Google’s John Mueller just shook up the industry labelling Digital PR as more important than Technical SEO (in some cases)

The Twitter community right now are debating about what Digital PR is, I’ve seen a small handful of people wrongly state that Digital PR is fake, doesn’t drive performance, doesn’t work for SEO, and is just a glorified way of saying “link building” and oh how wrong are they! I have seen it first hand the secret beauty that digital PR is and its impact when done right! So I thought I’d help share that…

As someone who runs the largest digital PR team in the world – I thought I’d help define it once and for all, its relationship with SEO and difference between traditional PR too.

So, what is Digital PR?

Digital PR is a promotional tactic used by marketers to increase a brands online presence. It is a measurable and tangible strategy to driving brand awareness, traffic to a website, links which boost organic rankings, sales, social following and engagement.

Despite forming out of SEO “originally” (more on this below), Digital PR is NOT link building, and actually has a much bigger use than just for SEO. And don’t start rolling your eyes, thinking I’m full of shit. Keep reading and see the beauty…

Digital PR isn’t a part of SEO. It is a part of marketing. Content marketers use digital PR to get their content seen by millions, marketers use digital PR to get their products in front of a direct audience, founders use digital PR to create hype around their launch and be positioned as an expert, video creators use digital PR to drive views and build authority.

It is a widely used tactic, which involves applying the principles of traditional PR to promoting content/stories/brands/products online. It is used as a way of staying ahead and standing out.

Public relations is traditionally defined as a strategic communication process that builds relationships between organizations and their publics”.

So, how do we build relationships now? We get people to know who we are, like us, trust us, connect with us through similar interests, and recommend us, right? Well, it’s the same here in digital public relations.

Carrie Rose, Founder of Rise at Seven and Digital PR Examples says “Digital PR is all about building presence, trust and authority. Not just for Google but for users, who are online. You create content and distribute it online for users to know who you are, agree with what you say, believe you’re right, recommend you and buy from you. “

Digital PR is not link building. Link building – is an SEO tactic. And it’s important to know the difference between them. However, Digital PR can have INSANE results and impacts when working WITH SEO. Because digital PR can also build links. Here’s how…

How Digital PR can work for SEO?

Digital PR done right, can land you links. And I’m talking about highly authoritative, highly engaged with, LINKS. Links that actually get clicked on, that drive traffic to a piece of content on a website, drive shares and engagement to a brand and drives higher branded search. Oh and those links can drive direct sales too. Yes, REALLY! Those links, are produced as a result of fucking awesome content, products, a brand, or more. Content that is relevant, engaging, useful, resourceful or different.

Those links and relevant content – can have a huge impact on organic rankings. BONUS! Google see’s links as a signal of trust and authority on a topic. The more of those you get, the more Google trusts you. The more links from authoritative sites talking about that topic, linking to yours – the more Google will trust you. So its about both quality and quantity. Not one or the other, but BOTH.

The links that Digital PR gains, in conjunction with solid technical SEO and on site content, can help increase search visibility for non branded key terms too. Search is the channel that gets the traffic and sales increase, Digital PR is one of the elements that contributes to that.

However, those links don’t drive drastically higher organic rankings if the relevancy is weak, if the site is struggling technically, if the content is poor. If they can work together, it’s the perfect ingredient.

Digital PR and SEO working together is a beautiful mix of having a great website and everyone believing it (including Google). If everyone believes you are an awesome brand online, but your website says otherwise (slow to use, content is shit, UX is poor, and more) – Google knows you are deceiving people and doesn’t reward you.

Why Digital PR is not link building!

Link building has always been a way of deceiving others. Firstly starting off with Google and then with users. But Google is much more advanced that that now.

Link building is used to make Google think this is a website you should trust. But not a way of PROVING to users this is a website you should trust. That infographic you created, is just building links. Not brand love. Not user trust. Not awareness. Just a tactic to driving organic rankings (and you’re wasting your time if thats the way you see it).

Where Digital PR started…

Digital PR has been around for years and years, but not what it is today. I started working in SEO in 2013 when Digital PR teams had just started to form in agencies like Branded3 and Epiphany who were once leading the way.

Essentially the Google Penguin Update in 2012 was the very beginning of this movement, changing the way people built links from one site to another in order to drive higher organic rankings. Before then, links were bought in mass, SEO’s paid for links. They were often irrelevant, lacked engagement, with little strategy behind them other than to drive “LINK JUICE”. Built to deceive Google.

However, the Penguin update came smashing in in 2012, penalising brands across the web, thousands (if not millions) of £££ went to waste, we disavowed the links and started again. And out of that digital PR teams were born.

A “digital PR” team back then turned to creating content and stories that earned links rather than having to pay. We did what we could do get a link without paying for it essentially. This included sending bloggers to events (in exchange for a link), ran surveys to get data stories to send to press (in exchange for a link) and infographic after infographic to send to websites as editorial pieces (in exchange for a link).  Most of this content was PR worthy. Took the PR approach to landing links for SEO, stories that journalists would naturally cover because it was either awesome, resourceful, useful or just different. We even found it was easier to land higher quality links, with much more authority which helped drive rankings even more. However, we was still link builders. Still deceiving Google. We just hated to admit it!

“Digital PR” got more and more creative over the years. It went from infographics to maps, to interactive tools, quizzes, microsites and more. But the goal always stayed the same – to drive higher organic rankings (SEO). However, one thing that was noticeable – the content nearly always had very little relevance to the brand and was just a tactic to get links.

I’ve seen content about celebrity deaths, in order to get links to a make-up website, infographics about Netflix for gambling brands, worlds most popular beer brands ranked for a window installation service company. The relevance of the content has been questionable – but the truth is SEO’s didn’t care whether their links actually got clicked on, they didn’t care whether the article that they landed a link on even got read, or whether it drove brand, search, or got in front of the right audience. I asked them myself and so many people admitted, it’s not important to them.

I have to admit, I am guilty of doing this too. I once paid for links (in 2013 when things were rough and it was the norm) but i’ve taught my whole team how we first create a relationship between a brand and its audience that people love and trust and then how we use SEO, good quality content and a resourceful website to prove it to Google.

Where are we at now?

The industry has been thriving for the last 2 years with a noticeable push and demand in the last 12 months specifically. And I LOVE IT!

There are agencies and people that still get Digital PR wrong and how it works for search. The difficult thing is, Google doesn’t really penalise brands anymore. They just ignore it. It’s a waste of money and time. Until – you do it right.

I work with 65 clients currently across the globe driving organic rankings, traffic and revenue and use content marketing as ONE way to do that. I start with building brand awareness, content thats awesome, data thats unique or resourceful, and then use digital PR to get everyone to believe it. Both users and Google. This is all alongside the SEO team driving the site to be the best result in the serps, the design team to making the sites fast, usable and friendly to interact with, creatives making the brand site look trust worthy, feel different, and build brand love.

Here’s a perfect example of why its working… 1 year in and this brands visibility is the highest it’s ever been.

Not sure if you’ve spotted it, but creative agencies have started selling digital PR. Jumping into what was always OUR space. Because they know its impact on the other bits OUTSIDE of SEO. Although many creative agencies are dabbling their fingers into SEO – they still struggle to make that tie. You still have time. You have the advantage of being SEO experts whilst being able to promote content to millions

Have you ever heard of the quote about perception?

“If you change the way you look at things, the way you look at things change”.

Maybe it’s time you need to change the way you look at Digital PR, because when I did, it changed my world. Literally!

If you want to see examples of our work have a read here

Carrie Rose

About Carrie Rose

Rise at Seven's co-founder and Creative Director. Carrie is a multi-award winning content marketer.