Yesterday, Tom Foremski commented on some changes to Google’s webmaster rules –specifically, a new focus on links and keywords within press releases. You might have missed those details, though, if you stopped at the more provocative headline, “Did Google Just Kill PR Agencies?” Even the article summary oversteps a bit: “New webmaster rules target core PR practices.”
No. Do the new changes kill PR agencies? No and No. Well, maybe the lazy ones.
If your go-to tactic for PR is a link-stuffed release blasted across the wires, then you’re doing it wrong. Google views this as spam, and it hates spam, because, well, its users and advertisers hate spam. Google is (still) about helping people find the highest quality information that matches up with what they’re looking for, and spam gets in the way of that.
There’s a bigger trend here
This is only one of many Google changes we’ve been following closely and, frankly, getting excited about. Google is making Web content creation a real art, and good PR agencies can and will naturally excel at that art.
But it requires smart work. And I’ll make a pretty stark prediction myself: In the coming years, SEO spend will slowly but surely shift to PR agencies and firms specializing in publishing, because SEO will no longer be a purely technical practice. It will become more of what it always should have been: The art of creating good content targeted to specific audiences, optimized and standards-compliant.. My headline would be, “Google just reinforced the value of PR.”
The bottom line is that now, more than ever, we need to publish and promote quality content that searchers find valuable and are excited to share. Stop focusing so doggedly on linking and optimizing organic keywords. It’s short-term thinking. It’s not PR.
The only problem PR companies might face with these changes is that they are 10 years behind the Internet.
Let’s explain a little deeper: Where did SEO come from?
Before Google, people found content largely based on keywords. If you had good content with good keywords, you ranked. Then the Web exploded. Google introduced its PageRank algorithm in 1998 (named after its co-founder Larry Page) that was based on not only keywords but how many sites link to a webpage. Then SEO was born. And it’s flourished ever since, based on the core premise that if you can get websites to link to your content you’ll rank high in search engine results pages. Since then Google has made a number of updates that determine the quality of those links, things such as Project Florida, and they continue to do so as we are seeing.*
SEOs hate seeing the name of their industry besmirched by cynics. I mean, have YOU ever had to change keywords on 1,000 paid links? Exactly.
— Merlin Mann (@hotdogsladies) October 19, 2009
If you are overstuffing press releases with keywords and generating links in dubious ways, you are practicing the SEO of 10 years ago.
So we are already behind: It’s time to change
A regular industry benchmark concludes that about 42 percent of the factors that define SEO are links. But that part of the pie is decreasing quickly and being replaced by other signals, such as social shares and comments. Hello, Google+.
But why social media? Because it’s the strongest factor for credibility. And it’s organic linking. Social sharing has an exorbitantly higher correlation to better SEO than any other factor right now. If 100,000 people share your content on Twitter, it must be good – at least that’s what Google thinks.
Other credibility factors are entering the mix too – things like Google Authorship, which allows Google to associate content with an expert. If you publish a piece of content on the internet, you have 100,000 Twitter followers and 46,000 people in your Google+ circle, and you often publish similar content, you must be credible. At least that’s what Google thinks.
How do we evolve?
It’s really very simple: We practice PR and follow our model of brands as publishers.
SEO is incredibly important, and we know it drives sales and changes reputation. But we need to reframe our mindset and stop focusing on technical SEO factors, such as linking and keyword stuffing. I’ve seen plenty of great content on the front page of Google without any keyword optimization in it.
Focus on creating great, in-demand content first, then start thinking about the technical aspects of SEO. Typically, when your content is great, other factors fall into place easily.
Google is not our enemy. It’s a smart company that reminds us time and time again that people want great content, that brands need to think and act like publishers and should make stuff at that key intersection between audience wants and needs and business objectives – not just the latter, not just the former.
These changes by Google are important when taken in context. But if you focus on fantastic content and inadvertently over-optimize one press release, you’re not going to lose ground or reputation.
* Paragraph changed to correct factual error – hat tip: Martin Macdonald.