Jane Genova
Jane Genova

Search Engine Optimization keeps mutating as use of recent best practices would result in a PR firm losing an account today.

As the cliché goes, everything is changing.

In technology, 50 percent of searches will happen through voice this year. Voice queries use natural language. That means content creators have to be more conversational.

Google has become a walled-garden, directing about 50 percent of searches to its own properties. That’s the brave new world of Zero Clicks, making it more difficult to generate outcomes through organic search.

As for keywords, some predict they are becoming obsolete. Others, such as search engine guru Neil Patel, champion the long-tail keyword approach, that is, using phrases with multiple words, not simply one keyword.

The space to be in is as the answer to a query – the featured snippet – placed at the very top of search results. In addition to being a traffic magnet, that placement enhances branding and raises the poster’s score with Google for authority and credibility. Those without a high credential score in topics such as money probably will be declared a version of “excommunicado” by Google.

And, recent Google algorithms capture the findings from analyzing search queries. The focus is on “searcher intent.” That’s more human and less rigid-robot. Consequently, rankings favor content formatted to be relevant and useful to searchers. That means having down cold the minds, hearts, and pocketbooks of target constituencies.

How can public relations agencies leverage those shifts into opportunities for generating the right outcomes for their clients? Here are six tips.

Become totally conversational and “UX,” that is, simplified and easy to navigate. Simultaneously, configure the copy to be long form, with a minimum of 1890 words.

Where the action is, ranging from voice to featured snippets to YouTube, frequently mandates veering away from ponderous prose, insider industry lingo, and theory not positioned and packaged as engaging.

The how-to for a shot at becoming a featured snippet, for instance, entails:

  • Start post with a question such as “How to ask for a raise?” The client is a brandname executive coach.
  • Then follow with one short paragraph which incorporates all the critical factors, such as providing persuasive evidence supporting request and timing.
  • Next is the long form version of that. All material must be relevant and valuable to those who are keying in that query in 2020. No boilerplate.
  • Because this is the era of attention deficit disorder break up the content with subheads, infographics, photos, and YouTube video. The latter itself will get Google’s attention because it owns YouTube, so it is bringing the content in-house. Also, Cisco found that video consumption will surpass that of all other kinds of content. That could eventually total 85 percent.

Get a comprehensive handle on what the constituencies are about, what kinds of information and insight they want, and in what format.

“User intent” might not come through to a public relations representative who’s relying on off-the-shelf reports about the targets or even what the client says. Job number-one is to build a profile from scratch. Among the most productive research tools are talking with them, listening to their communications patterns, analyzing what they post as reviews and comments, and loosening them up through promotions such as an April Fool’s special event. Model for the latter are fast food marketers.

Approach keywords in a different way.

The keyword game keeps getting new rules. Yes, it remains useful to go to free tools such as WordStream and Google Keyword Planner Tool. There is an evaluation of keyword popularity. But better results could come from not selecting and inputting the most popular keywords.

Instead, experiment with what has lower volume and less competition. In addition, manually study competitors’ keywords, what kinds of rankings they are getting, and if there seems to be a correlation of those with actual business results. All that click activity might not be converting into Calls to Action (CTA). In public relations, unlike media, SEO is not necessarily a numbers game. The client’s point of view can reach two powerful U.S. officials with only 30 clicks on the post.

Also, long tails or the use of a popular keyword (head) followed by multiple words appeal more directly to target constituencies. Traffic may be less but CTAs more. In addition, they attract those who have already given the matter considerable thought.

An example of a long tail: “Careers (head) for Ohio Mothers Over-50”

About 70 percent of all searches are formatted as long tail. One might read “Can a stay at home mother over-50 in Ohio find a career?” UberSuggest, acquired by Patel, provides free fresh ideas for long-tail and other keywords.

Boost E-A-T – expertise, authority, trustworthiness – reputation with Google (as well as constituencies and clients).

The wild west days of e- are over. The sheriffs have come to town, yes, multiple ones. Eventually, no longer will advice on finances, for instance, be allowed to be posted by those without verified credentials in that niche. Obviously, that requires more thoughtful content, with lots of documentation. But essentially this also represents the need to integrate offline with online. For clients, public relations agencies will have to transport online, in engaging ways, what used to be contained only in dusty resumes, white papers, published books, and lists of awards. Of course, this is branding, via SEO.

Think mobile, not constituencies sitting at a desktop.

It’s well-known that for indexing and ranking Google goes to mobile content. Since July 1, 2019, the default on all new websites is for mobile. According to Hitwise, the majority of searches are carried out on mobile. In some sectors that reaches 72 percent.

Those on the go have different expectations than the stationary. Among them are:

  • Speed, in everything from loading to getting to the point.
  • Perfect fit of response to initial search query. That means the long-tail approach for clients has to reflect real world needs. A woman just found out her son has diabetes and is searching from her car for a wellness coach in Greenwich, Connecticut. How does a public relations agency configure that brand for local search?
  • Horizontal tone. Papa don’t preach. Show, don’t tell. The Edelman Trust Barometer chronicles declining trust.

Expand reach through influencers.

Outreach needn’t be expensive, as with the high fees top influencers bill.

An old-line but still effective kind of outreach is including links to other players in the content. The next step is this: Transmit a short message about appreciation for their thinking and a copy of the link. Making this a habit can create, as pioneer human relations coach Dale Carnegie explained, a solid networking platform. The outreach reflects a sincere interest in another organization and/or individual. A still-useful read is Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

Another strategy is focusing on second-, third- and fourth-tier influencers. Their networks can be large and actually become those of the public relations agencies and the agencies’ clients. On those networks could be a God’s Plenty. What counts is reaching the target constituencies. Not prestige per se. An emerging issue is the question: Has prestige become an anachronism in the volatile world of influence?

These six tips are merely guidelines. SEO is not a science. It’s an art.

That means results depend on experimentation, creativity and inspiration. Yes, like so much of brilliant public relations, amazing outcomes spring from extreme passion. There are growing reasons to become passionate about the possibilities embedded in SEO. At the top of the list is the challenge to get, hold and scale the right kind of attention for clients through SEO.


Jane Genova strategically plans and creates content for thought leadership and marketing communications. She's savvy in ghostwriting and has social networking know-how. Emergencies welcome. Email her for a pressure-free complimentary consultation: [email protected].