I started reading Kara Swisher’s “Burn Book: A Tech Love Story” last week and am nearly finished. It’s been a fun trip down memory lane to hear about the humble beginnings of some of today’s tech giants. She tells stories I’ve never heard, mostly because a lot of her reporting in those early days was while I was hiding in the stairwell of the English department, reading books where no one could find (or interrupt) me.

Some things never change, except now I’m hiding in my car, where no one can find me, reading her book.

Chapter 4, “Search Me,” details her days as a beat reporter covering Google. As an aside, how she describes Larry Page and Sergey Brin is amazing. She calls them the twins and refers to them in that way throughout the entire book. She’ll have you calling them the same if you read it (and I recommend you do!). 

As she tells the story of a strange and wildly unfunny Larry Page and an affable Sergey Brin, she details how they took Yahoo down to become the rulers of the internet. It got me thinking about how we knew nothing about SEO in the early days, from challenging Andy Crestodina in search ranking battles to becoming sophisticated in how digital PR affects everything we do online. 

The SEO Shift

Back in the day, SEO was all about the almighty link. SEO experts understood that if they could secure a link from a high domain authority site (think the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal), all of their SEO goals could be met in one fell swoop. 

Not unlike a CEO expecting a feature article in one of those publications, eh? 

So they went to work doing “media relations” to have one of those websites link back to the organization’s website.

And it worked. Heck, it still works. But it’s a bit more nuanced today than it was back then. In the early days, all you had to do was create a list of industry websites that had a higher domain authority score than your own and pitch contributed content. Once accepted, your job was to ensure the article had a link to your website, using a priority keyword as your anchor text.

It’s gotten a lot more complicated since then, which is what we will discuss today. As Google gets smarter and works to stay ahead of ChatGPT, they are using AI that acts more human-like to evaluate a brand’s online reputation. That means it’s no longer just about links and brand mentions. It’s now about an organization’s products or services, customer journey touchpoints, AND all of the information it has online across various platforms. 

Links vs. Reputation

To give you an example of what this looks like in real life, I asked both Google and ChatGPT, “What is Spin Sucks?”

Of course, Google returned lots of links, including many of our own, but it also returned a snippet about the business, a snippet about the book, my author page on Amazon, and some LinkedIn posts. 

None of these have links to spinsucks.com. Google returned the results based on the reputation of the business.

Now, I ask ChatGPT the same question. It returns a paragraph about who founded it (me!), when, and a quick history of its humble beginnings. Then, it discusses its evolution into a media company that now offers online courses, professional development, and the PESO Model Certification©. It walks you through our vision, covered topics, and advocacy work. 

The New Era of Digital PR and SEO

None of this is based on links. It’s all reputation. 

Driving SEO With E-E-A-T

Getting information from Google about how they rank content is typically challenging. Still, their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines explicitly tell us how to evaluate a website’s and its content creators’ reputations

Those articles are pretty laborious, so I’ll give you a synopsis. 

But first, let me quote one thing of importance, “Reputation research should be performed according to the page’s topic. For example, if the page contains medical information, you should research the reputation of the website and content creator for providing medical information. A website can be a go-to source for one type of content, such as humorous videos, but an untrustworthy source for a different type of content, such as financial information”

Makes sense, right? 

Spin Sucks is a go-to source for communications, but definitely not for financial information. Or HR information. Or accounting information. You get the point. 

As you investigate how they’re providing search results based on reputation, you realize what we’ve been discussing all year is the most important indicator—experience, expertise, authority, and trust…or E-E-A-T

The Google automated systems are designed to use hundreds, if not thousands, of factors to rank great content. After the robot overlords identify relevant content, the system then works to prioritize the content that seems most helpful to what the person is searching. To do this, they examine which content demonstrates experience, expertise, authority, and trust. 

And voila! Your content appears above the fold in search results. 

So they look for relevant content, prioritize it, examine E-E-A-T, and serve it up to the searcher. That’s why, in many cases, they deliver content that is snippets of information and not links to that content.

Trust (or reputation) is the most important of these. Experience, expertise, and authority contribute to trustworthiness, but the content doesn’t necessarily have to contain all four. But if you focus on creating content that does those four things, you will always rank in search results and generative AI.

This is great news for communicators! No longer is SEO solely about building links. It’s about cultivating a website’s reputation through its content, subject matter experts, executives, and products or services.

That’s what we do! And we do it better than anyone else, including SEO experts and marketers. 

Digital PR Reigns Supreme

Back in the day, SEO was all about links, brand mentions, follow links, domain authority, guest articles, and fixing broken links. In some cases, much of this still works, but it has to be more than just an email to a webmaster saying, “I see this link in this article is broken. How about replacing it with this link?”

(Trust me…I get a handful of those emails every day. And guess what? Most of the links they claim are broken? Not true! So I just delete the emails now.)

Contributed content still works, as does having a link to your website from a site with a higher domain authority than your own. But those things are just the top—what Google said they use to find relevant content. Then they have to prioritize it and rank it based on E-E-A-T. So your job is not yet finished!

That contributed content? It should tell a story. It can be about the customer journey, a customer story, a data-driven story, or expert commentary. All of those things will demonstrate the experience and expertise of the organization. 

And the link included in the article? It should have anchor text that leads readers, viewers, or listeners to a podcast episode on the same topic, some thought leadership from your executives, or even recent media coverage you have housed in the newsroom on your website.

It doesn’t have to be just contributed content, either. It can be any content housed somewhere other than your own site—media placements, a newsletter (Substack or Medium, for instance), podcasts, social media posts, review sites, and more.

Now that you understand how to make your content relevant, let’s discuss the E-E-A-T part.

The key traits of digital PR, as they relate to SEO, are:

  • Topical field of expertise
  • Proof of that expertise
  • Telling stories with data
  • Industry influence
  • Relevance to your audience
  • Customer journey

Digital PR Eats E-E-A-T

With expertise, you can consider individuals, such as executives or subject matter experts, and organizational aspects, such as culture, niche, or product or service. 

To determine the expertise, you should consider the depth of knowledge, experience and practice, and demonstrated skills.

For instance, the last person you want to advise you on accounting is me. I don’t have any experience or practice doing it, I don’t have a depth of knowledge, nor do I have demonstrated skills. But if you want to know anything about cycling (OK, or communications), I’m your gal!

As you build the expertise part of your E-E-A-T process, look internally at who demonstrates these four things. 

Once you have your experts lined up, build your resource library—the types of things they can speak to. This might include unique research, customer stories, expert commentary, and/or in-depth knowledge about your products or services. 

For instance, when I started speaking, I bemoaned to a mentor that I had all these great opportunities to get on stage, but no one was hiring us. He said, “That’s because you don’t speak to your experience. I don’t mean selling from the stage. Rather, I mean crafting stories around the work that you do. The phone won’t stop ringing once they experience how you’ve helped organizations like theirs.”

And he was right.

Once I started educating my audience and then saying, “When we did this for client X, their challenge was X, and we solved it in this way,” people started emailing (today’s version of a phone call) because they had the same problem and wanted our help solving it.

This proof of expertise should influence others to take action.

The combination of experience and expertise will create trust and authority, and you will be well on your way to improving your search rankings and correlating your efforts to the organization’s goals.

A Warning to All PR Pros

And here’s the deal, my friends. The SEO journals tout the advantages of digital PR and encourage experts to use it to improve their search rankings, particularly in the era of generative search. If what I get in my inbox is any indication, they’re not good at it. They have no idea how to build relationships, tell stories, or build reputation. They are accustomed to spraying and praying in the hopes of getting the all-mighty link. 

This is what we do. It’s what we’re experts in doing. Call it SEO or digital PR or whatever the heck you want, but no one does this better than communicators. So get out there and do what you’re good at doing. If you do that, you’ll improve your search rankings simply because you’re better at this than anyone else.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich