As PR practitioners we must never underestimate the value of integrating SEO when managing content, editorial placements and campaign evaluation for B2B marketing communications. Nayl D’Souza explains how PR can be successfully navigated using SEO and content mind mapping

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the practice of improving the visibility of website content, is just one strand of digital marketing – but it can significantly increase the reach of a message and more importantly, its return on investment (ROI) can be evaluated – unlike traditional measures of PR success, such as ‘advertising value equivalence’.

This article explains how some relatively straightforward SEO techniques can benefit those working in a typical press office or PR agency. It also reveals how applying mind mapping techniques can make relevant website content easier to create and more visible to target audiences. Particularly within B2B marketing communications, industry peers concede they are apprehensive about embracing SEO, despite around 60% of website traffic coming from organic search. On-page SEO is a skill many PRs neither have or believe they should acquire  and observes that the biggest concerns about SEO are that it ‘takes too much time, is too technical, and doesn’t guarantee significant results’. Even when PR folk are won over by a more data-driven framework, SEO and search engine marketing (SEM) techniques are often seen as the preserve of digital marketers. Of course, what has been overlooked is that SEO is far more productive when used in a joined-up way by everyone working on SEO, SEM, social media and PR.

Fortunately, a growing number of PR practitioners have advocated such guidance in recent times. There are three main areas of focus: content optimization, link building and technical on-site optimization, according to Jon Barrett, VP of Digital Services at Publitek. When it comes to the first two, PR should already be playing a superhero role. After all, dialogue and building relationships is what PR is all about.

Figure 1: The pillars of SEO (Source: Publitek)

Content is king, SEO crowns it

Let’s look at content optimization. Search engines crave original content, and search marketing has historically been based around ‘keywords’ – deducing which queries are being typed into search engines and integrating them into content. It is best practice to define keywords from the outset, and there are many useful software tools to manage this. For example, Google Analytics, Google Search Console and Adobe Analytics can benchmark how often certain words are searched for and the traffic they generate for your website. Keyword suggestions are made using ahrefs or Google AdWords keyword planner, and the latter also runs a competitor analysis to detect keywords rival brands are targeting. For search volume, difficulty and opportunity scores for specific keywords, try the Keyword Research Tool from Moz, while the SEMrush Competitive Positioning Map shows how rivals are doing on common keywords, and where there are gaps.

Readability vs keyword repeatability

In the past, digital marketers encouraged repeated use of target keywords, but that guidance has changed as search engines have become more sophisticated. Today, the villain is ‘keyword stuffing’ – an overt use of keywords to the detriment of editorial credibility and authenticity. SEO consultants warn that search engines will deem any site using this tactic as offering low-quality content, or delist them altogether. And besides being punished by search engines, web users will castigate sites which favor keyword density above usability.

Figure 2: The most important ranking factors (Source: SEMrush)

A recent SEMrush study shows that the importance of keywords has diminished. Nevertheless, it is vital to weave enough keywords into content, especially long-tail keywords – descriptive phrases such as ‘Small, high-powered horticultural LED fixture’ rather than simply ‘LED’. Often mistakenly defined as a phrase using more words, the term ‘long-tail’ actually comes from the extremely long tail of a search demand graph (Figure 3). Long-tail queries are tailored to what users are trying to find, and the search volume and competition for them is usually lower as a result.

Figure 3: The long-tail concept conveys low search volume and keyword competition (Sources: ahrefs and Moz)

Around 70% of online searches consist of long-tail keywords, while the remaining terms that most businesses mistakenly focus their attention on (the ‘fat head’ and ‘chunky middle’ combined) account for about 30%. An SEO strategy with higher ROI is usually one which focuses on keywords in the long-tail portion of the search demand curve. To start keyword research, begin with a shortlist of around 10 terms. Think about how customers would search for the product if they didn’t know its name. List some of the product’s benefits and features, or a short phrase that gets to the core of a problem. For example, using the LED grow light example again, a complex search query would be: ‘What is the best small, high-powered horticultural LED fixture for growing tomatoes?’ Assuming there’s a product to match, it would be wise to consider developing an optimized landing page with hero content based on this. You would use relevant keywords in sub-headlines and intro paragraphs and alt tags on graphics. You could choose to promote the landing page via an SEO-optimized video demonstration, e-newsletter, sponsored post or gated e-guide downloadable once a sign-up form is completed, etc.

Similarly, you could optimize for those ready to make a purchase with a search signifying this intent: ‘Where can I buy a small, high-powered LED fixture for tomatoes?’ Providing insights into all sorts of questions being investigated online, AnswerThePublic is a useful tool to help PR professionals figure out long-tail keyword phrases, and map out original content ideas for content.

Mind maps to the rescue

It is fascinating to move beyond SEO and into the realm of information architecture (IA) – the science of using categorization to structure websites. Publitek is a company championing the use of mind maps (a form of spider diagram) when developing a content themes for a client. This is useful for a few reasons. First, a simple mind map enables you to understand a complex subject, say ‘Horticultural LED lighting’ and how it relates to other areas of the business. Used in conjunction with a website content audit, it can identify gaps in content which blogs, white papers and other content assets can fill. Moreover, sections and sub-sections of a website where this content can reside can be identified. And when developing keyword phrases to target, mapped terms can be used as qualifiers for inclusion or exclusion. The latest trend when developing websites is to employ ‘network taxonomies’, making content easier to find by arranging it in both hierarchical and associative categories. A site map for a website can mirror the mind map, better conveying the nature and context of the content to a search engine.

Figure 4: Mind map to show content themes related to IoT security (Source: Jon Barrett, Publitek)

Building high-quality backlinks

To boost the search rank of a website, PR professionals should obtain backlinks (inbound links from external websites) from engagement with media websites and online influencers. Google prioritizes sites with the most quality backlinks (based on editorial authority, relevance, audience interaction and quality traffic, among other factors), and PR work can secure links from media sites that have a high ‘Domain Authority’, the Moz score for how well websites will rank. Backlinks don’t need to have anchor text and a hyperlink. Simple mentions or citations are also worth collecting, particularly from Tier 1 media outlets/influencers. Although it is questionable how much influence social channels play in B2B marketing, even a small positive difference is worthwhile pursuing. It is clear that creating good content pays off and will improve traffic, reader engagement and backlinks. Indeed, Google states in its code of practice: ‘The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content.’

Technical on-site optimization

Finally, let’s examine technical on-site optimization. Even if an SEO consultant is employed to handle this (as shown in Figure 5), it is worthwhile for a PR professional to review these Moz blogs.

Figure 5: Technical aspects of SEO (Source: Admen)

If forced to choose just one thing to improve a website’s visibility, many experts will underline the importance of a website being ‘crawlable’. Even if a website has implemented links and keywords perfectly, if a search engine can’t crawl it the content will remain hidden. So-called ‘evergreen’ content retains a high search ranking and modest click-through rate long after it is published. While original SEO content and backlinks will not produce significant results overnight, compelling content keeps on giving. Combining a strategic implementation of all three pillars of SEO can therefore result in steady and lasting growth in online reach.

If you’re looking to supercharge how your business manages its SEO and website content, contact us today.