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Search engine optimization was once considered separate from public relations.

Technically-oriented SEO specialists (often located in India) took charge of link-building and website traffic endeavors using their computer expertise and automated tools, while PR stereotypically confined itself to old-school media relations tactics: developing and distributing press releases and pitching story ideas to reporters.

The situation has changed markedly since the early days of digital marketing. Google’s frequent updates to its search ranking algorithm undermined the effect of unnatural SEO links, – diminishing the value of techniques used by SEO specialists. Concurrently, PR’s core skill of cultivating relationships, placing stories, and creating content began generating greater SEO value than automated SEO link-building tools.

The result: PR now has extraordinary influence in building natural back links and generating website traffic. Many in PR are the new go-to experts in SEO. Some even claim that SEO as a career is on its deathbed, with PR taking over primary responsibility for SEO strategy and content development (while sometimes outsourcing the day-to-day SEO implementation.)

With the change in responsibility, all PR pros must become accomplished in SEO strategies and techniques. To help PR pros master SEO skills, experts recommend these methods.

Research keywords. Continually seek new keyword phrases people may be entering into search engines. New search terms that are important to your brand may gain popularity over time. Understanding your audience helps predict their keywords. The Google AdWords Keyword Planner offers a large database of search-related information, and tools like AnswerthePublic can help you learn more about what people are seeking on the Web. Long-tail search terms such as including a local area (state or city) in the query terms can be particularly useful for smaller organizations confronting larger competitors.

Be natural. Keyword phrases that use natural language can better reflect what people enter in search engines. For example, rather that searching for “light bulb,” people are more likely to search for “how to change a light bulb.” They might also search for “LEDs” or “LED light bulbs” or “100 watt incandescent or “florescent lights.” Prominently including specific and long tail search terms in web pages or content marketing materials produces higher search rankings.

Create quality content. Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates rendered keyword stuffing more inadvisable than ever. Higher search engine rankings hinge on producing quality content which naturally incorporates the keywords in prominent positions, including the headline and metatags. PR pros are naturally skilled at producing quality content. Some organizations may lack the staff needed to consistently produce good content. The solution: Hire a PR writer who can.

Measure results. Establishing key performance indicators based on your objectives and continually monitoring them enables you to gauge progress toward your goals. Goals might be to increase exposure and reach, convert website visitors, or increase the number of loyal followers. Monitoring the right metrics helps find tactics that work the best.

Look for links. Place hyperlinks in your new content to your previous content, as well as to outside websites whenever possible. Search engines love links. Links between pieces of quality content help improve search engine rankings and build incoming traffic.

There are some important caveats to that advice, however. Linking to irrelevant, valueless resources can annoy readers. And links to low-quality sites won’t help your search engine ranking, and might hurt it. Linking to sites that later become deactivated can also annoy readers. Periodically reviewing links to outside websites will verify that they remain active – and allow you to substitute a high-value link.

Google Webmaster tools. Becoming familiar with Google Webmaster tools can help you learn about your website’s performance, possible security issues, and SEO information.

Site audits. Google Webmaster Tools and tools like Screaming Frog can help nontechnical personnel identify issues related to site speed, site maps, broken links and poor meta data. Fixing these issues can help improve website performance.

Think locally. Links from location-specific publications receive more value when searchers seek local businesses. Build local links by identifying physical locations to improve local search engine results.

Share on social media. Share your blog posts and other content on social media. Shared media placements on LinkedIn, and LinkedIn Groups can be valuable because they include users with an interest or expertise in the specific topic. Mentions about content in Facebook and Twitter also improve search rankings. You can also place your videos on YouTube and optimize the YouTube page through transcripts, links back to social media profiles, and well-chosen titles and descriptions.

Bottom Line: The boundaries between PR and SEO functions have blurred and PR is increasingly called on to employ SEO techniques. Today, PR pros who know SEO best practices and develop the skills to implement advanced SEO techniques can make greater contributions to their organizations – and, therefore, are more likely to achieve successful results.

Other Reading

The New Rules for SEO
Social Media Today

SEO for Public Relations in 15 Steps
Stephen Waddington

The Comprehensive SEO Guide for Public Relations Professionals.