How to Turn Your PR Team Into SEOs

Introduction

At Distilled, we often choose to work directly with our client’s PR team. Why? Because we gain valuable insights into a company’s existing marketing strategy from their PRs. After all, PRs have first-hand knowledge on which campaigns have been successful and which have not. Thus, they have the ability to tell us what they have learned from these past experiences, so that we won’t invest time and effort reinventing the wheel or recommending a strategy that they already know they don’t want to pursue.

Wheel

Don’t make things more complicated. Do use existing resources.

Furthermore, PRs are already pros at outreach - they know how to find, engage, and collaborate with a variety of channels to gain coverage for their company. They know how to pitch a piece and what types of pieces would work for which outlets. This is very important as editorial content is becoming more and more valuable within the SEO industry.

Finally, PRs know how to hustle - they’re constantly pitching and vying for the attention of influencers in their space, while building meaningful relationships along the way. And they have similar goals as SEOs - they want coverage as badly as SEOs want links.

Hustling

SEOs and PRs need to be working together. Instead of becoming two disjointed halves, we need to leverage the strengths of each other’s knowledge base and use it to garner both coverage and links - thus collaborating to elevate a site in both brand awareness, as well as increased rankings in organic search. The most effective way of doing so is to train your PRs to think like SEOs.

Strength

Case Study

Recently, Lexi, Distilled’s PR consultant and I conducted an SEO training for a clients’ PR team. This particular client had a phenomenal marketing team that consisted of knowledgeable PRs, a social media expert, and content writers who knew how to write in the brand’s distinctive voice. Initially, we were brought on to develop and implement a linkbuilding strategy, but we quickly realized that a one-off infographic or content piece was not the right approach for this particular brand. Instead we wanted to focus on leveraging the client’s existing strengths and integrate SEO into it. We decided to train the PR team, so that they could begin integrating SEO into their workflow, while simultaneously working with the rest of their marketing team to come up with a cohesive content/linkbuilding strategy for their site.

Below are some of the topics we covered during this PR training.

SEO Training for PRs:

Step 1: Understanding How the PR Team Functions/Teaching PRs Basic SEO

Objective: Educate PRs on the basics of SEO and gain insight into their daily workflow.

Questions for the PR team:

  1. What does the PR team already know about SEO?
  2. What does their day-to-day activity involve?
  3. How do they measure and report PR activity? What metrics do they care about?
This will provide insights into the PRs’ current workflow process. The overall intent is NOT to increase the workload of the PR team, but to understand their goals and see what elements of SEO can be integrated into that process.

During this stage, conduct a brief overview of SEO - what is search and why is it important (see diagram below), how search engines determine rankings, etc...Remember, keep this aspect of the training as basic as possible. We want to ensure we’re not overwhelming the PRs with more knowledge than they need or can handle.  

Global Search Volume

Step 2: Why Should PRs Care About SEO?

Objective: Have PR team understand how they could benefit from SEO.

This is a crucial step because if PRs aren’t sold on SEO and how it would benefit them, they’re less likely to implement it into their workflow. To make this step as effective as possible, you need to first understand the PR team’s current pain points. Then directly address these issues by explaining how SEO can solve some of these pains. 

Some examples of benefits could include:

  1. Ranking highly for certain keywords leads to more organic traffic and/or opportunities to increase conversions (see diagram below)
  2. SEO can provide PRs with maximum visibility online, which increases the likelihood of PRs receiving coverage for content.
CTR Rates

In our case, the client’s PR team told us that they had difficulty determining which metrics to report upon. Identifying their pain points was crucial because it justified why the PR team needed to invest in SEO. Our client’s specific pain point helped segue our PR training onto step 3. 

Step 3: Demonstrating the Value of SEO Tools (SEOMoz’s Mozbar)

Objective: Have PRs start using SEO metrics. This will help them determine which sites to reach out to, as well as which metrics to report on.

Explain to the PR team that different links have different values - a link from the NY Times is more valuable than a link from a directory. In this case, to distinguish between the “trusthworthiness” of different sites, we had the PR team download the Mozbar and compare DA metrics across domains. This way we weren’t just telling them what they can do, but also showing them how they can conduct this process on their own.

SEOMoz Mozbar

SEOs should also explain to PRs the distinction between different types of links-  like dofollow and nofollow links and how they could use the Mozbar to help them determine whether a site allows external dofollow links.

Dofollow Nofollow link

Finally, emphasize that any link is better than no link or a nofollowed link. If this means getting an image link, tell PRs that they should accept it, but have them understand that an image link is less valuable than a text-based, dofollow link. However, please be clear that ultimately, PRs should NEVER sacrifice coverage for links. 

PR Training Summary:

The overall objective of this training is for PRs to start thinking about SEO when they’re outreaching or building relationships with individuals or companies relevant to their niche. The rationale is that because this industry changes rapidly, if we all want to stay ahead of the curve, we need to make sure that we’re working cohesively and effectively together.

At the end of this training, PRs should learn:

  1. How to build relationships with high-authority domains
  2. When getting coverage and subsequently, links, they should ask for a dofollowed link (but NOT sacrifice coverage in the process).
  3. If PRs are aware of which keywords their company is targeting, they can start asking for links with targeted anchor text.

Links Report Checklist for PRs

Below is a sample links report checklist I’ve created for PRs to use. This is designed to help PRs report on metrics from their linkbuilding efforts. This also ensures that PRs are using SEO metrics when determining which sites to contact and develop relationships with.

SEO Checklist for PRs

Stephanie Chang

Stephanie Chang

Stephanie helped open Distilled’s New York office in June 2011 after working for a year at a New York-based full-service agency. She oversaw the SEO and social media execution for a variety of clients including B2B, B2C, e-commerce and international...   read more

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12 Comments

  1. I know what you mean when trying to train people about SEO, the person you are teaching needs to want to learn as well as be able too use the skills regularly otherwise the learnt processes can fade away. I love your use of images in this article as well!

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  2. Great article - the integration into what you're already doing piece is SO important. I also think that PRs need to understand that this isn't a one off deal - the best SEOs do this 24/7 and are constantly researching, noting, investigating in a way that PRs shouldn't have time for. I also think people forget the value that PR brings to SEO - and the dangers that SEO faces if it fails to look outside of its own walls and focuses on a links at all costs. Nice article!

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    • Absolutely - we should all be working together. PRs should work with SEOs to optimize press releases and learn how to ask for links, while SEOs should work with PRs to make sure that the content we're creating actually has a pitch.

  3. Good post! I think the checklist will be handy for a lot of PRs.

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  4. This is all great advice and fits in with what I did for many years as a PR working within the search marketing sector. There are a few of things though that I think need adding, or emphasising -

    SEO requirements shouldn't always take precedence over a story / PR campaign. Sometimes you need to put in a helluva lot of legwork doing things that don't seem to have an immediate SEO benefit - but if you're patient you will reap the benefits.

    PR is can be a bit "suck it and see", especially online when there is such a fluctuation in influence - it's not like the old days when a PRO would have a list of friendly contacts to use time and time again. This can sometimes make it an awkward fit with SEO, which is so cause-and-effect driven. I'm making the point again here really that there needs to be a bit of patience and understanding.

    PR and Social Media are so closely aligned and we're already seeing the effect of social signals in the algorithm. When looking at measurement, I found it was just as useful to look at bursts in coverage / visibility / mentions - whatever terminology you want to use - as quantifying links achieved.

    And my last point - training PRs in SEO is great, but I would make the training mutual. There are some great creative SEOs out there, but regrettably there are a number who are very narrow in their thinking, so sharing expertise and knowledge across the disciplines can only help everyone.

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    • Hi Jenny,

      Appreciate your comments. Agree with you and I apologize if this wasn't clear from the article - SEO requirements should NOT take precedence over a story. The pitch is fundamental - after all, if you don't get coverage, how much would SEO help?

      It's also interesting that you mentioned social. For our client, we're actually working with their team to come up with a cohesive marketing strategy. This means that we'll be creating a large piece for PR purposes and a smaller piece for social channels that would work in tandem with the larger piece. After all, what works for PR might not necessarily work as well for social. We absolutely need to make sure that what we're creating is appropriate to the channel.

      Regarding the training manual, I actually think meeting face-to-face is the best option. Afterwards, we send our clients detailed notes on what we covered during their training. It's not possible to make a single training manual for all PRs because the culture of each company is different and the needs of each PR team must be independently addressed.

  5. Hi Stephanie - there's no need to apologise and I didn't mean to criticise...I was just making the point for people that might come over and read your post, but who don't have your experience in running campaigns of this type!

    I definitely see your point about tailoring for different channels, it's great that you are looking at this as a cohesive strategy - far too many people work in isolation then try and join up the dots retrospectively.

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  6. Thanks for this post. We have clients where both their PR and SEO person uses our services. At least once a month I find myself thinking, "if the two departments would work together on campaigns they will get better results". Now I can send said clients a link to your post.

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    • Gina,

      Thank you so much for your feedback. :) This post is a result of the experiences I have had with some of my clients at Distilled. It's great to hear that others have seen the same thing and that we can all work together to change this!

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