Why We Don’t Focus On SEO

  • October 26, 2022
  • Josh Steimle

We get a lot of inquiries for our PR services by people interested in SEO (search engine optimization).

For the layperson, the reason people doing SEO for their websites are interested in PR is because Google places a lot of weight on the links that point back to your website.

A Brief Explanation of SEO and Links

All other things being equal, Google will rank a website higher if:

  1. It has lots of links pointing at it
  2. It has lots of high-quality links pointing at it
  3. The links come from a page with relevant content on it

PR has the potential to meet all these criteria.

Let’s say you sell t-shirts online, and you want to rank #1 in Google whenever someone types in “t-shirts.” To rank higher for “t-shirts,” you need inbound or incoming links pointing at your website. However, it’s not enough to get a link from your friend’s personal blog that gets five visitors per month—that’s not a high-quality website, in Google’s opinion. Also, that’s just one link. And is your friend’s personal blog about t-shirts? Or is it about cats and what your friend had for breakfast?

Compare that with getting a link from Forbes. Google sees Forbes as a high-quality website because it’s a well-known brand, has tons of new content every day, and gets tons of traffic. While Forbes isn’t a website dedicated to all things t-shirt, if there’s an article on Forbes about t-shirts, that article is going to be rated highly by Google on the topic of t-shirts. If you were able to get an article about t-shirts on Forbes to link to your t-shirt website, and then you got similar links from similar articles on Inc., Entrepreneur, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, etc., then you’d be winning the SEO game, right?

Not so fast.

The Big, Bad NoFollow Link

The problem with getting links from these publications is almost all of them are what is called “nofollow” links. That is, if you have a website and you link to another website, you can add “nofollow” into the code of the link, and this tells Google, “Ignore this link” or in SEO parlance, don’t give this link any SEO juice. Basically, you’ve got the perfect link, except it’s ruined because it’s a nofollow link.

Why would publications do this?

Fear and a lack of transparent information. Google wants to differentiate between a link on a website that someone paid to get, and one that is natural. Natural links, in Google’s opinion, are more valuable. Well, that’s easy, right? Just nofollow all paid links, leave natural links as follow, and we’re done…right?

The problem is publishers don’t know which links are paid or not. They may sell links on their own website or a PR firm (like ours) may have helped get a client into an article meaning it’s not 100% natural (no way for the publisher to know this), etc. There are a lot of scenarios, and tracking everything and then updating links would be a nightmare, so to avoid any penalty from Google, it’s easier for publishers to slap nofollow on everything.

Do NoFollow Links Still Help With SEO?

However, does Google really ignore nofollow links? Back in 2017, Adam White wrote on the SEM Rush blog that there was evidence to indicate Google was still incorporating data from nofollow links into their rankings. He hoped there would be more research into this in the future.

Fast forward to January, 2022, and Search Engine Journal reports that if you get a nofollow link, “…in most cases, your rankings will not be affected.” (italics added)

So are nofollow links still doing something positive for your SEO efforts? Well…hard to say. Maybe, maybe not?  Maybe a little? Probably not a lot. Probably not. But who knows?

Final Judgment on PR For Links

At Canvas, we don’t see enough value or potential value in a nofollow link from Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, etc. to sell our PR services as a way to help someone with their SEO. However, that doesn’t mean PR can’t be part of your SEO strategy, and I’m not talking about any potential miniscule value in nofollow links, but something else entirely.

The thing is, PR is kind of like gossip, and gossip can spread. Getting a link back from a Forbes article may not help your SEO, but what if getting in Forbes prompts someone writing for a different website to write something about you, and they link to you, and their link is a real, followed link?

Or, what if by getting a bunch of PR, no one specific article prompts anyone to write about you and link to your website, but it builds your brand so that everyone has heard of you and it makes it easier to get included in posts on other websites and linked to?

There’s also the inbound traffic that may come from a link from a big publication, and that traffic in and of itself can generate SEO benefits.

PR can certainly lead to SEO benefits, but they’re more likely to be indirect vs. direct. For us, that’s too far removed from our activities, so while we won’t tell you to ignore the potential SEO benefits PR can deliver, we’re not going to sell you PR services based on those benefits.