What makes digital PR the premium route to a glorious backlink profile?
Let’s start with some backstory—I need you to understand I don’t say this lightly.
I’ve been working in digital comms, marketing, creative content creation, video production, and SEO for 30 years. I was Head of Social for Tank for six years after being a Tank client during my time at Northcliffe Media, and I’ve worked with brands from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! to Carphone Warehouse. I’m currently Sr. Content Marketing Manager/Brand Dir. for the US cybersecurity co., TrueFort, and I’ve laboured in and with SEO agencies in six different countries.
When I say digital PR is the best SEO link-building strategy, I’m serious, and it was my suggestion that with Tank’s head of digital PR, my good friend James Watkins, I guest-post on the Tank blog so I could shout about why.
Why care about building backlinks?
When customers have an intent, they go to the likes of Google and ask it to provide. In the constantly algorithmically spicy playing field of SEO, the pursuit of quality backlinks remains a solid tactic for boosting search engine rankings. Backlinks act like votes of confidence from other websites, signalling to the search engines that our content is valuable, credible, and useful. A decent backlink profile from diverse, authoritative sources boosts a website’s search engine rankings, fluffing its visibility and credibility. Good link-building helps brands get found.
James and I spoke about this recently, and he further explained how links can be the pivotal factor for hitting the top of page one for those most coveted keywords:
“For many search terms – particularly more competitive lucrative keywords – links can often be the key differentiator to cracking the top three positions in organic search, where the bulk of clicks stem from. They are a source of competitive advantage which can be harder to replicate than other aspects of SEO.
“This is why we see many clients approach us when they appear to have hit a glass ceiling with their SEO performance. They may have the best on-page content and technical performance for those key commercial pages, but if Google isn’t interpreting these as a trusted source (that’s validated by links), there is only so far it can get when it comes to moving towards the top of page one.”
The route to quality link-building
Creating backlinks is a time-vampire for internal marketing teams, who already have enough fires to fight and plates to juggle, thank you very much, and I just want some nice agency to come and take the hassle away. Please take my money and make this problem go away.
Now there are a lot of strategies to build these much-coveted links, but for me, digital PR is the standout and the best ROI for my link-building spend. Here’s a dozen reasons why it’s my go-to:
- Topical Placement:
Digital PR makes sure content and links are placed in contextually relevant settings. There’s no point in me writing cybersecurity thought leadership content if it’s going to be placed on a generic tech blog. Relevancy is crucial, not just for SEO but for reaching the right audience. When our links appear in articles or stories related to your industry, it enhances the relevancy of those links, improving our search engine rankings.
- The Cost of Shortcuts:
Purchasing questionable links, using link farms, and taking part in spurious blog networks, is a slippery slope to search engine penalties and a waste of $/£. These create artificial and low-quality backlinks, completely undermining the integrity and any chances of long-term success of a website’s SEO strategy. No one wants to spend the next two weeks disavowing a litany of spammy connections that are costing us our rightful place on Google Page 1. Trust me: Just don’t.
- Authority and Trust:
Links from reputable news sites and publications, the de facto result of any successful digital PR campaign, are seen by search engines as a mark of authority and trust. These high-quality backlinks significantly bolster a website’s creds in the eyes of search algorithms, leading to better rankings. Put simply, you can’t get this any other way than by having the connections and experience to make it happen, and that’s what PR agencies do. If nothing else, this is why digital PR is so valuable to me.
- Improved Domain Rating/Authority:
Landing a placement on high PageRank sites, which is a common outcome of effective PR, is brilliant for a website’s domain authority. Domain authority is like some nebulous and unfathomable number that magically predicts how well a website will rank in SE result pages. This is a serious metric in SEO, as higher domain authority correlates with higher search rankings. Honestly, the maths is above my pay grade, but it’s common sense that a link from The Guardian will give a site a bigger bump than Toilet Cubicle Today, and PR gets those links on those high PageRank sites, whereas normal tactics don’t. Again, invaluable.
- High-Quality Referral Traffic:
PR-driven link building isn’t just about boosting SEO; it’s also about driving traffic. Links from well-regarded sites bring in high-quality referral traffic—visitors who are more likely to engage with my content because they came from a trusted source. Sure, it’s long-tail, but there’s no instant wins with good link-building, and I regularly track inquiries and demo requests where high-quality referral traffic from digital PR efforts is the source.
- Backlink Profile Diversity:
Diversifying a backlink profile is vital in SEO. Digital PR provides opportunities to gather links from various domains, including news sites, blogs, and industry publications, thereby enhancing the robustness and diversity of your backlink profile.
- Targeted Thought-Leadership Exposure:
Digital PR opens doors to thought leadership opportunities like interviews, guest articles, and expert commentary. This establishes us as an authority in our field and repeatedly leads to quality backlinks from reputable industry-specific platforms, with our content often being picked up for syndication, with citation, offering a further (albeit low-hanging fruit) link boost.
- Return on Investment:
We’re not made of money, and I want the best ROI possible for my marketing buck. I can easily spend $5k pcm on buying placement on other websites, but shirt-buttons to granny bonds, I bet I can get the same results for $3.5k with digital PR. I always have in the past. $5k would buy a lot of link love with the right PR agency.
- Amplified Reach and Brand Visibility:
Successful digital PR campaigns can significantly extend brand reach and visibility. Broader recognition like this often leads to additional organic backlinks as more publishers and content creators reference our content/brand. It’s also nice to get mentioned in a reputable platform’s social sharing activities as they do the added work of distributing some of our wisdom to an already targeted audience.
- Long-Term Benefits:
Unlike some short-term link-building tactics, the benefits of PR-driven backlinks have more longevity. If we paid for links, even the good stuff, if we could find it, they usually last a specific amount of time, meaning we’d have to pay again six months down the line. That’s a false economy when high-quality content that gains backlinks through PR stays relevant and continues to attract traffic over time, with the associated long-term SEO advantages.
- Enhanced Brand Reputation and Trust:
PR helps in shaping a brand’s narrative and public perception, which indirectly benefits your SEO. A positive brand reputation leads to increased trust, which translates into more organic backlinks from different sources. Trust is also an SEO metric in its own right, meaning the level of confidence search engines have in a website’s credibility and reliability, influencing its ranking and derived from factors like the quality of backlinks and the authority of linking domains.
- Crisis Management and Brand Protection:
When the brown stuff hits the whirly thing, effective digital PR can mitigate negative coverage, protecting the integrity of a backlink profile and overall SEO efforts.
Well, this is probably way too long for the Tank blog, but hey, they’re not paying me.
I’d say that integrating digital PR into any SEO strategy is a no-brainer and gives a more multi-faceted approach to link building that goes way beyond just rankings. Content marketing is all about user intent these days, and those quality PR links are pure fried gold.
It’s about building authority, trust, and a solid digital presence that resonates with search engines and real-world audiences, and Google’s E-E-A-T quality standards recognise this, as Mr. Watkins explains:
“While links play a crucial role in SEO across all industries and niches, where they are particularly critical is within industries where trust is paramount in decision-making when it comes to making a purchase. Think health and finance as a couple of examples. Google wants to know the brands it is signposting to in these spaces are validated and scrutinised as closely as possible, as the implications of using these sources can have a significant impact on a user’s life. If a site such as the BBC or The Guardian is happy to link to a source in this space – it’s more likely to be trusted by a user (and, in turn, by search engines).
“Working across clients here at Tank, we have seen how a consistent focused approach to digital PR and quality link building can pay dividends – particularly when combined with a focused approach to on-page content and technical optimisation. If Google can see your brand achieving these ‘quality votes’ regularly over 6-12 months, your site will be rewarded with the visibility improvements and brand awareness benefits it deserves.
“And, while there are still debates about the value of links and their impact on SEO, I’m confident they will continue to play a pivotal role for the foreseeable future – particularly as generative AI looks to muddy the waters when it comes to users identifying which brands are and aren’t legitimate. Trust will be abundantly key, and links are the most quantifiable way of demonstrating this.”
Whether we’re a small startup SME or a Forbes Top 50, leveraging the power of PR in our SEO can give us significant, lasting benefits.
It has for me and the companies I’ve worked with, and I don’t say this lightly.
Nik Hewitt Bio
A BAFTA-winning communicator, Nik has worked for over 30 years in online comms and brand journalism. As Sr. Content Marketing Manager for TrueFort, he is a regular contributor to the cybersecurity press and industry podcasts, and his own blog is a constant source of industry-related irreverence.