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.