Earned media and SEO: complementary forces for brand visibility

February 28, 2024

Algorithmic changes and evolving search habits have blurred the lines between PR, earned media and SEO strategies, and further enhanced the importance of brand visibility in the independent press – historically the purview of ‘traditional’ PR – as a key SEO consideration.

Public Relations (PR) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are, in many ways, two sides of the same coin. They are complementary forces.

Both are essential in amplifying the visibility of brands and establishing trust, credibility, and authority among stakeholders – with search engine algorithms pretty much now treated as a ‘stakeholder’.

This synergy is particularly important for off-page SEO, which, as Moz explains, “involves actions outside your website that impact your rankings within search engine results pages (SERPs) and influence audience engagement with your content.”

Today, then, ‘Digital PR’ is crucial for building an online brand and managing its reputation.

The Power of Earned Media

What do The Guardian, The New York Times, the BBC, The Telegraph and CNN all have in common?

They’re among the ‘holy grail’ outlets for earned media coverage, coveted by brands and thought leaders looking for big impact and the significant weight and validation that comes with an editor’s independent stamp of approval.

While general trust in mass media has continued to decline globally, after a slight recovery during the Covid-19 pandemic, (albeit it has remained relatively flat in the United States for the past decade or so), this is part of a general pattern of public mistrust affecting advertisers, social platforms and influencers, too.

Despite trust being a systemic issue, earned media coverage can still cut through the scepticism that generally characterises consumption of advertising and brand marketing by providing an ‘impartial’ perspective on a brand and its credibility as a source of news or analysis.

Fundamentally, independent journalism plays an essential public service role in combating disinformation and facilitating transparency and, indeed, 80% of journalists themselves say that trust in their own are of coverage has increased or stayed the same in the last year according to MuckRack.

News Publishers, Domain Authority and EEAT

But publisher websites like The Guardian et al have something else in common, too.

They (and numerous other news organisations) are among the top 100 websites for domain authority as analysed by Moz (full list here).

While historically the impact of earned media coverage in these kinds of outlets may have been confined to their own readers or viewers of the outlet (hyper targeted and hugely valuable though that might be), their reach and influence is increasingly magnified given the esteem in which Google’s algorithm holds their sites.

They all hit the right notes for Google’s quality rater guidelines – which prioritise Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness, and a recent addition, Experience (EEAT).


So, while news media outlets are facing issues regarding consumer trust, Google holds them up as some of the most trustworthy sources of information on the web.

As an aside, recent Google updates have actually had a negative effect on the visibility of certain news publishers (particularly regional titles). Put simply, by focusing on EEAT, Google’s push for quality has seen certain publishers punished with lower visibility. Others, such as those providing a better UX by carrying fewer ads, are seemingly less negatively affected.

For publications which have relied on ads, commercial content and brand partnerships for their revenue streams this has implications, particularly with regulators such as the UK’s ICO cracking down on media publishers’ use of cookies. Meanwhile, legacy media brands with deeper pockets and those who have opted for a subscription model to retain financial viability are looking likely to remain resilient.

In any case, the continued mark of quality that Google affords reputable media publishers has connotations for brands.

The opportunities for earned media coverage

High quality earned media coverage has always been something of a game of cat and mouse (requiring great timing and targeting, consistent relationship building and, simply put, an acceptance by brands and spokespeople that they have to play to tune of the newsroom. Don’t underestimate here the importance of media training).

Coverage is never a guarantee.

In fact, earned media coverage is arguably more challenging for brands to achieve now than ever before.

Many, if not all, publishers are struggling for resources and increasingly reliant on commercial partnerships (or faltering altogether – just look at Vice).

At the same time journalists themselves are increasingly and notoriously time poor (or looking at setting up shop themselves as creators independent of any media ‘masthead’ and publishing on social or blog channels like Substack, supported by loyal audiences/subscribers).

But opportunities are there, and the endeavour of seeking and securing (positive) visibility in the ‘mainstream’ independent press provides huge brand value.

Backlinks in the media

Securing an earned backlink from a quality news publisher website is absolute gold dust for off-page SEO.

When a brand secures a mention in a respected publication or a high-authority website, the addition of backlink can provide major benefit.

These backlinks are among the top-ranking factors used by search engines to assess a website’s authority and relevance.

SEO experts echo their importance, with 92% of SEO marketers believing that links will still be a critical ranking factor in Google’s algorithm in the next five years. Strong backlinks can be a crucial distinguisher on search engine results page (SERP) rankings, as the #1 result in Google has an average of 3.8 times more backlinks than positions #2-#10.

Backlinks are crucial for any website, but 95% of all web pages have zero backlinks, underscoring the challenge of earning them.

But, as far as earned media is concerned, gaining a backlink is by no means a guarantee. As with any dealing with the independent press, content (including links) essentially comes down to editorial decision making.

And, generally, editorially-driven sites will often not want to be seen as endorsing a particular brand (unless it’s as part of a paid-for partnership, opportunities for which do exist), and generally speaking they will understandably want to keep traffic on site.

The value of brand mentions in the press: linked or unlinked

But even unlinked brand mentions on sites this powerful are not to be sniffed at.

Indeed, they should be pursued voraciously through ‘traditional’ PR efforts, in alignment with overarching SEO and wider digital brand strategy.

While linked mentions are likely to always factor more highly in the algorithm, digital marketers have postulated for some years now that unlinked or ‘implied’ links will attain greater authority over time.

This is partly due to the evolution of how users browse the web and use search engines, the incorporation of LLM (large language model) AI tools which power modern semantic search, Google’s own technological advances and the shift towards social search.

Meanwhile, unlinked brand mentions also provide indirect SEO benefits.

Modern search engine algorithms like Google’s are sophisticated enough to recognise and interpret these mentions. While less direct than backlink-driven SEO, this recognition signals the relevance and popularity of the brand in its industry, which can positively influence its search engine rankings over time.

If a brand is mentioned on high-authority platforms or secures backlinks from reputable sources, it sends a strong signal to search engines about its credibility. These signals boost search rankings and enhance the brand’s digital authority.

This synergy is not by chance but rather a result of careful planning and implementation of public relations strategies and effective SEO practices.

SEO and PR working in harmony

The convergence of earned media and SEO is where strategic communication meets technical expertise, significantly increasing brand visibility and authority.

For marketers and comms teams who break down these historic silos, collaborate and increase transparency around results and impacts there are huge benefits to be had – not least much more effectively demonstrating hard and fast brand ROI on earned media activities.

Put simply, there are SEO rewards for great PR efforts.

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