Modern PR pros are painfully aware that algorithms matter.
In online marketing, there’s a mass of content devoted to helping us decode the digital algorithms, and it’s easy to see why. A new Reuters study shows platforms like Facebook and Google will continue to control access to audiences.
What does it all mean if you’re working in PR?
To find success online, you need to understand how the algorithms impact the reach of your PR messages. The good news is you don’t need a degree in data science to guard against the chaos caused by these updates.
Here are simple approaches you can take to create an algorithm-proof digital PR strategy.
1. Stay plugged into your engagement metrics.
Many users have watched in horror as their organic reach on Facebook has plummeted.
Last year, Facebook announced updates that killed organic reach for pages. Though organic reach had been on the decline, Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that the News Feed would prioritize content from family and friends over publishers was the latest, and most deadly, salvo.
Just a few months earlier, Facebook’s Explore Feed experiment debuted to horrified publishers in select countries across the world. As part of Explore, a split feed carried posts from friends and family in one tab, and from brands in another.
Slovak news publishers were among the first to sound the alarm, as pages reported dramatic drops of reach—up to two-thirds in some cases. Dubbed Frankenfeed by some publishers, the backlash to the failed experiment was swift and bleak.
What’s worse is that Facebook didn’t clearly communicate the tests to publishers in some countries; however, page owners who paid close attention to their traffic could spot the tremors early on.
If you’re using Facebook to promote your (or your client’s ) business, watch your Facebook analytics closely. You can see any sharp drops, and also gain a better idea of the type of content that achieves the best results.
Every page owner should spend time exploring the analytics and insights for data on:
- Post reach
- Page links
Still, organic reach efforts won’t get you very far anymore. (A Facebook page can only reach about six percent of its fans with each post.) However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t optimize your Facebook strategy for popular forms of content.
Facebook’s New Feeds consists of different signals it uses to rank posts in users feeds. Consider this in-depth analysis from Buffer on the components of the algorithm, and understanding these basics can direct your focus. As organic reach plummets, brands that produce what Facebook favors (live video and groups) are achieving results and building rich communities on the platform.
2. Maximize your SEO.
Declining Facebook reach has driven more publishers to prioritize search in their digital content strategy. Even a news company like the Texas Tribune has resorted to buying popular terms and its audience grew when it incorporated SEO into the newsroom.
Modern PR pros must have a basic understanding of SEO and include search in their online promotion.
SEO is a long-game but worth the investment over time. There’s merit in enlisting the services of a professional at the start. If you’re a small team, the gig economy now provides the opportunity to find competent SEO professionals online. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know the basics.
If you’re new to SEO, make time for continued education with resources like Moz, HubSpot’s Skill Up podcast, and Search Engine Journal. You can use an aggregator like Feedly to stay updated with SEO trends that may affect your digital PR efforts.
Watch your Google Analytics like a hawk. If you notice any tremors in your traffic, reach out to your SEO contractor for advice.
Here’s the caveat. Like Facebook, Google updates its algorithms quite frequently. For example, the Penguin update was designed to catch sites that were buying links to improve search rankings. New Google SERP (search engine results page) features are dramatically shifting the way we experience search.
You might have seen a search result that answered your question right on top of the organic results. These are known as featured snippets. They usually answer a “what” or “how” question with a paragraph or list.
These features are evolving, and there’s controversy about how they’re potentially stealing organic traffic away from websites. Google’s looking into feedback from SEO professionals and publishers, and there will likely more developments in this area.
3. Build diversity into your digital PR strategy.
Putting all your eggs into one basket, be it Facebook, Google or any other platform, is a dangerous gamble.
A diversified media strategy uses social media marketing and email marketing to send visitors back to your website, recommends Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz. Your website is your owned channel, so even if Google SERP features result in less traffic, you can still create your own demand.
Earned media also remains an essential part of a successful PR strategy. Consider combining this approach with digital tactics like guest blog posts.
When you build diversity into your digital content strategy, you’re less vulnerable to algorithmic updates.
Human relationships also win out over algorithms every time. Get to know your audience—both media outlets and their readers. Listen to them and act on what you hear.
Bronwynne Powell is an independent communications specialist and founder of Bronwynne Powell Media. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.