts. With the advent of the internet the PR landscape has been transformed over the last two decades.
Whereas consumers historically had access to only a handful of influential media channels, they can now connect to an unlimited and increasingly diverse range of content via the internet, and importantly brands can become publishers themselves.
This has meant that the channels which are directing people to content are often harder to reach, more difficult to predict and increasingly difficult to influence at scale. As the media landscape has become more diversified, so has where and when your audiences are interacting online.
Quite often brands have opted for inbound methods of communication rather than choosing to tackle outbound. Social media management, for example, is a now core part of how brands connect with consumers. Then there’s email marketing, sending news, offers and curated content to a targeted mailing list.
Content marketing and thought leadership, meanwhile, are part of the same flywheel, extolling the company’s virtues, enthusiasms and expertise in order to form deeper relationships with consumers (as well as providing something to post on social media and in newsletters).
Link Strategy, SEO and Digital PRs Potential
Perhaps most fundamental, and potentially the most influential in terms of the size of the unengaged audience is search engine traffic. These users are engaged with your brand, they’re not specifically looking for it, they’re not already ‘owned data’ as is the case with social media or email lists.
The impact that link building, digital PR and content outreach has on this channel is usually undersold and frequently not effectively communicated by traditional PRs.
When consumers use a search engine, they’re actively looking for information, products and services – and they want it fast. That means that there’s enormous value for brands in appearing at the top of search engine results pages, and the value in effective PR and outreach in attaining these positions is vital.
The evolution of the link economy
Google’s fundamental basis was that the significance and authority of webpages could be ranked based on how many other pages linked to them (in the same way that the most important academic papers were the most cited). This was a huge leap forwards from previous methods, which had ranked pages purely on the apparent relevance of their content – and were easily gamed by simply adding text based content to pages. Google has been working to improve the relevance of its search results ever since, while fighting those who would try to manipulate their rankings.
In the first decade of the 21st century so-called “black hat” SEO techniques (such as paying to have linked search terms posted to low-quality sites) were highly effective. That all changed when Google launched the Penguin update in 2012. Following the updates, brands found that poor quality links were now actively marked against them, and sites negatively hit ranged from The Daily Dot to The Salvation Army.
These changes dramatically changed how the industry operated, and pushed the smart marketing budget into content creation and influencer marketing – similar territory to where traditional PR was operating. Indeed, it’s easy to view that on the surface at least there is now an incredible strategy overlap with off-site SEO and digital PR.
Where there is a lot of hype that Google’s updates would ever actually kill-off SEO, semantic analysis and AI-powered personalisation techniques will improve over time, there is little doubt that links will continue to carry significant weight in search.
The SEO process will also continue to evolve, moving further away from easy wins at scale to a more data-led analytical process focused on delivering what users want and how they want it. SEO is not about tricking users and search engine,s but on improving user experience.
Having an effective PR-led campaign which can help to identify, create and communicate your brands core messages in a way that has a positive impact on your site search visibility is now a key part of any digital strategy.
Posting content allows brands to connect with their audience while at the same time providing contextual relevance for SEO search terms. The fields of SEO and content are even more closely aligned when it comes to content outreach and PR – driving (subtle) brand affinity while at the same providing valuable backlinks via influential third-party sites.
Perhaps the key takeaway from all this is that brands should always pursue a diversified strategy – and ideally one that forms a real, direct connection with their end customers. Owned-and-operated content, social channels and email lists are key assets that should be used effectively. But more complex but higher-value outbound strategies will drive real value at connecting with new customers and clients online.
In the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ #PR2017 report, they noted that, “Agencies and in-house practitioners alike can’t afford to rest on the laurels of media relations alone” – and that over three-quarters of PR professionals had reported “working more closely with social, digital, marketing, advertising and sales teams.”
At the end of the day, creating genuine human engagement will always be what counts.