Savvy business-to-business marketers know building a dominant online presence requires an organic component, not just expensive pay-per-click advertising. Unfortunately, many companies devote fewer resources to organic search engine optimization.
Why? Because some executives believe there is no measurable way to target the same number of key words as with PPC methods.
Organic SEO results from achieving the best possible search engine ranking results from certain key words, without investing in paid search engine marketing. Sixty-five percent of B2B buyers begin their online research with a search engine, so a company's SEO ranking can ultimately decide whether prospects find it online.
In truth, SEO is a complex topic. Technical factors in a Website's development—whether it's created on a Flash platform, for instance—can come into play if major search engines fail to index it.
For a well-built Website to be crawlable by search engines, its content is a key concern for boosting rankings. For that reason, B2B content typically generated within public relations can help improve a company's organic SEO.
Public relations has always been an integral part of successful marketing programs, but now it encompasses much more than before. With the prevalence of the Internet, its value has tripled.
In the past, companies used public relations to reach editors and key influencers in their industry, hoping that the information would eventually reach sales prospects in the form of publicity. While that's still important today, the difference now is that the information is much easier for prospects to find.
Trade publications and newsletters aren't the only sources anymore, as buyers can quickly perform an online search. In fact, 96 percent of all industrial buyers use the Internet at some point during the buying cycle.
With almost every potential buyer online, B2B companies can't afford to rely solely on print media coverage to reach buyers. They'd be missing too many opportunities.
That said, companies can utilize public relations to boost their search results by getting their information on credible, third-party Websites such as online magazines. If a company's own Website holds the top three spots under a key search term, marketers should endeavor to round out the top 10 with mentions on other sites under the same search term.
That way, the client's message is reinforced by independent, trusted industry experts—all on the first page of search results.
The media represented by many online sites still plays a crucial role in public relations, but companies no longer rely entirely on media gatekeepers to reach their customers and prospects. The same tools once used to attract media attention now deliver messages directly to buyers.
By searching specific key words, prospects can find search engine-optimized content posted online in the form of press releases, blogs, self-published articles, and case studies. Those messages, combined with valuable media coverage, really give buyers a 360-degree insight into a company's products and services.
It's important to remember today's B2B buyers are looking for useful, relevant content on Websites, which goes beyond product information. Interesting and engaging materials keep visitors on sites longer and keep them coming back for more.
In the past, when companies posted their news releases, white papers, and articles to their Websites, those collections were nothing more than an electronic archive. Now these materials are produced to include critical key words, search phrases, and strategically placed links.
This is what people mean when they say content is optimized. It improves search rankings and help prospective buyers find more corroborating resources.
One way to make use of news and other public relations content on a company's Website is through an optimized online newsroom. Most pages of a Website aren't changed or update frequently, but an online newsroom is one area where content can be added regularly.
Better still, with today's easy-to-use content management systems, one doesn't need a technical background to make additions to these pages.
Oftentimes, these newsrooms are the entry point to a company's Website by way of search engines. The difference between the news archives of 10 years ago and the resource centers of today is their flexibility. Newsrooms often link to other resources—such as news articles, photo galleries, and video—which provide even more information to users.
Blogging and Social Media
But it isn't just traditional public relations elements that can make B2B companies more visible online. Consider blogging, for instance: In addition to personalizing a company's brand and demonstrating thought leadership, an active blog also pings search engines with each post.
Of course, the more optimized that content is for key words, the better it will fare in search engine rankings.
Social media is a burgeoning form of public relations. Reports have indicated up to 91 percent of technology decision-makers are plugged into all types of social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Because of the volume and frequency of content and linking structure, the content on social networks is supercharged with SEO.
Conversations on Twitter and videos on YouTube make their way into search engines, too. These new mediums allow companies to tell their story, establish thought leadership, and increase brand awareness.
So in terms of SEO, public relations can help companies leverage third-party coverage from highly ranked media outlets, give a Website quality content that helps move it up in search rankings, and generate a buzz through social media that could lead prospects to you as they search relevant terms.
But public relations can't sustain an SEO program on its own. It's a strong contributor to SEO, but it needs to be used in combination with other marketing functions to give B2B companies the results they're seeking.
Even as the Internet continues to blur the line between different marketing activities, using public relations in tandem with online efforts is the right mix to give companies the upper hand over competitors.
Allen Silveri is president of the Philadelphia-based B2B marketing agency Schubert Communications.