Link building has been considered one of the most important SEO strategies for a long time. The more links you could acquire, especially from authoritative sites, the better your search rankings were supposed to be.
But SEO has evolved. Google’s algorithms are now much more sophisticated.
To improve search rankings today, you need a comprehensive digital PR strategy that cultivates expertise, targets key touchpoints in the buyer’s journey, creates compelling data stories, and garners influence through reputation and recognition.
- Digital PR for SEO is not link building but an alternative to link building.
- Integrated SEO and PR. Google uses AI to act human-like to evaluate its reputation. This is why digital PR and SEO have become so integrated around reputation.
- Digital PR for SEO is not just links and brand mentions alone. Links and mentions are a part of reputation.
- Digital PR for SEO is about the online reputation of a company and its products/services, customer journey touchpoints, and garnering share of the company’s information across various platforms.
- Data campaigns that align with media trends garner media coverage to enhance a reputation.
How generative AI and search engines understand topics
The last year has been eye-opening about the current capabilities of generative AI and large language models (LLMs).
What’s most interesting is how these models can understand a website, content or individual’s reputation around a specific area of expertise. And it’s just getting better.
To see proof of this, ask ChatGPT Plus who someone is and what they specialize in.
For example, I asked, “who is Barry Schwartz from search engine roundtable?” and ChatGPT returned:
Whether it’s ChatGPT or Google, understanding this type of information doesn’t just come from backlinks.
It’s about reputation
Google isn’t limited to analyzing link profiles; it deeply understands online reputation.
Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines explicitly point out how to evaluate a site and content creator’s reputation. And these guidelines are supposed to represent how they want the search engine to act.
The guidelines have this to say about a reputation:
“Reputation research should be performed according to the topic of the page. For example, if the page contains medical information, research the reputation of the website and content creator for providing medical information. It’s possible for a website to be a go-to source for one type of content (e.g., humorous videos), but an untrustworthy source for a different type of content (e.g., financial information).”
This requires a paradigm shift in how we plan goals, measures and tactics in SEO strategy: it’s not just about building links anymore, but rather about cultivating the reputation for a site, content, product, and individuals/entities.
We must start thinking more broadly about a site’s reputation beyond the number of links with a high DR/DA.
Dig deeper. The case against Domain Authority
Integrating PR and SEO
PR has been a method of managing reputation for a long time. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines PR as:
“Public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with key stakeholders across numerous platforms in order to shape and frame the public perception of an organization.”
Applying PR to SEO is about the reputation of your individuals, entity and content with the target audience, not just the search engines. This perspective will keep your strategies, tactics, and measures focused on the signals Google is looking at to improve ranking.
Thus, reputation with Google results from focusing on your reputation with the target audience.
But let’s start with what digital PR for SEO isn’t.
What digital PR isn’t
Digital PR for SEO isn’t link building. “Link building” doesn’t represent the complexity of how AI impacts the ranking algorithm.
Links are a significant part of the overall ranking factors, but links are not the only factor.
I’m one of the biggest skeptics about Google representatives’ recommendations about link building. However, given that Google’s algorithm uses AI to identify factors and evaluate an entity, this statement by John Mueller makes sense.
“Well, it’s something where I imagine, over time, the weight on the links, at some point, will drop off a little bit as we can’t figure out a little bit better how the content fits in within the context of the whole web. And to some extent, links will always be something that we care about because we have to find pages somehow. It’s like how do you find a page on the web without some reference to it?
But my guess is over time, it won’t be such a big factor as sometimes it is today. I think already, that’s something that’s been changing quite a bit.”
Links are just one part of the overall ranking algorithm,
Digital PR for SEO isn’t:
- Just links profiles.
- Just brand mentions.
- About manipulating ranking.
- Link inserts or guest posting.
- Selecting prospective sites by number of links, Domain Rating (DR), or count of articles with keywords.
Links result from a well-run program that is part of a user experience and not just to improve ranking.
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So, what is Digital PR?
Digital PR for SEO is about optimizing for search engines and the audience. It focuses on building the reputation of the product/service, site, content and individual behind it.
Digital PR is an optimized reputation.
Below are key traits of digital PR for SEO.
It’s a topical field of expertise
A topical field of expertise is a specific domain where an individual or organization has significant knowledge and skills.
Types of expertise can include:
- Individual expertise: Does an individual have expert-level knowledge and experience in a specific field? This should be related to the product or service.
- Organizational expertise: Does the organization have a culture, industry, niche, or product/service that they are exceptional at? This can be derived from the company’s positioning and people’s culture, process or unique technology experience.
I look at three areas when evaluating expertise:
- Depth of knowledge: Expertise is about deep knowledge in an area and a broad understanding of a field.
- Experience and practice: Hands-on application of the knowledge in various situations over time.
- Demonstrated skills: Real-world examples that show the expertise in action.
Messaging is a facet of expertise and is a part of what influences the behavior of others.
It’s proof of expertise
Proof of expertise means to show and don’t tell. Provide real-world examples of your individual or organizational expertise. This can be the product/services or related knowledge.
Proving expertise can take many forms, but some fundamentals are easy to execute.
- Unique research: Perform unique research in the specific field of expertise to be helpful to the audience.
- Customer/client stories: Show your customers using the product or research to solve their pains or make gains in specific tasks or workflows.
- Expert commentary: Use your experience to simplify, frame or explain how to take action.
The proof of expertise should influence others to take action.
It’s data-driven storylines
In contrast to link building, digital PR for SEO requires pitching journalists and publishers a storyline. Journalists are strapped for time and actively searching for experts and data to create a compelling story.
Creating unique studies or research has become an important part of product and general marketing to communicate solutions to customers. However, customer research alone doesn’t always fit into the data-driven storylines that journalists often create.
I first perform a media trend analysis to identify potential research topics, then create research that uncovers or supports a trend.
Once the data-drive storyline is created, then the media coverage becomes
- Reactive PR: Monitor trends related to the data and share insights and expert commentary with journalists covering the stories.
- Passive PR: Monitor journalist requests for information related to the data.
- Bylines/Op-eds: Share the data with an audience through thought leadership with guest posts, op-eds, and other bylines.
- Inbound PR: Optimize the article to be found by journalists who are actively searching for research around a specific topic.
- Podcasts: Share the research on podcasts the audience listens to.
Tip: Try to predict trends, and don’t just ride the upcoming trends. Uncover pain points that people have that the media hasn’t covered. People are interested in learning more about severe pain points.
It’s influence and recognition in the field
Influence and recognition are how your expertise changes the behavior of others to take some action.
Actions can take the form of:
- Sharing a link to your research, content, product/services, brand or individuals.
- Mentioning your brand, research, products, customer stories, etc.
- Buying and talking about a product/service.
Typically, these shares can come from these seven areas:
- Podcast hosts
- Content marketers
The influence and recognition should be within a specific and relevant audience.
It’s relevancy to an audience
Digital PR should target a specific audience to which your expertise is most relevant.
- What is the specific audience segment?
- In that segment, what are the personas?
- What are the archetypes of these personas?
Journalists, editors and content creators constantly try to create something helpful for their audience.
These audiences have specific touchpoints where they learn about their problems and the solutions. The audience takes a buyer’s journey.
It’s the buyer’s journey
A buyer’s journey map by any other name is still a buyer’s journey map. Some call it a customer journey map, some call it an influence map, and some call it an experience map.
The buyer’s journey map is a visual map of a person’s workflow or actions when buying from or engaging with a company.
A typical journey has three stages: awareness, consideration, and decision. However, in digital PR for SEO, I’ve found it helpful to
- Awareness: Understand the problem exists and the internal trigger to find a solution. This is the unique value proposition.
- Identify: Identify all possible solutions to the problem, which may even be in-direct competitors, like just sticking with the status quo.
- Consideration: Consider solutions to the problem that are similar to yours.
- Further considerations: Consider your solutions and research about it.
- Decisions: Making a decision to buy your solutions
As a customer meanders through these stages in their own way, they have different touchpoints in their research. A person can acquire information passively or actively seek out.
I use six categories to research the specific touchpoints from an audience:
- Search engines: What keywords and intent does a person have when actively searching in Google or Bing?
- Podcasts: What podcasts or hosts is the audience listening to?
- Blogs: What blogs rank in Google or have an active readership discussing the problems and solutions?
- Press: What journalists or outlets does the audience read?
- Newsletters: What newsletters are relevant to the audience or discuss your competitors?
- Social: Does the audience or competitor focus on a specific social media like LinkedIn, Reddit, X, or any new ones?
Using these touchpoints with the customer journey creates integrated SEO and PR funnels. Search the touchpoints for audiences engaging with a competitor’s brand name.
Another way to look at it
To wrap this piece up, this graphic will give you another way to frame digital PR for SEO.
The explanation above can be simply put into four buckets:
- What you’re creating.
- How to select sites.
- Techniques to reach sites.
- The type of media.
Digital PR is very different from, and a strong alternative to, link building.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.