It’s hard to pin down a precise anniversary date, but PR and SEO have been together for the better of 20 years.
The intersection these two marketing functions is powerful: when both are on the same page – literally and figuratively – it can significantly amplify results. It’s a classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
Interestingly, while the mechanics of these roles have grown closer, the tools for managing and measuring them have remained, for the most part, fairly separate. While there are some new PR technologies emerging that are beginning to look at link data, it’s pretty hard to match what the SEO vendors have been improving for years.
4 Ways PR Can Gain Leverage with Ahrefs
Over the last several weeks I’ve been taking a look at one such tool in Ahrefs (pronounced “H-refs” and stems from “<a href=” which is HTML code used to make a hyperlink) and have been very impressed to date (see my disclosure at the end). While I tend to be a fairly technical PR pro, I found the interface to be intuitive and easy to use and think most of those in PR would as well.
To that end, where it was consistent with my obligations to clients, I’ve used the tool in my capacity as a PR consultant. As such, I’ve written this review from the perspective of its usefulness to a PR and for those that may not be search marketing experts.
1) Web alerts and client mentions
Many PR pros use Google Alerts to monitor and get email notifications of news or blog mentions of clients or employers. Ahrefs offers a similar feature, but it was vastly more thorough. The product monitors domains, so if a third-party site links to a client site for example, without mentioning a brand name, you’ll still get a notification.
This raises a question for PR traditionalists: Do backlinks count as a mention? Yes, in fact, backlinks like this are just as valuable in a digital world, if not more valuable, and for several reasons:
a) backlinks send referral traffic – and that immediate impact is measurable (if you also have the marketing automation analytics to track where this traffic goes next over time, you may be able to credit PR or content marketing with revenue attribution);
b) backlinks are still the most significant signal influencing search results – the effect bears residual value a bit like compound interest; and
c) search engines today better understand the context of the language used around backlinks – and consequently, there’s strong potential for impact in branded search or common industry phrases.
Your colleagues in SEO will also be pretty interested to note that Ahrefs will notify you when those links break, which happens for a lot of reasons, such as a website redesign.
As Scott Benson, a former colleague of mine and an SEO I trust and recommend, noted in an email exchange with me – this broken link notification offers the opportunity to both fix it, or even search for links your competition has lost and offer a better resource.
2) Evaluate the influence of third-party sites
A golden rule of PR is to treat every reporter as if they work for the Wall Street Journal because new reporters at (seemingly) small publications tend to move onwards and upwards. Still, it’s good to know exactly what you’re dealing with and this where Ahrefs Domain Rating (DR) comes in handy.
In a nutshell, it’s Ahrefs estimate of how well a site will rank in search engines like Google. The tool does this by examining the number of links a particular site has earned from other sites – and considers the quality of those links.
While not impossible, it is really hard to fake your way into convincing purveyors of high-quality sites to link to yours.
Ahrefs ranks sites with a backlink profile on a scale of 1 to 100, where higher is better. To give you a sense, here are the [current] Ahrefs DR scores for the following public relations oriented websites:
- PRWeek.com: 64
- PRdaily.com: 63
- PRSA.org: 63
- Ragan.com: 61
- PRnewsonline.com: 61
- ODwyerPR.com: 57
So, what does this number tell you? It’s a snapshot of the domain’s influence. Is it perfect? No. It’s an educated guess.
The higher the number, the harder it is to move up. In other words, is much easier to move a domain’s score from 10 to 20 than it is from 50 to 60. From a PR perspective, it is useful in the following ways:
- Considering the impact of an existing negative review or post
- Sizing up or prioritizing responses in crisis communications
- Developing a list of the top publications to which you’d like to reach or contribute
- Evaluating editorial calendar opportunities
The Ahrefs metric of DR is also associated with two other metrics: URL rating and the overall Ahrefs rating.
The URL rating is similar to the DR except it looks at an individual page on any site rather than the entire site.
The overall rating is ranking compares the backlink profile of one site, to an estimate of all the other sites on the web. This is important to remember because it means your site can drop in an overall rating, even if you are gaining links.
Why? Because other sites did even better. In my mind, that is a pretty good model for the PR market – a marketplace of ideas.
The overall rating is similar to Alexa or SimilarWeb, except that those sites form a grade on estimated website traffic, while Ahrefs forms a grade based on backlinks. Again, it’s really hard to game backlinks, but you can engineer all sorts of ways to create the illusion of traffic.
Again, here are the overall ratings for the sample PR publications for the sake of illustration:
- PRWeek.com: 13,407
- PRdaily.com: 18,134
- PRSA.org: 22,216
- Ragan.com: 31,270
- PRnewsonline.com: 31,235
- ODwyerPR.com: 105,109
As such, I like to plug this number on a client metric report because it’s an indication of how well a site is doing over time and accounts for the competition. The competition gets a vote in the PR and SEO contest. This number can, and will, fluctuate month-to-month, so keep an eye on the long run.
3) Deep scope of competitive for new ops
Good PR agencies usually ask new clients for a list of top competitors. This usually sets off a series of processes (that a savvy PR technology vendor will one day automate) including:
- Adding those competitor names to their Google Alerts
- Subscribing to blogs, email newsletters, press releases and other communications
- Reviewing online newsrooms for 3rd party placements and taking note of the bylines
It’s this final action where a tool like Ahrefs is really useful for PR pros because every article doesn’t get published to a newsroom. In just a few click, Ahrefs will provide a deep list of links – hundreds if your competitor has them – that are a haven for uncovering where the competition has been placed.
Ahrefs provides several ways to sort the data, for example by DR, in order to review the most authorities mentions first. PR pros can then examine the coverage – by applying old fashion PR reverse engineering – to understand the story angle and themes and take note of the bylines.
4) Content ideation and generation
While it’s fairly standard among SEO tools, Ahrefs does do a nice job of showing you keyword and phrases for which a given site ranks.
Ahrefs also has a nice way of combining both search and social data in order to look at content over time. It provides a way to look at this data by shares, links and link growth.
The tool – and its analysis – will give you different looks at your own content and show you content that ranked well…that you had probably forgotten about.
For clients, I can examine the data and bring better insights to the table. For example, resurfacing a blog post on a particular topic from four years ago, that’s both still ranking and pulling traffic, and having data to demonstrate why it’s a topic worth revisiting today.
Can Ahrefs Replace Traditional PR Media Monitoring Tools?
Those that know me, know that I used to work for Vocus which commercialized media monitoring (along with a media database, HARO, press release distribution, social media marketing, and email marketing tools) and so I’ve seen the backend of dominant industry tools. While I railed against the product warts internally, I also messaged against them externally and worked pretty hard at using the tool to demonstrate the value of monitoring to the profession of PR.
The short answer is: it depends. In other words, it’s really about the economics of time, quality and volume. Larger companies have so much coverage – an airline for example – that it would take teams of people clipping newspapers in Maine to monitor. It’s just not possible.
On the other hand, despite the vendor claims, most monitoring services are not turnkey and are not easy to use. These tools require a lot of ramp up time – and Boolean customization – to get the data to a point that’s it’s telling you something useful.
In those cases – and that’s probably the majority – it’s just easier to develop your own system. If you’re getting 20, 30 or 50 mentions a month, don’t bother looking at a traditional monitoring vendor. It’s here that a tool like Ahrefs would be very helpful.
* * *
Ahrefs pitched me on content after spotting this post, and I countered with a review. To my surprise, Ahrefs, in turn, replied with login credentials — and no nonsense and no strings. They may be an SEO vendor, but they get PR.
When I logged into the tool, I was genuinely impressed and believe Ahrefs merits consideration as part of the PR toolkit. The company makes its pricing plans publicly available, offers a 14-day free trial, and you can learn more about the company on its blog, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Disclosure: Ahrefs provided me with complimentary and unconditional access to its tool for a period of two months. This review is completely independent and Ahrefs had no editorial influence. Comparable tools include Moz, SEMrush, BuzzSumo and Raven Tools, which was recently acquired. Other PR or marketing technology vendors interested in a review should contact me through this site.
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