Why SEO Agencies Do Great Digital PR

There was a time, not too long ago, when SEO performance could be driven by a handful of technical experts and a budget for purchasing links. Over the years this has been killed off and SEO agencies have had to adapt in order to deliver SEO performance.

Links have always been a major ranking signal, and still are, albeit they share the space with a few other well-known ranking factors. SEO agencies now have to be able to deliver links without a link broker, without relying on article directories, paid blog posts and forum dropping etc… Google’s recent action against link spam has meant everyone has had to clean up their acts.

Most forward thinking agencies saw this coming and as such have adapted over time, in most cases very successfully.

Change in Recruitment Strategy

We decided way back in 2010 to change our recruitment method, up until that time there had been a heavy focus on technical and analytical skills, of course these skills are still very much needed, but for link acquisition we knew we needed to start looking for individuals who were skilled at forming relationships and who understood what publishers wanted to cover.

As such we began to build out our Digital PR and Social department, taking on graduates and executives with marketing, PR and communications backgrounds. This new recruitment strategy brought its fair share of challenges, not just in terms of how we delivered links but also with the dynamics of the agency.

Our Digital PR department is now 15 people strong, and in my bias opinion the best in the country at driving high quality links, coverage, traffic and revenue for our clients.

Positioning

SEO agencies are perfectly positioned to adopt social and PR campaigns into the work they do, particularly campaigns that revolve around digital.

Firstly, SEO agencies understand the value of links; they know which websites are more beneficial in order to improve SEO performance and as such can use this knowledge to shortlist publications and journalists.

Secondly, because of this understanding, they also know which websites to stay away from, or which pieces of coverage could be potentially harmful from an SEO point of view. Very often clients will issue press releases, or come to an arrangement with an online publisher with regards to a piece of content they are willing to publish. Unbeknown to the client the site may be actively selling links, or have been blacklisted for other activity that goes against Google’s guidelines. If an SEO agency has visibility on these placements, they can make some simple suggestions to ensure there aren’t any issues caused through the coverage or links. This could include making the link no followed, adding the domain to the disavow tool or in some cases asking for it to be removed.

Thirdly, a lot of good SEO agencies have been creating digital content for a long time, we have had to understand what content is likely to go viral and what media works on different social networks and platforms. Not only do we know this, but we can create it too! Again most good SEO agencies already have the internal capability to create awesome content, and as UX, personalisation and content marketing become more important, these capabilities are only going to increase over the years. We don’t need to outsource this kind of work; we have been creating it for years, often outsourced to us by traditional PR and Media agencies.

Once you take all this knowledge and capability, and layer it with a communications team who understand what type of content and data gets coverage, not only that, but are capable of developing the right relationships; then you have a team ready to drive links, engagement, coverage, traffic and revenue for your clients.

Where are the Lines Drawn?

There are of course differences in all the disciplines; SEO, PR and Content Marketing are about more than simply getting coverage, on the PR side there are reputation and crisis management activities, audience engagement and advocacy on the content marketing side, and of course SEO involves just about every digital discipline out there.

However, if your aim is to get coverage and be seen online by your target audience, then I can’t see a better option than a good SEO and/or digital marketing agency. Getting coverage that incorporates skills from all of the disciplines allows you to gain coverage and exposure that drives traffic, visibility and revenue.

I was going to write another section at the bottom covering a real example of what could be achieved by combining your SEO, Content Marketing and PR capabilities, however it makes sense for me to just link out so you can go take a look yourselves.

Brits, Boobs & Botox

A simple map using enquiry data to inform users about cosmetic surgery trends and hotspots.

Debt Map

A similar concept displaying debt assessments across the UK.

How Well Do You Know Your Team

Some gamification allowing fans to show off how knowledgeable they are about their respective teams.

All the above campaigns drove links, shares, and revenue directly to the sites in question.

If you want your coverage to give you a tangible ROI, then you have to work with an agency who are capable of delivering not only great placements, but also great content and SEO value.

What Does The Future Look Like?

I think the key to doing excellent PR, SEO, Content Marketing or any other form of digital marketing is collaboration. If you don’t enrol broader skills you will find yourself delivering campaigns that are not even half as effective as they could be, and won’t deliver against your client’s expectations. Collaboration is the future both client and agency side.

Yes SEOwizz still exists

I admit, it has been a while, in fact over the course of 2014 I only posted twice on the blog, which is ironic considering I had access to more insight than ever before. The truth is I really struggled to find the time, and SEOwizz has been penalised by Google for the last 3 years so there has been no search benefit to anything I have been writing.

Over the past 18 – 24 months Branded3 has seen significant growth, and managing the demands of a growing business has meant my priorities had to change, however I have always planned on coming back to the blog and sharing some of the insight I now have access to, as well as thoughts and opinions on search and the wider digital marketing landscape.

Truth is, since I started SEOwizz back in 2008/9 the landscape has changed, massively, and as the landscape has matured so has my outlook. There are so many posts on this blog alone that are simply out of date and need to be refreshed, SEO is now so much bigger than keywords and links, they’re both still there, and important, but in isolation they’re pretty worthless.

When I started SEOwizz I wanted to focus on what really worked, not what the ideal was, not whitehat/blackhat/greyhat but what really drove results, what signals worked and how to influence them. Because of this I had no interest in ‘real’ marketing, just manipulating well known signals and teaching others how they could do it too. The reason for this was due to the fact that there was so much information out there, some of it was completely wrong and some of it sounded great but didn’t work. I wanted to focus only on what worked, regardless of which discipline it fell into.

So, where are we now?

Well, everything has changed, multiple penalties, algorithm changes and devaluing of historic signals has completely changed the landscape, Google is no longer a place where building a real business can revolve around a handful of tactics. Yes, if you have no long term aspirations for your website, go ahead and game Google, you will win for a while but eventually your site will get burnt. If you’re looking to build a brand this is not a great strategy.

I still want to focus this blog on what works, but what works for businesses that are interested in building their brand, that are looking for longevity; so moving forward that’s what will be happening.

Just by way of an update, I have had my own run in with Google:

SEOwizz Visibility

Only now, nearly 3 years after the original penalty is SEOwizz starting to recover. That’s despite a successful reconsideration, cleaning up content and having some very strong links (check the profile out).

Moving Forward

Helping to grow Branded3 over the past 5 years has been awesome, starting off in a business of 8 people and seeing it grow to 80 really has been a privilege, and there is a lot more to come.

It has given me lots of experience in broader digital marketing, understanding commercial pressures and discovering new signals and areas of importance to drive search performance.

We have invested in technology that allows us to see algorithm changes as they happen, understanding the impact on multiple industries and quickly been able to identify the signals that are driving it.

I get to work as part of a team of experts in their individual disciplines; Designers, Creatives, PR strategists, SEO’s, Analysts, Content Strategists, Developers, Social Strategists, Paid Media Managers etc….. and I get to see what real business benefits these activities drive, both independently and collaboratively.

In other words, the experience I have, the insights I have access to and a general broader understanding of digital and business as whole, means the output of SEOwizz has to move on.

I am planning on writing a lot more, as of the beginning of March it will be weekly, and in the near future a possible domain change, plus the introduction of some solid guest bloggers.

Hopefully, if Google have now forgiven me, I might also get some rankings :)

ps I have had to disable comments due to the sheer amount of spam coming through. Will look into bringing this back online in the future.

The Real Challenge for SEO Agencies

With all the turbulence in the SEO industry at the minute it can be easy to assume that the challenges SEO agencies face revolve around building natural links, understanding users, hiring the right people or producing genuinely interesting content. Whilst all of these areas could be a challenge given the new landscape, there is a much bigger challenge to consider, however, let me first start by revisiting how SEO agencies have previously worked.

Driving Results

When I first started this blog I wanted to ensure that I stuck to what worked; back in 2009 there were wild theories about social, Chrome’s browser share and AdWords being a ranking factor. However, after working in SEO for 5 years at this point, I was a little tired that the advice being offered up was never going to rank a website. So whenever I wrote a new article it focused on the reality, rather than speculating about the future.

This is how a lot of SEO agencies developed their focus, they only invested in what worked, which was primarily link spam and paid links. It drove rankings, it helped clients grow revenue significantly and best of all it was easy to execute, which in turn meant it was cheap to supply.

Why would you change this business model? It focused on what worked and gave clients the results they wanted.

The Focus was Wrong

The problem with focusing on what worked was that Google were focusing on something entirely different. It was easy to manipulate Google search rankings up to 2011/12, for the last 10 years SEO’s had been focusing on the algorithm trying to take advantage of any signal that had a close correlation to rankings; in the meantime Google’s sole focus was on generating the most useful, targeted results possible. They wanted to provide the right answers to the right people at the right time; this made for a great user experience and also drove ad revenue.

So in 2011 when Google launched Panda it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to most SEO agencies, but it did. Then in 2012 Google launched Penguin which should have come as even less of a surprise yet the whole industry were up in arms about it.

All the time SEO agencies had been focussing on Google, and at the same time Google had been focussing on the user and delivering a better quality search result.

A New Landscape

There is nothing any agency can do about it now, Google have dropped multiple bombs to clean up manipulation and spam results, there are no shortcuts to top rankings and greater visibility on Google, not if you’re trying to build a genuine brand at least.

So back to my opening paragraph, what are the challenges?

Yes, this change in landscape means a need for genuinely engaging content, a user focus and link acquisition based on ‘being worth talking about‘, however doing these things isn’t the challenge, in fact it’s relatively straight forward.

The Real Challenge

When SEO agencies focused on manipulation they very much worked in a silo, they may have met with the client once a month to deliver visibility reports and updates on rankings. There was no need for them to be involved in the wider business because the work could be done perfectly well in silos, plus, the wider business would have probably had a panic attack if they’d have seen the work being produced.

However, fast-forward to 2014 and manipulation is dead, to deliver SEO results you have to have buy-in from different areas of the business; IT, PR, Content, Product and Marketing just to name a few. You have to be able to work with them, collaborate on projects, educate and help the WHOLE business understand the opportunity that lies within increased visibility on Google.

Very often clients with a good brand, or who at least are trying to build one, are already engaging in PR, advertising, content and creative; the role of SEO is now very much about infusing knowledge into a business to make all that activity significantly more visible.

This is the real challenge, selling SEO into the wider business, building relationships with in house teams and ultimately getting buy-in so that the work you want to do can be prioritised.

Despite being well into the ‘digital age’ some companies still have processes that make them incapable of reacting to market changes quickly, unable to update the website without a formal release, unable to publish content without 10 levels of sign off etc. SEO agencies need to work hard to find a way to get buy-in for their ideas, to get a place on the big table and ultimately manoeuvre into a position that allows them to execute the work needed.

This is the real challenge, to be taken seriously at the top level and to be able to work within businesses, not in an external silo.