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PR Coverage May have a Bigger Influence on SEO than Links 

Media coverage PR earns can drive searches for branded terms which technical SEO experts say can be more powerful than even links or keywords for search rankings

We’ve long known that PR can have a significant impact on search rankings, but some of the industry’s leading search experts are suggesting the effects may be even greater.

In the past, the thought process has been straightforward: Links are important signal search engines consider in ranking results in search. Since the coverage PR earns sometimes also includes links, PR is a significant driver behind a company’s gains in search.

As the traditional thinking goes, the more links you earn, the greater your chances of ranking higher in organic search results for relevant terms. As organic search is typically the largest source of traffic any website earns, PR plays an outsized role. For brand builders, PR is an engine for both awareness and search engine traffic.

That goodness may just be getting better, according to a presentation by Rob Ousbey of Moz titled, The Evolution of SEO. He walks users through data and examples that show how search results, particularly from Google, which commands the vast majority of search engine market share, has changed.

There are several important changes he conveys in his presentation about which PR professionals should be aware.

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Links are necessary table stakes

The first change is that while a website must still earn links to be in the “consideration set” for what Google might consider placing on page one of it’s search engine results page (SERP), the user experience matters too. A poor page experience, or an experience that doesn’t answer the searcher’s question, is likely to mean another site will be favored.

Mr. Ousbey theorizes Google has a lot of search data to make this determination. It can see people “pogo-sticking” – that is when someone clicks a link in SERP – and then goes back to click another link. Chances are the first link didn’t answer the search query and so another page may be preferable.

If you’re thinking this is just like “bounce rate” in Google Analytics, it might not be the case. A bounce could also mean the site answered the question quickly, so there isn’t a pogo-sticking effect.

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Search traffic to Forbes plummets by one-third

He provides several case studies illustrating this including one about Forbes. The website is a traditional news “powerhouse”, but the experience leaves much to be desired.

For example, he demonstrates how his visit to Forbes to read an article was disrupted in multiple ways: banner ads, slide-in ads, browser notifications, an auto-play video that isn’t related to the article – and follows you around the page when you try to scroll way, among others.

Chances are, that experience causes visitors to Forbes to pogo-stick, or bounce, from the Forbes website often. Is harming the site’s search results?

The answer is “yes” according to Mr. Ousbey. His analysis shows Forbes continues to earn a mindboggling 700 links a day, but its organic search traffic had plummeted by more than one-third (35%).

The takeaway is that user experience should be factored into the calculus in the case for and against gated content.

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Branded search terms driving rankings

What if you earn coverage without a link, is that valuable? It is quite valuable if people seek you out.

In his presentation, Mr. Ousbey says the number of times people enter your brand’s name into search can be more powerful than links and keywords. He says the correlation between branded search terms and search rankings is stronger than the correlation with domain authority (DA).

Domain authority is a metric created by Moz that estimates how well a site will rank in Google. Many of the popular PR media monitoring tools use domain authority as a measure of coverage quality. DA is largely based on an assessment of backlinks.

Correlation isn’t causation, but it’s how SEOs have tried to reverse engineer Google’s search ranking methods for years. Such studies are fairly rigorous, repeatable and highly scrutinized (peer-reviewed) in search circles. Probably most of what you believe is “true” about search engine optimization stems from such studies.

He’s not the only SEO to believe it either. According to Robert Ramirez, who manages technical SEO for Ticketmaster and LiveNation:

“Brand mentions are one of the strongest ranking signals. The quickest path to ranking for any product is increased search volume for [brand name] + [product]. It is a direct signal to Google that you should rank for [product] alone.”


Rand Fishkin, who founded Moz, and was one of several co-inventors of DA, agrees:

“That’s why digital PR has such amazing (but hard to measure) ROI: getting on podcasts, blogs, news sites, social feeds, webinars, etc. leads to brand signals far more powerful than what links and keywords alone can do.”


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Put some time into building your technical skills

Despite the relationship PR has had with search over the years, studies show, most PR pros don’t have the technical skills to understand their SEO contributions. Branded search terms are another reason to make building those skills a priority. The entire presentation is a good start and worth watching in its entirety. It runs about 25 minutes long.

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If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Links Can be Better than a Mention; Off Script No. 46: Eugene Levin, Chief Strategy Officer at SEMrush

Image credits: Pixabay, Rob Ousbey’s presentation

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