PR Insider: 7 SEO Basics Every PR Pro Should Know

Kathleen McFadden
Kathleen McFadden

Content marketing is now a $44 billion industry. And with businesses planning to increase their budgets toward search engine optimization (SEO) by up to 44% this year, PR professionals must be savvy in digital communications tactics in order to remain in the game.

At a minimum, every PR pro should know the following seven SEO basics:

1) Build strong links. When another website links to your own site, Google awards you with “SEO points” for being a place that someone else found interesting, helpful or relevant. The more popular the site that links to you, the better.

So how can you aim to get more link-backs? Look at what you’re probably already doing a lot of: Pitching the media and blogging. News outlets naturally draw high traffic online. If you secure an opportunity for a client in, say, The New York Times, make sure that client’s name is hyperlinked in the story. Help your client launch and maintain a keyword-rich blog, and pitch them as guest contributors for high-traffic sites.

2) Understand meta text. The titles, descriptions and keywords written into each page of a client’s website hugely impact that site’s organic SEO strength. Titles are by far the most important piece of meta text, followed by descriptions. Search engine results often display only the first 150 characters of description text, so help your clients draft succinct, keyword-rich information to describe themselves within the space that Google allows.

3) Avoid common mistakes when measuring search rank. PR is all about measuring the before-and-after of a campaign. As an SEO consultant, record where your clients rank in their respective industries before you start a project, and continue to monitor how they climb in search results for those same keywords as your recommendations are implemented.

One of the most common mistakes people make can be avoided with a few clicks. When searching terms to determine where your client ranks, make sure you’re logged out of your Google account. If you use Gmail for work and must be logged in, search under Google’s “Hide private results” option, which has the graphic of a globe (see below). By default, your setting is on “Private results” (the graphic of a person), which takes into account your personal search history. Assuming you visit your clients’ websites quite often, “Private results” will cloud those sites’ true rankings, giving you biased data.

Google’s “Hide/Show Private Results” button
Google’s “Hide/Show Private Results” button

4) Know what works—and what doesn’t—on social media. Social signals are increasingly important to ranking. But don’t expect social media to work miracles on its own; creating a Facebook page or Twitter handle won’t really affect SEO unless quality content is being shared on those platforms. Likes, retweets, shares, comments and +1s all send Google cues that your content is relevant, and thus should be ranked higher.

5) Use photos to tell your story. Web users love images. It’s no surprise that visual tools like Pinterest, Instagram, Vine and Tumblr have taken off in recent years. In fact, Pinterest now drives more traffic than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined, and last year the site beat out Twitter in referral traffic.

In addition to scanning the text written into websites and press releases, search engines also index images. Make sure the alt tags used to title your clients’ image files (usually .jpg or .png) include the same keywords—both brand name and industry term—that you’d write into a press release or blog entry.

6) Keep the Google bots happy. It’s tempting to include every keyword you (or your client) would ever want to rank for, but Google will punish you for it. “Keyword stuffing”—the overuse or repetition of keywords and phrases—can cause Google to flag your site as spam, resulting in a lower search ranking that’s harder to escape.

To avoid being the PR pro who placed your client on Google’s blacklist, do what you do best: Write like a human, not an SEO machine. Don’t force keywords if they don’t fit naturally in the text. And present information online the way search engines like to read it—broken down by topic into multiple pages. Google bots are professional organizers, so a site formatted like a well-kept filing cabinet is one they’ll award with stronger SEO

7) Let search engines spill their secrets. There are two ways to easily find the top-searched keywords in your client’s industry: Google’s Keyword Planner and Google’s guessing feature, which you’ll see every time you type terms into the search bar. Use these tools to create a “keyword bible” that you reference while copywriting, making sure to incorporate popular terms in PR and social media materials. Using the guessing feature, find the questions your client’s prospects are asking online and look for media opportunities to answer those questions.

Kathleen McFadden is an account executive at Buchanan Public Relations and co-chair of the PR Committee for the Public Relations Global Network. Follow her on Twitter @kathleenmcf.

  • johnrossharvey

    My webpage hoster sends me SEO checklist often, I always use it, I still have no visits. Content is sparse yes, but not insignificant. It has failed to drive book sales. I may scrap page at next renewal.

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  • Sarah Jocson

    Good content is very essential for SEO. You need to have a blend of content marketing.

    • Kathleen McFadden

      Totally agree, Sarah. And Google is cracking down more and more on companies that try to beat the system with spammy, unoriginal content. Good thing PR is rooted in quality content!

  • gmbdaly

    very helpful, all pr and seo professionals should read this

    • Kathleen McFadden

      Thanks, Gloria! Really appreciate the feedback.

      • gmbdaly

        you are welcome, it’s really true

  • Eric Fischer

    You mentioned to turn off local results when searching for your business. This is wrong. NEVER search for your own business using any keywords. Every time your business appears in the rankings and is NOT clicked, there is a chance that that will actually lower your ranking for that term, since it is assumed your site did not appear to offer what the searcher was seeking for that term.

    • theclothesmuse

      Thanks for commenting this. I was unaware of that effect!

    • Kathleen McFadden

      Thanks for sharing, Eric. I included that tip for the sake of measurement — to make sure PR pros were accurately reporting where their clients rank and if their efforts are paying off — but this is extremely helpful to know. Time to click the link when it appears!

    • Ross Jones

      This is incorrect. It’s been well over a decade since a single searcher could impact the Search Engine Results Page by either clicking or not clicking a listing. (Footnote: Direct Hit is the last SE I can remember that made clicks a large enough factor that an average individual could actually manipulate the results. 1999.) OTOH, the concept is correct in that SE’s like Google do try to serve results that will help the searcher. They want to reward listings that attract more clicks and offer a better user experience but a small number of searches is not going to be able to make an impact on the results. You don’t have to worry about clicking on or not clicking on your own listing. It won’t make a difference.

      Additionally, Kathleen’s article was talking about personal search results, not “local results.” Those are 2 very different things.

  • Bluestonelett

    very interesting!!

  • IrishinMKE

    How do you ensure another site uses your hyperlinks? I regularly submit to an industry publication whose editor feels other links take readers away from his pub’s site and removes all submitted, putting links to other relevant stories on his pub’s online site between article paragraphs. There’s no way I know of to “make” anyone include your links…other than submitting releases or other content with them included. If I’m wrong, I’d be interested in your tips….

    • Kathleen McFadden

      Excellent point, and that’s the tough part about link-building. Some publications simply don’t include links in their online stories, or the links will only go to another page on the outlet’s website where they’ve covered that company before.

      If a story runs and you notice that other quoted sources are hyperlinked but your company is not, you can politely ask the reporter to add yours. The nice part about online coverage is that stories can be tweaked after going live.

      Industry trade publications are often more link-friendly than major dailies, and one trick there — if they don’t include links in the body of an article, like you mentioned — if to seek bylined opportunities in these outlets, and then link to your company’s website in the author bio. I’ve found that trade publications almost always include hyperlinks in author bios that are included at the end of a contributed article.

      Hope this was helpful! Thanks for reading the article and sharing your feedback here.

  • Claudia Ciuffo da Silva

    Fantastic tips, Karen. I have a website dedicated to Brazilian Teenagers and Young Adults. The tips number 6 and 7 were very useful for me. I realized that I’m not using Google’s Keyword Planner, but you called my attention to how important is to create a “keyword bible”. Also, I loved to learn about the guessing feature to “find our reader’s questions” which gives us a chance to provide them with the best answers. At the same time, it was good to know about “keyword stuffing”. I haven’t heard the term before. I will make sure to be careful about it. The least thing we want is to be on Google’s blacklist, right?! Regarding the other tips, they were great for me, in a way I realize we are doing good so far. Thanks a lot. Have a nice week.

  • Tetiana Pasichnyk

    Thank you for the useful tips, it resonates a lot with my experience in SEO. Also, I would add that keywords should be relevant to the topic. For instance, if you promote a specific product, using a general keyword, it will create additional Google rank completion and the overall campaign would be more expensive. At the same time, when you run a Google campaign, a bigger amount of less popular keywords could bring you more traffic in summary, than more popular keywords by its own. Do not forget, those less popular keywords equally important to the most popular, especially if they better match your content. Furthermore, connecting to the same link more appropriate keywords increase your traffic tremendously. For example, if you promote a new movie, link it to an actor name, producer, genre, character name, and even to the soundtrack, which playing in the movie.