Posted 18 October, 2011 by in SEO

SEO & PR – Why They Are Closer Than You Think

I’m fortunate enough to have been part of the ‘Frog family for a few months now and coming from a background in PR, I thought it might be interesting to share my thoughts comparing the two industries. Are we miles apart or closer than you think? What are the similarities and the differences? Are there things that SEOs can learn from PRs (and vice versa)?

‘You don’t know what you’re doing…You don’t….’

You Don't Know What You're Doing...

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To give you a bit of background, I worked in PR for only about a year. But as the company I joined were only just starting out, I was somewhat chucked in at the deep end. There was no room to be the tea and coffee boy; it was all hands on deck. I worked a lot on national and local press campaigns but for one reason or another I soon became the online PR guy for most of our clients. I would speak to webmasters and digital editors of all the national papers and magazines regularly, to compete for review/feature/interview slots, just as thousands of PR folk do every day.

What I didn’t realise at the time (probably partly due to my ignorance of the subject, partly due to the relative infancy of the industry) was that I was actually doing some of the job of an SEO. Alright, I didn’t have the foggiest what ‘page rank’ was but I was getting the content live and getting a link to the client which is the basis of link building. However, I wasn’t aware of the affect that this would have from an SEO perspective (we’ve already established that I knew little about SEO at this stage!) and how that would in turn effect SERPs. If I had known even a little about how anchor text worked and how valuable the links I was getting could be, I would have been in a great position to improve rankings for our clients.

To a PR Exec, the most important thing in any press coverage is the content – they want it to be as interesting and favourable towards their client as possible to grab as much attention, create great brand awareness and potentially leading to huge rewards for the client. To an SEO, perhaps it’s less about some of those aspects and more focused on getting the link, but the best SEOs understand it’s not just about the link, as they think more like a marketer and a PR exec.

Content is King

Content is King

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For the last few months I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard that ‘Content is King.’ Google seems to be gradually placing more and more weight on great ‘in content’ links, which is why we all work so hard to come up with creative content, great link bait, infographics etc. Are the days of directories and blog roll links numbered? No, not from what I’ve seen in the search results, providing you use these tools sensibly and (most importantly) for the right clients, they are still a linking technique that works, but there’s no question that the way forward is to embrace content and social signals.

If you’re working in PR then you’ll be producing content every day, whether it’s a press release, an interview or research for a prospective article. Doesn’t that sound like exactly what SEOs are now doing day in day out? (And if you’re not, perhaps you should be!). We may have to consider some technical details that PR’s don’t, but then again we’re not thinking about circulation figures or publication demographics in the way in which they do.

Can PR Affect SEO?

A lot of times a good bit of press coverage will either be syndicated on the publication’s own website, or better still it may generate its own debate amongst the Twitterati, and you know what that means? Mmm yes, links, lovely juicy links. Granted, you can’t do any CTR analysis or examine the conversion rate of an actual physical newspaper article, but think about the last time you read something interesting in the paper and tell me that this isn’t a realistic thought process – ‘Hey that article on ‘XYZ’ was really interesting, maybe I’ll follow up on that, learn a bit more about that subject…right, Google that bad boy….ah right, interesting…maybe I’ll write about that on my own blog, and tweet it to my 65 followers…maybe I’ll even buy something from their online store.’ It happens.

A good friend of mine Tom Woods ( @TWoods34 ), a senior account executive at Touchdown PR, was kind enough to give me some of his insight on the SEO/PR crossover:

“Although we don’t provide ‘online PR’ as such, a lot of what we create ends up syndicated on the web so we need to consider if the right links are included. We don’t have a formal SEO process either, but, as so many of our clients are emerging players who are focused on lead generation, we’re very aware of the value that well-optimised content can bring. The question is how to do it. I imagine there are some very easy ways to make online content more accessible and SEO friendly, and the potential for a strong mutual relationship between the two industries is vast.”

Although I’ve been told not obsess about getting links from really high authority domains, how much easier would it be if your PR team next door had a strong, working relationship with the feature editor at the Guardian?

Public Relations(hips)

The PR world is very much a ‘get on the phone, chase people down, and build relationships with journalists’ type of industry. You’re encouraged to take them out for a coffee, a bite to eat, chat about life, and do the usual ego stroking to lure them into a false sense of security, before BAM! – You demand a full feature on your client in the Sunday Times. I’ve found the online world to be much more email based and as I’m sure you know, ALL webmasters and bloggers are mysterious gargoyles that control the SEO world by operating out of their dark bedrooms, right? Not anymore. Blogging is now big business and some of the major players can make quite a tidy living off just producing content every day.

Wil Reynolds ( @wilreynolds ) from SEER Interactive gave a brilliant presentation on Link Building Mistakes at a recent Distilled ‘Link Love Conference’, where he emphasised the importance of interacting with (in particular) ‘mid-level bloggers’ to improve your link building. Start by following them, a couple of retweets here and there, the odd @ response to something they tweet, and before you know it they’re linking to an info graphic you’ve built and tweeting it to their 10k followers on Twitter. Not much difference to how the PR world works, right?

The Takeaways (God I HATE that phrase) In Conclusion (much better…)

SEOs: I’d encourage my colleagues who work in SEO to follow Wil’s advice and reach out to the key audiences in relation to your client. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of flattery, they’ll probably see it coming, but just be genuine and polite and try and build up those relationships. There aren’t many places left on the internet that you can go where webmasters don’t know what the value of a link from their site is (and I’m not talking about buying links, because no-one does that anymore, ahem) and they probably know what you’re after. If you can provide them with some interesting and interactive content then they won’t care where it’s come from or what your REAL motive is. Believe me, there are thousands of journalists/web editors sat on their arses, scrambling around for a story or an interesting piece of content. You are their saviour.

PRs : Get basic web-savvy. Get to know your Analytics from your Alexa Rank, your PageRank from your MozRank, because you already have the content in place, you just need to learn a bit about anchor text and backlink analysis and you’re golden. PR agencies are in a great position already to help and be part of the linking and social process. Kelvin Newman ( @kelvinnewman ) asks if it’s ‘too late for PRs to get in on SEO?’ in this Econsultancy article .

‘While the technical skills of SEO may be beyond the reach of most PR agencies, many of the tactics an SEO would describe as link building and development are starting to sound more and more like how PR would identify their own work.’

As an SEO, if you’re working alongside a PR team for the same client, it’s naturally important to communicate about your online content, and don’t fall into the traps that Rishi Lakhani ( @rishil ) cautions in his ‘ 9 Ways in Which PR Teams Fail SEO ’ piece. My favourite of those has to be number 7 – ‘When a PR team gets a good link TAKEN OFF content. (trust me, it happens)’. Wow.

But it works both ways. If you’re a lazy SEO who is using highly dubious and clumsy link building techniques (comment spam, link farms, or worse still competitor sabotage), don’t you think that could potentially ruin your clients’ online reputation and undo all that good work that the PR team have done?

The bottom line is that the evolution of both SEO and PR is such that we’re using similar methods and creative skills to undertake our work – our ultimate intentions may be worlds apart, but when you break it down, we’re not that different.

Thanks for reading guys.

Patrick Langridge – Follow me on Twitter! @patlangridge