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The answers for search – thoughts on SEO for PR

Not to be confused with Lansons’ Search for Answers research, Simon Sanders, Head of Digital, Lansons Live, considers the important role SEO tools and techniques have to play in public relations practice and their overall contribution to the wider marketing mix and corporate reputation. It all begins with a query Whatever the question, the answer often comes courtesy of Google – the UK site is consistently the number one website for UK users with around 8% of all website visits starting here, with other search engines also in the top ten sites. Given their ubiquity as a starting point for online activity, then what search engines provide in their search results must surely be of interest to any brand concerned with their reputation, or visibility for important key words or phrases. After all, Google may well return your website in its search engine results pages, but it may not be high enough to make a difference (i.e. be noticed) being outflanked and outgunned by alternatives, any of which could earn more attention with the user, be they a customer, journalist, shareholder, or other stakeholder. Google’s stated mission is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. However, it’s important to understand that Google does not ‘know’ the ‘right’ answers for a given query: it simply tries to offer what it considers to be the most relevant web pages. Simply put, it tries to match ‘what users want’ with ‘what content is available’ and it does this by considering the keywords on the web pages it indexes and also the relative reputation of those pages. The algorithms used by Google to produce its results are famously tweaked all the time and the subject of constant speculation, as it both strives to sidestep that unfairly game the system and deliver better, more relevant results. Hence the increased attention paid to SEO (search engine optimisation) activity. Much of the focus is on technical considerations beyond the day-to-day public relations remit: the layout and structure of template web pages; the use of XML sitemaps (not the sitemaps that human visitors use) that tell Google what is on the site, how often to visit again, and what the most important pages are; generating, identifying and optimising the visibility and frequency of keywords and in web page titles, headings and subheadings, text links and the use of ‘tag’ words used to describe images, hover text and so on. But that’s not the whole story – and PR has a strong part to play when it comes to SEO. So what are the implications for reputation and PR practitioners? Create quality content Firstly, creating regular and fresh content has an important part to play. Why? Google loves fresh content, and its spiders actively crawl the sites which promise and deliver content on a regular basis. An online media centre – a home for news releases, reactive topical news commentary, a blog, FAQs, images, video – plays to the strengths of both your human visitors and the search engine ones. Be keyword wise PR can add SEO value if it plays to the same tune as the overall SEO strategy. Armed with the insights that can be gleaned from keyword research into the terms and phrases that users are actually searching on, and which ones convert best, will mean that content that is created can be optimised and tagging accordingly. Multimedia and multi-platform It’s not just about text: the launch of ‘Universal Search’ by Google to deliver blended results combining websites, news sources, images, video, and more, plus the ongoing efforts of search competitors like Bing to offer their own take on ‘better results’ means that search engines are interested in all kinds of content, It’s not hard to see why: someone searching for, say, Lady Gaga, may be looking for videos, blogs, images, forums, and not simply a text-heavy biography. This has natural consequences for all kinds of sectors, and whether it be how-to videos, advice-driven webcasts, regular podcasts, reports, white-papers, podcasts, image galleries or more – the point is, if Google can ‘index’ it, it’s worth considering creating optimised content – and not just for hosting on your own website, but for placing on well-indexed websites like You Tube (which of course Google owns, and thus has a strong reason to recommend content from). Think links As noted earlier, part of your reputation is down to the links you’ve earned and their quality. Though not every mainstream media website will pass on ‘link love’ when they cover your news story, many do, thus the PR value in delivering a regular stream of links – not to mention traffic – from highly ranked websites is something that should not be overlooked. Another area to consider is the judicious use of news distribution websites. Having not just your news – but also tagged and optimised images and links – featured on a well-indexed and valued news source can also be part of the PR strategy that supports SEO. Social sense If search can be thought of as ‘how your audience finds you’, then social media is about how ‘you find your audience’. Creating content, engaging in conversations and being visible, active and helpful in communities of interest, are all means to the same end: namely getting the word out, earning attention, word of mouth recommendation, traffic and links. It’s no surprise then to see Google begin to incorporate ‘live search’ into its results pages – its hunger for relevant, topical content demands it delivers this, especially as sites like Twitter gain reputation for being the first place that news breaks. Tied into this, social media monitoring and – where and when appropriate – engagement programme are becoming ever more essential hygiene factors, able to provide insight and feedback, opportunities for CRM which could otherwise harm your reputation, and an early-warning system of potential issues that might develop and have deeper reputation ramifications later. Paid search Paid search – the ‘sponsored’ results you see on Google and other search engines are also part of the PR toolbox. Producing higher search engine rankings is an ongoing effort, and whether it’s a case of a new brand entering the market, or a switch of keyword emphasis, or perhaps most importantly, a crisis management situation where there could be huge numbers of people searching for news of your brand or spokespeople, then paid search offers an immediate, manageable solution, with guaranteed ‘top of Google’ visibility and opportunity to direct people to your content (say, press releases, video statements, microsites with important detailed information) within minutes. The ‘answers’ to ‘search’ As the above notes, there is no one single answer and many approaches to take. What is clear though is that PR has a huge role to play in assisting with search engine optimisation and thus reputation. To find out more about Lansons Live, contact lansonslive@lansons.com or to contact Simon email simons@lansons.com .