The extraordinary thing is that despite its fundamental importance, Penguin has so far been virtually unnoticed by the PR industry whose fortunes it is about to change; and very much for the better.
Google’s algorithm has become increasingly sophisticated over recent years as the company has striven to improve the search experience and maintain its market leadership, with the quality of content already making a big difference to where a website will appear in search results. Penguin adds to this sophistication by preventing sites spamming search results through spurious links whose sole purpose is to boost Google rankings. Launched in 2012, Penguin has been penalising those sites caught using bad links ever since, but until very recently was only able to do so on a fairly sporadic basis. This all changed towards the end of September, 2016, when Google announced that Penguin now forms part of its core search engine algorithm. Crucially, Penguin now works in real-time, meaning that any site using links from a dodgy source will be penalised and see its search ranking fall.
These developments, which on the surface might seem fairly trivial, have fundamental and far-reaching consequences for the PR industry. The majority of websites now appearing in top Google search results are not those with the deepest SEO (search engine optimisation) pockets but, rather, those containing high quality content with links from other high quality sites. These are the very media that PR has traditionally targeted and worked with.
In a nutshell, the world has turned full-circle, with PR’s traditional skills coming back to the fore as online media increasingly dominate search results.
Unlike before, however, with around 90% of consumers who use Google typically at a critical stage of their decision-making journey, it is this coverage in online media that can make the difference between making a purchase or not. From being the poor relation of sales and marketing, PR has suddenly become one of the major players.
As mentioned above, this fundamental change is far more significant for PR than social media. Google search volumes typically dwarf even the largest number of ‘likes’ on Facebook and other social platforms; and levels of engagement through social media are nothing compared to the levels of interest from the majority of consumers searching for a company or brand through Google.
What Does This All Mean for Public Relations?
The first point to make is how tremendous these developments are for the PR industry. No longer within the shadow of advertising or feeling in danger of being marginalised by digital and social marketing, PR can now justifiably claim to be closer to the consumer’s purchasing touch-point than any of them.
Second, PR is the only discipline with the necessary skills to influence the ‘earned’ media that are increasingly dominating Google search results. It is because of this that we call them ‘PR Earned Media’, or PREM. Although PREM results are predominantly online media, including digital versions of newspapers and magazines, they also include websites for conferences, exhibitions and seminars as well as blogs. In fact anything that can be influenced by PR and appears online falls into the category of PREM.
Last but not least, these developments enable results from PR activity to be tracked and measured as never before; and because these PREM results are the same as paid-for results — in exactly the same location — robust ROI values can be attributed to them. This is what we call the ‘PR Search Value’ or PRSV.
Of course, PREM coverage can be bad as well as good; and while it has always been useful to track results of PR activity it is now essential if companies and brands are to understand what their audiences are seeing on the front-line and how this is affecting purchasing decisions.
The implications of these developments are huge for the PR industry and it must adapt rapidly to meet them. Not just in the future but now. To put this into perspective, even in the short time taken to read this a significant number of customers and prospective customers will have been making crucial decisions about your company and brand based on reading PREM coverage in searches they have carried out.
Mark Westaby BSc(Hons), FAMEC
Director, Crescendo Consulting