Following an insightful two days at SMX London, this morning SAScon launched with a series of jam-packed panel discussions. I managed to catch one led by Lexi Mills, a PR/SEO from Distilled. I’d seen her give a PR-themed talk at BrightsonSEO earlier this year and she knows her stuff, clearly driven by a desire to optimise relationships between SEOs and PRs.

By the end of the discussion it became evident why.

She was joined by James Crawford from PR Agency One, Simon Wharton from PushON and Peter Bowles of Dynamo PR. And together this SEO/PR dream-team discussed the big questions in this area; can SEOs and PRs collaborate, should they, and if so how?

Measurement and Metrics

Lexi began the discussion by focusing on metrics and accountability. Clients are always keen to measure progress and this isn’t always easy in this industry. In terms of PR, James suggested they are looking for new measurements and that AVE (Advertising Value Equivalency) is outdated. Perhaps, Simon suggested, the problem is that clients don’t ask the right questions.

With this in mind he suggested that agencies should track multi-channel attribution (e.g. through Google Analytics) to measure ROI and help reassert progress. Check my earlier post for more on tracking ROI. Where PR professionals often focus on this one AVE metric, they should instead be looking at a dashboard of metrics determining the money made from their efforts.

Using Other Channels & Over-Optimisation

Lexi brought up a good point about short term and long term accountability. Clients often want immediate results from PR and SEO, but occasionally you might be looking at a 12 – 18 month timeframe before you see any real impact. To solve this, Simon suggested using a mix of strategies. If you work in a varied marketing environment you can focus on email marketing and print in the short term while you push social, PR and SEO in the long term.

He came back to this mixed usage later in the session, saying that he would often be inclined to blend in the traditional arts of the PR, especially considering Panda and Penguin. Where PRs have traditionally tried to over-optimise for great keyword phrases from powerful media sites, he now suggests getting some powerful natural brand anchors. With this PRs can actually help SEOs make their backlink profiles look more natural since these contacts will instinctively give good quality brand anchors.

Will PR and SEO ever collide?

The main focus of the session was how these two professions can interact. Each team can bring value to one another, the panelists agreed, but there are often barriers to teamwork. PPC, PR and SEO would ideally sit down and talk at the ideas-stage of any campaign, since the wide range of knowledge and suggestions will inevitably influence the quality of the outcome.

For Lexi this also meant having regular all-agency meetings combining the different disciplines. This would certainly solve a communications issue. But someone in the audience later raised the question of time/cost restraints of continual inter-team meetings. This is when it’s important to use phones, Skype, Google Hangouts, or even a task management tool such as that included in Linkdex.

Peter noted that PR as an industry was very quick to get involved with social, but were very slow with SEO. Considering SEO was around way before Facebook and Twitter this is a strange omission. PR agencies should be therefore be looking to bring in SEO experts (and vice versa).

This PR-lag was reinforced when Lexi asked how many SEOs and PRs were present at the talk. Most were SEOs which, said James, shows a malaise on the part of PR. On the whole, PRs need to be attending these talks, learning the skills and trying to get ahead in the industry. This actually seems like a really good opportunity – if this session is anything to go on – forward looking PR agencies can get ahead by communicating better with SEOs.

Insight Over Instinct

The insight that SEOs can provide PRs really makes integration and better communication necessary. James Crawford reiterated an example given by James Murray of Experian earlier in the morning. Experian noticed a jewellery website that was targeting ‘luxury jewellery’ when much more people were searching for ‘designer jewellery’. Without doing the proper research, this brand has created an entire site around the wrong vocabulary. This is something PRs are apparently doing wrong; writing based on instinct rather than insight.

Of course PRs can be hugely valuable when they make great relationships with journalists. Peter and Lexi agreed PR is about being cheeky and asking for links, using your contacts and seeing what you can get, even if they are specific URLs. Another key point Peter raised was that PRs might one day be in a position to give journalists exclusives if they work for big clients or brands. So the relationship isn’t always one way. Journalists, PRs and SEOs all have insight and value to add.

The Problems of Integration

The panel suggested several barriers to this inclusive behaviour. For starters James thought PR agencies were a bit more territorial than SEO agencies; that they might be reluctant to bring in other agencies and learn from them. This was just his opinion but no one seemed to argue. And this is his background.

They all agreed this is a difficult conversation to have. SEO and PR work in the same world, often for the same goals, but both have quite varied methods. There are obviously going to be barriers to integration but none of them found a good reason for it to stay entirely disconnected.

Link Building of the Future

The perfect way of wrapping up the session was to look to the future. A member of the audience kicked this off by asking what to do if your client doesn’t understand link building (from a PR or SEO perspective). Simon’s suggestion was to split this up into the short term (focusing on retaining the client) and the long term (educating them as to what you are doing and how it is helping).

Finally, someone suggested that social might play a larger role in link building in the future, as I discussed yesterday in my Social Shares post. The panelists agreed that anything could happen but that ultimately link building is strongest when SEOs and PRs work together. Especially when they want to target these new channels and create natural links.

It certainly seems like PRs and SEOs have a lot to gain from collaborating and sharing their knowledge. And perhaps the agencies that will benefit the most going forward will be those that initiate these conversations first and strive to create new relationships before others catch on to this gap.

For more on this topic please see James Crawford’s presentation. It includes some great tips on how PRs and SEOs can learn and collaborate from each other. Thanks again to James for providing it and to all the presenters who gave such valuable insights.


Featured Image Source: SEOmoz via Planet Content