SEO for public relations: A step-by-step guide

Don’t overlook search engine optimization when developing a PR plan. Follow these guidelines for success.


Public relations practitioners are adept at using content to build or defend a brand.

For instance, they might offer an expert to provide timely commentary, or they might build a sophisticated, multifaceted campaign to defend a position, convey a message, launch a product, or even start a movement.

Yet when many PR professionals plan such programs, they may overlook an essential tool: search engine optimization (SEO). By using tools to gather information and gain insights about search behavior around a brand or category, PR pros are better equipped to inform the content-creation process.

Many are already monitoring things like brand sentiment and topics often mentioned along with the brand name. That information, combined with keyword search trends, can provide a wealth of information for how to optimize everything from press releases and websites to online videos and blog posts.

Sometimes, small changes in article titles, descriptions, or hyperlinks can make a big difference in placing content high on the search results page and communicating a client’s message(s) in front of the right audience.

From our experience, using search as part of a content-creation plan can yield extraordinary returns, often doubling the amount of traffic interacting with a client’s brand. Here are some tips to consider:

Define goals. Is increasing brand awareness a top priority? Lead acquisition? Managing reputation threats such as lawsuits or negative reviews? Define an overall goal or goals—the clearer the better.

Determine customer search behavior. Search is research. Use keyword search insights and search volumes to determine how people are searching in a particular category or for a specific brand. Google is very open with this kind of data through its Google Insights and Keyword tools.

Online video consumption is exploding, and YouTube is the second-most-popular search engine, with a direct feed into Google’s video and universal search results. If you don’t have an existing SEO-friendly video venue set up on your site, make sure to use YouTube, because it’s the quickest and most effective way to get your video content into search results.

Prioritize content categories and strategies. Compile a list of content categories that are important to a client’s business or brand, and determine the volume of each of them, using the tools in the step above.

For example, in the finance industry, relevant categories could include debt, investments, common credit problems, retirement finances, etc. The list of categories can be long, so make sure to prioritize based on the amount of search volume each term receives, narrowing the list to the top five to 10 categories.

Design content response based on demand. For lower-demand, niche content categories, consider content hubs on your website and offsite platforms for sharing content like YouTube. An example of this approach is TransUnion’s YouTube Channel (a client of ours), which provides tailored, instructive video content based on search trends such as “identity theft protection” and “getting out of debt.”

For popular, high-search-demand categories (student loans, for example), content responses may warrant greater sophistication, extending beyond things like articles, videos, or targeted ads to include contests, gaming/app ideas, or community outreach.

An example comes from UniversityDecisions.com, a site that provides students with tools and resources for making higher education decisions. In addition to its content-rich site, with a broad range of articles on student loans and financial aid, the site created a “Success Yearbook Contest,” awarding several students money to help pay down their loans.

Create, deploy, optimize. Once you’ve determined the kind of content you’ll be producing, use search engine guidelines to make sure your content connects with searches. (For instance, if you are posting video, here’s a checklist for optimizing your video for search within YouTube using title text, descriptions, tags, etc.)

In addition to promoting through a brand’s owned digital properties (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, news releases), for high-demand content you might consider using paid media and video syndication services, such as Outbrain or Sharethrough.

Finally, make sure to monitor for the content category receiving the most traffic and consider building more content or optimizing existing content based on traffic levels. Sticking with the finance industry examples used so far, if a client is seeing a high number of views for a video on debt reduction, consider building more content around the topic and provide tools to help users reduce debt.

As brands become their own publishers, all marketing disciplines must collaborate to better harness search strategies in the creation, deployment, and ongoing optimization of corporate and brand content. A brand not connecting the dots or fully using these once-disparate disciplines will increasingly be seeking a partner (or partners) who can.

Nick Papagiannis is director of interactive/search for independent marketing and communications firm Cramer-Krasselt.

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