Earned media mentions: only one key to Google pagerank
For years search engine optimization (SEO) was a driving factor in internet marketing strategy. And link juice was the lifeblood for PR practitioners. What better way to generate traffic to websites and increase online brand visibility than through hyperlinks in press releases? It wasn’t until July 2013, however, when Google added optimized anchor text in articles and press releases to the types of links that violate its link-scheme guidelines, that PR people were forced to rethink their modus operandi.
The news came as a blow. Newswires scrambled to write code that adds no-follow tags to every piece of hyperlinked anchor text in every news release they distribute. And PR practitioners put a renewed focus on organic search through meaningful, user-directed content. Of course, hyperlinks in press releases still drive traffic to websites, but they no longer drive Google PageRank.
A peek inside US Patent 8,682,892: Is this really Google’s secret sauce?
So what exactly does drive Google PageRank? On May 1 Christopher Penn, vice president, marketing technology at Shift Communications, published a blog post about US Patent 8,682,892 (a Google filing) in which he says: “Google shares a little bit of its secret sauce about how it identifies high-quality websites (and filters out low quality spammy websites).”
Here is the phrase from the patent filing he considers an “aha moment”:
An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource but is not an express link to the target resource. Thus, a resource in the group can be the target of an implied link without a user being able to navigate to the resource by following the implied link.
Penn says, “Implied links describe media placements of your products, services, and brands in media, even if the publication doesn’t provide a link to your company’s website.
“Google is publicly acknowledging that every time your brand gets a mention in a story, that counts as an implied link that affects your SEO, that affects how many links there are to your website, which in turn affects how well your site shows up when someone is searching for your brand. In short, PR is SEO (or part of it).”
He adds: “It singlehandedly validates all of the PR that you’ve generated for your brand, all of the mentions and citations that you’ve accrued through hard work, great products and reputation, and effective public relations, even if you didn’t necessarily get an explicit link in the coverage.
“Obviously, there’s a lot more that goes into Google’s search algorithm (over 200 different factors), but we now have public confirmation that earned media mentions are very much part of it.”
Blog followers comment
As expected, this post elicited a number of critical comments. People felt that Penn’s interpretation of the patent language was misleading and that he read too much into what Google meant by an implied link. Some thought that an implied link was simply a URL that hadn’t been hyperlinked. But most of the pundits ultimately agreed that when someone searches for an entity (which may or may not be a “brand”), SEO results improve when those same terms appear in online copy. And that co-citations, which are clusters of words with semantic similarity appearing in multiple sources, are another key factor (and some say the next big thing) in determining search ranking.
In the words Penn used to end his post, “Obviously, there’s a lot more that goes into Google’s search algorithm (over 200 different factors), but we now have public confirmation that earned media mentions are very much part of it.”
A few suggestions for PR pros
It’s nice to know that our efforts to garner media placement can likely help generate higher search engine ranking. But second-guessing the algorithms that determine that ranking is not something we want to stake our futures on. What does appear to boost search engine ranking is to make the following a habit:
- Write content with your audience in mind – use the words and phrases they use
- Always “cross-pollinate your content – encourage sharing by posting links to your press releases, new web copy and blog posts on your social channels
- Include multimedia assets – use alt tags, file names and captions that accurately describe your images and videos
- Find and cultivate relationships with your key online influencers so they write frequently and positively about your brand