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Google’s Updated SEO Guidelines: A Threat to PR? Not So Much

This post was first published by Hanah Johnson on March Communications’ blog PR Nonsense.
Recently, one of my colleagues circulated an article that caught my attention: Did Google Just Kill PR Agencies? In this article, veteran tech reporter Tom Foremski discusses Google’s updated Webmaster rules, particularly with regard to link and keyword strategies within press releases. The updates are intended to do away SEO overload that might manipulate Google’s PageRank algorithms, by prohibiting excessive linking and repetitive use of keywords. Foremski describes it as an “unnatural boost to the popularity of a piece of content” and a blatant attempt to “trick [Google’s] algorithm into ranking a site higher than its allotted position.”

I do agree with Foremski’s notion of overly optimized content as “unnatural” promotion, but what does this have to do with PR? If you work in PR like I do, his claims should set alarm bells ringing. Foremski has essentially equated PR agencies to SEO agencies, and while they certainly do intertwine, he has overlooked the very nature of public relations: to tell stories.

For PR professionals (at least those who are doing it right), Google’s new updates shouldn’t change our work too drastically, if at all. PR isn’t just about pushing out press releases stuffed to the brim with links and keywords – in fact, it’s not even about press releases at all. Effective PR is centered on building awareness and positive visibility, which can be achieved through a wide variety of tactics – press releases are only one.

Though press release distribution is the traditional route to disseminating news, in today’s media ecosystem, contributed articles, case studies, whitepapers, social media and visual content like images and video weigh just as heavily. Even non-content factors have an important role in extending the reach of a news announcement – media and influencer relations, event management, or even just strategic timing, could all have a major impact on news visibility.

Instead of viewing SEO and PR as a converged practice, SEO should be seen rather as just one function of PR. So, from what I can tell, these updates don’t really serve up a threat to the practice of public relations. If anything, it’s just further encouragement and validation for what we’ve been doing all along: creating unique, original content – content people actually want to read. If you’re relying on press releases alone to get your message out there, or worse, relying on orchestrated links and keywords, perhaps it’s time to rethink your communications strategy and open up to the numerous other channels that PR has to offer.

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