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I talked in my last post here at Econsultancy about whether the PR industry had missed the boat on SEO. Although there were some differing opinions in the comments, I think the consensus was that the public relations firms could have done more to get into search engine optimisation.

Despite this reticence to get going I think there’s a scary truth that the search firms need to wake up to: If and when the PR industry gets its act together a lot of the link development tactics search companies are delivering could be delivered by someone with a public relations background.

PR is built on relationships

The best PR people generate and sustain great friendships and relationships in the world of publishing. Some are no better than press release spammers; but the best genuinely have a little black book of contacts built up over the years, and this is where their value comes from.

Search marketing link builders just don’t have this type of network. They’re far more likely to see link request as a one night stand, and even if they have taken a longer term view, they just don’t have the years under their belt.

Vertical specialism

There are a few search marketing firms which have great experience providing services to a particular type of business, but this is more by fluke than design. Sensibly PR companies tend to work with certain types of clients which means they are even more likely to have built up the relationships with the journalists who also specialise in that area.

If you’re building links to financial service clients, IT customers and an entertainment brand you’re not going to gain much vertical specialism.

No lack of talent

Search marketing as an industry is still a very young sector. Ask many graduates what they want to do when they leave university, and not many will say SEO, even if they are taking a digital marketing degree.

This doesn’t mean that they are not well-qualified, or that they wouldn’t necessarily enjoy the work. It’s just simply the fact that they don’t know the industry exists. Compare that to PR where demand for roles is so high, long term internships are the norm. That competition for work really drives up standards and instils a hunger in young PRs that serves them well throughout the rest of their career.

Once PR firms get their head around link building, we have an industry with the cream of the crop in terms of graduates up against a career that most people happen upon by accident. That doesn’t mean link builders are hugely gifted individuals, they are, but there aren’t many of them who set out to be a link builder.

Offline contacts will soon be online contacts

The little black book of journalists any good PR has used to only be able to get them offline coverage. The online team was separate and siloed.

Not any more.

Most publishers are integrating their teams. People from newspapers are moving to pure-play online publishers. B2B experts are starting their own specialist websites aimed at micro-niches. Suddenly there aren’t online journalists and offline journalists, there are only journalists, and those working in public relations have a huge head start.

What does it mean for search agencies?

Most are recruiting from PR firms, and many are taking graduate recruitment seriously to get the strongest applicants.

The best link builders are building relationships as well as links, but those who take their eye off the ball could quickly find they are only left with onsite technical SEO, which, while essential, is only part of the business models that’s been working so well for most SEO companies.

Kelvin Newman

Published 3 September, 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

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Ben Acheson

Ben Acheson, Digital Marketing Manager at BenAcheson.com

PR is an important element of SEO. Virtually all press releases end up online if they are carried at all. And many are accompanied by a link. A good relationship can increase the chances of getting a link - and getting the right link.

It is important to leverage this properly for SEO, so SEO strategy needs to feed into PR strategy.

almost 6 years ago

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Wessel van Rensburg

In theory your correct, in practise however, I'm often flummoxed at the low levels of creativity and understanding of the creative tools that are now available to media professionals. Understanding these are key to create content that drives links.

People that understand digital - which most SEO's do - have an advantage in this arena.

Where PR should have the edge, is with understanding story telling and building relationships. But so far too many PR's have been decrying bloggers etc instead of making friends with them.

almost 6 years ago

Ben Acheson

Ben Acheson, Digital Marketing Manager at BenAcheson.com

Your post raises another key point Wessel.

Increasingly, the target of PR is the blogger, not the mainstream press journalist.

almost 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

PRs so often measure mentions (I know they have grand ways to describe this or dress it up, but that's what they do) not links. Most PRs would rather have 100 mentions even if there were 0 links. SEOs would rather have 1 mention and 1 link (yes, yes, citations etc I know. I'm simplifying).

Also, I think the PR relationships you talk about will break down if PRs are seen to be after links as well as coverage. Coverage benefits both the journo and the PR - they both get something out of the relationship and the story. Links benefit the recipient only. Obviously journos and PRs do each other favours all the time to get stories and coverage. A link could be one of those favours. But it's all getting a bit murky. What next, PRs hading over pound notes in exchange for stories PLUS links (wonder if Google could spot that sort of paid link ...)

PR is an important aspect of SEO, when done well. But it should be looked at that way round - PR is part of the SEO strategy. SEO is not part of the PR strategy.

almost 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Oh, and PS - The problem is also organisations' internal priorities. I bet the CEO of company X likes the profile in the trade press. He doesn't care about some link from a blog as his peers don't see it. So which is he more likely to tell his PR team to concentrate on?

Yes, I know not all CEOs are like that.

almost 6 years ago

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Jens Sorensen

Some very good points there Kelvin. I agree with the importance of that little black book. In my opinion the more spreadable a link is the more powerful it becomes. Yes its possible to ask for a link from a specific site and depending on the authority of that site it will give you referrals and/or search results. But, the most powerful way of getting that link juice is through crowd sourcing; lots of people putting your message (and link) out there. And when you consider who really makes this effective its almost always those thought leaders or famous people or journalists to seed the story for you. And the easiest way to get those people to seed is to have those relationships, which a good PR person will have. Give them the SEO skills too and thats when they become best in breed. That's not to say that those in the link building world couldn't merge get the PR skills, but it's difficult to argue that one skill is better than two.

almost 6 years ago

Jens Sorensen

Jens Sorensen, Multichannel Experience Manager at The Range

Some very good points there Kelvin.

I agree with the importance of that little black book. In my opinion the more spreadable a link is the more powerful it becomes. Yes its possible to ask for a link from a specific site and depending on the authority of that site it will give you referrals and/or search results.

But, the most powerful way of getting that link juice is through crowd sourcing; lots of people putting your message (and link) out there. And when you consider who really makes this effective its almost always those thought leaders or famous people or journalists to seed the story for you. And the easiest way to get those people to seed is to have those relationships, which a good PR person will have. Give them the SEO skills too and thats when they become best in breed. That's not to say that those in the link building world couldn't merge get the PR skills, but it's difficult to argue that one skill is better than two.

almost 6 years ago

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Kelvin Newman

I agree with Malcolm that currently there's a big difference between aiming for mentions and links but it's not going to surprise me if they start to get their head around them.

What I can't understand why they aren't making a more concerted effort at winning the work at the moment. It seems like a huge opportunity that'd just being ignored.

almost 6 years ago

Ben Acheson

Ben Acheson, Digital Marketing Manager at BenAcheson.com

I think James is right. PR amounts to link building. And the SEO effects have much more potential, and will last much longer, than the publicity effects. So SEO needs to be considered in PR (and indeed in other communications).

As a simplistic example, let's imagine yours is a digital marketing company. One of your executives takes a call from a journalist and makes sure he uses the phrase 'london digital marketing'. That might have SEO benefits if the story is published online with a link.

If he says 'londondigitalmarketing.com' and that is both the URL and the company name, all the better. If you sell extensively or exclusively online then you should seriously consider using your domain as your brand name.

almost 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Ben - that's never going to happen, though, is it? The chances of the journo linking that story to your site with that key phrase is 0 - especially if the person they're talking to sounds like some sort of keyphrase robot. 

For a start, they probably work with a CMS that doesn't make linking easy, and even if they did, what would possess them to link with a phrase like that? Let's not even get started on what the balance should be between brand and keyword-phrases. And in practice, you're probably trying to optimise a deeper page for that phrase anyway.

PR is usually about branding or awareness or sentiment. SEO is about getting traffic from search engines and turning them into customers.

So PR doesn't amount to link building.

PR can be a good SEO tactic because a byproduct of mentions can be links. But you would approach PR for SEO in a completely different way to normal PR.

almost 6 years ago

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Paul May

Kelvin - this is already happening, albeit slower than I would have expected.  Take a look at Jason Falls' recent post on socialmediaexplorer.com where he talks about strategy development.  In the post, he shows his whiteboard and SEO is one of the key components to the development of his strategy for clients. He's a social media guy with a pure PR background.  We see this every day in our conversations with our prospects and customers.

To be great at it, you need the relationship building and storytelling capabilities of a good PR pro and the analytical rigor of a good SEO. One is totally left brain thinking and the other is right brain thinking, which is why it's hard to find people who are great at both.  Given this, the people who do both well and the agencies that assemble the teams needed to be great at both are the ones that are just crushing it right now (e.g., Outspoken Media, Ignite, Shift Communications, etc.). 

almost 6 years ago

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Kelvin Newman

Different links will achieve different things, I don't think you want your PRs going after the anchor text links; you want them concentrating on the quality and authority. Anchor text can come in other ways.

A far more natural is someone being interviewed mentioning a blog post which adds to the debate or background of the piece. The link is natural, effective and far more achievable for the person arranging the coverage.

Of course this does all depend as Malcolm says on the policy and capability of providing the link in the first place.

almost 6 years ago

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buyer beware

Are there fewer weighty editorial links about with newspapers increasingly running links through no follow affiliate networks?

almost 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Ben - that example has nothing to do with PR. The BBC is living up to its promise of linking out more by adding links to big-brand websites when it writes a news story about them.

If you could find an example of a PR-driven story with a link, I'd be impressed. Like this one: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8439495.stm (< but this sort of thing is very rare.)

almost 6 years ago

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james crawford

Malcolm,

Re"So PR doesn't amount to link building" not in the traditional SEO sense but PR does generate a huge amounnt of links.

Depending on the client if you use Yahoo site explorer to analyse the links to a given site, on average I find that 20 per cent of the links new links in any given month are generated by PR activity.

That's pretty good SEO link building if you ask me

James

almost 6 years ago

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James Crawford

Also Malcolm re: "Ben - that example has nothing to do with PR. The BBC is living up to its promise of linking out more by adding links to big-brand websites"

Of course it has everything to do with PR.  If I contact the BBC with my PR story and they run the story and link to my client then I have generated a link.  Simple as that.

almost 6 years ago

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buyer beware

Eurodroid's link to Vodafone is an affiliate link that drops an Affiliate Window cookie. That's different in terms of SEO to a clean, editorial link, and the reason for publishing is nothing to do with editorial. Affiliates want links from journalists employed by newspapers in my experience. They'll say for example my title is xxx and my company name is xxxx.co.uk and can you make sure you include that exact company name with .co.uk because there are several companies with names similar to ours and we don't want confusion. Malcolm will tell you what journalists will do when asked to put adverts into editorial. What's creepy is the ones that assume the journalist is working for them and has to include links to get paid.

almost 6 years ago

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Jeffrey Russo

I'm surprised that this topic doesn't come up more often... these two industries are edging closer and closer to one another, and nobody seems to pay much attention to it.

A lot of the discussion also seems to be predicated on the assumption that authoritative links will continue to be the end-all SEO fuel that they currently are. Social media mentions & links might be of little importance right now, but it's pretty likely that they will increase in importance over time. (There was a good discussion about this over at SEOMoz recently.)

If social media metrics were to become a ranking signal, the role of PR in the process would definitely grow substantially. That being said, there is a technical side to all of this that search agencies understand and PR firms seem to ignore.

Good post, good discussion!

almost 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

I did say that "PR can be a good SEO tactic because a byproduct of mentions can be links. But you would approach PR for SEO in a completely different way to normal PR."

So throwing stories at me where links appear because of mass-market press-release blasting isn't going to change my opinion.

That BBC story above covering Apple's launch of Ping was going to get covered whether the PR team was in the office or away on a two-year sabbatical.

All I'm trying to say is that PR is usually about coverage not links. Therefore it's not that good at getting links. Yes, it will get some - maybe even lots - as a byproduct of the coverage, and I've said that.

But if you want to use PR for SEO properly, you'd usually do it in a different way (most of us aren't Steve Jobs announcing Ping - and if we were, our number one concern would in fact be coverage and NOT links). Because your number one concern would be links not coverage.

Once you measure the success of PR that way, then, yes, PR will end up being one of the most effective link-building methods rather than having a happy byproduct. For the most part, that won't be happening any time soon.

almost 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Ben. You said: "The BBC is leading the way somewhat with links on news stories (PR-driven and otherwise) as mainstream media organisations rush to become more like bloggers." I'd disagree with the comment on MSM - most traditional papers etc online have workflows that do nothing to encourage linking out, actively make it hard, or don't link out on purpose. Look at any major newspaper's news section ...

almost 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

"Can you find a mainstream newspaper that neither has a blog or allows blog comments on its articles?"

The Daily Mail?

Also, blog comments are usually nofollowed so pass no SEO value ...

I think we're going to have to disagree!

Going about their day to day PR, PRs are not great link builders and never will be until they focus on SEO, learn about SEO, get measured on links as much as coverage etc etc. Until then, they'll get some links as a happy byproduct.

But that's a mile away from saying PRs are better link builders than SEOs.

almost 6 years ago

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Gareth Rees

I've been considering recently how PR and SEO may merge in the future as both industries become more accustomed to what each other really does and how they go about it. PRs are all about exposure, where, lets be honest 50% of link building is just about the link and nothing more. Sure those sexy high value links are preferable but show me an SEO that's not going to use other, less profile options to build the authority of their site. I wonder if PRs will get that. The other thing I've noticed is links from high value sites from PR style activities seem far more temporary, so you've put a lot of work into something that may only be around for a month or two.

almost 6 years ago

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Siobhan Tyrrell

Over the last 12 months there's definately been an acceleration of PR agencies adding digital comms pieces to their offering from SMO to  "SEO friendly press releases".

The flip is that as a small digital agency we've been approached by clients over the last 12 months to take on the traditional PR, as a natural add on to digital comms activity.  Interesting times indeed. For other clients we've trained up their PRs to incorporate search into their activity and be aware of the opportunities in a kind of win-win initiative... they might get the link building and anchor text but there is little interest in the detail such as keyword research...

I agree that traditionally, good PRs are all about long term relationships with journos, editors and publications... but the days of the boozy lunch and the jollies are mostly back in the early 90's (those were the days). Good SEOers are all about compelling content, audiences and conversion and with the growing crossovers of SMO in the SEO space, we're all getting into the relationship game.

Perhaps it's the PRs that shoud be concerned?

almost 6 years ago

sarah taieb

sarah taieb, Account Manager at Webpropaganda Ltd

PR and SEO, PR for SEO, SEO in PR's...kinda old debate really... they are closely linked together and part of any strategy... PR better link builders than SEO? I disagree and I come from a PR background more than SEO but having being hired by an SEO agency I can see what both can do...I agree with Siobhan that most PR "might get the link building and anchor text but there is little interest in the detail such as keyword research"...

And Malcolm I disagree with that:"blog comments are usually nofollowed so pass no SEO value"... definitely...looking at the number of comments "no-followed" that still give links ... and as someone said; "a link is a link"

almost 6 years ago

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

Sarah: you're not suggesting that there's a reasonable ROI in SEO terms for PRs in going round dropping links in nofollowed blog comments are you?

almost 6 years ago

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Eric Ward

Hate to sound like my father here, but I've been talking to anyone who would listen for 15 years that link building and public relations, when done right, are indistinguishable. Link building was appropriated by the SEO folks the moment Pagerank turned links into rankings currency. Below is an article about this topic from February, 1999 - Getting the Right Spin: PR on the Net - http://www.ericward.com/press/standard/

almost 6 years ago

sarah taieb

sarah taieb, Account Manager at Webpropaganda Ltd

I am not suggesting that Malcolm...

almost 6 years ago

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Kelvin Newman

It's certainly not new Eric, but what I'm struggling to get my head round at the moment is despite everyone talking about for such a long time why not much has happened. Surely PR companies should be pitching this, surely SEO companies should be complaining about PR companies stealing their clients... That's what I don't understand about it all

almost 6 years ago

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Illiya Vjestica

This was a really interesting article, my background in SEO doesn't involve Link Building and traditional I've always employed a specialist Link Builder before.

That was until I worked with a couple of Online PR consultants who understood the web and the following key points:

A) How to generate/ write online press releases to gain links on top authority websites.

B) How to optimise said press releases for the web, ensuring keyword anchor text was established.

Let's face it PR companies and PR consultants are better networkers and have stronger influence than most Link Builders. Some top SEO's arguably have very strong connections and can influence the success of a website very quickly in terms of links and traffic. 

If the PR companies use the right tools and understand how PR can be effective in generating inbound links and traffic then this can only be beneficial to the end customer.

Unfortunately, all too often PR companies do establish online links on authority website, but have completely miss the point as to optimising it correctly for SEO. 

In my experience with some PR companies, one quick look at the client Google analytics account tells me if they actually know they are getting links and traffic online.

Most of time, they are blissfully unaware of their success or the links they have established and so is the client. 

almost 6 years ago

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Gabriele La Gona

Sure there is a cross-over between PR's and link builders .....but just in the same way as there is a cross over between business development and link builders. The difference being that a highly successfull PR link tends to be a placement on a site which has high authority but weaker relevancy - whilst a good business partnership link tends to result in a placement where authority is lower but relavancy higher.

almost 6 years ago

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Michael F Kelly

I just stumbled into this discussion and find I dont understand some of the basics: such as what people mean by 'link' , 'anchor text' etc. I'm from outside the PR area so just dont know what you mean. Can someone suggest a source to come up to speed? Does anyone have a recognized dictionary of terms and phrases? And also of 'how we think things work' models for PR and what its all about? Also, how do you feel about making the discussion meaningful to someone outside the PR expertise? Is it important or a waste of time or what? And why? Thanks

almost 6 years ago

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SEO Dubai

PR is  an important part of SEO. We use PRs to generate traffic as well links. One question always come in my mind is: When we submit a PR to many PR websites, What about duplication issue?

almost 6 years ago

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Tech PR Agency

Great points - the key point is that as PRs, our relationships often allow us to ask journalists and publishers to create links where stories or client features are to be mentioned - granted, often not anchored to specific keywords, but to client URLs at the very least. We, as in the PR industry and 10 Yetis, are understanding the importance of good SEO as part of every client campaign and winning business on that basis. It can only be a step in the right direction.

almost 6 years ago

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EquityPR

Great post. I think public relations professionals are evolving to the point where they realize their press releases are more than just for the media. Many people use press release to check out companies online and when they show up in search results they can add credibility to a firm. Our customers come to us often seeking press releases for SEO purposes. It's about time the industry sees the light on this purpose.

Tony

President

EquityPR

almost 6 years ago

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Faith

Fastidious answer back in return of this query with genuine arguments and telling everything about that.

about 4 years ago

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