4 min read

How ‘that’ Google Leak highlights the need for Digital PR

How ‘that’ Google Leak highlights the need for Digital PR

Anyone that works in SEO knows that building a strong backlink profile is vital for success. However, there has been debate about how those links are acquired. Some will argue that “as many links, from any source, at any cost will do”. Whereas, many (those of us that do the job, day in day out, and see the results) understand that the best results come from a long term approach that results in a steady flow of high quality links that support SEO alongside building brand awareness – aka Digital PR.

Well, praise be, because the ever elusive - often vague - Google has now inadvertently confirmed what we’ve been saying all along. Last week 2,500 pages of Google's internal API documentation was leaked, exposing insights into the search engine’s top secret ranking algorithm – much of what was detailed has been previously contradicted by Google, so this is all pretty spicy stuff if you’re into this kind of thing - which I am!

When you think of traditional PR, it’s obvious that you’re not going to build your brand by getting coverage in low value, barely read publications. It’s a similar deal with Digital PR in terms of how you make an impact on SEO. To see the best results you need to consistently create engaging, relevant stories and deliver powerful messages that will earn coverage and links in specific publications that will most likely reach your target audience.
To most of us that work in Digital PR, this isn’t exactly a major revelation. However, not everyone that comes to us for our services actually gets it. They know they need links, but they don’t understand why we can’t just buy them, or why we can’t create stories that aren’t entirely relevant to their brand, or why a one-off hero campaign will be enough…and beyond. We often need to educate prospects and clients of its value and how it works. The beauty of this leak is it gives us plenty of ammo for these conversations. And what I love most about it, is that if you read between the lines, it confirms that earning links through irrelevant stories AND buying spammy links is a complete and utter waste of time and money - both of which are a personal bug-bear of mine.

There are loads of articles out there written by wonderful and smart people that have taken the time to trawl through every single page of the leak, but I’ll be honest, even as someone who gets SEO, a lot of what I’ve read is pretty technical and overwhelming. So, here I am to cut to the chase and break it all down for you, very simply and clearly.
These are my key takeaways on what the leaked documents have to say that’s relevant to Digital PR;

  • Your brand and site MUST be relevant to the article that is linking to you. Google knows what your site is all about, and it understands the content in the articles linking to you, so it can tell what’s relevant and what’s not. That means no newsjacking stories that you don’t have the authority to speak on and and no more earning (or buying) masses of links from pages that don’t connect with your brand – they will pass on little to no value.

o   How to avoid problems? Don’t look for shortcuts or create campaigns and stories that you don’t have expertise in. It really is that simple. Use keyword research to inform your campaign ideation sessions, because if you’re doing that, how can your ideas ever be off topic?

  • Your campaigns should be targeting high quality sites that get traffic, because Google can differentiate between those and low quality sites – and will ignore or down-weight shoddy links from shoddy sites. Google mentions ‘newsy, high quality sites’ in the leak, but I don’t believe that’s them saying you should only be looking for links from the likes of The Guardian and The Mirror etc, but it does seem that they’re saying those links really are great (which we already knew to be honest). Quality can also be found in smaller sites as long as they hold relevance to your brand and get a decent amount of traffic, because the content they write about will align with your brand and the traffic they get will be from the kind of audiences you’re also looking to target.

o   How to avoid problems? Create newsworthy campaigns that will appeal to high authority AND relevant publications. Don’t fall for anyone that tells you a link from a low authority blogger site has any value. It won’t help your SEO and won’t build brand awareness. It’s money and time down the drain.

  • Keep everything fresh by ensuring the content on your site is up to date, that the links you’re getting aren’t coming from old, out of date pages, and you’re getting a steady flow of new links.

o   How to avoid problems? By having a long-term, well thought out Digital PR strategy in place. Don’t bank on earning a bunch of links short term to hold you in good stead in the long term. I always recommend clients adopt an always on approach so they’re getting a steady flow of links from a diverse range of pages and publications through a mix of hero, reactive and expert commentary campaigns.

  • Make sure your expert commentary is coming from real experts that ideally have bio’s or other pages that support their authority. This also goes for authors of blog content.

o   How to avoid problems? By checking the credentials of the experts you’re using. Many of us have already run into ‘bots’ claiming to be experts, but issues in this area are not always that scandalous. Think carefully about your brand's own internal expert and their authority to speak on a campaign topic – is the SEO Director of a Gambling brand really the best person to comment on mental health, for example? Set up bios for anyone in-house that you roll out for commentary, as this also gives you an additional link opportunity on top of confirming expertise to Google.

  • You want links from sites within the same countries you operate in. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be chuffed to bits if our UK finance client got a natural pick up in The Washington Post, but Google is implicit in these leaks that the full value of those links won’t be passed on. Booooo!

o   How to avoid problems? Don’t adopt a ‘spray and pray’ approach, make sure your media lists are targeting the right publications in the country you do business in, and when you are sharing results with your clients be transparent about their value.


They say there’s no such thing as bad PR, well, there is such a thing as bad Digital PR, and Google has just done us a solid by confirming exactly what that looks like. But, by sticking to the guidelines I’ve outlined, you will see gains in rankings, traffic and brand awareness.
This leak is BAD NEWS for anyone that thought buying links was an effective link acquisition method because if you don’t know, now you know; agencies that buy links, buy them from irrelevant, low traffic and often foreign sites. Google is literally telling you that these kinds of links will be ignored, so please, stop doing that.

Digital PR is a more sustainable, beneficial link and brand building approach which has long term benefits. We’ve been doing it (well) for years, so if you want to find out more about how we can increase your brand footprint online, feel free to get in touch.

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