On Twitter, Google’s John Mueller made a positive comment about what he referred to as digital PR and said it’s a shame it gets lumped in with spammy link building. His tweet kicked off a whole thread which is certainly worth reading, but I think it brings up some very interesting points.
Before digging into the differences between Digital PR and link building it’s important to understand how link building even became an SEO tactic. Decades ago, when search engines were first released onto the newly developed Internet, rankings on these search engines were driven by how words on webpages matched words that users searched for. As you might imagine, the initial sentiment that the Internet was for adult searches leaked into early SEO tactics. Even if a website had nothing whatsoever to do with adult searches they might have used some adult keywords on the site in order to generate some extra visits.
Google and Links
Google’s innovation was that they didn’t just look at the words on a website, but they also incorporated an assessment of a website’s authority based on who linked to that website. The authority of the incoming link was a calculation of all of that site’s inbound links and so on to infinity. While early SEO efforts manipulated keywords, Google’s focus on links directed manipulation efforts into links.
Initially, there were many ways to manipulate links in favor and gain higher rankings on Google. The more cash-flush website owner simply bought links from websites that were willing to sell them. Those with lots of time on their hands developed web properties specifically for the purposes of linking back to themselves. Others bought software which dropped spammy link stuffed comments onto websites without comment moderation. The most sophisticated link builders built entire networks of sites that linked to theirs via pyramids with the dirtiest linking to less dirty and the money site at the top.
As search engine algorithms – Google – in particular became more sophisticated many of these link tactics stopped working. Algorithms became wise to the non-value of links within comments or unrelated pieces of content. As a result, link builders shifted their tactics. Out with the trash went software that placed links in unsuspecting sites and even pyramid link building stopped working. Google claimed that they incorporated registration dates of a domain into the ranking of a website, so even the idea of buying expired domains became suspect.
All that was left of the old link building tactics is raw relationship building efforts to generate links. Links could still and are still bought and sold, but it happens over email rather than in a publicly accessible exchange. The net result of the link effort is usually a permanently placed link within the navigation of a website or a guest post. (An authored piece of content by a guest that contains a link.)
Even this kind of tactic when executed wrongly it can be flatly ignored by Google and other search engine’s advanced artificial intelligence algorithms. Yet, if links are a critical part of a website’s visibility and search engines ignore common tactics how is a site supposed to get links? The answer is digital PR.
Digital PR is a link building tactic, but unlike other link building tactics the focus is on the PR not the link. When you conduct a proper PR effort, the goal is to get the right brand mentions not just any mentions. If all a company wanted to do was get mentions of their brand they could just pay for a one-time PR release from a company like PRweb and their release will appear on many websites for a few hours.
Instead, actual PR requires enticing a reporter or website to WANT to talk about your product, brand, and company. The more reputable the journalist and media outlet are the harder that enticement will be and the greater the barriers are to actually getting the mentions. This challenge makes the mentions and hopefully links even more valuable.
In short, the goal of link building is not the link it is getting someone to care about talking about you enough to give the link. The inputs to this process are not easily manipulated since you need to create something of actual value while at the same time building a relationship with someone who can talk about you.
In this respect, Digital PR is not just a type of link building it is really its own thing. Link building is an outcome of Digital PR. Whenever I am asked by anyone I work with how to build links, I always encourage them to think in terms of PR first and links second. If they have an existing PR team, that PR team should incorporate some SEO best practices into their processes – namely getting links to internal pages, but otherwise I recommend that they hire a PR agency that is great at SEO. (Side note: Reach out if I can help with an intro to the greatest SEO PR firm. )
This is why John Mueller was praising Digital PR efforts because they create great things worthwhile to be linked to and they are generating links in the purest way possible.