Is There A Connection Between SEO Link Building and PR-Based Brand Mentions?

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Google might be doing it’s best to create a divide between PR professionals and SEO practitioners. Last year Google updated their webmaster guidelines to specifically call out questionable link building practices used in press releases. Nearly a year later Google’s latest algorithm update might have taken aim at press release distribution sites like PRNewsWire.com, PRWeb.com, and BusinessWire.com. This according to coverage from Search Engine Land and SEER Interactive.

The public relations industry has been under threat and misconception for quite a while. And while losing the potential SEO impact from press releases is a minor issue, it adds to the challenge PR professionals face when demonstrating ROI for their programs. Inbound link acquisition, designed to improve SEO performance, is a great value-add when defining concrete metrics that led to successful B2B marketing campaigns.

There is a rumor going around inferring that brand mentions count as SEO-friendly links and, in turn, validate the significance PR plays in SEO performance. This idea is based off of patent exploration originally uncovered by the blog SEO by the Sea (a respected SEO blog covering search engine patents), further discussed by industry thought leadership at Moz, and ultimately brought to light in the PR world by industry leading publication SHIFT Communications.

The point in question is in a reference to an “implied link” element within Google’s US Patent 8,682,892. Basically, the patent argues that links to a group can include “express links, implied links, or both.” The “implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource.”



Are “brand mentions”, in the classic sense of public relations, truly the objective in this portion of the patent? Bill Slawski, the author of SEO by the Sea, argues in both Moz and SHIFT articles that the word “brand” is not mentioned in the patent filing, and the “implied links” mention most likely covers “entity associations.”

When defining “entity associations,” Slawski argues that brand mentions could be implied but shouldn’t be assumed. Entity associations are a more complex discussion. I won’t get too deep in this (here’s another SEO by the Sea resource for more background) but entity associations are basically concepts that businesses or entities are “known for.”

In a search for “John Wayne,” the official John Wayne website shows up as the top result in Google and the second result is the John Wayne Wikipedia page. It’s possible that those rank well not necessarily because of what we might think of as traditional ranking signals…but rather because they are pages that have been identified as authoritative on the entity “John Wayne,” and great responses to those queries as navigational results.

google-related-entities-john-wayne

Image / quote via SEO by the Sea

Beyond entity associations, “implied links” could also infer unlinked URLs written in text, as a commenter on the SHIFT article indicates. The point is that we’re all interpreting the patent information in some manner or another and have no concrete way of knowing the true objectives. Slawski concedes that drawing the connection between entity and brand “isn’t much of a stretch, but it doesn’t limit the patent the way that just saying that this applies to brands might.

So while there is a lot to potentially get excited about with the information found in this patent filing, it’s difficult to draw a conclusion that brand mentions, linked or not, have direct influence in a website or web pages’ ability to rank well in search engine results. Even if they do, we have no understanding of the prioritization and impact on the entire algorithm.

What Does This Mean for My B2B Marketing Strategy?

We wouldn’t build links with the sole objective of benefiting search engine performance and not keeping users and business objectives in mind. In the same vein, we wouldn’t rely on brand mentions as a replacement for trying to acquire SEO-friendly inbound links.



Where I see the clear opportunity is for SEO and PR practitioners to collaborate in a much more cohesive fashion. SEOs need to better understand the organization’s brand, including its objectives, target markets, points of differentiation, and the competitive landscape in a more traditional sense. SEOs can also help PR pros understand how to more succinctly connect the dots between brand mentions and SEO viability.

How so? Consider these ideas based on recent experience:

  • Per Casie’s recent column on Search Engine Land: “A couple months ago, we wrote an article for a client’s site about 2014 industry trends. The post did pretty well through social but the real benefit came when the PR team got a hold of it last month. They were able to repurpose it for a planned editorial, resulting in a high-quality link to the client’s site, and again, relevant traffic.”
  • In a recent blog post from Stacy, she detailed how we conducted a series of interviews, on behalf of a few clients, with the manufacturers/distributors at a recent tradeshow. We came back with enough material to publish 10 comprehensive articles and were able to acquire dozens of social mentions and high quality links from partners. Now – these particular clients do not have PR partners, but imagine the wide scope of opportunity if we collaborated in that fashion as well.

B2B marketing is becoming a much more complex and highly pressurized environment. Technological innovation creates an environment of intense and immediate demand for response and communication. The lines between roles blur as a result; individually, we all can’t be everywhere all the time.

Google has consistently stated that they want their search technology to provide more accurate and effective results, especially in the changing landscape of the B2B buyer. The search engine continues to refine, reassess, and optimize the factors that should impact the results a user requests, and they recognize that offsite factors, beyond the traditional “inbound link” play a part in establishing relevance.

Do brand mentions have direct impact in SEO today? It’s difficult to know for certain. What we all realize is that building brand is a critical element of the B2B organization’s broader marketing strategy, including search. Just like building links, building brand has its place in improving a B2B organization’s SEO presence. But beyond links and brand mentions, PR professionals and SEO practitioners need each other to build a better, more comprehensive online marketing strategy for the B2B organizations they represent.



What do you think? I would love to read your feedback via comments below.

Author Note: A variation of this article originally appeared in our company newsletter, which we publish quarterly. Subscribe to our newsletter to get access to more specific information like this, as well as company updates, announcements, etc.

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