SEO and PR have long been distinct, with SEO based on numbers and PR being the more creative side.
Yet here we are—in the same room with the same clients, trying to do largely the same thing. There are differences, but there is also a lot of crossover because of the evolution of the Google algorithm.
Google has always tried to deliver search results that place the most relevant site at the top. The clever thing it did was to give the most weight to the most relevant sites, and the secret to its success was using backlinks as a ranking factor.
If a site had a lot a relevant and powerful backlinks from other sites then it ranked high, the theory being that if other sites chose to link to this site—and send their readers there—they were providing votes of confidence.
The Google two-step
Over the years there emerged a dance that began with unscrupulous SEO companies finding ways to falsely generate backlinks that looked powerful to Google’s robots but did not provide the voting weight that Google was looking for.
Google got better, and the SEOs got smarter; Google got better still, and SEOs got even smarter, and so on.
Good SEO companies realized that for long-term, sustainable results, the only surefire way to gain valuable backlinks that Google couldn’t devalue was to stop manipulating the process. Instead, they created valid citations in valuable online properties that humans rank as highly as Google.
In other words, they began to create mentions of the client online (with a link, ideally) on sites that people wanted to read.
Finding common ground
Yes, other elements of SEO are crucial, such as on-site technical structuring to ensure that the site can be efficiently indexed for keywords. That aside, this citation element has developed into good online PR.
Some of our most successful campaigns for clients are PR case studies, and we now employ PR staff.
So, what are the key elements?
1. Measurement. SEO companies get fired if they do not show a measurable and irrefutable return on investment. We do this using analytics and other tools, and every action we take must deliver measurable value to the client.
I fully understand that PR is, and should be, measurable. However, we would never turn up at a client meeting and talk about reach, increase in social followers, share of voice, advertising value equivalents, even click-throughs, if there was no tangible business benefit.
We have to earn sales via natural search. These come from people’s searches for the client’s product(s), the client’s site having prominence on the search rankings, and the person buying. I am not devaluing these other metrics for other purposes, but in our campaigns they are only a welcome by-product.
2. Managing reputation and brand positioning. PR companies are terrific at positioning a client. Though that is rarely our primary goal on a campaign, it is a factor.
We care about sentiment (because we think Google does), but we do not aim to position a client in a certain way. We rely on the PR and the comms teams to tell us how we should talk about the client, and then we use that tone in our work.
3. Crisis management. We don’t have this one on our roster at all.
4. Technical SEO. Half of our people are technical and analytics experts. We have usability teams, technical teams, conversion rate optimization and forensic link analysis, and they all fit into our SEO team.
5. Chasing the link. Yes, PR has value in its own right, but the major value for our campaigns is the link. That is why we do seemingly strange things. This irrelevant video of my cat drinking from our kitchen tap will probably help this article get more links than it would have otherwise.