Can PR & SEO Play Nicely Together?

Giv­en the vital role that search plays in every major con­sumer mar­ket, a fail­ure to con­nect the dots on PR and SEO will lead to sub­op­ti­mal out­comes.

Andrew Smith By Andrew Smith from Escherman. Join the discussion » 2 comments

There has always been a love/hate rela­tion­ship between pub­lic rela­tions and SEO. How­ev­er, in recent times, signs of a ten­ta­tive rap­proche­ment have been devel­op­ing, in part because of changes made by Google to its search algo­rithm, which often play to the tra­di­tion­al skills of PR pro­fes­sion­als. So why is the PR sec­tor still appar­ent­ly drag­ging its feet on SEO? And why should con­sumer mar­keters care?

PR pro­fes­sion­als are from Mars and SEO spe­cial­ists are from Venus. And nev­er the twain shall meet. Or at least that was the tra­di­tion­al view of the two dis­ci­plines.

Over the last year or so, there has been a devel­op­ing con­sen­sus that PR and SEO are con­verg­ing into a blend­ed dis­ci­pline. Cer­tain­ly the PR indus­try itself aspires to get much more involved in SEO.

The sin­gle biggest train­ing require­ment among PR pro­fes­sion­als was in SEO, accord­ing to the Pub­lic Rela­tions Con­sul­tants Asso­ci­a­tion (PRCA) 2014 Dig­i­tal PR Sur­vey. How­ev­er, this may be par­tial­ly explained by an ear­li­er PRCA poll that showed SEO rank­ing 23rd out of 26 activ­i­ties that PR pro­fes­sion­als engage in on a dai­ly basis.

Indeed, every major PR indus­try sur­vey over the last 12 months con­sis­tent­ly places one activ­i­ty, media rela­tions, at the top of most PR pro­fes­sion­als’ dai­ly work. In oth­er words, deal­ing with jour­nal­ists with a view to gain­ing pos­i­tive press cov­er­age. This con­tin­ues (right­ly or wrong­ly) to define the indus­try.

How is PR going to bridge the gap between aspi­ra­tion and real­i­ty when it comes to SEO? As it turns out, media rela­tions may well hold the key to pro­vid­ing the vital link between PR and SEO.

Google As A Reputation Engine

One of the key find­ings of Edelman’s 2015 Trust Barom­e­ter was that Google (in the shape of its ubiq­ui­tous search engine) is now the most trust­ed media source on the plan­et. Google’s search results car­ry more trust than the media sites and infor­ma­tion sources it aggre­gates.

Google is no longer just a search engine, but one of the key sources of trust for all stake­hold­er audi­ences today (con­sumer mar­kets in par­tic­u­lar are behold­en to the near uni­ver­sal role of search in con­sid­er­a­tion and pur­chase deci­sions). If PR is about trust and rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment as well as media rela­tions, then sure­ly SEO exper­tise should be a manda­to­ry require­ment for today’s PR pro­fes­sion­al.

Even the SEO indus­try is recal­i­brat­ing its ter­mi­nol­o­gy in PR inspired terms. Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, has been vocal about the chang­ing nature of SEO and the vital role that PR plays in this new land­scape.

For exam­ple, rather than talk about link build­ing, Fishkin refers to “link earn­ing” – the notion that Google places great­est val­ue on back links from high trust, high author­i­ty pages and sites where it takes con­sid­er­able effort to gain the link. In oth­er words, it has to be earned in much the same way that influ­en­tial edi­to­r­i­al cov­er­age is earned.

One of the great ironies of Google’s major search engine adjust­ments of recent times is that it places huge val­ue on links from high trust, high author­i­ty sites, such as major media out­lets. Media rela­tions is still the key activ­i­ty of PR pro­fes­sion­als.

PR pro­fes­sion­als are ide­al­ly placed to have the rela­tion­ships with jour­nal­ists to not only gain favor­able cov­er­age, but get pow­er­ful back­links. It should be an SEO match made in heav­en. Yet, more often than not, it isn’t.

For exam­ple, the SEO aspects of a sto­ry pitch often aren’t con­sid­ered. Some PR pro­fes­sion­als argue that jour­nal­ists won’t include links even if asked. But jour­nal­ists counter by say­ing that there have to be valid rea­sons to include a link.

Why would this link have val­ue for their read­ers? What will their read­ers gain if they include the link and send them some­where else? Will this addi­tion­al con­tent reward read­ers in some way?

In short, the abil­i­ty to build com­pelling, search-opti­mized con­tent and use rela­tion­ships to gain valu­able back­links to increase vis­i­bil­i­ty in Google search results is a key require­ment for the mod­ern day PR pro­fes­sion­al.

But aside from the earned link val­ue of online press cov­er­age to help gain greater search vis­i­bil­i­ty for a brand’s own con­tent, the cov­er­age itself may well have search val­ue in its own right – rank­ing by proxy.

For many high­ly com­pet­i­tive con­sumer mar­kets, top rank­ing pages are often press arti­cles from major media sites or con­sumer titles. Get­ting a brand’s own con­tent to rank high­ly may be a tall order. But a judi­cious review or fea­ture may well occu­py the top slots in Google.

Gain­ing pres­ence in these kinds of fea­tures is grist to the miil for a PR pro. But often the SEO val­ue comes about more by luck than design. And SEO val­ue cre­at­ed is not fac­tored into the eval­u­a­tion and worth of the orig­i­nat­ing PR activ­i­ty.

What Should PR & SEO Professionals Do?

At min­i­mum, all PR pro­fes­sion­als need to get famil­iar with some of the basics of SEO. Even just hav­ing a grasp of key­word research (through Google Trends and Key­word Plan­ner), com­pet­i­tive SEO analy­sis and back­link research should be help­ful.

PRs may not get involved on a day to day basis with the nit­ty grit­ty of SEO, but they should at least be able to have sen­si­ble con­ver­sa­tions with SEO spe­cial­ists in order to ensure that media rela­tions activ­i­ty is being planned and exe­cut­ed with the SEO ele­ment prop­er­ly con­sid­ered.

By the same token, many SEOs need to see PR as more than just a press release fac­to­ry.

What Are The Implications For Consumer Marketers?

Giv­en the vital role that search plays in every major con­sumer mar­ket, a fail­ure to con­nect the dots on PR and SEO will clear­ly lead to sub­op­ti­mal out­comes.

Ulti­mate­ly, it isn’t about hop­ing for PR and SEO to play nice­ly togeth­er. It should be manda­to­ry. If PR and SEO spe­cial­ists can’t vol­un­tar­i­ly work bet­ter togeth­er, it may require those with over­all mar­ket­ing author­i­ty to bang a few heads togeth­er and force the change.

Andrew Smith

Written by Andrew Smith

Director, Escherman

Andrew Bruce Smith is the founder and Managing Director of digital communications consultancy Escherman. With a career spanning 29 years, Andrew has implemented many successful marketing communications programmes for brands such as IBM, MySQL, and Apple. He is co-author of two best-selling social media books - Share This: a practical handbook to the biggest changes taking place in the media and its professions (Wiley 2012). And Share This Too: More Social Media Solutions for PR Professionals (Wiley 2013). Andrew is also a trainer in measurement, evaluation, social media, analytics and SEO for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), a member of the CIPR Social Media panel and a guest lecturer at the University of Leeds Business School.

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