In late March, Google was awarded a patent for its Panda algorithm, and it turns out there’s big news for PR in the filing’s fine print. A close read reveals references to “implied links,” which are described as references to a website or Web page that do not include a physical link to that website or Web page. The text goes on to detail the role of these implied links in the process of determining the search rank of a particular Web page. What are these implied links? In a nutshell, they are relevant, earned mentions, running the gamut from media pick-ups to references in blog posts to mentions in discussion groups. “What does all this mean? It means that once a connection is made by someone typing in a brand name or other search query and then clicking on a site, it creates a connection in Google’s eyes,” SEO expert Simon Penson explained in a Moz.com post about brand mentions. “The search engine can then store that info and use it in the context of unlinked mentions around the Web in order to help weight rankings of particular sites.” Public relations builds awareness and credibility that influence audience behavior, and Google’s patent underscores the value of the earned media PR produces. Here are four tips for taking advantage of the power of implied links and for measuring PR’s impact on search:
1. Search query volumes: Increases in the volumes of search queries that include either brand terms, or terms strongly associated with the brand, industry, or product that lead visitors to the organizations’ website are difficult to measure perfectly—Google masks a lot of search query data—but some do make it through to the analytics programs that organizations use to tabulate Web traffic. Talk to your Web metrics guru about gaining access to the reports. Important note: You’ll also have to connect with the team handling website optimization for your organization about what keywords and phrases they’re targeting, and which URLs are associated with each term. You’ll want to make a point of using those terms (or near derivatives) when relevant to your message. You’ll also want to include links to the related target URL in your releases. 2. Inbound traffic to specific web pages: Including a URL that links to a specific (and relevant) Web page in press releases, blog posts, social bios, and other digital media—rather than dumping readers onto the home page and forcing them to search for information related to what they just read—is crucial in helping people get to the right Web page. These links are trackable, and in working with your organization’s Web team, you should be able to measure increases in inbound traffic to specific pages. 3. Lead quality or conversion rate: What happens once someone has clicked on a link you placed in a press release? The next step that visitor takes is an important one on the buying journey, and it’s something your marketing team is monitoring closely. The PR team can have a tremendous impact in generating an influx of well-qualified prospects to the organization’s website. If you’re monitoring the traffic that PR generates through trackable URLs, you can also track the quality of those leads, and the subsequent conversion rates. These are the sort of data that can be equated to revenue—and will make a CFO sit up and take notice. 4. Improved search rank for key pages: Increases in search rank for key Web pages for specific sets of terms. Over time, the implied links and earned media the PR team generates should improve the search ranking of specific pages on the brand’s website. Garnering those results—and maintaining them, which requires sustained effort—are some of the truest measures of the value of the media coverage and mentions the brand has earned.
One caveat: Less is more Don’t assume that more is better when it comes to “implied links.” The folks at Google are sticklers for relevance and quality, and the company is continually refining its search algorithm to deliver ever-better results for users. In doing so, Google has specifically targeted Web spam and is emphasizing the value of authentic earned media. Tactics designed to create artificial references to a brand or organization won’t work, and brands employing them may risk incurring penalties from Google, disappearing from search results altogether. Instead, focus on creating authentic and relevant brand mentions, and be sure to measure the results over time. Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of the e-books Unlocking Social Media for PR and New School Press Release Tactics. Follow her on Twitter @sarahskerik. A longer version of this post originally appeared on the Beyond PR blog.