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A couple of weeks ago I was invited along to an event organised by the Charted Institute of Public Relations, discussing whether the PR industry had missed a huge opportunity to get into the lucrative SEO industry.

As is often the way, the offline event was triggered by sequence of blog posts and tweets, on the subject. Those I particularly recommend reading are from Andrew Bruce Smith, where he compared SEO company performance to PR agencies and an interesting slideshare from Stephen Waddington. John Straw also talked about how SEO is morphing into PR in a recent Econsultancy interview. 

Being a search marketer who had seen myself going into PR while I was in university, I was interested to hear what the industry thought. It was a very interesting debate with a number of opinions, but the short answer is yes, they missed a huge opportunity.

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.

They’re not identical, there are some very real differences in approach.

For example the goal is often different. An SEO wants the link while the PR is far less concerned about the snippet of hypertext. They measure the success of a campaign in a completely different way, but the strategies, tactics & processes they are engaging in are becoming ever more similar.

So will PR agencies start winning work from SEO agencies? I just can’t see it. Search firms have measurement and analysis in their DNA; a strong hand when budgets are under huge scrutiny.

Plus search agencies are cocky, and I mean that in a good way. They see an opportunity and take it. They started tweaking code, then they took paid search advertising from under the eyes of ad agencies (although advertising companies are doing a much better job of getting search than their relatives in PR). Even social media, which has to be multi-disciplinary, is being delivered by search agencies with measurable results and happy customers.

Even in difficult times, the best search agencies have continued to grow despite the economic situation over the last couple of years, it might be an under-dog, can-do attitude or just blind luck, but I think search as an industry is better equipped for the future than just about any discipline out there.

And PR firms must not want to do search. If they had the will they could be earning significant revenues from search in just a few months. There has been a history of mergers and acquisitions in the search space and if a PR group had a big enough war-chest I’m sure they wouldn’t struggle to find good match.

Even recruiting a search team isn’t the challenge it was a couple of years ago. Good talent still demands a good wage but there isn’t the dearth of search talent there was 18 months ago.

They could even partner with a search agency; whether it’s a strategic deal or a white-label arrangement, a few hours on the phone in front of the Econsultancy directory and a PR firm could have a whole new revenue stream with a healthy margin.

It’s not that hard, so I can only assume the desire isn’t there.

Kelvin Newman

Published 5 August, 2010 by Kelvin Newman

Kelvin Newman is SiteVisibility's Creative Director and is the editor of the UK's most listened to Marketing Podcast. He also spends his time at conferences, tweeting too much and working on top secret research and development projects. He's also on Google+

21 more posts from this author

Comments (27)

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Andy

Good post Kelvin,

Yes it is. In theory there are synergies, obviously. However the technical disciplines needed and held are miles apart.

It's not just SEO that PR want to get into, its marketing strategy for digital also which can be a bit of a worry. There is room to support and capitailise on some synergies with client opportunities and partnerships but PR should be used for support and distribution and not as a lead. Marketing teams and SEO's need to take the lead.

about 6 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

Partnership between PR and SEOs seems like the best option. Iknow for sure that if I ran an SEO agency I'd be looking for partnership opportunities with PR agancies. PR agencies with their long standing relationships with clients are the perfect 'in' for an SEO that needs credibillity.

about 6 years ago

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Jamie

I think this raises a good point. The fact remains that whatever essentialist terms you apply to different disciplines the objective is really the same...both PR and search agencies are trying to raise the reputation and visibility of their clients. If you think about the key search terms used in search engine optimisation for example this method of placing yourself in the shop window is essentially the result of a technological evolution from the old tenets of PR and word of mouth marketing. You affiliate yourself with the key trends and buzz words of the day and garner recognition by affiliation. In an increasingly digital marketing environment, search, blogosphere and social media presence is becoming more important. This of course coincides – dare I say – with the waning influence of the traditional press. PR companies must look for the links between traditional methods and the latest communcations technology to remain successful, but the synergy is there for them to do so.

about 6 years ago

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Kelvin Newman

You're Right Jamie, a lot of the distinction is in their head but the fact is the distinction is there and it's not like SEO has just got going, it's been around for years. And if PR companies wanted a piece of that pie they should have gone for it years ago/

about 6 years ago

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Sam Morris

We work extensively with PR agencies and have 99% of the time found them up for understanding the role of PR and SEO working collegaitely on behalf of the client.  As both on and offline media types we are well used to working mutli-agency approaches, perhaps pure search agencies are not so joined up or PR types feel their integrity threatened.  We seek a balance between SEO gain and brand impact and run training session of client & PR together on SEO opportunities.

about 6 years ago

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Kelvin Newman

Your right Sam, I'm not saying they can't work together, we work with PR agencies all the time. What I'm getting at is whether as an industry could they have owned SEO? Or at least a chunk of the market. I think they could have but have missed the boat.

about 6 years ago

Stephen Pratley

Stephen Pratley, Digtal Marketing Consultant at Visibly Better Marketing Limited

Another question would be whether it's too late for SEO's to get in on PR. Many SEO firms have built systems and processes around very mechanical methods of link building which are becoming less and less effective. Modern content management and ecommerce systems also come with far fewer SEO horrors out of the box than was once the case so SEO's who can only deliver on-site changes are increasingly marginal. Any SEO who doesn't have the PR driven tools in their suite of services if going to find it harder and harder to compete as time goes on. There's only so many links you can buy compared to a competitor with something interesting to say. What PR firms already have is the ability to sell the long-term and less immediately tangible benefits of their approach in building a brand's visibility online. That will also separate out the clients who have the ability to work with this approach on longer term strategies than just churning out X articles and Y directory submissions every month.

about 6 years ago

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Lucy Freeborn

As someone who had more than 13 years experience in traditional PR and Comms before moving into digital marketing, the reason why PR agencies haven't 'got into' SEO before is a lack of understanding and education about how SEO works.  PR agencies have been trying to prove that their skills have a vital part to play in the wider marketing strategy for a very long time.  It's just that the penny hasn't dropped yet in terms of being able to measure your value to a client in terms of the SEO benefit.

Although the majority of the bigger PR agencies are still massively behind the curb, there's a few hot shots really making a difference to their clients and it's not just PR agencies who are starting to sit up and take notice.  We know many big ad and offline marketing agencies have started to develop search marketing depts over the past few years. Both of which actually potentially threaten OUR market share.

The time for the SEO industry is now.  We can prove our results, we are in the perfect place to pull together all parts of the digital mix to make a difference for our clients (social, online PR and search), we are a young and hungry enough market to develop change and grow substantially.

Lets continue to learn some shouty and show-offy lessons from our jazz handed friends in traditional PR, employ a few PR people to help shape our link dev skill set, start thinking bigger picture for our clients and demand the opportunity to show that it should be us leading the online Comms strategy.

about 6 years ago

Hayden Sutherland

Hayden Sutherland, Director at Ideal Interface

One issue is that some PR agencies don't see digital (let alone SEO) as integral to their offering, they see it as a 'bolt on'. Yes, this may be old school thinking and we can predict their demise... but they still exist and have big clients that make them lots of money still. By partnering with a digital agency that has SEO as part of a core offering, they build instant expertise and the online team gain a new potential revenue stream. Perhaps there needs to be some sort of ‘matchmaking service’ where both can find the right business to compliment their existing client work and culture…

about 6 years ago

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Joe Walton

PR firms are well behind on SEO, there are synergies and they are getting closer. I am from a PR background, the more I learn about SEO the more I see the similarities.  

It is a bit of loose theory of mine, but I think this divide between SEO and PR is an outcome of the way the web has evolved; from a collection of static websites to a more interactive platform. SEO was born and matured in space while PR came late to the game when it turned conversational.

Is it too late for PR firms to move into core parts of SEO, probably yes. As for acquiring the basic and next set of skills required for some PR complimentary SEO services, possibly not.

Anyway, both SEO and PR professionals could be back asking similar questions in ten years time. Something could come out of left field to catch us all by surprise. It wasn't that long ago that people were asking "Do I really need a website?"

about 6 years ago

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james crawford

Is it too late?: no

Are there similarities between search and PR?: yes

Will there be consolidation between the two industries?: yes

about 6 years ago

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Nathan Hicks

A SEO marketing consultant would you about what needs to be done to enable a higher placement in a search engine. Thank You ;).

about 6 years ago

Antoine Becaglia

Antoine Becaglia, Digital Strategist at WebPropaganda Ltd

It 's never too late...and many P.R agencies are jumping on the the SEO wagon by hiring specialists or outsourcing - partnering with SEO agencies. Hayden is right by saying:"One issue is that some PR agencies don't see digital (let alone SEO) as integral to their offering" but I would add that  many agencies have acknoledged the fact SEO needs to be part of their services and they are adapting themselves to offer some services - if not full SEO - some will only branch out on Online Reputation etc..

about 6 years ago

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Adrian Moss

Nathan has hit the nail on the head for me, it's early days yet for SEO.  We'll see a lot of consolidation in the industry over the next 10 years.  Ambitious companies will merge to offer a whole range of services.  

about 6 years ago

Chris Turberville-Tully

Chris Turberville-Tully, Managing Director at Inspiration Inc

Nice link bait :-) Seriously though is it ever too late for anyone or any agency to get involved in Search? No, not with its ever changing landscape, technical was king, then content, then links, then URL's, then...well Mayday has made things fun again.

Apologies to the original author of the quote but 'Diversifying to your level of incompetence' is where you can end up though and do PR agencies want to go there? That's up to the individuals I guess.

If the question is "Did PR miss the chance to corner SEO?" Ah then that is another debate...

about 6 years ago

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Company Car Policy

i can't see it s being too late. It's still early days and there are going to be many more developments in the pipeline I would imagine. However, the sooner they get in on it the better.

about 6 years ago

Nigel Sarbutts

Nigel Sarbutts, Managing Director at BrandAlert

I don't know the answer to the question, but neither do I see SEO cropping up in any PR briefs from clients, even where the brief is calling for an integrated, or at least broad, comms solution.

about 6 years ago

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Offshoreally Only

Nice blog. I would appreciate your discussion on this issue. It is something we need to work out before its too late. Thanks for sharing it.

about 6 years ago

Naval Kumar

Naval Kumar, Founder & CEO - ABSEM Limited at http://www.absem.com/

Great post Kelvin. I have to add to this - when I deal with my clients I in fact push a PR campaign, yes for back links but more importantly to create buzz and create potential for human interaction. I think SEO, PR and Social Media all 3 have a certain grey area in common i.e. PEOPLE!

  1. I own an Search Marketing Agency, and I'll be the first to say link building is turning into black hat (almost)
  2. Content generation is now done for Search Engines more than it is done for People, again turning into black hat (almost)
  3. With the above two points, I think most of the SEO professionals now know how to beat the system i.e. SE algorithms (again)
  4. Further more PR started being used as a back link mechanism and as a result over the years they have become nothing else but more of a sales tactic for a company as oppose to an actual news piece, something that people might enjoy reading - hence content for Search Engines
  5. SEs are now looking at showing real time results from social sites which are also or can also be used to distribute a news piece (well written one of course)
Conclusion - PRs could get into SEO and overall Search BUT given the above, they have greater potential to act like the tools needed to complement SEO and Social Media work - hence a good PR agency or a PR distribution site has potential to be a pseudo Google in their sector.

almost 6 years ago

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Cheap Web Design

Fasinating Article. I think the PR industry did miss a trick by not getting into SEO faster, however they could not have done this without people with considerable IT knowledge. Problem was that the IT people are smart people and didn't need the PR people so much so they got left behine.

Regards

Damien

almost 6 years ago

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Bent Killer

Yes, this may be old school thinking and we can predict their demise... but they still exist and have big clients that make them lots of money still. Thanks!

over 5 years ago

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SEO Marketing

Great post. I would appreciate your discussion on this issue. It is something we need to work out before its too late. Thanks for sharing it.

almost 5 years ago

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Bob Salini

I look forward to PR companies getting into the SEO business. It will make it easier for me to succeed. There are already enough SEO companies that don't know what they are doing already, let alone a PR company trying to come into the fray.

As with any business, you need to specialize. I have found that most SEO companies do not know how to code a site. (That's like trying to start a car without any gas) But if the PR company is smart enough to find an SEO expert that has proven themselves, (succeeding in getting ranks for their clients that show their results-the numbers don't lie) then diversifying is always a smart move. I just don't see enough SEO experts out there to qualify and fit the PR needs.

over 4 years ago

Hayden Sutherland

Hayden Sutherland, Director at Ideal Interface

Since this blog posting was written about a year and a half back, I have seen a number of PR companies take SEO more seriously. Some have hired digital specialists, others have bought or partnered smaller search / online marketing agencies.
(OK, some still think they can buy links and that this is fine, but they are the minority.... I hope)
Now with the complete blurring of roles in the PR, Marketing and even the online conversion & retention space... SEO knowledge has become pretty essential for any brand consultancy or communications company.

over 4 years ago

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Denver SEO

Good post. I agree that PR companies are definitely taking SEO more seriously these days, and I believe that will only be heightened.

over 4 years ago

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Hamza

Hi Hayden
I agree with you nowadays basic SEO knowledge is essential for PR and marketing industries. SEO is basically just a more advanced form of marketing as any SEO campaign cannot succeed if it's not able to attract readers for content. Kevin has written a wonderful post but it's outdated. Any way thanks Kevin for writing this post.

over 4 years ago

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Best SEO Services

I agree to your point that PR companies left opportunity to SEO Companies and reason that seem to me for this that both PR companies and SEO Agencies has different goals

about 4 years ago

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