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Digital Account Director
One of the more common things we’re starting to hear when taking about online content is “yeah, but we have a SEO agency for that”. In the past, that was usually enough to scare PR agencies away. To be honest, we don’t really have that much appetite to start dabbling with Meta Tags, H1s or canonicalisation.
But times they are a changing. Today is the day. We’re calling it. PR is SEO.
Let me tell you for why…
Over the past few years, it’s become clear that the lines between SEO and PR have been blurring. Search engines have been placing far more emphasis on quality content and a brand’s wider digital footprint. No longer can you just “win Google” by having a whizzy website (although that still plays a role).
At its most basic, SEO will come down to two questions that Google will ask a brand before deciding to rank them #1.
Number one can be answered by having a technically optimised website that runs at 100mph and has all the right words in all the right places. Easy(ish) if you can run a tech audit and are able to fix a list of problems or find a web developer who can.
Number two is where things tend to be a little bit trickier, and it is here that your PR strategy becomes your SEO strategy.
There’s no way for an artificial algorithm to determine whether your website is useful to web users without looking at the wider digital footprint of a website. Search engines will look to your brand mentions across other websites or social media to determine whether people are talking about you, how often they talk about you and whether they talk about you in a positive or negative light. Sounds a lot like the PR that you are used to on TV or in magazines right?
(In reality there’s more to it than that, but I think you’ll struggle to find an SEO that would disagree with the principle of what I’m saying. We just don’t have the time or word count to get into the finer details. It’ll also get very boring very quickly).
There’s an interesting article dating back to 2014 in Forbes magazine that talks about “How PR and SEO work together”. It talks about “PR and SEO joint goals” which is nonsense, because they are just as easily ‘only’ PR goals. These joint goals are listed as ‘Blogging’, ‘PR Stunts’, ‘Events’ and ‘Content Calendars’. The article talks about how quality content targeted at the proper audience is key to SEO. It also talks about borrowing trust from additional websites. Again, this must be starting to sound like what your PR agency do. Have a read: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnrampton/2014/12/02/how-pr-and-seo-work-together/#23fa03005bf6
This view is supported by another 2014 article from Moz (probably the most respected SEO “how-to” website. Again, angry SEO person reading this, we know there are other websites that are good. Perhaps we’ll do a round-up of our faves next week) https://moz.com/blog/an-introduction-to-pr-strategy-for-seos
There’s a great quote in here “as a former journalist, who only later went into SEO, I specifically had been looking for something in marketing that was not PR. But the fact remains that much of inbound marketing is just PR by another name”. This is one of the earliest quotes that I can find of someone who is well respected within the SEO industry admitting that they are working in PR.
By the end of 2014 Moz had produced this slightly mind-bending article about the coming integration of PR and SEO and filed it under “advanced SEO”. As part of this “advanced SEO” they talk about some of the work that our lovely Junior Account Execs help us with https://moz.com/blog/the-coming-integration-of-pr-and-seo
At this point in 2014 the crossover of PR and SEO was being very much talked about as being in the SEOs favour. The “opportunity” seemed to lie with the nerdy dudes with super powered laptops.
Fast forward four years and this has changed, and PR has very much taken the lead in this battle.
A 2018 article from City AM talks to this point http://www.cityam.com/281729/seo-opportunity-still-there-pr-agencies-but-they-take
The most important part of this article for me is that City AM argue that ‘SEO is now also a people business’. The quote that they use here argues “I am never going to be convinced that a traditional SEO person is going to be better at building relationships with the grand controllers of authority web links than a public relations person. Building relationships is what we do, day in, day out, across every spectrum of communication,” they then go on to write “The on-page side of SEO is a niche skill but it can be taught. Public relations is a results orientated business, you are only as good as your last campaign”.
See! It’s not just us PR folk saying that SEO is PR. The SEO community will admit it.
It appears that SEOs are still trying to claw their way back. There’s a 2018 article in Search Engine Journal that suggests that PR is crucial to SEO and gives 11 ways to get coverage. https://www.searchenginejournal.com/pr-seo-ways-get-coverage/246037/ But, as we’ve heard above, a SEO person is going to struggle when put up against PR professionals when it comes to relationship building.
Unfortunately, I don’t see this swinging back towards SEOs, it’s only going to move more and more into PR. I’ve sat on the other side of the fence.
In my last role I was looking after a SEO team and we were absolutely nailing the technical side of things. We were very good at sorting websites out, but when it came to switching our heads from HTML and meta tags to infographics and animation we started to struggle. Once you are locked into that techy headspace it can became hard to get the creative juices flowing.
We were fully armed with keyword data, an in-house design studio and creative ideas, we just couldn’t snap out of our technical mindset. Moving into a PR Communications agency has been a complete breath of fresh air.
I’ve been able to bring everything I do on a numbers side of things and the Studio / Social Media Managers are running wild with it. It’s starting to result in content that is data driven and being placed in the areas that are going to drive the most engagement. We’re also starting to dig into the measurement side of things in a way that I don’t think many PR agencies have cracked yet. This has been a huge focus for the last 12 months and we’ve even developed our own measurement tool called PACE. All the work we produce now has to tie back into Performance, Assessment, Commerciality & Evolution. We’ll be talking to you about this in greater detail as the year goes on, but essentially we’re asking tougher questions of our work & the results it is driving.
Anyway, I’m going to cut this loose now, I’m starting to waffle. The long and short of it is that SEO people are looking at PR people and wishing they were as good at content and link building as PR people are. If you need decent content produced, you NEED to start looking to your PR agency. Take my word for it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
And that my friends, is why PR is SEO.
Don’t @ me.