A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post laying out why I feel that SEO is now the single greatest threat to the public relations industry. On the back of that post, I was contacted by Stella to assert that, in her opinion, the opposite is true: PR is the greatest threat to SEO. So confident is she in this, she’s written ‘Public Relations’ Digital Resolution’.
Stella has spent over a decade split between PR and SEO and, unlike me, she believes that PR is in a great place. This is because, essentially, it already has the skills and the talents that SEO needs; those of relationship building, communications and editorial content expertise.
She counters this by clarifying that, to take advantage of this, PR has to start to realise the wider impact of its work on search rankings, website traffic and sales/leads. “We’ve been underselling ourselves for years!”, she asserts, citing a lack of clarity from inside the industry on the true impact of work and a lack of awareness of what the rest of digital marketing is doing and reporting on.
And I agree wholeheartedly with all of this.
Desire and Ability to Change
Where perhaps we differ is in our belief that the industry is capable of change. At least, in a suitably timely fashion. You see, maybe I’ve become jaded by it, but as I stated in my previous post, the industry’s failure to adapt to data and technology will take a generation to work through, whereas SEO companies are looking at it right now.
“We may need to re-train our brains and unpick the way we were taught through the ranks of our PR agencies in order to take action”, says Stella. And she’s right. But the issue with many, many PR people (not all, but many) is that this is way too much effort. And as a result, SEO companies hold the cards when it comes to online marketing.
Let me take an example from Stella’s book.
She cites the example of Inteflora, which was famously removed from all search results by Google as a result of contravening its policy on paid links in 2013. About a year after this occurred, the company I was working for at the time (a PR agency) was contracted to provide Interflora with ‘conventional’ public relations; raising awareness through media coverage.
Working alongside Interflora’s new SEO agency, which was on a mission to rebuild the Interflora link profile and domain authority, was a complete nightmare. Lists of influential bloggers were written and rewritten and scrapped and rewritten, backlinks from sites were altered or removed altogether so as to appear more ‘natural’; the whole thing turned into a mess.
The ironic thing is that both the PR agency and the SEO agency were trying to do the same thing, and yet coming at it from completely different angles and strategies. I don’t believe this was the fault of either party, specifically. But I do believe that the only evidence I’ve seen in the last six months of one party attempting to properly understand the other is from the SEO side of the fence.
Is All Lost for PR?
So given all this, why do I recommend reading ‘PRs’ Digital Resolution’ so highly? Because in my heart I haven’t given up hope, and because this is a fantastic call to arms. Let me state right here, right now that I will help any company or individual get ahead when it comes to this. Please just ask.
The book focuses not only on outcomes beyond awareness and on pressing the case for complete digital integration, but it explains why. It provides actionable tips that any SEO PR person can employ immediately. It suggests free tools that will help you do so. Chapter Four goes as far as outlining a framework that you can adopt today to help you to start proving proper value right now.
Consider this example. Ever wondered why the Mail Online’s infamous right hand column is packed full of celebrity gossip that really should not be making news? You’ve probably assumed it’s just poor editorial standards, right? Far from it, as Stella explains:
“Every month there are approximately 2,000,000 global searches for ‘David Beckham’. When the Mail Online publishes content on [David Beckham or other] topics or celebrity figures with enormous search volume quicker than [its] competitors, [it] stands a chance of that huge crowd arriving on [its] site. The Mail Online is giving the public what they want.”
That’s SEO PR in action. So does that imply that you need to start writing content about Rhianna? No. But it does illustrate that you need to take things like search trends into account and be developing a search-centric PR strategy if you truly want to impact your clients’ business results. On the topic of print coverage, Stella says:
@ThePaulSutton depends on market but generally print coverage will only raise awareness to a v.small audience.It wouldn’t be my agency brief
— Stella Bayles (@stellabayles) June 8, 2015
The Need for SEO PR Curiosity
Stella talks in the book, quite rightly, about ‘curiosity’ and it’s importance to PR people. You may not think you have time to be curious. You may feel uncomfortable stepping out of your public relations mindset and into SEO territory. But you must develop this curiosity and desire to learn, to fail, to try again and to do things better in future.
Does this book change my mind about the prospects for PR? No. I still feel that SEO is more of a threat than an opportunity to the PR industry.
But does that mean you can’t do anything about it? Not at all. You can start working to combat that threat and to grow your business right now. And you can do far worse than use ‘PRs’ Digital Resolution’ as a start point.
You can download Public Relations’ Digital Resolution here. It’s a quick and easy read. Do it!