PR and the web are converging at an ever-increasing rate, with social media evolving into the face of online public relations. But a large part of what’s driving this convergence is search engine optimisation, or SEO – the optimisation of information that appears on the web in order to give our clients good rankings on search engines and to drive traffic to their websites. Press releases optimised for search engines are likely to get wider coverage and be spread via social media services like Twitter, and have many additional benefits over and above the single web page on which the news item appears. Key to optimising press releases is understanding backlinks and keywords.
A backlink is essentially any link on the web that leads to another website, like this link to Wikipedia’s definition. In the eyes of Google, this backlink counts as a ‘vote’ for Wikipedia, or more specifically, the exact page I linked to. Where this has specific relevance is that one of the major ways that Google ranks websites is the number and quality of the backlinks that come into the site. Ignoring quality for the moment, it follows therefore that the more links we can create for our clients’ websites through PR, the more long-term benefit this has for their SEO.
It’s not quite that simple, however. The quality of the backlink has a significant bearing on that link’s value (or strength of vote), and this has several variables. The position of the link on the page and the age of that link both come into play, but the two areas that I am going to concentrate on are anchor text, or the words that form the link, and PageRank, or the reputation of the page on which the backlink appears. These are the two areas that PRs need to learn and understand for beneficial online content creation.
Probably the single most important factor for a PR to get to grips with is the concept of anchor text and keywords, as it is relevant to writing optimised press releases as well as SEO itself. Anchor text is the words you click on when you click a link. If I allow you to click here to another article, the words ‘click here’ are the anchor text.
Anchor text tells search engines what the page is about. Which leads to why PRs can use this knowledge to significantly boost the power of their online news releases. A link like that above that uses the words ‘click here’ as anchor text is next to useless in SEO terms, as it tells the search engines that the page I am linking to is about the subject ‘click here’. In actual fact, the link goes to a very useful article about the skills that PRs need for social media, which I recommend you also read. So my anchor text should really be ‘skills that PRs need for social media’, containing keywords such as ‘PR’, ‘skills’ and ‘social media’ that I’d like my article to appear in search results for.
When it comes to writing optimised press releases, understanding anchor text is crucial. Further than this however, the concept of keywords should be utilised in all press release titles and subheadings. These are the single most important part of an optimised press release, often form the links on websites, and must contain keywords relevant to your client. It’s important therefore, to take the time to research the language of your target market and include the keywords that they use, NOT your client. For example, I may like to talk about ‘digital infrastructures’, but if the rest of the world searches for the term ‘social media’ on Google, I need to use the keyword phrase ‘social media’. I need to talk in their language if I want my SEO to be effective.
PageRank is largely gauged by the number of backlinks that a web page has, so pages on sites such as bbc.co.uk tend to have high page ranks due to the popularity of the site itself and the content’s topical nature. However, just to complicate things further, it can be more beneficial to gain a link on a page with a smaller PageRank depending on how many sites that page also links to, as the value of the ‘vote’ from a page is divided among all outgoing links. So, for example, if a page that links to my site has a PageRank of 5 and 100 outbound links, the value of the vote for my site is 5/100 = 0.05. If another linking page has a PageRank of 3 but only 10 outbound links, the value of the vote is 0.3. Similarly, if my website is about cooking and I gain a link from another site about cooking, this will have more value in Google’s eyes than a link from a site about sport. The implications on PRs of PageRank are about targeting, and ensuring that content and links appear on beneficial sites for both traffic and SEO.
By learning about and understanding these basic SEO concepts, PRs can maximise the power of their online communications and provide significant extra value to clients.
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