During the PRSA International Conference I had the opportunity to talk with Eric Schwartzman about the interplay of search engine optimization and online public relations. There’s plenty of sage advice for PR professionals interested in leveraging SEO tactics for public and media relations in the interview (Eric interviews Lee), so if you have 25 minutes be sure to click the link above and listen. Otherwise, here is a paraphrased accounting of our talk:
How can SEO can help an organization raise awareness?
People are looking for information, they use a variety of types of search such as Google, Yahoo, Live and Ask as the predominant channels. There’s also news search , blog search and search within social media sites. Any time something can be searched on, that’s an optimization opportunity. Increasing awareness comes from making it easier for people to find you when they’re looking for information.
What is the role of search engine optimization in media relations?
It’s a strategic decision. The keyword insight that comes from keyword analysis that you might do with a SEO campaign, where you can tap in to tools that monitor what people are searching on can be very useful in optimizing news related content.
The result of the keyword research is to create a glossary of phrases with metrics like popularity, relevance and competitiveness. You can then leverage the glossary across corporate communications. Try to get any digital asset that’s created whether its press releases, web pages, product pages or announcements to use phrases from the glossary. Get people responsible for creating the content to use the glossaries and find out what variations of phrases are in demand so that they’re using language that’s both relevant and popular.
Often times, people like to be creative in PR and direct marketing and that does not always bode well for search. Copywriters or content producers try to be clever or ironic or funny and those ways of communicating are not as meaningful to a machine or an algorithm as being literal in your word usage. That is a practical application of search for media relations. You optimize content according to what people are looking for.
Let’s say you’re conducting media relations for a client for an interview and the company web site and press releases are already optimized for certain keywords. You can coach the client to use those keywords in the interview. What happens a lot of times is that when that interview goes to print or even online, people remember the topics of the article but not necessarily the names of the companies involved. They’ll go to Google and search for those topics and when the company web site is properly optimized, it ranks highly for search phrases gleaned from the article.
What about SEO just for press releases? One of the things you look for with press release optimization is keyword density, right?
When you stick to specific keyword density numbers, you put yourself at risk somewhat, of hanging your hat on a shingle that will fall down later. Search engines are constantly evolving and changing how they rank web pages.
What you want to do is use your keywords high and to the left of the document. Two or three times, four times maybe. Use general guidelines and focus on the user. It’s a matter of not being too clever and ironic and being literal with the keywords you’re using. Use them high in a document and in links as opposed to saying, “Let’s shoot for a 6% keyword density every time.”
How many times should you use keywords in a press release?
As a guideline, in a press release that’s 500 words, we’ll use the phrase 2-4 times. We’ll also use variations of that keyword phrase. Search engines are smart enough that when documents are identified as being authoritative for a particular concept, the presence of an exact match keyword phrase will often be accompanied by related phrases. Keyword research will give insight not only on the phrases people are actually searching on but also related phrases.
Is it a good idea to list competitors in a press release for SEO purposes?
Press releases have short lived usefulness in terms of news search because after a few weeks or a month, they get displaced by new news. It depends on how they are distributed and published. If there’s a goal to rank well on competitor names, there are other things you can do that will be more effective. I don’t think ranking for competitor names is a productive strategy as ranking well for things that are meaningful for your audience.
There’s a lot of information about meta keywords and descriptions – do they matter or not?
It’s a best practice. One of the most common problems is with Title tags when companies create web sites and put the exact same information or nothing at all. Title tags are the first and most important indication of what the web page is about. Title tags should be a short summary of the page with important keywords to the left.
The meta description tags are used in the search results. It is important to use them if you want some degree of influence over what search engines display in the search results of when your web page ranks for a particular keyword query.
Sometimes best practices for search engine optimization conflict with best practices in journalism. For example, Google news will only take up to 80 characters and that’s often not enough to get your message across. Do you then have two press releases? One for the media and another for new search engines?
First, Google News is not the major player for news releases, it’s Yahoo News that has the greater market share of news search. In some cases it does make sense to have two variations of a news release. One version is distributed via a news wire service and another version is posted to the client’s online newsroom. Content related to the release can be created for pitching, or a social media news release might be appropriate as well as alternative information formats for social news.
There are a lot of applications for variations of the same message as far as a news release. As far as there being a conflict between what’s appropriate for journalists and what’s meaningful for news search engines, you have to focus on the audience not on the mechanism for distribution. Don’t compromise your message just for search engines.
What do you do in a situation where there’s an old, story the client feels is unfair and maybe even untrue, but it ranks for the client’s name and then you hit a home run for the client and they get coverage in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek, Time Magazine and this pesky story still ranks for their name. What do you do?
The reason that old story ranks so well for the client name is because of links. One of the first things you do is to engage in a link building campaign that attracts links to other positive representations of that brand name. If an organization is holistically optimizing their content and leveraging their digital assets as well as keyword messaging across all digital communications, and then promoting and getting links to that content, cumulatively it will have the desired effect.
If the other pickups are permanent, i.e. not temporary and not behind a login, then the company can work to get links to the other positive representations of their brand to increase the rankings of those stories and push down any negative results.
Let’s talk ethics for a moment. Are inbound links the best way to determine search engine accuracy?
Well it’s Google’s way and they have 60% of the market share.
We know that practically but what about ethically? And how does Google decide which inbound links are more important than others?
The first question is, is it ethical and that same question could be posed to professional journals in their system of citing authors and experts. The notion of citation and reference is what Google’s Page Rank is based on.
But in journals there is editorial oversight and a process of underlying journalism. And in some cases fact checkers.
The problem with that is that it’s not scalable. What you’re talking about is something like Mahalo and there’s certainly a market for that. In terms of something like Google and being able to find and categorize and present to the world in the form of search results, billions and billions of documents, you can’t do that with human editorial oversight. There’s a scalability issue and I don’t think it’s at odds with ethics. Google puts a lot of effort into making sure there’s a positive user experience represented by people finding information that’s meaningful to them and true.
There are some people subverting the system unfortunately. They make it challenging for organizations that feel in the real world, they’re the best answer for a query. But they’re probably doing a crappy job with their web site and Public Relations SEO and need to synch up their real world dominance in the category with how they represent themselves online from a technical, content and linking perspective. That is, if they want to play in Google’s playground.