When it comes to navigating Google’s 200 known ranking factors, the search engine hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with information on how influential individual factors are. But one thing is widely accepted: links are crucial to ranking well in SERPs.
So, why are links so important?
To organise information, Google use spiders to crawl webpages and index them – and it’s links between pages which allow those spiders to discover new webpages. Links can also be seen as a signal for how trustworthy a page is – if other people are linking to your content, it must be good – so search engines are more likely to rank a page with links pointing to it than not, because they can assume it’s useful.
Links have been one of the most consistent ranking factors, making link-building a key focus for SEO since the birth of search engines. But with Google becoming even more sophisticated, SEO specalists have had to up the game.
Old linkbuilding techniques
With links holding so much value, they quite literally became the currency of the internet as SEOs were willing to pay webmasters for a link to their site. And for a while, it worked.
Veteran SEOs will remember the days when the more links you bought, the higher you ranked on Google. As a result, some questionable link-building tactics became popular – and website owners cared more about the quantity of backlinks rather than the quality.
What do we mean by questionable link-building?
Some webmasters would spam forum pages with links to their website while others would place links on unrelated third-party sites to manipulate search engines. We’re talking about something like a gambling company stuffing a link to their homepage into a third-party blog about the best sofas for small living rooms.
The links weren’t exactly helpful.
Then Penguin happened
In 2012, Google introduced Penguin. The update aimed to “provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs” by better rewarding high-quality sites.
It was clear that Google viewed the old link-building tactics as “black hat webspam” which didn’t offer any benefit to users. Suddenly, websites lost their top spots in SERPs and SEOs rushed to clean up their backlink profiles.
Introducing Digital PR
Following the Penguin update, Digital PR was the natural evolution of link-building. SEOs could no longer place links just anywhere – they had to find a way to get high-quality, relevant websites to naturally link to theirs.
And to do that, they looked to traditional PR.
Traditional PR had been getting businesses in the right place, in front of the right audience since, forever.
A great example was Dove’s campaign for real beauty that kicked off in 2004. At the heart of the campaign was research by the cosmetic company which found just 2% of women consider themselves beautiful. It was a story that resonated with their target audience and was talked about in newspapers and on TV shows around the world.
That’s the kind of high-quality coverage SEOs had to replicate online.
The reason why the Dove campaign, and other PR campaigns, were so successful is because they told a story that made people feel something. So to get high-quality websites to link, SEOs needed to create stories that resonate with people.
This hybrid of SEO and PR was the birth of Digital PR. It’s not always easy to create content that makes people feel and gets links. But in 2020, there are some trends we might see.
Social media data
Activity Superstore’s Supercar Capital of the World has a simple idea – which city has the most supercars?
The topic is for Activity Superstore’s thrill-seeking audience, and the data was collected from social media to create a unique story.
It got links from relevant sites like drivetribe.com plus national papers including The Evening Standard. Both high-quality and relevant to the topic.
The unique data this story offers is a definite draw for journalists and something they wouldn’t have time to gather themselves.
Just before Christmas, GAME introduced a vegan version of their Christmas Tinner “A 3-course meal in a tin for those hardcore gamers that don’t want to leave their gaming chair on Christmas day.”
The product page has links from almost 100 domains including Ladbible.
There’s no doubt quirky products capture people’s attention.
This type of story aims to ‘reveal’ or ‘uncover’ something, like the ICMP’s ranking of hardest working musicians.
The content looks at Billboard’s top 100 artists and ranks them based on the number of shows played and countries visited to name the ‘hardest working musician’.
The content had backlinks from quality sites including NME, plus a mention by Lewis Capaldi who was named hardest working artist.
Coming up with a formula and ranking results gives journalists different angles to cover. The data doesn’t have to be scientific and can come from places that aren’t always obvious.
What does the future hold for Digital PR?
As well as the current trends we’re seeing in digital PR stories, what’s next for digital PR?
We expect it to grow even closer to traditional PR. We know relevancy is already an important component for a digital PR campaign to have benefit for your SEO strategy, and in 2020 that’s only going to become magnified.
Just like traditional PR, businesses consider digital a key part of their brand message. So, any stories created for digital PR purposes will need to be aligned closely with the brand and put it front and centre of your target audience’s mind. And if you’re not telling the stories that are getting people talking, your competitors will be so 2020 is the year to think about making it a part of your SEO strategy.