Google vs PR? But there just isn’t a conflict

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Will Gardiner - I'm an Associate Director at CCgroup and head up the Business Technology PR stream. Apostrophe pedant, Harlequins RFC season ticket holder and (very) amateur cricketer
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So the B2B PR world has been up in arms about the latest Google Webmaster updates, specifically regarding what Google terms ‘Link Schemes’.

Or at least, there was plenty of reactionary indignation and scaremongering, followed by plenty more Winner-esque “clam down, dear” articles.

Basic background to what happened: Google has widened its definition of Link Schemes (what lazy SEO agencies do to build artificial links to clients’ sites in order to manipulate search engine result impact) to now include “Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.”

What does this mean? Simply, those SEO and PR agencies who take press releases, cram them full of keywords and hyperlinks (and I mean, FULL) and then send them out over newswires to build inbound links have been warned – you’re about to be classed as “black hat”. Frankly, Google thinks that this tactic delivers too great an impact on search results in return for too little effort – or as at least three recent commentators put it, “it’s gaming the system.”

In response, very sensibly, Realwire has already taken the measure of classifying all links distributed via its press release distribution service as “rel=nofollow”, and most other newswire services are doing or have done the same. What does “rel=nofollow” mean? Basically, it’s an instruction to search engines (predominantly Google of course) that the hyperlink should not influence the target website’s search engine performance. You’re turning the link into a purely mechanical way of getting from one site to another, and almost neutering its SEO effect.

The final effect therefore being that this aforementioned SEO PR tactic is also neutered – and not before time.

I shall resist the enormous urge to turn this blog into a polemic against Tom Foremski’s original “Google’s killing PR article – plenty of other agencies and commentators have already done that and I have nothing more to add to it. Suffice to say that claiming that the elimination of this single PR tactic was akin to the death of the industry was an uncharacteristically daft and almost offensive claim (PR stands for “Public Relations” not “Press Release”). And there’s no small amount of irony in his link-bait article headline – don’t worry, the link above to his post is a nofollow!

Well, I tried to resist the urge…

Anyway, what I want to write about is how SEO and PR will best co-exist now. I deliberately held off writing this blog until all reactions, and then reactions to reactions, were published – and frankly until calmer heads prevailed.

First thing to say is that this was coming. Google has disliked PR conducted for the sole

purpose of SEO for a long time and has been chipping away at it for years. SEO PR typically (though to be fair, not always) spawns poor copywriting, nonsensical articles and lazy link-building. Good story-telling and contributing valuable insight to industry issues is sacrificed in favour of inserting another hyperlink or couple of keywords.

But if PR consultancies will have to stop using newswires for link-building, and if many reputable trade publications still avoid putting links in their articles unless the company concerned pays for them (which is probably, rightly, another doomed SEO tactic), how can PR use its tried and tested, inherently flexible content production and distribution mechanisms to deliver SEO impact?

Well, nothing really has changed, bar the removal of the low-effort, quick win tactics.

SEO relies on the targeted distribution of relevant content – which sounds a lot like PR to me, so there’s no doubt that the two disciplines must co-exist. The PR-SEO trick (and I deliberately write the two disciplines that way round) therefore is to create content for humans first, not search engines. If what you are saying is valuable, additive and unique, it will be shared – it’s human nature – and that will give you SEO benefit. Which has always been the way in which PR and SEO were destined to co-operate. It’s just that newswire-based link building was easier, quicker and required far less skill, and so was of course preferred by some.

So devise your B2B marketing with PR – i.e. the real Public – at its heart; layer SEO goals on top, but don’t sacrifice quality for keywords; make readers want to share the content and make it physically easy to do so, across ALL media; reap the organic search benefit.

Google is showing that it wants to make it harder to buy search result positions (with the exception of some notable Google revenue streams…) and wants its search algorithms to benefit people with the best, most relevant content and not the biggest budget. So Google certainly hasn’t killed the PR agency, it’s just rewarded the most creative, commercially-focused ones.

To hear more about CCgroup and the results we achieve for our clients in the B2B sector, visit our B2B PR page.

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